Think differently?

So, Apple has just presented its new development: the iPad. I admit, I might be Apple’s bitch, because I was swept away be the hype. The presentation was pretty well done. Take for example the pricing: starting with industry estimations that the iPad would cost $999, thereby giving the audience an anchor that is very high. Consequently, a price of $499, which would appear very high when seen without any reference price, appears low in comparison.

And presenting the “lower”-cost model with “Wifi built in” instead of “without 3G” they focus on what is there, not what is lacking (although Wifi is no differentiating criteria — the 3G model also has it). Much of the show was a proof-of-concept to convince the audience that this device can deliver what we expect — and it succeeded (for me). Whether it will be really easy to handle over longer periods of time — we’ll see. While typing on the virtual keyboard looks nice, it’s a telltale sign that one standard dock comes with a physical keyboard. Data entry on mobile devices is still a problem and can only be solved by a physical keyboard. But we’re making progress. Even if we’re back to finger-painting with the Brushes App (I wonder whether a specially designed pen would work?), the look and feel is simply brilliant. Using Google Street view or the iWork Interface … yeah, I admit, I was swayed. Apple really manages the hard part of mobile devices and mobile learning — the mobility of information from one device to the other. Offering everything from tower PC’s to iPods, they know the hardware that’s gonna be used, they program most of the software and control that too, and with iTunes sync they can handle the data. And the backups. Can you imagine how iTunesU would work with this device? Or using eBooks for learning with shared margin notes? Or class lectures?

But there were also some questions: What about printing? Can I do it from my iPad? We’ll see. What about transferring data to my Mac outside of Apple apps? Can I do that? Probably not.

It took me about 30 minutes to imagine the obvious thing I wanted to have on an iPad: an LCARS interface. Ever since seeing the PADDs in Star Trek I wanted to have one. Now we have a hardware device that is capable of offering it. Finger-based interface, multi-touch, large screen — it would work. But why took it 30 minutes? I think because Apple pretty much closed their highly mobile devices (i{Phone|Pod touch|Pad}) to modifications. You need to jail-break it to access the file system on an iPhone/iPod touch, and I guess the iPad won’t be different. Apple has defined what the interface looks like, and granted, the human interface is very good. It makes the device easy to work with, and Jobs is right — having worked with an iPhone or iPod touch, you will probably have no problems with an iPad.

But I wonder if this isn’t stifling innovation and creation.

Apple once had this beautiful “Think Different” campaign where they celebrated (a certain kind) of “differenceness” which pretty much defined my image of Apple Macintosh. And I still believe that the Mac is simply the best computer (for me) to be creative with. But I also think that it might be “problematic” to limit the ways a user can modify their tools or make use of its full power.

Good artists, scientists and engineers (hell, even good workers) have rarely adhered to the limitations to their tools — often they modified them, expanded them, even created their own versions of it.

And this requires more access to the device than being able “to change the background”.
It makes sense for Apple to control the design, the look and feel, but I think, the user should be given the choice to change it, to create their own interface for the system, and above all, to access the full (file) system.

PS: Having a look again at Steve Jobs, holding the iPad like and oversized iPod or iPhone touch, I can’t shake the memories of Woody Allen in Sleeper (1973), where he starts with a small ball and ends up sitting in front of a gigantic ball giving him pleasure. A strange and confusing thought — on the other hand, Apple did it exactly right. They improved the most limitating factor a mobile device has: screen real estate. Now if it only were foldable.