The iPad is a Blank Slate for Computing

When the iPad was first announced, many of my friends quickly made fun of it. Admittedly, I had some of the same thoughts and was pretty disappointed to find out that the iPad didn’t allow multitasking, access to the file system, or any application that wasn’t pre-approved by Apple. Ultimately, I think the iPad’s lack of appeal to technology zealots may be the defining and polarizing characteristic that causes it to transform the consumer tech industry. In my post last week, I talked about the idea of using technology for something useful and creative rather than just because it’s “cool." Apple has traditionally built technology that gets out of its own way, but the simplicity of the iPad takes it beyond previous efforts (and maybe even a little too far). Tech fans (and even some Apple fanboys) haven’t been excited about the iPad because from a technology standpoint, there’s really nothing exciting about it. The iPhone was a phone that acted more like a computer - it let us do more than we used to be able to do with our phones. But the iPad is a computer that acts less like a computer - it’s a device that lets us do stuff we’ve already been doing in a different way. By removing the “tech" from our technology, Apple is providing us with a blank slate (pardon the iPun) for computing. For those of us that are used to hiding behind the allure of technology, this is a little like taking away our security blanket. The future of personal computing isn’t the “computing" part, it’s the “personal" part. Apple isn’t the only company with this mindset. Google’s Chrome OS is effectively just a web browser and won’t provide a whole lot more in the way of features than the iPad does. Tablets with Chrome OS (or even Android) will likely be cheaper than Apple’s initial offerings, but both companies are moving toward a simplified OS model for the majority of personal computing with heavy emphasis on access to the cloud. After all this iPad banter, you might expect that I’m buying one during launch this weekend. It turns out that I’m fine waiting for the next iteration, where I’ll probably find some of the things I’ve been missing (multitasking, better file system access) at a lower price. The iPad is no JesusTablet, but it is an important signal that the future of personal computing is going to be vastly different than its past 30 years. The iPad won’t change the fact that many of us geeks will still want to tinker and toy with our technology. The good news is that we can find new and interesting ways to do that both because of and in spite of the iPad.