May 29th, 2010

The latest blog trend, following on the heels of the popular “Why the iPad is a letdown” articles that were making the rounds in April: the “Why I now love the iPad” article. One such example is a post by venture capitalist Fred Wilson, who wrote a fairly typical iPad pan a month ago, saying:

You give up a lot with the iPad and you don’t get much in return. You lose multi-tasking which is a huge deal for me. I can’t listen to music while I write this. That alone is a showstopper for me. Plus it’s slow as a computer. The apps run slow and so is the browser. That could be my wifi but my MacBook runs on the same wifi network and there’s a noticeable difference in the speed of browsing between them.

A fairly standard critique, echoing statements made by many others in the blogorama. Oh, but what’s this? Fast forward to this week, and all of a sudden, Mr. Wilson has fallen for his little aluminum buddy:

Over the past week, I have fallen in love with the thing. And so I am telling you why…

Part of it is the fact that I can go out on my terrace with a cup of coffee, a glass of lemonade, or a glass of wine and do email in a relaxed mood. If my wife or kids interrupt me, it’s easy to put the thing down and engage in a conversation. The iPad makes using a computer less of a commitment and that has important implications for the way I compute. I like how I feel when I am using the thing.

That difference in the way he evaluated the iPad then and now — first based solely on a cold, left-brain assessment of its features and shortcomings, followed by a more natural, emotional and shared (with his family) understanding of how it impacted his life — is the key to understanding the future of the iPad and the tablet in general.

Many tech blog writers, and most of their followers, love talking about features. They almost always assume that the best product is the one with the most, the best, the fastest. They don’t get the iPad, because it doesn’t allow them to customize it to make it look horrible (to anyone else), run Windows and perform a laundry list of tasks that average users don’t need or want to do. I got in a little debate about tablets with a Gizmodo reader recently (my mistake, I know), and he had this to say about what he demands from a tablet:

I want/enjoy the ability to rip DVDs Blu Rays/HD DVDs 1:1, rip my music in WMA Lossless sound for superior playback, read/write any file/format I can think of, get apps and programs on my devices more than one way, multitask… multi screen multitask, 1080p video, use Flash and Silverlight, use what ever browser I like, install full retail PC games, have a robust Office suite, Media Center, audio/video editing programs, PS…the list goes on and on.

In essence, any product they own must be able to do everything they might want or conceive, even if it does so poorly. (The commenter above was referring to a Windows-based tablet that could presumably be forced to attempt to do most of those things, though actually trying it would be a nightmare.)

There’s nothing wrong with their point of view or their lifestyle (though there are plenty of reasons why user experience trumps features for the average user). But their assessment of the iPad as lacking was not based on an actual experience with the device, it’s a construct in their heads, based on a features list rather than touching, seeing, using the object. And that’s the catch: to touch a tablet, to really use it, to live with it for a month as Fred Wilson did, is a completely different proposition… and more so than with most technology, you really have to try it to get why it’s significant. Most of the iPad’s early critics will never even give it a shot, but I suspect many who do will have a similar change of heart.

That doesn’t mean I think the iPad is going to change Western civilization. Having owned mine for a few weeks, I can say that it’s a hit-or-miss experience… it’s great for some things, less so for others. But I also have not embraced it quite the way Wilson and his family have (families who share the iPad seem especially vulnerable to iPad infatuation). Nonetheless, it’s quite clear how tablets are a category unto themselves, and you cannot understand why unless you actually dive in and give it a shot.

» I’ve Changed My Mind About the iPad (via Daring Fireball)

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