CR Blog

Why the iPad matters

Digital, Graphic Design

Posted by Malcolm Garrett, 4 February 2010, 11:32    Permalink    Comments (29)

I've yet to see or touch the Apple iPad, writes Malcolm Garrett, so the following is based on conjecture, and quite a bit of enthusiastic anticipation, but when it comes to interactive technologies I am a receptive audience. I had an instant liking for the iPhone, not so much for the object itself, but for how it would shake up both the telecoms market and the whole world of computing. After only a few minutes of playing, and of enjoying of the way the touchscreen interactions varied from task to task, it was apparent to me that this direct yet dynamic way of handling information pointed towards a complete rethinking of hardware interfaces everywhere.

Almost overnight, expectations of how technology could and should work, subtly but irrevocably changed. At once straightforward, yet playfully seductive, this way of manipulating information feels natural and obvious. It is not at all technical or intimidating. It just works effortlessly and effectively.

This can not now be taken away, nor can other products ignore it. I'm already expecting everything else to work in similar ways, and miss that level of control, even when it has never been present. I find myself instinctively touching and stroking screens, and already feel disappointed with old fashioned buttons, keys and clicks.

Many critics are understandably concerned that the iPad appears to be a solution in search of a problem, and are speculating about what it's actually for [see reaction to our earlier post here]. For me the real interest lies in the evolution of the interface rather than any debate about the precise form factor.

I am excited by further exploration of this type of interaction, and the unpredictable outcomes it will precipitate. Arguably the most remarkable thing about the iPhone has been the sheer volume of inventive responses to its unique combination of hardware and software. It is the integration of accelerometer and GPS which makes the iPad such an exciting prospect, bringing together touchable interaction, connectivity and physical and spatial awareness. Together these features have added hitherto unexplored dimensions to software development, and implementing them in this next generation of device was inevitable. The irony is that although the iPhone was in part successful because it could, of course, be relied on to be a cool phone, the reality is that this is its least interesting facet. Far from being a criticism, this highlights a bold distinction between the iPhone and all else around it.

What is key is that Apple continues to simplify and demystify the computer interface. The flexibility of the screen is such that the location and function of screen tools is always contextual, and specific to each and every application. It is obvious that the iPad is intended to be a general purpose media device, rather than an office or work-related tool. Given the incremental development of the iPod over the past decade from the first click-wheel through to iTouch and iPhone, it is quite logical to see the iPad as a very powerful, and uniquely responsive, next generation iPod, rather than a downgraded MacBook.

That said, the iPad could really be the first laptop to actually warrant that description. You can't use a MacBook on your lap for long without needing heat protection. The iPad just has to be more comfortable, portable and perfectly useful on your lap, in your hand, on the coffee table, sitting on a shelf, relaxing on the sofa, or even lying in bed. Thinking about its use, I note that there are many more games consoles and DVD players in the world than there are laptop computers, suggesting that mainstream media consumption is entertainment-oriented, and for most people becomes most usable in singular ways rather than in complex, work-like, mutli-tasking environments.

The consensus of opinion at my company, AIG, is that this is a good thing. As this is an Apple controlled operating system, the design of Apps maintains just enough interface consistency to enable them to be comprehensive yet comprehensible, and given that they are empowered by wi-fi and internet, this alone could easily make many browser-dependent websites redundant. It is no surprise that the publishing industry is finally seeing a challenging opportunity rather than a threat to its existence.

For my part, back in 1990, when I made the irreversible transition from analogue to digital, I was still somehow anticipating the development of a computer with a screen as large as a drawing board. I felt that screens needed to maintain a better physical relationship between user and media than was allowed by keyboard and mouse, and the disassociation brought about by the confines of such a tiny window into a vast virtual world was a conceptual step too far to grasp easily. The world now suggested by the iPad isn't at all how I imagined things would progress, yet it feels like a step towards something much, much better.

 

Malcolm Garrett RDI is creative director at Applied Information Group

This article will also appear in the March issue of CR, our 30th birthday issue in which we have asked 30 notable people in the field of visual communication to nominate one thing that they are excited about for the future: Malcolm Garrett chose the iPad. The March issue of CR is on sale on February 20

29 Comments

I agree with all the points above from a technical standpoint, and it does feel like a logical step in the next generation of UX (think the computers on "Minority report", I guess), so the iPad is important in that process. Although ...

Whilst I'm sure it will adapt and grow, at present the iPad is nothing more than a "Coffee Table Mac". That's not to say it will fail, indeed, perhaps that is what Apple are going for - they certainly have the market to appeal on that level. A lot of Apples market are gadget hungry and extremely brand loyal, so it will sell. I won't be getting one just yet, if at all. After a hard day staring at a screen, I like to read a a paper based book to give my eyes a rest from pixel 'refresh-rate'. I also don't "need" one. I say save your money (hey, give it to the "Haiti Earthquake Fund") and wait until perhaps the product becomes more than just an "experiment" and "gap in the market" filler. To be honest, I've always waited on version 2.0 of products before deciding to get on-board, as I don't like to be the guinea pig :) Just my 2 cents.
kevadamson
2010-02-04 12:18:13


So well put. Your excitement about the potential of the interface and the growing sense that touch cannot be ignored, is precisely the reason I want one of these.

Interaction design is a passion of mine and not just my job, and I want to be able to experience the inevitable wave of compelling things that people round the world will be able to so easily make for this.
Reggington
2010-02-04 12:33:49


A very well considered article. While the iPad itself may not fit into most peoples lives, it's interface (and design of) is a big step into the future which I applaud. The 4:3 ratio, however, is inexcusable!
David Bushell
2010-02-04 12:41:30


David, I think the ration is actually 3:4 - most of the time the device would appear to be used in portrait mode. Not only would 9:16 be a bit too narrow, but 3:4 is also reasonably close to the ration of international paper sizes (A4 etc.). If they're gunning for book and magazine reading, then I think that is important.

I think it does show what the future of general computing will be like. Our current computing world (of the Mac OS X and Windows ilk) will probably remain as professional options, or for specific tasks where large amounts of flexibility are needed. For everything else, people just need a 'computer' that just presents the media they want to look at, or just the app they want to use - and have everything else just get the hell out of the way.
Nathan
2010-02-04 13:08:28


"make many browser-dependent websites redundant"
erm, what is he going on about? The ipad ships with a browser and will do for the foreseeable future. The iphone has a 'browser'. Is he proposing all interaction with what we now term the internet will be via locked down apple apps? Does he think this is a good thing? What a pointless article.
baz
2010-02-04 13:21:28


I know what you mean about how the iPhone has changed our expectaions of how we interact with machines. I once spotted my girlfriend frustratedly pinching an image on her Sony Vaio, trying to shrink it, before I gently reminded her that not everything works that way!

@kevadamason: "nothing more than a 'Coffee Table Mac'"? To me, the idea of a truly accessible "coffee table" computer is astonishing, when you think about how bloody clunky to use computers have been in the past. No, it may not change the way designers work directly, but knowing that I could put one on my parents' coffee table, and that they'd be able to work out how it works within minutes is pretty astounding. This is truly a computer that pretty much anyone can use, and for that simple reason, I'm very excited about how it'll change the way society interacts with computers.

To put things into a slightly broader perspective (sometimes it seems like our collective memory of computers only goes as far back as the first gen iMac), my dad used to have a job cleaning computers. With a broom. Within one generation, we've gone from room-sized machines that were powered by transistors to the iPad. God only knows where we'll be in a few years' time.
Daniel
2010-02-04 13:36:22


Whether or not the iPad is a 'hit' or a 'miss' I can't help but love the interfaces Apple have created for the notes, calendar and e-mail apps. They make Snow Leopard's version look cheap in comparison. Yes, they're based on reality, but isn't that the joy of them?

(Cue: why not use a real calendar instead?)
Marcus Taylor
2010-02-04 14:11:38


@baz the point here is that the html web is rather limiting for interface design, the power of objective C on the iPhone and iPad allows for far richer interactions to take place.

Some brilliant work has been done to extend the power of html with javascript, ajax and server side technologies but html has a long way to go before it could match C and Java based languages.

While I admit the proprietary system that Apple has developed with the App Store has it's flaws, there is obviously something to be said for setting quality thresholds in a secure environment. Even if it does begin to signal the end of the free web.
Matt Cooper
2010-02-04 14:18:03


@ Matt Cooper but are you implying that Objective C developed apps are going to somehow replace HTML? I believe this to be way off the mark. What about HTML 5? Apple is a founding charter member of the consortium that originated the spec for HTML 5 and you can create HTML5 applications running as a native application on the iPhone anyway. The point of the new technologies in HTML 5 is to remove the need of having a server with the browser itself becoming run-time engine that can replace proprietary RTEs such as Flash, SilverLight, Java, etc. Back to my original point... 'Browsers' as a paradigm is not going anywhere. Indeed the Browser is evolving into the operating system itself.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/google/7135776/Google-Chrome-OS-tablet-concept-revealed.html
baz
2010-02-04 15:16:46


@Daniel: I mean in the sense that you have it there as decoration, as something you may pick up and use when bored - like a magazine in a waiting room. It's fluff. Yes, it's moving user experience on a step, and it looks great, but - at present - it's just a gadget. Like a radio controlled helicopter. The rubix cube of 2010. At this stage, It's basically Apple having a wank :P
kevadamson
2010-02-04 16:19:24


I think this takes interfaces to a level beyond touch: http://www.betleywhitehorne.com/bwlog/2010/02/touch-is-dead-long-live-no-touch/
Richard Le Poidevin
2010-02-04 16:53:17


Decades ago I bought my first computer, an Epson HX 20 laptop, to replace a beloved Casio alphanumeric printing calculator. I still remember the mutual incomprehension between the sales geek and myself when I asked him how to add and subtract. His answer? You just do it in DOS or Basic. Apple gets it. There are a lot of us who just want to use technology to do stuff and the easier it is to use the more we love it. The Ipad is cool and looks easy to use. Bigger and better than an iPhone. Smaller, friendlier, and easier to use than my computers. Looks like an exciting new works.
Ray
2010-02-04 18:13:04


Thank you for the article.
It is also impressive to see creative flocking, on Adobe's invite, to request which Adobe products we would want to see on the iPad:

http://www.markzware.com/blogs/adobe-illustrator-indesign-ipad-coming-soon-adobe-asks-feedback/2010/02/01/

So, what will it be- Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat or all of them?
David
2010-02-05 13:00:25


I think the iPad is great in so far as it is so innovative.
Has anybody seen the movie "The Island" with Scarlett Johansson and Ewan Mc Gregor?
There you see whole screen-touch desks, which imply the definitive uselessness of paper sheets.
This is the way the touch screen technology is leading to, I think: even wider touch-screen surfaces.

With regard to aesthetics, I am disappointed from the iPad being literally definable as a big Iphone.
There's something comical about it, as if it comes out of a comic strip, they seem like Doc Evil and Mini-me of Austin Powers, if you what I mean...
Giuseppe
2010-02-05 13:04:51


@baz I'm talking in the short term. I can't see html 5 outpacing any of the more established languages just yet, although it's inevitable that it will.

Having said that there are certainly proprietary issues with HTML 5 too, http://blogs.zdnet.com/collaboration/?p=1323&tag=nl.e539 is an interesting appraisal of it all.
Matt Cooper
2010-02-05 13:26:10


Remember Apple's marketing of the past "The . . . for the rest of us".

The iPad is a new kind of computer for people who don't use computers at all or with any pleasure.

The problem with the iPad is that almost everybody who feels the need to express an opinion about it are SO not the target market.

Sure, there'll be a huge crossover to people who are keen computer users and smartphone users already, but think of all the people who are uncomfortable with technology and are missing out on the online experience.

I suppose I'm mostly considering the disenfranchised older generation as exemplified by my mother who just completely does not get the existing UI metaphor. 'Desktop', 'dialog box', 'file menus', you can explain things over and over but she can't relate to it. Her and other technophobic users need a more intuitive computer intferface more akin to a large iPhone . . .
Matthew McClements
2010-02-05 13:28:27


Lots of debate about title, ipad, ibook, whatever...can't we move away from the desire to pigeon-hole. The way Apple is moving is great, it's blurring the distinction between what's gone before and creating products that we'll have to stop calling phones or computers.
I work in museums and exhibitions and the experiential, so I'm selling a product to everyone - from geeks to grannies. The sooner we get to a point where reality and instinct determine the way we access information and communication the better. This isn't fluff and if folk are getting hung up on the packaging of any of this new technology then they're missing the point. This is one step on the journey - like the man with his broom - and one to be welcomed
Sandy
2010-02-05 13:35:27


iTouch is the name of a keyboard/mouse set by Logitech, not the name of a portable music/media device by Apple. The name you're looking for is iPod Touch. But you already knew that.
Dave Adams
2010-02-05 13:39:34


iTouch is the name of a keyboard/mouse set by Logitech, not the name of a portable music/media device by Apple. The name you're looking for is iPod Touch. But you already knew that.
Dave Adams
2010-02-05 13:42:26


"a screen as large as a drawing board". I guess it's a pretty common thought. I too imagined a screen that you "drew" on just a like piece of paper. That had a virtual keyboard and could lay flat or be propped up like a drawing board. Only time will tell if that'll become a reality or it just won't work - because a computer is not a piece of paper.
BTW. "a screen as large as a drawing board" again. I just bought an iMac with 27 inch screen and now beginning to regret it. Even with the mouse set to fastest speed, I have to scoot twice to get from one corner the other. Big is better?
Is the iPad a big iPod touch? Will the iPad do the publishing industry what iTunes did to the music distribution industry? Is Amazon quaking in their boots? They better be. It may well be fluff at this moment but my feeing is that Apple might have just launched their Kindle killer.
david
2010-02-05 14:33:54


Whilst Steve Jobs positions the iPad somewhere between the iPhone and the MacBook, there is no doubt in my mind that the seductive interface of this touch-screen entertainment platform will filter upwards into the professional production environment currently dominated by Apple Computer's MacBook Pro.

Within a couple of years, trackpads and mouse will be confined to history and our studios will come to resemble a cross between a tai chi dojo and Madonna's 'Vogue' pop-video with designers waving, pointing, pinching-out designs in flamboyant, exotic gestures on gleaming oversized tablets.

Apple has publicised the fact that existing iPhone Apps will run on the new iPad platform, thus guaranteeing a huge selection of software titles from day one of the product launch. Many titles, particularly console-style games, scale-up remarkably well using the iPad's pixel-doubling capability. However, some titles will fail to scale so elegantly. iPhone buttons that were activated with a flick of the thumb are now positioned in the centre of a huge 1024 x 768 pixel display, so unless you are blessed with four-inch thumbs, the user interface is hardly ergonomic.

Beyond Apple's preloaded applications, the effectiveness of the iPad interface will of course be dictated by the experience and demands of it users. Couple this with the geo-spatial, cloud and networking capabilities of the machine and you get a seductive platform which offers vast potential in terms of user interface design that could evolve in any number of directions. As designers we should close our ears to the detractors and embrace the iPad as the creative platform that it represents.
Paul Fillingham
2010-02-05 15:41:04


Whilst Steve Jobs positions the iPad somewhere between the iPhone and the MacBook, there is no doubt in my mind that the seductive interface of this touch-screen entertainment platform will filter upwards into the professional production environment currently dominated by Apple Computer's MacBook Pro.

Within a couple of years, trackpads and mouse will be confined to history and our studios will come to resemble a cross between a tai chi dojo and Madonna's 'Vogue' pop-video with designers waving, pointing, pinching-out designs in flamboyant, exotic gestures on gleaming oversized tablets.

Apple has publicised the fact that existing iPhone Apps will run on the new iPad platform, thus guaranteeing a huge selection of software titles from day one of the product launch. Many titles, particularly console-style games, scale-up remarkably well using the iPad's pixel-doubling capability. However, some titles will fail to scale so elegantly. iPhone buttons that were activated with a flick of the thumb are now positioned in the centre of a huge 1024 x 768 pixel display, so unless you are blessed with four-inch thumbs, the user interface is hardly ergonomic.

Beyond Apple's preloaded applications, the effectiveness of the iPad interface will of course be dictated by the experience and demands of it users. Couple this with the geo-spatial, cloud and networking capabilities of the machine and you get a seductive platform which offers vast potential in terms of user interface design that could evolve in any number of directions. As designers we should close our ears to the detractors and embrace the iPad as the creative platform that it represents.
Paul Fillingham
2010-02-05 16:50:14


"It is obvious that the iPad is intended to be a general purpose media device, rather than an office or work-related tool."

Apple upgrading the iWork software shows us the way in to office life... people will invent the ways it will improve work practice quickly... as quickly as you get used to the interface - it's what we want... simpler, better ways to do / make stuff - Thank you Apple... again.
Stephen
2010-02-05 17:14:18


The iPad target market is executives and other people who like to show off the fact that they actually have more money than sense. It's developed for people with little or no techno savvy; so great just what the world need people unnecessarily sucking down bandwidth. I'm amazed that this article has even been created this gadget is nothing more than an oversized iPhone when even less functionality, Why aren't you writing articles about HP's touch surface computers...oh wait because they're are PC's. I wish the design community would please cease and desist from worshipping at the altar of Mac. Come on guys you effectively work in marketing surely you can see that this is a step in centralising computing giving mac more power over what you read watch and listen too, why do you think their DRM is so water tight its not to protect intellectual rights it's to control market share.
Some other points:
1: HP TC1100 has been around for about 7 years ( may not have multi touch or an accelerometer but it can multi-task a pretty basic function if you ask me)
http://cache.gawker.com/assets/images/comment/4/2010/02/38e72ccc7303acfbee299f5410ebc3f8/original.jpg
2: Ipod interface...pretty much stolen from Creative Labs(settled out of court for $100 000000)

As for Minority Report style interfaces see http://www.useit.com/alertbox/film-ui-bloopers.html

BTW anybody notice that they still use current model Dell monitors and USB sticks in Caprica!! ROFLMAO
Gregory Allan
2010-02-08 00:12:42


I don't share many people's criticisms of the iPad. I personally have an iPod Touch, and I use it all the time. It was an unexpected gift, and whilst at first I coveted the iPhone, for its phone, camera, and data connection I have now realised that most of what I need from my device, the iPod Touch already has built in. In fact the only thing that will really enhance my handy email checker, web browser, media player, personal organiser etc. is a bigger screen... cue the iPad!
Benjy
2010-02-09 09:17:24


Very well thought out. Thank you.
jed share
2010-02-17 02:34:10


Nice article - I'll say designing for iPad has been an exciting adventure. We made a wooden prototype to get us past this painful period of not having the actual device: http://bit.ly/bfBr9R
Jen Gordon
2010-03-12 21:39:27


I agree that we all expected much more from Apple`s tablet. It was anticipated as kind of revolutionary gadget, and what we`ve got? The device with indefinite functionality, without multitasking, without camera, without physical keyboard...I think Apple will surprise us in future with something really revolutionary, but what concerns iPad--it`s just the evolution of iPod Touch, which is also not bad though.
ipad development
2010-05-21 17:00:44


It was immediately apparent when the iPad was announced that some technologically myopic types had failed to see the big picture smacking them in the face, namely even Macintosh computers are way too hard to use to the general public. This device addresses that failing. Computers suffer from excessive configuration. A zero-configuration system is long overdue and I for one, welcome it. This is computing finally moving in the direction it has long needed for a vast audience of potential computing users. Not comput(er) users, you'll note. I first started using computers in 1978 when, if I wanted to achieve anything, I had to do the programming myself. The Macintosh UI was like a neutron bomb compared to the stone axe of a CLI when I encountered it in 1984. I immediately saw the useful work I might create with this tool. For the last 25 years I've been very productive with my graphic design and software development work as I've waited for the next step that would leave behind the desktop metaphor and address the daunting complexity, especially to the layperson, of configuring and maintaining a computer. The iPad appears to be that step. It has the potential to be most of the computing that a vast majority of people need in a easy to use device that operates in a "walled garden" and subsequently, has a higher reliability. Where software developers will take the hardware should prove to be interesting. Conversely, I was incredulous when Win95 drove a vast amount of humanity to buying a PC they had little capability to troubleshoot and maintain - all so they could get on the internet and have e-mail. I thought that was one of the all marketing time snow jobs where millions of people who had no reason to own a computer were buying one, just to use them in passive information consumption activities!
Jim Donato
2010-06-18 21:27:52


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