First, let me congratulate you and everyone at Apple on the release of the iPad. From my dealings with your company, I know it wasn’t easy. Thanks to everyone for busting their asses: a lot of very complex puzzle pieces came together during those last 60 days!
I recently had an encounter with Bill Atkinson. I told him that “I haven’t had this much fun with a computer since 1984.” He laughed, said “Thanks!”, and went back to working on his iPad app. We, and many other developers like us, are completely smitten with this new device.
After owning an iPad for a little over three weeks, it feels like we’re dealing with something much bigger than that Mac we all got excited about over 25 years ago. I’ve been struggling to define exactly what that is: beyond the technical specifications like the beautiful screen with its large multi-touch surface. Those specifications define what the device can do, but not what it means in our lives. I want to understand the magic.
Last week, much of that meaning came into clearer focus at a birthday party for my brother, niece and nephew (April is birthday month in our family!) My wife had loaded our iPad with photos from a recent trip to see the desert wildflowers in Anza Borrego and my 50th birthday party from the week prior.
Predictably, people’s initial reaction was “Wow, that’s the new iPad!” But that quickly faded as I opened the Photos app and passed the device around. My family was more interested in sharing the photos than talking about the new technology.
I was particularly interested in how my mother, the quintessential technophobe, would react to the device. She picked up on things quickly and was flipping through photos in no time. It astonished me how the interface disappeared for her: at one point she subconsciously licked her finger before “flipping” to the next photo.
As interesting as it was to see someone non-technical use the device, the real eye opener was how several people could interact with the iPad at once. Much of my mother’s fear of computers was overcome because she was looking at the pictures alongside my sister-in-law who helped her out when she got stuck. Learning was organic.
My niece also discovered some of the games I had on the device. One, Abca, was a hit because many people could play it at once. I’ve always played the game by myself and was surprised at how much fun it was to have other people guessing words simultaneously. A group of people transformed the software into something no developer had ever expected.
All of this led to the revelation that we’ve begun a new age of “communal computing.” The desktop revolution centered around empowering individuals: this new revolution will extend that empowerment to groups of people.
The iPad was naturally passed around amongst the partygoers. Many people interacted with it during the evening, and I lost track of who had it at any given time. And therein lies a fundamental problem.
My iPad has a lot of personal information on it: email, business documents, and financial data. When you pass it around, you’re giving everyone who touches it the opportunity to mess with your private life, whether intentionally or not. That makes me uneasy.
It’s hard to fault Apple for this shortcoming. The secrecy of the project undoubtedly limited the amount of group interaction your designers and engineers would experience with their new creation. The social aspects of this device is probably just as much as revelation to them as it is to me.
I can envision several ways to solve this problem: either with a traditional login screen or with something new like folders that require a passcode to open. I have no doubt that your designers can find something elegant that gives me peace of mind as I share my iPad with friends and family.
Thanks for your time and consideration,
Updated April 30th, 2010: I filed Radar #7922808 for this issue and it was marked as a duplicate of Radar #7584426.