my nagging feeling about the ipad

January 28, 2010 | 15 Comments

I dutifully followed the Apple announcement yesterday, even showing enough restraint to wait for the 60 second auto-refresh like a good web citizen. I’ve visited the Apple site a few times since, scanning the info and gawking at the iPad. I’m impressed with it, and think it will be better in person, so I’ll go see it shortly after it arrives in the Apple store.

As the refreshing and gawking settled, there was an impression forming that I couldn’t name, but it troubled me. I think I’ve finally identified it. But first, a little sentimentality…

My first extensive experience with a Mac was through work — a G4 PowerBook running Panther that was purchased for editing videos. It wasn’t long after that I had my own — a G5 iMac that was soon paired with a used 12″ iBook. I still used a Dell laptop for my job, but I used the Macs whenever I could.

Working on the Mac gave me the feeling that I could make something…that I could create anything. The simple, but powerful interface felt like the Mac got out of my way and let me make something. And I still feel that way about my current 13″ MacBook Pro. I am equipped and enabled to create in any digital medium I choose to.

It is this urge to create that has driven the Mac community for years. It’s long been the desired product for all sorts of creative work: design, film editing, audio recording, etc. And it’s not a coincidence that Mac market share’s rise coincides with what Richard Florida calls The Rise of the Creative Class.

And so the realization that troubles me today is this — the primary function of the iPad is not to create, but to consume. I won’t go so far as to say consumption is a bad thing — many of my ideas are born out of the words, images, or harmonies of others. But I do know that what most often keeps me from creating is the immediate availability of so much to consume.

So I end with two pleas:

  • To Apple: Your appealing and simple designs draw something out of us. They make us want to create. The iPad is fine, I might own one someday, but please don’t forget about what has drawn so many of us to your products. It seems that your core strategy has shifted toward content delivery, but please don’t neglect the tools for content creation.
  • To developers: What the iPad is capable of is in your hands. Already, you are dreaming up ideas. You probably couldn’t sleep last night. I hope that your creativity will lead to tools that inspire and enable the rest of us to be creative too.
  • great post man… i never thought of it like that. Good stuff! Would love it from the context of handing it to a client and showing them my portfolio…

  • John

    I agree…there are some great potential uses for it. But it’s not going to do so much to help you create that portfolio as it is to display it.

    Seems like there is the possibility for some good photo management and editing apps on there.

  • Adam Young

    Great post – and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I am one of those people who wait until the next generation comes out anyway, so by then I’m sure all those questions will be answered by the Apple geniuses, and I can then buy and enjoy (and create).

  • The consume vs. create dynamic is interesting because they really hit it hard in the presentation. I think what appeals to me is that I currently do both on my laptop but the question popped in, “Do I need to?” It seems that I could dedicate much of my time to creating to a workhorse computer, using it as my artist’s studio, while using an iPad or iPhone (which I use now for consumption) as my everyday information source.

    While the splitting might not be useful for some, I’m liking the idea more and more. 90% of what I do (while not actually at work,) is consume, why do I need a mega-fast-but-mega-huge MacBook to do it. Also, it’s crazy how the iPad has made my MacBook feel clunky and huge.

  • I have mixed feelings about this. One of the weird side-effects of the iPhone is that music composition has been revolutionized. I would have expected drawing, or photography, but I think the true potential of the iPhone has been realized the most in music composition. I’ve already identified a few apps that, just in their iPhone form I would love to play around with on a larger screen with a faster processor.

    On the other hand the iPhone doesn’t have a real filesystem that is conducive to managing any files, let alone media. The main feature that every creative needs is to be able to generate files and store them; to access them and share them. Without that built into the OS it’s difficult to imagine it being adopted widely as a creative tool. Now that ioLibrary was forced out (see link above) it’s back to connecting to each app via a web browser on the local network. Each application developer has to reinvent the wheel. It’s a mess.

  • Bob Hyatt

    I agree with your feeling-
    It’s a media consumption device- more akin to a TV/Stereo combo than a laptop…

    That being said, I was really wishing the Apple people had done 3 things before yesterday:

    1. ran the name by some women or even a middle school boy. ‘Nuff said.

    2. Watched the Microsoft Courier video that’s out there a few more times. Clearly they watched it at least once in re-doing their calendar app, but seriously- this could have been a media device + a productivity monster. As it is, well… I think I may have to get one, because , you know, they own me… but If the Courier ever exits the vaporware stage it might be a tough choice. And that’s saying a lot from someone who’s pretty knee-jerk anti-Microsoft.

    3. I wish they had looked at an Android smartphone. Man- the iphone interface is TIRED. I love that they refreshed the calendar (and even the contacts) app- but the tiny little icons all in rows thing is getting annoying.

    All in all, I think this is where people will look back and say “Apple got a bit lazy, lost touch a little…” The Zune interface has been beating the iPod interface hands down for a year or more now- but no one noticed, cause… well, it’s a Zune.
    But with this, Apple has given Microsoft a HUGE opening.

  • John

    Last year, I seriously evaluated changing my 15″ MacBook Pro doing a large iMac/MacBook Air setup. And I’ve already kicked around what you describe. When it came down to it though, I like being able to work on anything I want anywhere I want. I want to have my full toolset with me. (I do have a 10″ hackintosh which I think works far better than most who critique them, but I rarely take it out…my MBP just isn’t that hard to take someplace!)

    Others are talking about this too, but for me, the iPad would have to be an extra device, and not a laptop replacement.

  • John

    Just to help you justify it…the one thing it could do well, with a keyboard, is serve a write anywhere device. Seems like you’ll be able to justify it when you finalize that big fat book contract. 🙂

  • Arne

    There are some very interesting observations in your post and also in the comments. It makes me want to add my thoughts; which is a rare thing.

    1. Why would consumption and creativity be antagonists? Here is my guess: Creativity is a function of boredom. Consuming makes us feel less bored and therefore it makes us less creative.

    2. Creativity comes easier, if complexity is reduced: too many possibilities actually harm creative output. Every musician who used a step-sequencer knows this. The difference between a Mac and a PC is like the difference between a step-sequencer and a piano. The Mac make me feel more creative, because it offers me less choices: less applications, less possible workflows, not to forget: less viruses.

    3. The iPad’s interface has a huge potential for creative work, because it is not a production workhorse: Be creative on the iPad; finish the work on your iMac.
    And yet Apple traitorously sells the iPad as a consumption device. It breaks my heart. Kind of. I guess i’ll buy one anyway.

  • John

    Thanks for your comments Arne. I too think the iPad has some great potential for creative work, but it’s in the hands of the developers now!

  • Rick

    I was disappointed that some type of pen-input wasn’t demonstrated. I don’t know that I see myself laying it flat on a table and typing away, and I know I don’t see myself carrying a plug-in keyboard. I really wanted to be able to draw and handwrite on it in order to make it compelling as a creativity horse. Is this functionality that software alone can handle?

  • I think tell will tell if it is a creation device. Here are some ideas I have about how filmmakers can use it:

    iPad for Filmmakers, Hopefully

    Also, the OmniGroup has announced plans to being 5 of their desktop apps to the iPad. Omnigraffle, in particular, strikes me as a huge win for creative pros.

  • John

    Thanks for the comment. I think it has great potential as a device for creation, thus my plea to the developers. Was really happy to see the response from OmniGroup as well. Now, if Scrivener and Pixelmator get on board, I could see how an iPad could quickly be a useful tool for me.


  • Forgot how blogs work for a second. I’m back! Don’t expect to see Scrivener anytime soon:

    Over at the Literature and Latte forums there has been a lot of back and forth on the subject. My conclusion is that I don’t need a Scrivener on the iPad, I need, I mean NEED, WriteRoom. I use it all the time on the iPhone to bring stuff into Scrivener. If OmniOutliner is coming to iPad, then that solves a lot of portable organizational needs.

    I think the idea of standing up a paper-sized iPad and typing into it with a keyboard seems like a really interesting method for creative writing. The “desktop” will be replaced with an actual desktop. Just a thought.

  • There was something nagging me about it as well and I couldn’t put my finger on it until you mentioned the creative vs. consumption idea. I too love to use the mac as a great creative tool. I’m hoping there will be some good creative apps that may change the way we create. Until then, I will wait till they come out with iPad 2.0 and maybe pick one up for my wife instead of a kindle and I’ll stick with my MBP.