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What the iPad Really Is

When Steve Jobs demo'd the iPad, I thought I understood what he was presenting, and I was surprised at some of the reactions. I thought Jobs was pretty clear, and yet most people seemed to be misunderstanding, stubbornly trying to fit this device into a category that is wasn't intended for.

My friend Daniel Steinberg got it. He pointed out that, instead of watching the screen on the right side of the stage during that boring display of visiting web sites and sending email, you needed to be looking at the left side of the stage, where Steve was sitting in a comfortable chair playing the role of a user, an information consumer. It wasn't a demo of what the device does, it was a demo of the user experience.

But I wasn't satisfied. There was a phrase that the device put in my mind, a phrase that I wasn't seeing in the blogs and articles that followed the press event. The phrase was, "The iPad is a consumer device."

So I Googled "iPad consumer device," and immediately saw my thesis spelled out clearly on D. Sivakumar's blog.

This is a device for consuming information. Not for creating it. Apple has decided that the era of the personal computer is over. It was a fun 30-year run, but the idea that we all need a single omnipurpose information processing device has had its day. A tool that is optimized for developing software (or for creating video or music or other media content) is not the optimal tool for consuming information: movies, books, magazines, music, web content, email, tweets, chat, voicemail. Apple is betting that we, a sufficient number of us, will decide that we have sufficient need for an information consumer device in addition to whatever other devices we think we need.

An information consumer device needs some means for entering data, because even consuming information today is interactive. But it doesn't need a writer's keyboard, just an email user's keyboard. It doesn't need a lot of things that we think a personal computer needs, because it isn't one.

Anyway, that's my interpretation (and more or less D. Sivakumar's, I guess). My guess is that Apple is right, and will sell millions of these this year. I plan to buy one. So that's one right there.

Speaking of guesses, I recently asked you to guess what Apple was going to announce at that highly anticipated event. I limited the guessing game to a few fairly objective and unambiguous (I thought) questions. I asked:

  • Price: Less than $500, $500-699, $700-999, four figures.
  • Processor: ARM, Intel, something else.
  • Operating System: Basically the iPhone OS, basically the Mac OS, something significantly different.
  • Screen Size: 7-inch diagonal, 10-inch diagonal, something else.
  • SDK: Full SDK available on delivery or not.
  • Name: Something involving Slate, something involving Tablet, something involving Book, something else.
  • Ship Date: Before March 1, in March, after April 1.
  • Number sold in 2010: Your guess.

So how did Dr. Dobb's readers do?

Since Apple announced a range of prices and two ship dates, I had to be generous in scoring those answers. I accepted either 9 or 10 inches for screen size, and nearly all of you got that right. You also did well on price, ship date, and SDK availability. Not a single one of you identified the CPU, although a minority answered the question correctly by saying "something else." Apple's answers are here.

Dogorzaly wins a no-prize for answering just one of the questions and getting it exactly right: he or she correctly predicted that it would be called the iPad. Robin Kimzy precisely identified the price that Steve put up on the screen at the demo: $499. And Daryl Desmond was the only participant to go six for six (I didn't score the last question since we don't know about 2010 sales yet).

Congratulations to all our no-prize winners!

Michael Swaine is a senior contributing editor to Dr. Dobb's and editor of PragPub.

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