Last month's Mobile Portland meeting featured a panel discussion speculating on the upsides and downsides of the newly announced Apple iPad. I was there, and was contacted by iPadInsider.com to write them a guest-blogger recap to run on their site. I agreed.
It's now been a month and they've still not run it; the device may actually be available before they ever do. Assuming they do.
With that in mind, I've decided to just run it here. I worked too hard on it to just waste it.
The impending availability of the iPad has spawned a not-inconsiderable amount of excitement and speculation as to how we'll all be impacted by Apple's groundbreaking new device. In an attempt to address some of the speculation, February's Mobile Portland meeting gathered 5 experts from disparate fields -- fields that are pretty much universally expected to be significantly impacted by the iPad. Each expert took their turn speaking about their area of expertise for around 10 minutes, which was then followed by about half an hour of lively panel discussion fielding questions from the standing-room-only audience.
The first speaker was Small Society's Raven Zachary (http://twitter.com/ravenme, http://smallsociety.com/), who spent some time addressing what is currently known about when we'll be able to get our hands on the iPad -- which really isn't a whole lot:
"We don't know much; we don't have a ship date, we don't have a preorder date, and if you're outside the US, it's even worse."
Among the interesting facts presented in Raven's talk was the impact that iPhone (and iPod Touch) have had on the mobile market. He said there are over 75 million devices in the hands of users -- about 50% iPhone, about 50% iPod Touch. He also said that iPod Touch has been rapidly gaining on iPhone, and that there are two massive growth periods each year: back-to-school and Christmas. iPod Touches are expected to overtake iPhones this year, as more and more are getting into the hands of young people. Young people came up several times throughout the evening, and it's clear that the appeal of Apple's devices will continue to stay strong as each new generation gains buying power.
"iPad is a safe place to try out new publishing models, and the publishers are looking to experiment. Apple says 'we are safe,' and they're listening."
From what Jon had to say, publishers have already been trying to come up with new ways to deliver their products, and iPad promises to be a fairly win/win way to try out new methods.
Jon also spends time talking with people in the "mobile" industry as well as the publishing industry, and shared an amusing anecdote about the lack of discussion about iPad at Mobile World Congress this year.
"At MWC, not one person mentioned iPad. Then again, no one mentioned Palm, either, so I don't know if that really means anything."
Next up was James Keller, also from Small Society, (http://twitter.com/semaphoria, http://smallsociety.com/) who ran through some of the exciting new user interface / user experience changes the iPad has innovated. Amusingly, pretty much everything she had to show us came from the handful of photos and youtube videos taken by journalists on the day of Steve's presentation, so there's still quite a lot of speculation as to how certain things work, or even what they're for. One of the things that most stood out was how Apple is now taking advantage of the larger display, creating sort of 'split-screen' areas for showing menus, options and additional content without having to obscure the content at which you're looking. Pretty neat stuff.
She then went on to talk about how the introduction of the iPhone changed her life, creating what she referred to as her 'night-stand device.'
"I sleep next to my iPhone. The last thing I do before sleep is check my iPhone. The first thing I do when I wake up is check my iPhone."
James suggested that iPhone's impact her life could potentially be duplicated by the iPad as well. Whether iPad secures the coveted spot on James' night-stand is still up in the air, as well as just how useful it'll be as a device on which she can accomplish any work. One thing she's sure of, though: she can definitely see the appeal of iPad as a 'relaxation-time' device.
"It's the perfect weekend device, even from the perspective of a power user. I'm likely not going to be wire-framing on it, but when I'm watching a movie and doing a crossword? Heck yeah."
Then, coming back once again to the youth demographic, she pointed out what promises to be a pretty important demographic the iPad could potentially affect: students.
"I think the iPad has a huge potential school appeal; I walked around with a back-ache for years at college, and the thought of having all my books and notepads on a small device is awesome."
Chances are she's right; She can't be the only person sick of lugging books around. Someone in the audience suggested that he's heard that there are several pilot schools that are planning to issue an iPad to each student for that very reason. We've already seen schools requiring iPod Touches, so not only might not that be far from the truth, but it's also entirely possible that Apple could play a pretty huge part in the textbook industry in the near future if it's true.
"What the web used to represent was this sort of, 'window' into a different world. But all of a sudden the iPhone started booming and it has allowed for interaction with sites in ways that are far less boring. You can do a lot more now than just look through that window."
Chris talked about how having a device you can touch and pinch and rotate could make for really great interactive web experiences, as well as how iPad's always-on network connection and location-aware abilities could make for some really great gaming experiences.
"The gaming thing is where I'm starting to get most excited about the iPad. People are starting to tie in location sensitivity -- like playing Marco Polo with your friends on your iPad at the mall, for instance."
Chris also talked about the challenges of migrating from small-screen-based apps on the iPhone to the much larger resolution of iPad. He suggested that simply scaling up an app to fit the new resolution isn't enough, and that if a user is going to have a nice gorgeous screen, the developer needs to make their stuff look as good on it as possible.
"When we started seeing the iPad, people started asking us what the gaming experience is going to be like. New display challenges, having so much more space, etc. The key will be: don't just blow it up, use the best of what you have."
Up last was Dave Shanley from CrowdCompass (http://twitter.com/dshanley, http://www.crowdcompass.com/), who talked a bit about the history of the tablet PC, how it's failed in the past, and what Apple has been able to do differently to make it a possible success. Dave included a bunch of old pro-tablet quotes from Bill Gates that, out of context, seem to be extremely pro-iPad. Here's one the audience seemed pretty amused by:
"The tablet takes cutting-edge PC technology and makes it available whenever you want it...It's a PC that is virtually without limits -- and within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America. -- Bill Gates in 2001"
Then Dave took some time to address the common complaints regarding Apple's locked-down platform, suggesting that perhaps their approach isn't doomed to failure because of its lack of openness after all.
"Who will ultimately be successful may really come down to 'is the walled-garden approach better?' or perhaps 'is something a little bit more open the way to go?'"
"How open does it need to be to be successful? How much does openness really affect the user experience of the people buying it?"
Even people who're entirely a part of the "open is better" camp likely have to admit that Dave has a point here. Sure, geeks want to be able to use these devices in awesome ways, but, at the end of the day, most of the people purchasing them are best served with the simplicity and restrictiveness that Apple offers them. That idea brings us to the one statement that best summed up what everyone's experiences suggested, one that Dave Shanley really nailed:
"Who is the iPad built for? Who will buy it? I think fundamentally the answer is: 'not this crowd.'"
"On the other hand, what you think you want, and what you actually want at the end of the day may be two different things."
The murmur that went through the crowd after Dave said 'not this crowd,' really hit home that virtually everyone in the room was already thinking the same thing. Many people said it'd be great for their grandparents or their kids, but few present really seemed to be under the impression that iPad is really targeted to them.
During the Q&A, virtually every one of the panelists espoused an opinion that could be summed up thusly: "The iPad is really cool, and I want one -- but I'm not quite sure what I'm going to use it for." The general consensus, though, is that that's how people reacted to the iPhone and the iPod Touch as well. Surely the people who buy this thing are going to figure out what to do with it, and once they have, everyone else is going to want to do it too. Raven had this to say:
"When people go into an Apple store and touch one, it's going to be like 'oh my God, I have to have this,' and they'll have to then invent a justification to buy one."
There were a lot of great quotes from the panelists at the meeting (many of which you can read on Google Buzz from Feb 22nd, complete with horribly inaccurate panelist names) but the one with the most crowd reaction came from an audience member whose name I didn't catch.
"People are exhausted with multitasking. Even if it's just a magazine rack, you can really only look at one magazine at a time. Lack of multitasking on iPad is actually a plus."
To a large extent he's wrong -- Jason Grigsby responded to this with the classic example of needing to add up some numbers on a webpage, for instance -- but his point does fall in line quite well with what Dave Shanley had to say about the limited functionality inherent in Apple's products, and how that approach may be the best way to serve a majority of their customers.
The meeting concluded with a poll, during which somewhere around 90% of the people in attendance raised their hand to indicate that, based on everything discussed that evening, they fully intend to buy an iPad as soon as it's on sale. How we got from 'this device is not intended for anyone in this room' to 'pretty much everyone in this room is going to buy one' is a perplexing and amusing mystery, but there's no doubt that most will buy one. Just what they'll actually all do with them remains to be seen, however. We'll have to wait and see.
Whatever it is they do with them, though, we can bet it will be cool.