Normal people don’t like today’s computers. Most loathe them because they can’t fully understand their absurd complexity and arcane conventions. That’s why the iPad will kill today’s computers, just like the latter killed computers running with punchcards and command lines.
Of course, the iPad – the actual product that millions will buy in the coming months – won’t replace all computers. The entire world is not going to run just on tablets, just like the world doesn’t run only on smartphones and personal computers now. But Steve Jobs’s Next Big Thing is the first computer that requires no training whatsoever, one that is truly accessible and useful for everyone. Just like the iPhone changed the idea of what a phone should be without anyone truly realising it, Apple’s new computer will completely and permanently change our idea of what a computer is and how it should behave.
That is what is important about the Apple’s new mobile computer. It shows that computers have – must – be an invisible platform, one that shifts its appearance to give people the tools to complete the tasks they want to accomplish, whatever these are. To enjoy and create content. To play. To communicate. To work. By being invisible and letting the applications do the work in the most simple way possible, the power of the computer will, at last, be available for everyone. No previous knowledge required. From a three-year-old baby to your 90-year-old grandma, people will be able to just do things.
Some say that this is not possible. They focus on the anecdote and not on the big picture. They dismiss the computing model change that the iPad brings – and the new mobile computer itself – anchored in their preconception of what computing should be. They’re forgetting that history shows that the change is not only possible, it’s inevitable. It has happened before. Many times. And it’s happening again.
Once again, the previous elites laughed because they thought the GUI wasn’t as powerful as the command line.
Despite that, the people who jumped into this new computing concept showed that they were more productive in these computers than “the others”. Shortly after, this desktop metaphor took over the world, further democratising the access to computing power.
That’s where we are today.
Time to kill the computer
The problem is that the desktop metaphor is not good enough. Despite its relative ease of use, most people still find computers difficult to use. Now, if you actually like computers, you probably don’t sense much of a struggle when managing Mac OS X or Windows. But watching some of your friends and family will make it painfully obvious: Most people are still baffled by conventions that many of us take for granted.
The iPad fully embraces that solution. It puts that idea – photos, music, movies, documents of all kinds stored into task-oriented, specialised databases – together with the fully modal, task-oriented interface of the iPhone, loaded with amazing applications that will let you do everything you can imagine, for pleasure or work. It’s the realisation of universal information appliance proposed by genius like Alan Kay and Jef Raskin in the ’70s. The Holy Grail of Computing.
iPhone or Android users who ask themselves why it is so easy to do things with these devices, but wonder why their PC and Macs remain so cumbersome and complicated, will fully embrace this. Your grandma will embrace it. Your aunt will embrace. Your cousins. Your kids. Everyone who doesn’t have a fucking clue about computers and don’t want to learn and don’t care. Everyone will jump into this new era of computing. Everyone.
Even myself – a tech-oriented person who depends on keyboards and specialised software like Photoshop – will do it. I will because I find myself doing more and more things on my iPhone, and less in my computer, even while I’m in front of my notebook or desktop. I use my phone to update Twitter or Facebook, to check eBay, consult bank accounts, tune a ukulele, play quick games with friends, play music, check the weather, pick up a movie and buy tickets, plan my trip across the city using public transportation, select a bar or a restaurant after the movie, and when I arrive at the bar, name the tune that is playing. I can keep a schedule, quickly contact anyone, take a photo and sort through old ones, play any song at hand, store travel itineraries, bring up information about tides and waves for surfing, quickly pick a recipe and make a shopping list or record a voice memo.
The list of tasks is endless. Even while smartphones are limited by small screens, they have become the absolute centre of the digital lives of many normal people. Unknowingly, the iPhone invasion started the transition to this new computing era.
The iPad is here to extend that into a larger screen that will make new things possible. And after the iPad, others will come. One of them will be as big as my Wacom Cintiq 21ux. Others will physically resemble my desktop computer. But all of them will be part of the same computing revolution.
That revolution comes this Saturday in the States. Hold onto your underpants, because the world is changing again. Big time.