Like Rod, I was initially underwhelmed with the iPad’s launch. I’ve since had a couple of days to reflect and read some of the commentary and I’m cutting it a little more slack. I also suspect its tepid 8 marks out of 10 reception in some quarters had much to do with the unbelievable amount of hype that preceded its unveiling – nothing could ever live up to that.
But what’s most interesting about the arrival of the iPad is the notion that it marks the beginning of – or rather, more an inflection point on – a splintering move away from the thirty-year-old PC paradigm. Not so much in respect of physical form factor as tablet style computers are patently not new, but more in terms of purpose. Some have hailed the iPad’s arrival as the death-knell of the PC, but I’m not so sure.
It gets really interesting when you get on board with the notion that personal productivity – the PC’s raison d’être – now has a sibling which I have given the somewhat cheesy label; personal consumptivity.The PC’s core value proposition was that it was an amazing boon to personal productivity, and indeed it remains so today. But building tools whether they be hardware devices or software applications with the aim of augmenting personal productivity tends to result in things which are optimised for such tasks. Devices with keyboards, highly flexible multi-tasking operating systems and ways of describing and organising content that align with our physical workspaces.
Fifteen years ago Windows 95 and the tens of thousands of applications it enabled marked a massive leap forward in personal productivity, just at a time when consumable information began to become almost infinitely and freely abundant thanks to the web. And with the web hastily retro-fitted and then more elegantly embraced in more recent iterations of the PC, the classic personal computer has been the single form factor most of us have consumed this recent avalanche of information upon. Indeed, we can’t bear to use a PC without an internet connection today.
However I suspect devices like the iPad and the iPhone before it throw light on an emerging division between devices that are used for productivity – making things – and those used principally for consuming. Whereas previously we had no choice but to use a variant of the universal PC form factor for either production or consumption, we now have a choice.
I attempted to illustrate the rather questionable logic of my argument in this diagram…
A full travel QWERTY keyboard, numerous expansion ports, meagre battery life and sheer heft are all unwelcome ballast when all you want to do is surf, view, read or listen to stuff. Conversely, if you spend 12 hours a day building software applications, working with complex spreadsheets or writing a column for a newspaper then you don’t want a smartphone or tablet computing experience anytime soon.
So, counter to what some pundits are claiming, I suspect that some people will always need something like the PC form factor or at least a future descendant of it, but it will be very interesting to see where the emerging consumption branch will carry us and how this might change the way we manage and run our personal and working lives.
The tough question is; will we ever see a holy grail device that can combine both optimal production and consumption or will this new division be a permanent one?