Unless you’ve been deep in a cave for all of last week, you probably heard that Apple announced their new product yesterday, the iPad. Opinions about the device, including mine, have been somewhat split. I’m going to leave the general pros/cons discussions for somewhere else, but I wanted to discuss one aspect I find particularly interesting: In a world where devices and services are more and more socially connected, the iPad is strangely ANTIsocial.
By leaving out two features—multiple concurrent apps and any kind of camera—the iPad opted out of any competitive social connectedness. It is far less social than the iPhone (or any smartphone), any netbook, and any console gaming system. The iPad is supposed to be a consumption device, but isn’t consuming entertainment a social activity?
The inability to run multiple or background apps means there’s no peripheral sociability. Many of us run IM, Skype, and/or Twitter in the background on our computer (or netbook), especially when we’re more casually engaged. The iPad, on the other hand, is strictly modal. There’s no way to IM with a friend while watching a TV show, or keep an eye on Twitter while cruising around on the web.
The iPhone doesn’t run background apps either, but the iPhone is a PHONE, which is inherently social. It also does SMS. In a world where Twitter sends you texts and email and Facebook have push notifications, even if you are not directly calling someone, the phone is in constant peripheral communication. And it’s doing all of that while in your pocket.
It’s possible the iPad will allow apps to have push notifications with audible alerts, although right now there’s no indication that it will. But that interaction model seems more suited to a phone in your pocket than a device you are directly engaged with for hours at a time.
A web camera on the iPad could have made up for the lack of peripheral connectedness by enabling an extraordinarily deep social connection in the form of face-to-face video chat. I kept waiting during the presentation yesterday for Jobs to announce there was “one more thing,” a webcam embedded behind the screen, enabling direct eye-contact during video chat. THAT would be magical. (Also, I would bet that baby-boomers, a theorized target for this device, would adore such a feature.)
A standard camera could also have helped. On the iPhone, photos and videos are social objects because you can digitally share them instantly. Quick poll: which would you say you share more—photos taken with your phone or photos taken with a nicer camera (especially per photo)? The iPad regards photos and videos as media for consumption only. This is made even clearer by the absence of an SD card slot, which is most useful for making photos digitally sharable in the first place.
You can use the iPad to share photos with someone standing next to you—the photos are larger and the screen is nicer than on your iPhone. But… you always have the phone on you. When you run into an old friend and want to show them pictures of your kids, what are the chances you will you pull your iPad out of your backpack?
Did Apple realize they were ruling out so much social activity? It seems strange if they truly want to compete with netbooks. Or perhaps Apple is attempting to influence society and encourage us to take time away from the constant buzz of Twitter and social networks. What do you think?
P.S. I also have to chime on the name. My guess is that Apple chose iPad, despite its U.S. cultural connotations, because it transfers more easily to other regions and languages. Regardless, I wish they’d instead named it the iPage: a name that evokes their iBooks design (see below), and if the iBook is a computer, then this isn’t this like is a thin, light slice of that?