Can an iPad really replace your PC? Yes, and one Apple blogger set out to prove it


I’m getting close myself. The last few tasks that keep me tied to my Mac are some obscure file management for stuff like WordPress (though Transmit for iOS is helping), cleaning up our photo library so I can move it to iOS and iCloud Photo Library, and, ironically, Squarespace for this site and an upcoming relaunch of Finer Things in Tech.

If you’ve been curious about this, This BGR-syndicated-to-Yahoo interview with Federico Viticci, my internet pal and wrangler of Macstories, should be an eye-opener.

Fraser Speirs – Beyond Consumption vs Creation

Fraser Speirs – Beyond Consumption vs Creation

As I’ve written before, the question what you want to do with your computer has never had more impact on exactly the device you should buy. Therefore, it’s still relevant and worthwhile to ask the question of the iPad: what are you capable of, and what are you best at? Further, as the iOS ecosystem has developed, another question: if I add these accessories to you, what can you do now?

Still, I feel that the consumption/creation split is far too simplistic a curve to grade these devices on. It recognises almost nothing about the user’s task beyond whether it’s an input task or an output task. There’s far more subtlety that we can reach for.

When Apple, Microsoft, and Google took on touch

When Apple took on touch, it created a new OS (though, yes, based on OS X) with entirely new UI conventions. It threw out everything end users knew about getting around in software and started building anew with the finger as the foundation.
When Microsoft took on touch, it first tried to bolt it onto Windows 7, then got off its ass and built an entirely new interface for Windows 8. This time Microsoft used the finger, but also the pen, as the foundation.

When Google took on touch, it slapped a web browser in a traditional PC notebook, gave it a price tag of $1,300, and said ‘good luck tapping tiny 30-year-old UI buttons designed for mice and keyboard shortcuts’.

Engadget: Ubuntu for tablets revealed with split screen multi-tasking, preview for Nexus slates coming this week

Engadget: Ubuntu for tablets revealed with split screen multi-tasking, preview for Nexus slates coming this week
Typical users don’t multitask on their traditional Macs and PCs, which have been obsessively built and tuned for multitasking for the last three decades. Go people watching in any coffee shop or board room and tell me I’m wrong.

I can’t imagine they care about multitasking on their tablet.

On the similarities and differences behind the messages of the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire HD, and iPad mini

The “tablets are only for consuming content” arguments generally dissolved after their purveyors submitted to the influence of reason. After all, plenty of traditional PCs aren’t used for anything more, but why is that use even a problem? I find it interesting, though, that those discussions never seemed to return with the debut of buzz-worthy seven-inch tablets like the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, or now the iPad mini. It is especially interesting if you consider the way each company positions their tablets.
[For the record: sure, the iPad mini is 7.9 inches, which technically fits under the umbrella of “sub-full-sized tablets that are generally 9.7–10.something inches diagonally, the sweet-spot size which allows for a relatively comfortable touch-screen keyboard in landscape orientation but still a realistic tablet weight, even if it requires two hands in many cases.” Since the iPad mini stretches that umbrella and the Kindle Fire HD 8.9 doesn’t fit under it at all, let’s go with “compact tablets” instead.]

In their initial consumer-facing “here’s our great new thing” videos, Google and Amazon position their compact tablets squarely as media consumption devices. In Google’s Nexus 7 video, which lasts just under two and a half minutes, the first use cases mentioned by Tim Quirk, Head of Global Content Programming, Android, Tim Quirk, are music, books, games, movies, and finally apps. In other words: “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment, entertainment, and the other stuff that probably doesn’t qualify as entertainment.” Real-world use cases, in order of appearance, are:

  • opening a book
  • answering email
  • playing a game
  • flipping through a magazine
  • Google Maps

Amazon’s Kindle Fire video, clocking in at a TV-friendly 30 seconds, spends almost as much time promoting Amazon’s website and shipping services as it does the Kindle Fire. It’s a subtle echo of CEO Jeff Bezos’s message that the Kindle Fire is perhaps even more of an extension of its maker’s overall ecosystem than the Nexus 7 is of Google’s.

The order of real-world use cases in Amazon’s video goes like:

  • reading a book
  • adult on a plane playing a game
  • a child playing a game
  • watching a movie
  • a video conversation
  • musician doing something I can’t make out—maybe playing piano and singing along to a music video
  • then the narrator wraps it all up with “22 million movies, TV shows, songs, apps, books, and more.”

Apple’s iPad mini video diverges from the compact tablet camp in a number of ways, not the least of which is time; it’s twice as long as Google’s at 4:44. It still has Apple’s traditional style of introduction videos which Google adopted, including monologues from a handful of executives and designers that gradually intersperse more and varied real world use cases of the product.

But, in a somewhat ironic move by a company hailed for obfuscating complex and debatably unnecessary details from consumers, Apple’s video delves much more into technical specifics like manufacturing processes, product dimensions, and screen resolutions. To be clear, I generally like that Apple does this because its fantastic build quality is a great product feature that I think deserves some spotlight time. I’m just acknowledging one can argue that Apple has spent a lot of time fighting against leaning on bulleted lists of tech specs, so it can be surprising to see so many of them in introduction videos like this.

Apple’s core message around the iPad mini is what might really set it apart from the competition—if consumers buy it. In his opening pitch, Johnny Ive lays it all out: “Our goal was to take all the amazing things you can do with the full-size iPad but pack them into a product that is so much smaller.”

In the video, the app and use case order of appearance is:

  • Calendar
  • a medical app displaying a 3D model of the heart
  • Photos
  • Mail (reading)
  • Flipboard
  • iPhoto
  • a “Global Product Performance” app
  • a media-heavy weather app
  • Camera
  • Videos (watching Brave)
  • an interactive book
  • Safari showing The Washington Post
  • Facebook
  • dinosaur book
  • iMovie, editing a movie
  • MLB
  • iTunes Store
  • iBooks
  • Real Racing 2 HD

It’s notable that, when it comes to showing basic productivity input tasks like typing, Google briefly shows someone typing an email one-handed at 1:07, and there is no tablet typing in Amazon’s video. The message in both videos is clear: our compact tablet and its platform are designed first and foremost for consuming all the media you love, then maaaaybe for some nebulous app-y stuff.

While Apple waited until 4:13 (nearly the end of the video) to show someone typing two-handed in landscape orientation with an app I can’t make out, it shows a fair number of productivity uses early on like Calendar, the 3D medical model, and a product performance app. There are also repeat mentions of Apple’s vast App Store library, stocked with over 275,000 iPad apps that cover nearly every use case you need. In other words, Apple’s message is: we believe the original iPad can be used for both content consumption and creation, and so can the iPad mini.

We’ll have to wait and see whether the market buys that message and the iPad mini’s build quality enough to make the premium price worth it. The combination of supremely one-hand-able weight (it’s even lighter than the Nexus 7), support for bluetooth keyboards (which is what plenty of iPad users seem to stick with anyway), and the App Store’s healthy selection of productivity apps might very well help it to pull ahead of the entertainment-centric competition for users who want to consume and create with one tablet.

A post-PC era by any other name

Microsoft simply refuses to get both feet on board with thematically moving beyond the “PC” era, exhibited by COO Kevin Turner’s comments at his company’s Worldwide Partner Conference. Since the iPad’s introduction, Apple has claimed we’re in a “post-PC” era. Turn says it’s a “PC+” era. More importantly:

[Apple has] talked about it being the post-PC era, they talk about the tablet and PC being different, the reality in our world is that we think that’s completely incorrect. We actually believe Windows 8 is the new era for the PC plus. We believe with a single push of a button you can move seamlessly in and out of both worlds. We believe you can have touch, a pen, a mouse, and a keyboard.

Maybe he’s right, but there are two facts that don’t play at all in Microsoft’s favor. First, as we all know, Microsoft took and missed its first shot at tablet PCs a decade ago, then limped along with what it had. No one seemed to want to buy $2,000+ Windows tablets that were expensive, heavy, and built for pens instead of fingers, and Microsoft and its partners never spent any meaningful time to think about what wasn’t working or make a substantial effort to move the needle forward.

Now, Microsoft has refreshingly—though one could argue only forcibly, and only after the iPad helped destroy the Mac-to-PC sales ratio—done something interesting with Windows 8. It’s finally rebuilt its touch interface after taking the same route Apple did—experimenting in mobile (first the Zune, then Windows Phone), then expanding with notebooks. While I genuinely think it looks interesting, it also hasn’t shipped, so we’ll have to wait and see how Windows 8 is received in tablet form.

The second fact working against Turner is that even Microsoft doesn’t fully seem to buy into its own ‘no compromise, tablet + pen + touch + keyboard’ matra—a mantra, I should point out, that describes precisely the devices people haven’t wanted to buy for over a decade. While one version of Windows 8 tablets will do double-duty as both a traditional and PC+ device, another will be tablet-only, designed to run on bare-bones, low-power hardware, just like the pen-less, keyboard-less iPad.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what either of these companies, or anyone else, for that matter, calls what is turning out to be a period of pretty great innovation in personal computer design. It only matters that our tool builders listen and respond to what people actually want. Apple is clearly doing that with the iPhone, iPad, and App Store. Let’s see if Microsoft can do the same.

Richard Gaywood creates 7.85-inch iPad UI images to give you an idea what the tap targets would be like

Rumors of a 7.85-inch iPad on the way have started snowballing to the point where smart folks have spent time on the science of why it could work. Richard Gaywood, another smart folk of TUAW fame, has tossed his hat into the ring with some UI images that can help bring the concept to life.

If you visit Richard’s site, Seven Eighty Five, he has an explanation of how a 7.85-inch iPad’s display could work from the context of typical iOS display pixel densities and Apple’s HIG’s for tappable target sizes. He also provides a few images of the iOS UI and a few popular apps that have been properly resized and padded to account for the difference in screen sizes. Open them on an existing 10-inch iPad to see just how tappable these targets should be on a theoretical 7.85-inch iPad.