THE iPAD AS AN (NON) COMMUNAL DEVICE
I bought an iPad the day it came out and wrote a couple of times on the blog and in our newsletter that I’d be posting a review of it. Well, the review is 80% done and sitting on my desktop, but I never finished that final 20% because, frankly, I got sick of reading about the iPad and decided that I didn’t want to add any more verbiage about it to the blogosphere. Short version, though: despite various qualms (no Flash, speakers on only one side of the device, the primacy of Apple’s walled-garden app store, a shutter effect when loading Safari pages, and the ick factor of Apple’s recent, increasingly heavy-handed business and public relations tactics), I like it. It has fit comfortably alongside my other various screens, and, particularly, it makes watching web videos a really lovely experience.
But I was prompted to write this short blog post after checking out John Gruber’s site today and going to this link to a post by Craig Hockenberry, who describes the iPad’s huge potential and current limitations as a communal device. In that 80% done review, that was my single biggest complaint about the iPad. Here’s what I wrote:
No User Switching: This is actually my biggest critique of the iPad, and it strikes at the existential question of its identity — that is, whether it’s a standalone device or a peripheral. Few are claiming that the iPad can do all that you need… but, at the same time, arguments for it focus on all the things that it can do that your laptop can do too. By its design, though, it is a peripheral device because, even before you can properly turn it on, you need to sync it to a master computer with iTunes. Fine — iPods are the same. However, the iPod is fundamentally a personal device. It’s got your music and your earbuds go in your ears. The iPad’s large screen, however, makes it a perfect communal sharing device. The iPad is a great device to leave on the living room table for all members of a family to use or to employ as a presentation device to be shared in the office. But, media has to be synced up through a single iTunes account. It links to one credit card. It contains one set of bookmarks, which means its web browsing is personalized for any one user. Once set up, your email can be read with the click of one button. And unlike the Mac desktop OS, there is no ability to create separate log-ins for multiple users. While I’m sure Jobs and Co. would love it if every member of a household, or an office, picked up one of these things, that’s not going to happen in the short-to-medium term. I’d like to see the iPad embrace multiple users, like laptops do, and I think the architecture that prevents this is thwarting one of its most natural uses.