my nagging feeling about the ipad

January 28, 2010

I dutifully followed the Apple announcement yesterday, even showing enough restraint to wait for the 60 second auto-refresh like a good web citizen. I’ve visited the Apple site a few times since, scanning the info and gawking at the iPad. I’m impressed with it, and think it will be better in person, so I’ll go see it shortly after it arrives in the Apple store.

As the refreshing and gawking settled, there was an impression forming that I couldn’t name, but it troubled me. I think I’ve finally identified it. But first, a little sentimentality…

My first extensive experience with a Mac was through work — a G4 PowerBook running Panther that was purchased for editing videos. It wasn’t long after that I had my own — a G5 iMac that was soon paired with a used 12″ iBook. I still used a Dell laptop for my job, but I used the Macs whenever I could.

Working on the Mac gave me the feeling that I could make something…that I could create anything. The simple, but powerful interface felt like the Mac got out of my way and let me make something. And I still feel that way about my current 13″ MacBook Pro. I am equipped and enabled to create in any digital medium I choose to.

It is this urge to create that has driven the Mac community for years. It’s long been the desired product for all sorts of creative work: design, film editing, audio recording, etc. And it’s not a coincidence that Mac market share’s rise coincides with what Richard Florida calls The Rise of the Creative Class.

And so the realization that troubles me today is this — the primary function of the iPad is not to create, but to consume. I won’t go so far as to say consumption is a bad thing — many of my ideas are born out of the words, images, or harmonies of others. But I do know that what most often keeps me from creating is the immediate availability of so much to consume.

So I end with two pleas:

  • To Apple: Your appealing and simple designs draw something out of us. They make us want to create. The iPad is fine, I might own one someday, but please don’t forget about what has drawn so many of us to your products. It seems that your core strategy has shifted toward content delivery, but please don’t neglect the tools for content creation.
  • To developers: What the iPad is capable of is in your hands. Already, you are dreaming up ideas. You probably couldn’t sleep last night. I hope that your creativity will lead to tools that inspire and enable the rest of us to be creative too.
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