The Game (Tennis Edition)

Wimbledon has always been the most revered tennis tournament of them all, and if the first round is an indication, this year is shaping up to be quite staggering. First was #1 seed Roger Federer going down two sets to none and coming back to win, and then there's the match between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. The match began on Monday and twice had to be suspended for darkness. It went the full 5 sets, and because Wimbledon does not employ a tiebreaker in the deciding set, the players were forced to battle until one of them managed a two-game advantage.

As it turns out, that would take both an unprecedented 138 games, and the 5th set alone lasted over 7 hours. The final game score for the last set was 70-68. Records were broken all over the place; most serves, longest match, longest set, most number of games, etc. More here.

After all of that, the sweat, the All-England Club decided to recognize this historic event with a small ceremony, also completely unprecented for a first-round match. They called out the significance of the match, and then proceeded to lavish praise to the umpire for all the work he did. It was one of the strangest moments I've seen in television. Here are these two men who have battled each other in a way that the sport has never seen and will likely never see again, through three days and over 11 hours of grueling back-and-forth. Completely unprecedented in tennis or any sport. And then there's the umpire, whose job was not trivial, but next to Isner and Mahut there is simply no comparison. To congratulate the umpire (and they even gave him a gift) ahead of the players is tantamount to thanking the official scorekeeper after a marathon baseball game for all the hard work put in. The only reason the chair umpire had to be there as long as he did was because of the two people playing to absolute exhaustion; and that's what should have been given the most attention.

Still, it was an absolutely epic (note here the appropriate use of the word) match and if you haven't watched it and have any interest in tennis, I encourage you to watch as much as you can. In fact, just watch the 5th set, and if you watch it all the way through you'll get a glimpse into what those players went through. You'll also get a glimpse (more accurately I might add) for what the chair umpire went through.


How to Create (almost) Perfect Passwords

The problem of choosing a password is probably one of the most annoying things anyone has to do on the web these days. It isn't even enough that many of us have tens if not hundreds of online accounts behind which lies information of varying levels of security and value. Many of those accounts also require different levels of security in their password requirements. The problem of standardizing on a set of rules to dictate password creation is a topic for another discussion, however. We all know we're not supposed to use the same password for multiple accounts, we've seen the statistics but many (probably most) of us still do it. 

A number of months ago someone broke into my Facebook account using a password that had been obtained from another site with shoddy security. I had been using that password on a number of sites, and it finally caught up with me. Like for many, that event catalyzed my need to come up with a new system, but it had to be one that would yield the Holy Grail of passwords: ones that are unique, retrievable, and secure. I had my work cut out for me. It's easy to see why so many people have insecure passwords. Creating unique, retrievable, and secure passwords is difficult.

Unique passwords must be different for each site, and must not be guessable. So a password like "facebook123" is bad because if someone figures that out, they can figure out your other likely passwords.

Retrievable passwords must be ones that you can remember on your own, without the need for 3rd party software. You must be the master of your own passwords, in case you find yourself without that application. 1Password is very popular, but if someone figures out your master password, then all of your other passwords are compromised. And what's worse, since you don't have all those passwords memorized, you're effectively locked out of those accounts.

Finally, secure passwords are ones that contain letters in mixed case, numbers, and some special characters. Also, passwords should be at least 8 characters long. The longer and more convoluted, the more secure.

As the saying goes: pick two. It's easy to create passwords that are secure and retrievable, but you're probably going to only have one or two that you switch between. Programs like 1Password are great at generating unique and very secure passwords, but they come at the expense of not being able to retrieve those passwords without the aid of the program1. And clearly, passwords that are unique and easily retrievable are most likely not very secure (i.e. facebook123, passwordwellsfargo, etc). 

So what to do about all this? Here's the solution I came up with that so far has worked very well. After reading this you'll have no excuse for using the same password for every site, or for using easily guessable derivative passwords for all of your accounts. 

One Solution 

I created a formula for generating each new password. The formula doesn't change, but by including a number of variables that do change—predictably—as well as elements that don't change, I am able to create passwords that are unique, retrievable, and secure.

For example, I might begin each password with a memorable phrase, say "Only the Strong Survive". But since that's pretty long, I'll use the first letter of each word, so the beginning becomes "otss". Further, I may change the capitalization on every other letter, so it might look something like this instead: "OtSs".

To this I might add a number that I know well—perhaps the number of my favorite Rush album, giving me something like OtSs2112.

The next step is to add something that will change with each subsequent password, but change in a way that is predictable. You might choose to tie this to the name of the company or website to which the password applies, so it's easy to remember. For instance, Facebook might be changed by shortening it to the first 3 and last 3 letters, so it becomes "FaCoOk" giving me a password of OtSs2112FaCoOk which meets all three criteria. Well, almost.

It's important to make sure that if someone figures out or hacks one of your passwords that they won't be able to guess any of your other passwords. If they guess that "FaCoOk" refers to Facebook, they might also guess that something like "WacVia" refers to Wachovia. So to really obfuscate things, it's good to break up the part of your password that changes so it becomes completely unrecognizable on its own. Perhaps you split up the first three and last three characters around the number portion of the password, so "OtsS2112FaCoOk" becomes "OstS21FaC12oOk". Following the same formula, your password for your Wachovia account could be OtSs21WaC12hOv.

The password looks ominous, and if someone figures out one of these passwords, it's extremely unlikely they'd be able to figure out any others. Breaking it down into chunks makes it easy for you to remember because it follows a formula that only you know. Also, the beauty of this method is that each time you login somewhere, although the specific passwords are different, you're using the same formula over and over which reinforces it in your mind.

You can change any of these specific methods or add special characters like !@$ (in fact I urge you to), but the basic premise remains, and should allow you to create passwords that are unique, retrievable, and secure.

I'd like to say this method is perfect, but it is decidedly not so. The problem that I run in to far too often hearkens back to the issue I raised at the beginning of this article: there are no standard guidelines for password creation across the web. While for most websites this method will work just fine, you'll run into sites that are excessively restricting in what they'll allow you to use in your passwords. Some must be no longer than 12 characters, and while often you'll be required to use special characters, sometimes you'll be prohibited from doing so.

My solution to this problem is to come up with a second formula, maybe one that's shorter and that doesn't contain any special characters. Even this method has its issues though, since there's no telling how many different rules you may run into and whether any two particular formulas will even be able to cover all possible allowable configurations. Then there's the problem of remembering which formula you used for which website. No, it never ends, but this method has served me quite well, and so far I've only had to remember two different formulas.

Now that you've read this, go create your password formula. Right now. Once you've done that, as you come across any site to which you have an account, change your password. Takes about 2 minutes. Put a stickie note on your monitor if you need to. After a few times you'll easily get the hang of the formula and before you know it all your passwords will be unique, retrievable, and very secure.

11Password does allow you to create your own passwords, so it's not as if every 1Password user has passwords that are not retrievable. However, using a service like this reduces your ability to recall a password since most of the time you don't have to enter it. I still believe the best passwords are ones that don't require the use of external storage mechanisms.


Incentivizing Environmental Responsibility

Sometimes it can be difficult to be environmentally responsible. My wife and I are dedicated recyclers, but in our apartment complex we have no recycling, even though the City of Los Angeles provides the service free of charge. Our property manager feels that it would attract vagrants, so he declines the service for all the residents, most of who would welcome such a convenience.

I've been traveling for my work recently, but I've never been a regular traveler. My life is far from George Clooney's in Up in the Air, so for some of you this might be old news. As is the case with many hotels, every morning I receive a copy of USA Today. That's a really nice service, and no doubt a lot of people take advantage of it. I however don't read it. There are a variety of reasons, but probably the biggest one is that I get my news from various other sources around the internet.

Last week as the papers piled up in my room (if I don't take the paper myself, it's pushed under my door by the cleaning staff), I figured this week I'd tell the front desk that I'd prefer not to get it. I thought: why not save a tree, I'm not going to read it anyway. Even if it's recycled, I'd rather avoid the energy it took to make the paper in the first place. 

The woman at the front desk seemed surprised at my request; as if I was the first person to ask for such a thing. And maybe I was, but that seems unlikely. She mentioned that the papers are free, and I'm still not sure if she meant that I wouldn't be charged for them, or that the hotel wasn't even being charged for them. I'm sure that both are true, but that's beside the point. She took down my name and room number and wrote it on a post-it. This morning there was another copy of USA Today outside my room. I can't say I'm surprised.

But that's not all. I don't know about you, but at my house the floors and linens are not cleaned every day. I generally feel that I live in a clean apartment, and cleaning every day has never been a part of that. Of course at hotels the situation is quite different. There are many reasons why after only a single night, someone may want their hotel room cleaned for–reasons that are more likely to occur in a hotel room than private home. And I think it's right that hotels have a policy of cleaning every occupied room every night.

But many times, especially for business travelers like myself who barely use the room for anything more than showering, some computer work and a little television, cleaning the room every day (and changing the linens) is really far too often. I don't think I've ever dirtied towels or linens or made a mess so bad that I felt like I NEEDED the room cleaned during my stay. There have been times when the services was appreciated, but never so bad that it was required. No I don't have kids, and again I'm not suggesting there aren't valid reasons, just that so far in my life I haven't come across any of them.

To solve this problem, I leave the "do not disturb" tag on the door all day. This practice generally works. This evening when I got back to my room (the 3rd night of 4 that I'm staying here) I see a plastic bag hanging on my doorknob. In it were 2 fresh sets of towels (bath towel, face towel, and washcloth), 2 new packages of soap, and new bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer. So, I guess the problem is not solved. Sigh. 

I think the common problem here is lack of proper motivation. My apartment manager is more concerned with the possibility of vagrants and what their presence might do to the safety of the tenants, not to mention the overall safety of the neighborhood (nevermind that other buildings on our street do have recycling). Those are valid concerns, but they lie in direct contrast with what would be a more environmentally responsible act, and one that would align with the wishes of the majority of tenants in the building. But the decision isn't ours to make.

Regarding the hotel situation, I'm sure that USA Today gives those papers out for free, because that increases their circulation, which in turn increases what they can charge for advertising. In fact perhaps they even pay a fee to the hotel for the privilege of being the sole distributor, and the hotel actually makes a small amount from the service. I'm no expert, but it's clear how my request to not receive a paper would fall on completely deaf ears. Or more accurately, it's not that someone isn't listening, it's that there's just nobody to handle that type of request, since it's in nobody's interest to deal with it. Nobody's except Mother Nature, but she's clearly not lining anyone's pockets.

And I'm sure that the person responsible for cleaning my room is only trying to do the best job possible, probably without even a thought that I might have left the tag on the door intentionally for two nights in a row. But the point remains: there's no incentive for this person to even take that mental step; certainly not from the hotel and in fact there may be serious disincentives.

These are only a few examples, but they are emblematic of our culture (at least here in the United States) and they highlight the truth that real environmental change will not occur unless we change the incentives to properly motivate people to act responsibly. My fear is that by the time we get to that point, things will be in really, really bad shape.


Thoughts on Android

In the run-up before Apple officially unveils the new iPhone model, I decided now would be a great time to really give Google's Android operating system a try. That, and my iPhone 3GS has a cracked screen and I got a hold of a Nexus One to use free of charge. I'm by no means the first person to conduct such an experiment, so this review is far from comprehensive. Instead, I'm going to list some of the issues, both good and bad, that I encountered during my use. As always, your mileage may vary. In other words, there are no doubt more advantages and disadvantages than what I mention here; this is just my reaction as a user experience professional; this is not a comprehensive review.

One note: for this review I omitted any features (such as the awful trackball) that are distinctive to the Nexus One; I wanted to focus only on the operating system.

First, the good things.

  • Android's notifications are good for the most part, although some should go away automatically without having to be cleared manually (e.g. applications that have installed successfully). Generally the idea of non-modal notifications is good, although I found myself missing the SMS previews on the iPhone, since with Android you have to remember to look at the notification bar. Overall I think I like Android's implementation better though and I still think Palm's WebOS is the clear winner here.

  • Shortcuts to frequently-toggled settings like brightness, bluetooth, wi-fi, and syncing are right on the home screen, as well as other items aside from just web pages as on the iPhone. I'm sure there's a more elegant solution, but Android does this well, and it's extremely handy. Apple should take a lesson from this.

  • Maps with navigation is great. The voice is terrible, but overall the execution is well done. One nice thing is that when getting directions, the app lets you choose your method of conveyance (car, transit, bicycle, foot) before getting directions, instead of after as on the iPhone. Right now this might be the biggest win for Google over the iPhone. If Apple doesn't unveil a navigation solution that doesn't require a 3rd party app and bank loan, it will be a major loss. Overall I think Apple's Maps application is better designed and easier to use, but the lack of navigation is a killer.

  • One-touch access to Airplane Mode is nice, from pressing and holding the power button for about a second. Although I don't like how it takes one tap to indicate intent to power down the phone, and another tap to confirm before it actually shuts down. A better implementation would be to insert a delay that only requires attention if the button was pressed by mistake.

  • Unlock pattern is a nice alternative to a code that is more easily stolen. People have said that your unlock pattern could be visible in the smudges on the screen, but in practice I think this is only true if the only thing you do is unlock your screen all day.

  • Widgets are a nice option to get quick information from apps for which it makes sense (facebook, weather, news, etc). Hard to say how this competes with resources and affects battery life; I only have a few widgets but it didn't have a noticeable effect for me.

  • Facebook and Twitter contact integration is a nice touch. I didn't think I'd like this but actually I do. 

And now, some things that aren't quite as good:

  • The keyboard is not as good as the iPhone. When you tap on a key, both the iPhone and Android display a larger version of the key above where your finger pressed to highlight your selection. On the iPhone, this "helper key" is rooted to the key you are actually pressing where on Android, the helper key floats above the key you pressed. The effect is quite noticeable in helping you increase typing speed.

    Another gripe with the keyboard is the use of lower-case letters. While it seems logical that the case of the letters on the keyboard should always reflect what you're going to type, in practice it's much harder to recognize the keys with lower-case letters, so typing speed is reduced. The iPhone always displays upper case letters on the keys, and while it may seem counterintuitive, I think this is the better way to go.

  • Settings are real-time. When turning on Airplane Mode for instance, the indicator doesn't trigger until the cellular radio is actually powered off. On the iPhone, while it takes a few seconds for this to actually happen, the indicator engages immediately while the process continues in the background. The Android implementation is very precise, but that comes at the expense of making it feel markedly slower.

  • Can't sync calendars with anything but Google Calendar, at least not without 3rd party tools, which aren't free. If you have your calendars in iCal, as I do, better pony up for the Spanning Sync utility.

  • Some device functionality is hidden behind menus, and you don't know when a screen may or may not have content in a menu because the button is always there. So you often have to explore by hitting the menu button just to see what's there, in essence the menu becomes somewhat of a crutch (though a much less unwieldy and more appealing crutch than on the BlackBerry OS) for developers and designers.

    The iPhone does away with menus entirely; requiring all navigations and options to be visible on-screen. Android makes you guess; if you're looking for a feature, there's a good chance that it lies somewhere in the menu. In practice this was not a crushing setback, for most applications it was pretty obvious what options would be in the menu, but it does make it harder to figure out everything that a particular app is capable of.

  • Email sent notifications are not as clear as on the iPhone; you have to look at the data transfer indicator in the status bar which is not an accurate depiction, since other processes may be going on in the background. Also, you can't seem to delete a message before reading it (i.e. loading it fullscreen, which takes time); this is something I do all the time on my iPhone; often I can tell by the sender and subject that I don't want to read the email at all.

  • When scrolling a list of contacts, the scrollbar is only selectable for a few seconds after manually scrolling the list (after a few seconds it shrinks down and isn't actionable until you start scrolling manually again). From my use this seems unnecessary, since almost all of my contacts (350+) fit in the space allotted anyway.

  • Scrolling with momentum is broken. Both the iPhone and Android have scrolling with momentum, which is great. The problem is that on Android, when you scroll to the top or bottom of a list, it makes a hard stop instead of the comforting elastic bounce you see on the iPhone. To those who think that elastic bounce is merely eye candy, it actually completes the momentum effect, and it provides distinction between the two actions of scrolling to the ends of a list and stopping, vs. scrolling and stopping mid-list. In Android, these actions look exactly the same and so are harder to discern at a glance.

  • Finally, the screen is not as precise and the UI in general is not as smooth as the iPhone. Things feel a little more jerky and often times I struggled to correctly engage an on-screen button while tapping it repeatedly.

Overall, Android is a very capable operating system. In my opinion it is not as polished or as well-designed as the iPhone OS. The iPhone really gets the details right, which make more of a difference than people realize. Google provided a very good base and because the environment is open to anyone who wants to write apps for it, it's possible that every single gripe I mentioned could be fixed (or may already be fixed) so that the experience could surpass the iPhone.

The downside to this, is that users will have to go out and find those better components, install them, and hope that they work. And if they don't work, you're beholden to each specific developer for fixes. On the iPhone you can't replace the default keyboard, but neither do you really need to; the iPhone keyboard (with autocorrect) is very, very good for what it is.

For my money, I'd rather use a product that works amazing out of the box with limited customization required. Out of the box, I think the iPhone OS beats Android hands down, which isn't to say Android isn't a very good OS; it is. With replacements and add-ons that are (theoretically) available for Android, I think Android has the potential to out-do the iPhone in almost every software aspect, but it's going to take time and considerable effort to achieve that.

Also, as a Mac user, the iPhone is much more tightly integrated with the operating system, making use of Address Book, iCal, and Mail to name a few. If you are a Mac user who doesn't have your digital life invested in Google services, this makes a very big difference.

I think that as a mass-market device, the iPhone is clearly the best way to go, since the tinkering and optimization required for a truly out-of-this-world experience with Android is more than most every user will want to put in. Again, that's not to say that the out-of-box Android experience isn't good, it's just not as good as the iPhone.


Apple Search?

Awhile ago I posted a short piece about what it means to be open, suggesting that Google is just as closed as Apple when it comes to where the company makes its money.

A recent conversation on the topic led me to a thought experiment that I think perfectly illustrates this.

Most of the flack Apple gets centers around the App Store and iPhone which are completely controlled by Apple, whereas in Google's world, any developer can create an application and have it run on an Android device. Apple claims this offers a consistent and superior experience, Google claims that more choices are better for the user. This battle has been ongoing for decades.

But what if Apple were to get into the search business? Imagine if Apple develops a search algorithm and releases it as an open source project, or as a free license to anyone who cares to implement it.1

Doing so would not only pit the two companies even more fiercely against each other, but Apple would directly threaten one of Google's most lucrative—and closed—revenue streams. Just as Google is doing to the App Store with the Android Marketplace.

Google doesn't need Android to be a hugely successful and profitable company, and neither would Apple need a search business to be the same. It's easy to see how Android helps Google, and Apple could probably sell a lot of iAds on its search results.

It may seem far-fetched to consider Apple (or anyone) taking on Google Search. But Apple doesn't want to hinge its success on products or technologies it doesn't control. So, if Apple's new ad platform is successful, it's not hard to imagine Apple providing additional places to show iAds, and web search is huge.

It's true that Apple makes a fair amount of money by including Google Search in their browsers on the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. But Apple isn't making any money off the ads themselves—Google is (hence the payout). If Apple has a thriving ad business, there's more potential revenue from that than the "thank you" kickback they get for hosting Google Search in their browsers.

But one thing is certain: if Apple does create a search algorithm to compete with Google, they won't claim that they did so only to save us from a draconian future.

1Apple is perhaps one of the only companies which, if they do announce a search algorithm to directly compete with Google, would be regarded as an immediate and credible threat. Microsoft, and to a lesser extent Yahoo! used to be companies with this sort of clout, but Bing and Yahoo! search are also-rans, and neither company has shown the aptitude needed to beat the Boys from Mountain View.


Whither Widescreen?

Awhile so I posted something about the iPad, and noted how tired I was of people (and there were many) bemoaning the 4:3 aspect ratio. This was back in January, after the device had been announced and long before it had shipped. Now that the device is among us, the complaints seem to be much more concentrated on its lack of Adobe Flash support, which won't happen for a number of reasons but mostly because of the reasons outlined by Steve Jobs.

But that doesn't get those early whiners off the hook. Yes, it's true that just about every movie is presented in widescreen, so it would seem to be the optimal ratio for a device which purportedly excels at video, right? But what exactly *is* widescreen anyway? Is it an aspect ratio of 16x9 (1.78:1)1? This is the aspect ratio for most films and an increasing number of television shows. Or is it 2.35:1? A lot of directors are choosing this as their preferred ratio, meaning that even your shiny new flatscreen HDTV will have those Ever-Objectionable Black Bars of Doom. In fact, in the list of the 50 top grossing movies, 36 of them are filmed in 2.35:1. And who knows what the future holds? This trend was even mocked on Family Guy, where a new cut of Lawrence of Arabia is presented in "Ultra Cinemascope Letterbox Format" Maybe the iPad should look like this?

Aspect ratio incongruences aside, the fact remains that the digital world is much greater than Hollywood might have you believe. Photography is almost exclusively a 4x3 world. Imagine viewing the thousands of digital photos you've taken full screen on your widescreen iPad, and watch those Black Bars return. Or what about the movies you took with your Flip? Probably not widescreen either. And that's not even mentioning all the old television shows and films which were shot in 4:3 and will thus be relegated to Black Bar-dom on any device that doesn't exactly match that ratio. And who's to say what the standard is for all the various games that work on the iPad? And on.

I've long been baffled by those who decry the black bars. Yes, it makes the image a little smaller, but with it you get the entire picture. You have the choice to cut off part of the picture and fill every single pixel on your 4:3 television, and you can do the same with the iPad if you choose. But other than physical image size, what's the beef with the Black Bars? I think the answer is people see these pixels as being wasted, as if they're getting cheated because every available pixel isn't being used.

Why should Apple optimize the device for watching movies when it wouldn't solve the "problem" for a lot of content out there, not to mention all the other uses for which the iPad is intended? I think the size and proportions of the iPad are just perfect, and if it means that I have to take some black bars with my movies, then I'll take that tradeoff.

Thanks to David for his assistance in compiling some of the information for this article.

1 Actually, the more common aspect ratio for movies is 1.85:1 which is slightly different than the 1.78:1 ratio which is the HD TV standard. Still, the differences between these two ratios are small and probably only really matter if you’re a cinematographer. Thanks to Brent for pointing this out.


About Being Open

Here's an excellent post by the design firm Kontra about the iPhone vs Android. They do a great job of illuminating the myth that Google is great and Apple sucks because Android is open source.

In a nut: Google and Apple are both for-profit companies who fiercely guard their revenue streams. Apple makes money selling hardware, Google makes money selling advertisements. Google doesn't care about locking down Android, but how come they're not open sourcing AdSense? Berating Apple for not opening up the iPhone platform is akin to asking Google to open source AdSense.

I'm not saying the App Store is perfect or that Apple shouldn't be absolutely clear about exactly what gets in and what stays out, but you can't blame them for protecting their revenue, just as Google does. Just as every good company does.


Monkey Island 2

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition features all-new art, a re-mastered orchestrated score, and full character voice-over.

So LucasArts is back with a revamped version of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. What I'm interested in is the "direct control mode" which, if done right, will make this version light years better than the remake of The Secret of Monkey Island


Mouse Path

Ever wonder what your computer desktop would look like after a full day of use if your mouse left a trail behind it? Anatoly Zenkov has put together a little utility to do just that. There's no support for multiple monitors yet, but it's fascinating to see and doesn't look half bad. White spots represent mouse inactivity, not clicks. The larger the spots, the longer the mouse was idle.


The iPad

So Apple has announced its revolutionary new product called the iPad. And so what? Well so most people don't seem to think it's so revolutionary. It uses a 1Ghz processor but doesn't allow background applications (multi-tasking). It has support for photos but requires the use of a dongle to connect a camera. It doesn't support Flash. It doesn't have a camera. It's not widescreen*. It's just a big iPod Touch. Etc.

All of those things are true. Every one of them. Even the iPod Touch comparison. If you built an iPod Touch with a 9.7" screen, you'd likely end up with the iPad. When Apple's media event concluded, I'll admit my first reaction was disappointment. Not that the iPad isn't obviously a great product, but I expected to be as blown away initially by this product as I was by the original iPhone. I wasn't.

The most obvious feature to give the iPad an advantage over both a laptop and a smartphone is its massive multi-touch screen, so I expected the iPad would usher forth an entirely new paradigm for how multi-touch could completely reinvent what was already a great experience on the iPhone. But as I continue to reflect, that's just foolish. The iPhone works well, and so it's only natural that the iPad should piggyback on the best features of the iPhone where that makes sense. If the iPad had been released in 2007 and Jobs had just announced the iPhone, I believe the response would be similarly dismissive. But that's OK, because the power and the form factor of the iPad will allow it to evolve on its own trajectory.

I think what people are missing is the significance of saying "it's a big iPod Touch." An iPod Touch will never change the face of mobile computing, but the iPad has the potential to do just that. Those who would say "what possible need could I have for a device that doesn't do as much as my laptop, which is already mobile?" are again missing the point. The iPad isn't trying to replace your laptop, it introduces a new interaction model for many (i.e. not all) of the most popular things for which people use computers. And this is why the iPad will appeal to the general public.

Remember that the general public does not sit in front of a computer and watch liveblog updates of Apple media events. The general public does not write or read tech blogs. The general public doesn't know what UNIX is and thinks a kernel is something that turns into popcorn. The general public doesn't know how to multi-task. The general public wants a computer that is dead simple to use which will allow them to do, well, pretty much all the things that Steve Jobs showed on stage. I know people for whom the iPad is a perfect computer. My mom is one of these people. I also know people for whom the iPad is a wonderful device, and the beginning of a new paradigm in mobile computing, but far from an absolute necessity. I am one of these people.

That you can argue the iPhone and iPod are kings of the mobile phone & music player markets should not preclude the iPad's success merely because it does not occupy the same stature within the laptop market. The iPad is not competing with laptops. It is competing with netbooks. And before you say that the iPad can't compete with netbooks, consider this: netbooks are becoming more popular but they have yet to explode. Why? Because they appeal to a relatively small number of people (many of whom are the ones currently writing off the iPad). If you want a netbook that appeals to everyone else, you don't want a smaller version of Windows or OS X; you want an iPad. Instead of just pointing out the things netbooks can do which the iPad cannot, ask yourself which of those things are really indispensable to most people. Not you, most people.

So for the general public, I'd say the iPad looks just awesome. Eventually I think the iPad will grow into a much more powerful device, and as it matures it will appeal to an ever wider audience. More importantly than just the iPad though, I belive Apple is making a point that computers can and should move away from the clunky and bloated file systems and operating systems we've been using for decades. John Gruber lays it out quite nicely, and it's the same argument that Don Norman makes in his seminal book: The Invisible Computer.

The iPad isn't for everyone, but neither is it trying to be. Just as some people still prefer to build their own computers, so some people won't want an iPad. Richard Stallman probably won't buy one. But I think the iPad will do very well, and deservedly so. Ultimately, after years of evolution and perspective, I think it will be regarded as a game-changer more than the iPod or iPhone. Only time will tell, but I think we're on the verge of some insanely great things.

*The amount of bitching and moaning about the iPad's 4:3 aspect ratio is deafening and confounding and just stupid. There's too much to say about it in this footnote, so I'll save the rest for a future post.

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