Getting Touchy-Feely About the iPad


A quick hallway discussion yesterday with our Ann All and Ainsley Jones led me to confirm my initial suspicion about the iPad-it's a big iPod Touch.


This conclusion was further confirmed this morning over at our CTO Edge site by Wayne Rash, who still maintains that the Apple's presumed (and oft-earned) supremacy in the form-factor category might be the tipping-point entry to push tablet PCs through that enterprise door, where they have been futility knocking for what seems like five years or more.


Given that in many ways I am a self-professed Luddite, I still don't see it, probably because I don't see a lot of scale in the whole touchscreen thing. As Wayne (and others) point out, with the touchscreen comes the stylus, and then with dread certainty, handwriting recognition. Argh. And that's coming from a guy who has a Wacom tablet at his desk so I can scrawl on mockups of new product features and the like. The only software capable of recognizing that mess is the human brain, and I'd wager that's true of a lot of folks' handwriting.


Otto Berkes, the father of Microsoft's Origami project, notes at his blog that a iPad demo forces the user to switch to an onscreen keyboard and away from the stylus as the input device-an experience Berkes describes as "a real cognitive disconnect." Maybe it's just easier?


Berkes also describes the explosion of the netbook category as the industry following the path of least resistance toward the goal of cheap, light computers. Could be, but my inclination is that once something gets too big to carry easily in your pocket, this whole "slate" form factor is not actually particularly intuitive or useful. Keyboards are handy, and you just never know when you might want to go all dinosaur and print something via a USB port.


And ultimately, the real test of usability is whether folks use it.


The only way I can foresee tablets really taking off is when someone creates/popularizes really useful voice-recognition software, obviating the keyboard and the stylus, and keeping touchscreen input to fairly intuitive tasks such as menu selection.


Get on that, will you, Steve?

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