Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The "AyPad"

So, Apple's over-hyped tablet device came out last week. They call it the iPad. Unlike Microsoft's Tablet PCs (which recently evolved into multi-touch-capable Slate PCs), the iPad has no multi-tasking, no way to copy-&-paste, and doesn't even have Flash.

Naturally, those outside Steve Jobs' reality distortion field are unimpressed. In fact, from the moment Jobs showed the device, the blogosphere was filling-up with jokes at the expense of its name* and the fact that it looked basically like a giant iPhone.

Still, I'll have to give Apple credit for not simply installing OS X on the thing and adding some touch stuff into it. Instead, they used an OS with an interface designed specifically for multi-touch. This is something Microsoft clearly doesn't understand: desktop operating systems that were designed with mouse-pointer devices in mind do not fit touch screen environments very well. When you're using Windows 7, for example, or Snow Leopard, you interact with the user interface by guiding the mouse pointer to desired locations and clicking (sometimes double-clicking) on one of multiple buttons. There are many UI elements in those OSes that show this mouse-pointer-centric paradigm: some elements change when a mouse pointer hovers on them; things are resized by dragging on corners or edges; people rely on what the mouse pointer looks like to determine context (one pointer appearance signifies text entry, another signifies resizing, etc.); most elements have context menus accessible via a right-click; so on and so forth. Well, none of those factors apply in a modern multi-touch environment that is manipulated through one's fingers: there is no such thing as hovering, stuff are resized by pinching or stretching, etc. Basically we are already dealing with different metaphors and different navigation techniques, therefore the desktop OS UI naturally doesn't feel right on this.**

Of course, it would have been ideal if Apple took advantage of the increased screen real estate and increased processing power of the iPad to bring in more powerful ideas to the existing iPhone UI (as I mentioned, even a simple multi-tasking feature would have been cool). Well, okay, to be fair they did include some stuff that weren't in the iPhone like side-panels and drop-down menus...but those just aren't very interesting, are they? Right now the iPad is just a device with lots of potential, and the best I could say about it is that I'm looking forward to iPad 2.0.

* Aside from the sometimes gross feminine hygiene jokes, there are other ways to make fun of the name. For example, the title of this post comes from the fact that some languages (like Filipino) don't distinguish the 'ɒ' sound in "iPod" from the short 'a' sound, the ambiguity leading to confusion when someone gushes about the new "AyPad". It's funny. Laugh.

** Yes, I know that multi-touch is now already being introduced in the desktop environment. Both Microsoft and Apple have been experimenting with multi-touch mice (with Apple already releasing a product). This is really cool, but it's mostly just something to augment the mouse, the way the scroll wheel/center-button augmented it before. If they really wanted to replace the mouse with, say, a multi-touch pad as the main input device on the PC, they'd have to make a complete UI overhaul that would include the removing of the mouse pointer. This may or may not be a good thing.