iPad: A Designer’s Perspective

As an Interaction Designer and general creative type, my reaction to the iPad includes a mixture of perspectives – that of a designer and a consumer. The unique quality of the iPad struck me before I touched it. I didn’t comprehend the significance immediately, but something nagged at me until I explored it enough for it to sink in. It’s not just the touch interface. The touch screen is not a new concept. Most people have experienced touch-based ATMs or supermarket kiosks (grumble), if not a multi-touch cell phone or mp3 player. Nor is it portability. A cell phone fits in your pocket and my MacBook Air weighs only 3lbs. In fact, tablet computers have been available for years, but they haven’t entered the mainstream market. I believe there are two distinct reasons why the iPad has made such a stir, namely versatility and intimacy.

[dt_quote type=”pullquote” layout=”right” font_size=”big” animation=”left” size=”3″]…your finger taps create music and visual stimuli like watery undulations, a drawing application that shows you playback of your art creation and colorful books with elements that tumble on the screen as it’s tipped and swayed.[/dt_quote]First let’s explore its versatility. The iPad isn’t an e-reader or drawing tablet. It arrives with a long list of features ready for use upon arrival – web browsing, email, photo management, watching videos and managing music, among other things. Beyond that, you can expand the iPad experience with a quickly growing number of software options. There are limitations. It’s not possible, for example, to simply transfer the applications from your laptop or desktop and use it as a Mini-Me version of your primary computer, but there’s beauty in this. The unique operating system inspires developers to create software tailored to the device. The impact of this is enormous and the emerging innovation is truly inspiring. For example, an application where your finger taps create music and visual stimuli like watery undulations, a drawing application that shows you playback of your art creation and colorful books with elements that tumble on the screen as it’s tipped and swayed. The breadth of options offer a unique experience for every individual, both creative and otherwise. Another element of versatility relates to how we carry it around. I can hold it in my lap to browse the web or draw, prop it on a desk to watch a video or pair it with a keyboard for a spurt of intensive writing. This is particularly useful for travel. I can use the device to read a book or watch a movie on the plane. Then, when I get to my hotel, I can pull out my keyboard to rework my latest writing project. I can leave my stack of books at home, and maybe even my sketchpad if I can get used to drawing on a digital screen. I’m confident it will just take a little practice.

[dt_quote type=”pullquote” layout=”left” font_size=”big” animation=”right” size=”3″]With its combination of portability, quick response time and multi-touch interactivity, the iPad presents an enticingly visceral experience.[/dt_quote]Let’s delve into the concept of intimacy. With its combination of portability, quick response time and multi-touch interactivity, the iPad presents an enticingly visceral experience. Touch-based phones are great for discrete tasks, yet too small for deeper interactions, including browsing the web, exploring a map or typing out an email of more than a few lines. The iPad presents a larger interactive palette while still making it viable to carry to bed or pull out of a satchel on your way to an appointment. Its quick response time is also a factor to consider. The thing is fast. When a device responds quickly to input, it approaches the flow of thought and a stronger bond is formed between device and user. The multi-touch interface also adds an aspect of intimacy. Manipulating content with your fingers is a sensual experience. Pushing, pulling, tapping, dragging, rotating and shaking create a very intuitive, very human interaction for such a technical gadget. Getting rid of the mouse and the keyboard brings you into more immediate contact with the device. It’s like bypassing the priest and talking directly to God. Oh now, it’s just a metaphor. The subtly tactile, lightening-response, fit-in-your-bag mix of qualities makes the iPad an experience that is inspiring people to say, “Get your own,” while pushing their friend’s hand away.

At a time when technology can respond to geo coordinates and multi-touch input, and consumers are accustomed to micro-transactions, the iPad is a timely addition to the gadget repertoire. It has its foibles, but most iPad consumers I’ve talked to agree that the drawbacks pale in comparison to it’s overall enjoyment. I haven’t even broached the ability to be connected beyond the limits of wi-fi networks. Personally, I’ve already considered donating my laptop and get giddy thinking about what developers might present next. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this gadget is better than sex, but the sensuality of the iPad has my creative spirit ignited. Maybe it’s the anticipation.

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