The dawn of magical computing

At the risk of indulging in fanboy-esque hyperbole, I just couldn’t resist the title nor the alluring touch of interacting with such a novel, groundbreaking product that actually makes the year 2010 feel like the 2010 we’ve all imagined! No, we don’t have flying cars or jetpacks or robot servants, but we do have a svelte (albeit heavier than expected), speedy, futuristic amalgam of hi-technology and hi-lifestyle experience–the Apple iPad. Indeed, 2010 may well become the year we evolve a new form of computing, which I term “magical computing” ;-)

By magical, I mean enchanting and wondrous, not “pull a rabbit out of a hat” or make the Great Wall of China disappear into thin air. That’s just cheesy. Magical is instead deeply emotional and humanistic, expressive and experiential, tapping into a latent sense of delight that is rare to behold and eager to be shared with others.

First, the iPad is simply irresistible: The speed, fluidity, slickness, and gorgeous visual quality are an absolute delight, and I want to find every excuse I can to keep wanting to use this, as part of my daily routines. In fact, as a response to those who’ve wondered if iPad replaces a laptop, I’m actually wondering why the heck would I ever want to go back to a laptop?? (except for maybe extensive tasks like designing interfaces, requiring detailed pixel-level control or extensive typing, like…ahem…this blog post ;-)

What is also evocative and inspiring is the fact this slate of a computer can literally be anything you want it to be, depending on the apps. The catchy tagline “There’s an App for that” captured this potent quality for the iPhone. And no doubt the iPhone has ignited the critical sparks for this “magical computing” era. Now, given the form factor of the iPad, being larger, enables it going even further, becoming a full musical instrument, a turntable mixer, cash register, multimedia recipe book, hyper-textbooks for kids, home automation manager, you name it…the possibilities are endless!

And that’s what makes the iPad so special and powerful, that it is the conduit, a vehicle for unlimited range of potential uses for any number of folks, particularly verticals (think medical, financial, supply/warehousing, archit/construction, etc.). UCD experts always ask: what’s the use case? With the iPad the use cases are emergent and will evolve with discovery of potential, not pre-ordained in some requirements doc. Another aspect of the magic, thus requiring foresight, imagination and creative insight. While Tablet PC computing has been around for years, it just really never caught on, presumably because it was focused on replicating the MS Office/Windows experience writ small, cramming pre-determined use cases into a crappy package that didn’t perform well…instead of serving as a platform for fulfilling human desires, whatever they may be.

The iPad is nothing short of “magical” in this regard, much like the nifty tools and trinkets Harry Potter picked up along his journeys. Unlimited possibility, defying (or more accurately, elevating) expectations, producing outcomes that delight and satisfy, and…it just works naturally and intuitively. Pick it up and go, with your fingers.

Other qualities that will re-shape perceptions of computing, changing our lifestyles further:

** The iPad as a remote portable viewer: with apps like Citrix Receiver and GoToMeeting you can just log into your main computer system/desktop from anywhere, using the natural multitouch gestures, having convenient access to your work or home content from anywhere.

** Much as been written about e-books and magazines. Having used it now, it’s quite simply brilliant. Robust stunning image and text quality with full page flip/navigation abilities and archiving via the cloud, why go back to tree-killing print publications that lose money? The possibilities for truly pushing the notion of “hypermedia” are just now being hinted at. From Tim-Berners Lee’s simple linking of research docs to William Gibson’s “consensual hallucination…a constellation of lights”, and beyond. We are on the cusp of some amazing interactive and kinetic storytelling!

** Streaming TV and movies via Netflix and ABC. But imagine streaming web conferences and recorded lab sessions or classroom lectures. Again, the notion of a portable sleek viewer with “augmented reality” aspects for contextual information, networked sources, social sharing.

** The ecosystem of iPhone as a touchpad or input device for the iPad, which hooks into your iMac or HDTV (via Apple TV)–whoa! Very compelling and integrative experiences are possible. Telesurgery? IT administration? Robotics? Or just controlling your home systems from a single touchpoint?

** And of course the full and growing range of UI affordances, patterns, interactions as documented by Bill Scott, Luke W, and others online. Novel ways of visualizing and interacting with data, pushing the communicative potential.

These points and of course, the inevitable technical evolution (megapixel camera, Hi-Def resolution, video/webcam, etc.) suggest moving towards a new age of expectations & perceptions of computing, beyond the traditional desktop-keyboard-mouse stationary setup. We may be at the dawn of magical computing, that is emotionally resonant, sensually irresistible, behaviorally breaking paradigms, and functionally mutable…all the while in the elegant, unassuming form of an aluminum & glass slate, compellingly portable and convenient.

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