Oh, new iPad. You’ve definitely outdone yourself this time now. Retina display, quad-core graphics and all the bells and whistles to make an iPad geek like myself very happy. The hardware news was certainly overwhelming, but I think one of the most important takeaways from last week’s Apple announcement was, once again, software related. Not simply was iOS 5.1 released (great on the iPad…some issues with it on the iPhone), but Apple is finally taking steps to address some of the iPad’s long standing issues – that it’s a content consumption toy.
I can’t blame them. For all that Apple’s done, the iPad as it currently stands is heavily positioned as a content consumption device. Based on my own usage patterns alone, the iPad has more or less been a secondary TV for me – playing the latest Game of Thrones episode via iTunes or whatever strikes my fancy through Netflix. For others I know who own an iPad, it’s primarily an eBook reader, a gaming device or an infant distraction device. All great uses, yes, but it’s certainly ways away from something that belongs in my professional or creative life.
Apple has certainly tried to address this issue before by releasing the iWorks suite on both the iPhone and the iPad, with minimal success. It’s not for the lack of a solid execution – the entire iWorks suite for iOS is polished and well thought-out. However, the error in judgment came not from the execution, but rather from strategy. iWorks and office productivity wasn’t the right problem to tackle, but with the new iPad’s retina display and the iPhoto app and the new iLife suite, Apple may have just hit the sweet spot.
What Apple missed with iWorks was the natural way that people use word processing and office productivity software – via the keyboard and mouse. There’s very little touch-based interaction and that simply detracts from making full use of the iPad’s screen. What’s different with iPhoto and the new iLife suite is that touch interactivity is actually natural and intuitive, oftentimes requiring fine levels of precision that tried and true keyboard and mouse simply can’t accomplish. This fundamental difference, along with the new iPad’s higher and more detailed screen resolution makes this the must-have combo – at least for photo editing and visual art. Even without a retina display, iPhoto is still a very capable photo editing app that already rivals Photoshop Express.
While I haven’t had the opportunity to try out the new GarageBand, the new features align very strongly with the same kind of content creation strategy that iPhoto follows. Wireless jam sessions is a great start, but the app has a lot of potential to become the amateur portable studio with just a few tweaks – better audio recognition to better pick out notes and sounds, as well as improved support for peripherals (maybe even first party adapters for guitars) would go a long way to push the iPad into a true music creation device.
There’s certainly still a long way to go before the iPad will fully replace a desktop or a laptop, but it’s already made huge headways in replacing traditional PCs as a media consumption device (and will only improve now that the iPad 2 is slightly cheaper). With both first and third party support, the iPad will finally start making headways in doing the same for content creation. But for now, iPhoto and iLife are solid steps in the right direction.
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