Sometimes even I get caught up in waves of pessimism, and the recent onslaught of negativity against smart phones, social media, and technology in general has been no exception. It was while I was mulling over the affect of technology on our society that I watched the most recent Apple event where they released an updated MacBook Air, Mac Mini, and a new line of iPad Pros. The Air and the Mini look great, although it’s too bad that they are more expensive than previous models. What really caught my attention though were the iPads.
I’m drawn to the iPad in a way that’s difficult to explain. It’s an embodiment of an optimistic view of the future of technology and society, where our computing devices silently and invisibly do their jobs in the background of our lives. Apple likes to use the term “magical” in their marketing copy, and while I don’t like the term used in the way they do, I think it does somewhat apply to the iPad1. A pane of glass the size of a sheet of paper that becomes whatever the app on it is. The rest of the device disappears behind the application, so that what you are holding is an email, a web browser, a game, a calendar… whatever you need it to be. Your gateway to knowledge, work, and entertainment looks less like this, and more like this.
The iPad is a device designed to fit into a natural way of living. What can be more fitting than sitting down with something you can hold in your hand and examining it? Or walking around with it and taking notes of the things you see? In many ways the Apple Watch is the best current example of invisible technology. It sits on my wrist and silently enhances my day, encouraging me to be more healthy, active, and to take time to be still and breath once in a while. I’ll have more to say about the watch at a later date, probably a one-year review. So far, I’ve worn it every day since I got it for Christmas last year.
Of course, humans being the ridiculous creatures that we are, we always find ways to screw things up. What good thing has humanity not decided to take too much of? I like the iPad, and the iPhone too, but what I don’t like are the applications that have been designed to prey on innate weaknesses in the human psyche. Like rats in a maze, we get hits of dopamine in our brains when we see someone “liked” something we’ve shared. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have been intentionally designed specifically to target those areas of the brain that are susceptible to addiction. This is bad, but it’s not the iPad or iPhone’s fault.
These devices are tools. Amazing, incredible, mind-boggling tools, but still tools. What’s important to remember is that the iPad becomes whatever app you are running at the time. So if you run Snapchat, that’s what the device is. On the other hand, if you run OmniFocus, the iPad becomes something else entirely. The problem is not in the technology; it is, of course, in us. Luckily, I think that’s the conclusion the rest of the world will come to eventually as well. Technology advances so much faster than social norms can keep up with, it takes us a while to realize what we are doing to ourselves. Like smoking, it’s my opinion that social media without limits, as we know it now, will be regulated to the fringes within a generation.
Finally, now that I’ve talked myself out of running away to the woods and living in a cave for the rest of my life, what about that new iPad Pro?
MacStories and Six Colors have good initial write-ups, but what caught my eye the most was the switch from a lightning port to USB-C. My ears pricked up when Apple highlighted during the keynote that you could use this port to hook straight up to an external monitor, which is one of the items on my list of what the iPad needs to be a working machine for most people. The external monitor support looks pretty limited however, leaving it up to the application for how they wish to deal with it. Par for the course so far, it seems the hardware for the iPad is miles ahead of the software.
But does it really matter in my concept of future work and how I’d like to work? I’m not sure it does anymore. If my dream of future technology is to be able to pick up my workspace and walk anywhere and be able to sit down and get right to work, perhaps the iPad is closer now than it ever has been in the past. I still need to be able to type, but I also need to read and take notes, participate in meetings, make network diagrams, and interact with the various web-based consoles I depend on for my work. Of course, I could do all that with a MacBook now, but a MacBook brings with it macOS and a long history of computing ideas that iOS eschews. Perhaps my list is not as important as I thought. Maybe the 2018 iPad Pro is the device I’ve been waiting for to make the technology necessary in my life disappear. I’m intrigued once again.
I still extremely dislike the name “iPad”. “Slate” or “Canvas” would have been so much better. It’s too bad Apple married themselves to the “ISomething” moniker. ↩