The Future will be Padded

This is the inaugural posting of GeekSpeak, a monthly snapshot of web technologies (existing and brand new) as well as advice on how they can benefit you as a netizen.

This month I’ll be discussing the new Apple iPad and my thoughts on it.

When I was growing up information came in only a few channels: word of mouth, print and broadcast (tv and radio). The “information superhighway” wasn’t even a rude trail in the forest yet.

By the time I graduated from college the internet had appeared along with some new information channels: websites, e-mail and chat rooms. Computers went from being rare curiosities to commonplace fixtures.

With the rise of the internet came the decline of newspapers and magazines, rudely shoved aside by news sites and a wave of web logs (blogs). Consumers of this “new media” insist on up-to-the-second information and use specialized monitoring programs (feed readers and aggregators) to watch scores of sites for any tidbits that might appear.

For content-hungry consumers the smartphone isn’t quite enough (too slow, too small) and a laptop is too much (too bulky, too heavy). Apple’s “Air” portable sought to address those issues with an ultra slim design and improved battery life but was just slightly wide of the mark. Users wanted something compact, fast enough for general use and light enough to take everywhere – and I mean everywhere – remember the shower radio?

Enter the iPad.

A tool for web browsing, email, video and data entry, the iPad is a LCD touchscreen with a proprietary Apple chip driving it. The iPad eschews ungainly hard disk drives, using compact chip-based “flash RAM” instead. The all-solid-state storage has some excellent advantages: size, higher efficiency (i.e. longer device battery life), superior durability (no head crashes) and fast read/write speed. The primary drawback is price – roughly 10x the price of hard disk storage – so the advantages come with a hefty price tag.

However, once past the wallet-clubbing troll you’re over the digital bridge into a world where all the major newspapers are literally at your fingertips. A tap opens a story, a pinch-open gesture enlarges and a hand-swipe pans or scrolls. Video and music are simple and fun. You can video conference with a friend while you’re riding the bus to work thanks to the device’s 4G network connection. In short, it’s lighter than a laptop, nearly as fast (faster in some cases) and big enough to read like a folded-up newspaper – and no ink stains!

Oh, did I mention e-books?

Apple’s online store lets users download music, e-books and video effortlessly. Hear of a great new novel on a website? A few taps, pinches and swipes and you’ve got it in your hand. Love the book? Drop the author a kudo via e-mail. Did I mention you’re still on the bus? Reach your destination, drop the iPad into your briefcase or messenger bag and it will sleep (power save) on its own, ready to jump back to  work when you pull it out at coffee time or lunch.

We may just be seeing the beginning of the end for paper-based content.

My only question is: where’s all the content for this brave new world coming from?

We’ll talk about that next time when I discuss blogging software and content management systems.

Till then, keep geekin!

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