iPad - Inspirational Hardware

by Miguel de Icaza

iPad - Inspirational Hardware

As a software developer, I find the iPad inspirational.

Apple's iPad is not a new idea. They are not the first ones to think of a tablet and as many blogs have pointed out the Apple iPad is not everyone's dream machine, the hardware is lacking gadgets and the software is not that amazing.

Five elements come together to revolutionize software:

  1. Price
  2. Multi-touch centric development
  3. Standard hardware available for consumers
  4. Apple's AppStore
  5. Large form factor.

The iPhoneOS is a multi-touch centric operating system. For years application developers have been subjected to the tyranny of the mouse and keyboard. This has been the only input technology that developers could reliably depend on and expect to be available on the user's system. Any software that requires different input mechanism sees its potential market reduced.

The mouse is a great device for certain class of desktop applications. But it has also led to applications that are incredibly frustrating to use. Software for editing music and audio is cumbersome. Find the target, drag it, move it, find the other button, click it, scroll, drag, click. Anyone that has used Garage Band to try to play along knows this. The same applies to software to paint or draw. The mouse and keyboard are poor substitutes for using your hands.

On the iPhone, and now the iPad, the situation is reversed. Multi-touch is the only input mechanism that developers can depend on. Apple's iPhone helped create a community of developers that think in terms of taps, pinches and twirls instead of clicks, double-clicks and right-clicks. It is no longer an after thought. It is no longer a feature that is added if there is enough time in the schedule or enough budget. It is the only option available.

Taps, pinches and twirls allow us to use the full expression of our hands to drive an application. And it is not just any multi-touch, it is multi-touch over the same surface where the application is providing feedback to the user. Software that respond to user input in the same way that a physical object responds to our physical contact is the key to create new user experiences.

This is a whole new space in which we can research, a new space that we can explore and where we can create a whole new class of computer/user interactions. With the new form factor, we can now create applications that just made no sense on the iPhone.

It is fascinating.

The standardized hardware means that software developers do not have face testing their software with dozens of combinatorial options. There are only a handful types of systems. If the software works on the core systems, they will work on all consumer devices. Standardized hardware is at the core of the success of the console gaming market, developers test and develop against a uniform platform. Price is the cherry on top of the cake, this device will be mass produced and the affordable price means that it will have a deep reach.

The possibilities for new computer/user interactions are no longer dampened by this market reality. As developers, a new door to invention and innovation has been opened for us. No longer will software developers have to cripple their user experiences based on the mouse and keyboard.

For the past couple of years I have had some ideas for some software that I wanted to build on a touch-based computer, but the specter of having a small user base for my experiments always discouraged me. Ever since I heard the rumors about Apple producing a tablet computer I have not cared about what the device looked like, or what the software stack for it was going to be. I wanted to try new touch-based UI ideas, I have dozens of ideas that I want to try out. And with Mono, I get to do it in my favorite language.

Posted on 29 Jan 2010