iPad is for Kids

A month has passed since the sensational debut of the iPad, and some people are starting to wonder if the fuss is sustainable. Early adopters are loving the iPad even more than the iPhone, but will the mass public follow? My verdict: No, for now.

The iPad’s customers, adults with at least $500 disposable income, have one fatal shortcoming: they understand a new device only as an extension of existing ones. Consider Apple’s past “revolutionary” products: they were, in fact, more likely “evolutional,” fixing big holes in existing devices that few people noticed, in addition to making them beautiful.

  • Apple II: brought mainframe computers to our homes.
  • iMac: made the existing desktop computers, ugly black boxes, desirable.
  • iPod: made the Walkman searchable and configurable.
  • iPhone: made smartphones…smart.

The iPad is an anomaly. It does not fix an existing problem. In fact, on the surface, it seems to fix nothing.

  • Mobile device: We cannot hold the iPad in one hand, and cannot put it in our pockets. Netbooks have similar screen sizes, similar weights, and built-in keyboards.
  • eBook: I am not sure if we want to keep reading texts and PDFs on a glossy screen.
  • Movies: If we are at home, we have big LED TVs. If we are out in the streets, we have IMAX theaters. If we are out on the road, we have on-demand movie libraries on the plane.

Sure, the iPad has huge potential. That’s why all of us jumped in and shelled out $500 – $800, right?* Yet we are using it as we did on devices before: reading texts and watching videos. Where did the “potential” part go? I guess a bulk of the users’ frustrations will come from the iPad not making their lives better in any way, or not seeing any of the promised magical moments.

I believe that in the midterm, the fever will fade away and the troubled voices will emerge from Apple believers that Steve Jobs might be over. I do think Steve Jobs is preparing to retire. But it is not because he cannot make smart decisions anymore; it is because he did the most important job— maybe even a mission—in his life: creating a device for future generations.

Almost everything he has done before was aimed at his peers, or paying customers. This time, he made the iPad for the kids. That’s why the iPad is essentially a blank slate. Its real potential is in its nothingness, or in other words, the power to absorb anything. This device is designed for creators, not executors. And who are the best creators? Kids, of course.

Of course, the current iPad is not there yet. It is way too adult—heavy and colorless—for small children. But that is part of Apple’s strategy. How do you bring an expensive magic tablet to a child? By disguising it as an expensive toy for adults. Soon or later, dad will be bored playing with it, and pass it over to his children—and that’s when the real users start to using it for real.

In several years, we will be seeing iPad 2.0, or even 3.0, in a completely different shape. It will be much lighter and “toyish.” It might even look cheaper. But by then, the swarms of teenagers, who had their hands-on experience on the iPad as kids, will start buying the new models with their own money, and will also start creating things.

Unlike the current iPad users who are still seated as the audience and waiting for the show to begin while killing their time reading books and watching movies, the new generation of iPad users will get on the stage and start making magic on the spot. I bet that’s what Steve Jobs is dreaming about. His only hope might be that this day will come before his days are over.

*I have tested, but haven’t bought, the iPad. I bought Kindle instead. That’s what it means to be mentally teenage but intellectually adult.