Over the weekend I picked up an iPad for work, to be used for presentations and other uses. Of course it's been hard not to play around with it, to see how it works, what it can and cannot do. It's a fun machine with a number of immediate drawbacks (limited file saving, apps instead of software, incompatibility of some web pages, to name only a few) that point to its use as a device to amend or extend traditional PCs or Macs, not as a replacement of them. For example, since I'm composing this post entirely on the iPad, I could not post the below image directly from the iPad; it was uploaded to Flickr earlier via my desktop PC.
The most immediate advantages the device offer are three: remote browsing on a decent-sized screen, reading e-books, and taking advantage of the wide, wide world of apps. I'm most intrigued by the first two, as they have the greatest potential in completely changing two things I do: blogging and reading. Before the iPad I didn't take the slow shift of the internet towards mobile devices seriously, mainly because the small screens could not capture the qualities in photos best seen large and PDFs or other formats with particular page layouts. But the large screen that I'm typing (or should I say pecking?) this post on can actually enhance those qualities. For some reason the photos above and below, admittedly "ugly" subjects, just looks better on the iPad then my desktop or laptop.
But after visiting and using only a few web pages it is clear how browsing on the iPad is limited and, if its influence is as great as predictions attest, how web pages will have to adapt in the near future. For one I cannot type this post in WYSIWYG format, only in the HTML coded view where images in the post are not visible. Also mouse overs don't translate into the touch screen. Minor inconveniences, certainly, but then there's the lack of Flash support, bad news for architects with web pages using it but good news for those who have changed to Wordpress and other more flexible formats. The control that architects and other creatives found in Flash does not have an equal in the iPad realm; PDFs are supported but are not a realistic format for browsing. First stabs at converting some PDFs to the ePub format used by iBooks illustrate how the latter eschew rigid page formats in favor of flexibility in fonts, text sizes, and image placement. Control is left behind again, in favor of accessibility and searchability.
So if we see the iPad and other mobile devices as the next logical step in web-based communication, the first was rooted in translating directly the page to the screen. We'll see the page fall by the wayside as raw data -- in its two most basic forms, text and images -- is disseminated in formats that allow the reader/browser to modify certain variables at will, even though the wood-grain "bookcase" and flipping "pages" of iBooks appear otherwise. But where is the designer in all this, be it the graphic designer laying out a web page or the architect wishing to present their work in a particular way? Beats me, though it's clear a certain level of control needs to be given up, even though certain graphical attributes will persist (colors, lines, columns, etc.).
As far as how the iPad will influence my blogging and reading, the first might not change much, as this post took me a lot longer to type on the touch screen and was limiting in what images could accompany the post, making me yearn for the laptop's keyboard and software I use regularly. But the device's portability makes it a great for spontaneous posting when in WiFi-shot. I'm thinking the iPad's impact on reading will be big, especially because full-color graphics are supported, something lacking in Kindle. For the time being e-books will be just that, digital versions of print books. Illustrated volumes will follow novels and other image-free books into the digital-only realm, but I think by then the term e-book or similar will be replaced by a more appropriate monicker, one that appropriately describes the assemblage of data in whatever the platform may be. The digital realm offers so much potential for expanding the "printed" word, but tying it to the word book describes our current transitionary situation, not the whatever the new realm may be. I see books and their digital offshoot coexisting peacefully, the advantages of each to rising to the fore. Or at least that's what the book lover in me hopes for.