iPad: It's Déjà Vu All Over Again

It was a very odd sensation. Watching Steve Jobs introduce the iPad made me feel exactly as I had felt before with another Apple product introduction. And it wasn't the iPhone.

It was 1984, and I had just received my very first 128K Macintosh from Apple. Several of us founders of the Apple II magazine, Peelings II, felt that this was an important new computer, and we needed to tell our readers about it.

First Mac

The very first Macintosh

I had two Apple IIs at the time. My original Integer BASIC Apple II that had been upgraded with a Floating point BASIC card ... and a more modern Apple IIe. They sat side by side, a meter apart, in a small office and were being used for product reviews, a newsstand database & billing app, and of course, writing articles for Peelings II. My wife was writing her Ph.D. thesis on one of them. And printing it on a Daisy Wheel printer.

The tiny, upright Mac was in an awkward position, on a small table between the two Apple IIs. It was an afterthought. The first Mac seemed out of place, wasn't part of our workflow, and seemed like a curiosity: something to be poked at, prodded, experimented with. But it was too new to be useful.

I didn't really know how to exploit that Mac yet. I was too busy learning how to point and click and double-click. The icons on the screen were simple and stark, yet they also seemed to cry out: "I am the future. Pay attention to me!" As I got to know that first Mac, I slowly became aware that this was the wave of the future. My Apple IIs, workhorses that they were, would some day become museum pieces.

That's how I felt when I watched Steve Jobs' demo of the iPad unfold. There were places where I felt queasy and parts where I felt exhilarated. The queasy parts were when I realized that this device would be the future of Apple, yet things were missing. Does the iPad allow multiple users? (After all, iPhone OS is UNIX.) That may be the purpose of the small, human-like icon to the right of the slider. We'll know soon.

iPad slider

iPad Slider (user selection?)

There is no obvious access to the file system. Like the iPhone, printing seems to be an afterthought, but then printing on paper is oh, so, last century. I wasn't thrilled with Phil's demo of iWork because he only showed the manipulation of content created beforehand.

But none of that bothered me too much because I knew that 1) the iPad hasn't even shipped yet, 2) it's the first of a new breed of device, and we don't know a lot about it, and 3) it's going to take a solid year for iPad developers to flesh out the capability of this breakthrough machine.

The iPad is brimming with potential. It presages the end of the mouse. It's a whole new -- I hesitate to say it -- computing platform. Indeed, we need a new name. The iPad is a computer underneath, but in our hands it's really a ... smartbook.


The Next Generation: A Smartbook

It's going to be an exciting journey with the iPad. We're on the edge of a new frontier. I can feel potential of the iPad bursting all about, just like I sensed that the original Mac was the beginning of the end for my Apple IIs.

Not only will Apple develop the iPad in 2010, but imaginative iPad developers will also uncover and release its potential, put flesh on its bones. Whatever you think of the iPad now, its importance will continue to grow throughout 2010.

I've been watching Apple for a long time now. The most important thing to know about Apple is, after it ships a product for the first time, how they handle the growth and evolution of the product. Compare that first Macintosh, dramatic, yet so limited, to a modern MacBook Pro. There are millions of man-hours of thought and development that span those two devices.

A famous writer once said, in 1984, that if you didn't get on the PC bus, learn and grow with the technology, it would be forever too late to catch up. Many were, in fact, left behind because they didn't care or couldn't be bothered with a PC or Apple II. I'm getting on the iPad bus on day one, and what a ride it will be to learn and grow with it.