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Why I Love the iPad (and it has nothing to do with Apple)

May 6, 2010

I can’t add much to the hype about the iPad going on right now, but I can add a little of my own perspective on why I love the device and everything it represents.

In 1991 I began working at a company called GO on an operating system named PenPoint. You can read about the interesting history of GO, EO, PenPoint and pen computing here:

http://www.digibarn.com/collections/systems/go/index.html
http://hembrow.eu/personal/eo.html
http://www.mactech.com/articles/frameworks/6_2/PenPoint_Brugge.html

Also the outstanding history of GO as a start-up in the book “Startup” by founder Jerry Kaplan

Jerry’s book, in particular, provides context for the quest to create a computing device that you could hold in your hands like a pad of paper and use unobtrusively. He tells the story of tossing a yellow legal pad on a table in a pitch to VCs and saying that is what he plans on building.

As part of the UI/Usability team (this was before the term “UX” was in vogue) at GO I was able to experience hands-on the wonder of people holding a computing device in their hand and using a pen to tap and write. It was truly “magical” (as is the iPad). The tablet computer broke down the walls that a keyboard and a vertical screen presented to users and made the entire experience as natural as any interaction with paper.

I believed then, as I do now, that computing devices should integrate naturally and unobtrusively into our daily lives and work. They should not put up “screens” that separate us from other people, but should slip into the quiet spaces left when people interact directly with each other. The experience of using these devices should be natural and require minimal learning on the part of the user.

The iPad is the first device to really bring all of this to life in an affordable manner. It solved the handwriting recognition problem by not trying to solve the problem at all (duh). It provides great battery life, a beautiful color screen (PenPoint was an innovator in grayscale in 1990…), always-on connectivity, and easy to acquire and install applications.

Every single thing that iPad does so well was part of the vision the team at GO and EO and all the ISVs had in mind, even of the technology was not in place to make it real. We were busy envisioning a future and then doing the best we could to turn that future into something tangible. Others, such as Microsoft, believed in the power of the pen as well and took their own path to making it real.

I love the iPad because it works as Jerry Kaplan, Robert Carr, and hundreds of others imagined a device should work. Bill Campbell, who was the CEO of GO, has been on the board of Apple for many years and a close associate of Steve Jobs. I imagine Bill smiles very fondly when he sees the iPhone and iPad and how they deliver such an amazing experience to millions of users every day.

Apple may be the only company capable of producing the iPad, but the iPad was inevitable. I love it because of what it does for me. I love it for the fact that my 7 year old daughter can pick it up and be “productive” instantly. I love it because it breaks down the barriers that laptops of silently erected in our day to day interaction.

I have waited 20 years for the iPad to become reality. It was well worth the wait.

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