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why I need an iPad

I’ve been asked, and not unreasonably, why I think I need a device that I haven’t even held in my hands yet. Apart from the initial “Because it’s an iPad!” answer, which isn’t really very satisfying, I’ve been thinking about why I do feel I need an iPad, sight unseen. The reasons here are the result of conversations with a lot of different people, too many to name. If you recognize something you said to me in this post, thank you. See? I was listening.

I need an iPad because the iPad redefines portable computing.
It’s just possible that the laptop has too much overhead, and that we simply never noticed before. If I want to go sit on the back porch and read email, I have to unmount a couple of hard drives, turn on monitor mirroring, unplug my USB headset, and carry the laptop outside. That used to be fine because it was better than lugging a tower and monitor out there. But it turns out there’s another level of portability, almost satisfied by devices like the iPhone — but not quite. The screen and keyboard on the iPhone are too small for anything but really short emails. Forget document review or authoring — it’s really just too painful.

I want something bigger than the iPhone but smaller than the laptop, and I want to be able to pick it up in one hand and carry it outside — or pull it out on an airplane, even if the person in front of me leans back; or on a bus; or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office; or… you get the idea. I need an iPad so that I can overcome “the phone’s screen is too small” or “the laptop is too bulky,” which is true even though there’s no way I would have admitted either until there was a better solution. I need an iPad so that I can really work anytime, anywhere.

I need an iPad because I read and I write, and books are changing.
In this post, Books in the Age of the iPad, Craig Mod addresses the point that print is dying. He says that’s okay, though, and that having fewer books printed will result in higher quality of printed material overall. He also says:

“In printed books, the two-page spread was our canvas. It’s easy to think similarly about the iPad. Let’s not. The canvas of the iPad must be considered in a way that acknowledge the physical boundaries of the device, while also embracing the effective limitlessness of space just beyond those edges.

“We’re going to see new forms of storytelling emerge from this canvas. This is an opportunity to redefine modes of conversation between reader and content. And that’s one hell of an opportunity if making content is your thing.”

I think that’s just brilliant. “Let’s not.” Let’s invent formats that really work on this kind of device, and no other. Making content *is* my thing, or a big part of my thing, and I agree that devices like the iPad are going to change the way writers communicate with readers. I need an iPad so that I can imagine the possibilities for those new forms of storytelling — and so I can help invent them.

I need an iPad so I can use more of my skills in more places.
One of the things I do is visual facilitation (drawing on giant wall charts with big markers while a group discusses something). There are varying levels of portability: Sometimes I can just bring paper, tape, and pens, and tape the charts right to the walls or whiteboards. NMC has a nice set of portable walls for rooms where I can’t do that. But some rooms are just too small for the portable walls and also don’t have a place to tape the paper. I’ve also been in situations where the event was at a restaurant or other odd venue, where it’s just not appropriate or possible to set up the charts. And I’ve been in situations where the need for visual facilitation arises spontaneously, and I don’t have markers or paper or tape.

The iPad, and devices like it, may make it possible to do impromptu visual facilitation on the go. As Fred Lakin* points out in this post on graphic recording, it will depend on the resolution of the software, but if it does turn out to be possible, I could have an always-available set of “markers” and “paper” that I could use anywhere. It could be projected on a screen if one is handy, and the visual record would already be digital when I was done (I always spend time digitizing and cleaning up chart photos after meetings). I need an iPad so I can experiment with digital visual recording and, hopefully, help influence the state of the art.

I want an iPad so I can play games with it.
Okay, this may not be a need — although that could be arguable too, play being as important to learning as it is — but I really want to find out what kind of games we develop for devices like the iPad. Tim Bajarin says in a post on

“There is some real innovation happening in the games space, as well. I downloaded the iPad version of Scrabble and found that it could be played with iPhones and iPod touches through the Bluetooth feature. You place the iPad down on the table between yourself and a group of friends. The iPad serves as the board, and everyone around the table uses their iPhones and iPod touches to create words, which magically show up on the iPad in the center.”

Okay, that rocks. What else can we do with this device? It reminds me of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer from Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age (warning: link contains spoilers). This is a device — in Diamond Age, it looked and functioned like a book — that “contains” nearly all the information you could need to know, and lets you access it when you need it — the ultimate just-in-time learning device. I want an iPad so I can play games, watch movies, learn things, and be curious, in addition to reading and working, whenever and wherever I want.

But none of those is the main reason I need an iPad.
The main reason is the same reason I needed to build a web page in 1994 when a friend told me to. (I thought he was nuts, but I did it anyway. It changed my life.) It’s the same reason I needed a Second Life avatar in 2006 and a Twitter account in 2007. I had no idea what they might be good for, but there was a sense that they would turn into something.

The main reason I needed all of those, and the main reason that I need an iPad, is because I don’t know what the best reason is. No one does. But with some things, you can sense that there is a “there” there. You can sense that this train is going places, and that those are places you want to be.

The main reason I need an iPad is simply to discover why people need iPads. Or, if I’m really, really lucky, to help invent why people need iPads.

*Small update: The blog author formerly known as [the author who, despite my best efforts, I can only identify as Visual Raccoon] has been identified. Sorry, Fred!


  1. ninmah says:

    Update: By way of rounding out the picture, I’d like to point out Nicholas Carr’s post The iPad Luddites and Cory Doctorow’s post Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either). Carr’s post is a reaction to Doctorow’s. They’re both excellent and they help illustrate the complete picture, which includes the nuance that a lot of people are turned off by some of the restrictions that come with the iPad.

  2. John Ward says:

    The masked critter is Fred Lakin. He probably has coyote names too.

  3. ninmah says:

    Doh! Of course it’s Fred, I ought to have realized. Thanks, John! I’ll fix that.

  4. Hey Ninmah, great blog! My colleague just got his iPad and I have found some amazing articles illustrating how the iPad is going to help us create a whole new medium. It won’t be a book, and it won’t be a website, but it’ll be a combination of both that will leverage great things from both (like ordering of pages which is hard to see in websites, but always present in books with page numbers, and the flipping of pages relative to one another, and the video and interactive qualities of websites). Anyways, I’ll be back to check for more updates…I thought I’d share my personal blogs with you too since I found yours hehe. A list of my blogs can be found here

    And my comparable just anything type of blog is here

    Keep blogging, I love hearing things from your perspective, and I’ve been checking out your company’s website on education as well and am still trying to figure out how I might be able to be of some help :)

  5. ninmah says:

    Thanks, Nicholas! I’ll take a look at your blogs, in between working on this week’s mission for EVOKE ;-)

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