Sunday, May 2, 2010

Domestic Computing

I think I've finally figured out why I might want an iPad.

When the device was first announced by Apple, like many others I found myself questioning whether I could see any use for Apple's concept of tablet computing. It doesn't have USB ports, it doesn't support Flash, it doesn't even run OS X let alone dual-boot into Windows. It runs the iPhone OS without making phone calls. It doesn't have a keyboard or handwriting recognition. It is more expensive than a netbook, and not much less expensive than a fully-featured laptop.

It's easy to focus on these items as limitations, coming from a PC - Personal Computing - paradigm. The paradigm that grew out of document creation, desktop publishing, and office applications. The paradigm that evolved from the hard-drive/folder/file metaphor for managing data. The prevailing computing paradigm before online newspapers or streaming media existed.

PC's aren't going anywhere any time soon. We still need computers for document creation, but there is an overhead when using a PC with a modern operating system. The modern PC requires consumers to be system administrators in the home, dealing with operating system patches, malware protection, and data backups. It has become increasingly annoying when time in my home life (for example, a ten-minute block in the morning routine devoted to quickly browsing articles in an RSS feed) is delayed or lost because an operating system patch was delivered in the middle of the night and is installing, or the virus checker found some malware on the machine and couldn't deal with it cleanly.

I don't mind dealing with these types of issues in the course of my work. I get paid to program computers, and some degree of desktop administration is just a cost of doing business. But at home? At home, there is something very appealing about an instant-on device requiring little (if any) system administration, with an all-day battery-life, simple user interface, and portable for use throughout the house, but without the limitations of a mobile device (read: tiny screen size).

Such a device may be ideally suited for domestic computing.

Here's my daily use case for a domestic tablet computer. The device is docked on my nightstand. Its alarm clock application wakes me up in the morning with some music and a display of the day's weather forecast. I take it off the dock to read the morning paper and my rss feeds - it is instant-on, so I don't have to wait for bootup time. I might put it back on the nightstand during the workday, or put it on the living room table as a digital photo frame. Long battery life ensures I don't need to dock it again until nighttime.

If I'm working around the house, a how-to application (with video demonstrations) is running, helping me fix a plumbing problem, or cook a meal. If I'm lounging in bed or on the couch, I might play a game or stream a TV show. If I want to watch with the family, we use the same TV/movie service streaming directly to our living room television set - the same media library being available to each.

For reading books during the day, I think I'll probably still be using my Kindle (the e-Ink screen really is easier on my eyes.) But, for a rich-color magazine experience, or for some light reading at night before bed, I'll use the domestic computer, just before docking it back on the nightstand. Amazon will help me by keeping my place sync'd between both devices.

Personal Computing is work, and to some extent should be. Domestic Computing isn't, and shouldn't.

I think I want an iPad.