What’s So Magical About an Oversized iPhone? Plenty—And There’s More to Come

The Apple iPad is one of the most eagerly anticipated computing devices in history. With all the heat and hype that preceded Wednesday’s public debut of the device, it was inevitable that the backlash from skeptical bloggers and Twitterers would be equally ferocious. Still, even after you filter out all the bozos who keep repeating “It’s just a giant iPhone,” or who dismiss all Apple customers as fey elitists, or who have a sophomoric fascination with the hygienic overtones of the name “iPad,” you’re still left with a surprising number of critics who seem inconsolably disappointed over inconsequential details like the width of the iPad’s bezel, or whether the device has USB ports, or Flash, or multitasking, or cameras, or windshield wipers.

These cranky commentators are missing the point. They can’t see the screen for the stuff around its edges, as it were. There was never any chance that Version 1 of the iPad would have all of the features that fanboys want, or even all of the features that Apple wants. (More on that in a moment.) But it’s already got the three things that really count: 1) a huge touchscreen, 2) an operating system designed around multitouch gestures, and 3) a development kit that will allow thousands of software builders to do amazing things with #1 and #2.

Apple iPadAmidst the dozens of iPad reviews I’ve read this week, two sentences have struck me as particularly insightful. One was from David Pogue, writing for his New York Times blog: “Like the iPhone, the iPad is really a vessel, a tool, a 1.5-pound sack of potential.” The other was from writer and blogger Rory Marinich: “The product is, simply put, a magical screen that can do anything you ever want it to, no matter what that is.”

“Magical” is a word so often abused by technology marketers that someone should call Amnesty International. It’s the word Apple itself is using in its central pitch for the iPad: Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price. It’s practically the first word out of designer Jonathan Ives’ mouth in Apple’s propaganda video for the iPad.

Nonetheless, I think it’s a pretty good word for the feeling I got the first time I played with an iPhone. The fact that the phone really did all the things that I had seen it doing in the TV commercials astonished me. I couldn’t believe that the little icons on the home screen could be so bright and crisp; that they could so instantly respond to my touch; that I could flick my way through a photo album or zoom in on a picture simply by spreading my thumb and index finger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d read about the basics of capacitive sensors and multitouch interfaces, so I didn’t think anything supernatural was going on. In fact, I violently disagree with Ives’ argument, in the Apple video, that something has to “exceed your ability to understand how it works” before it can seem magical. What impressed me was that … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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