Thoughts on Angles

Posted April 28, 2010

On March 31, David Pogue wrote a review of the iPad called "Looking at the iPad from Two Angles" discussing the new Apple device from the perspective of Tech People versus that of Everyone Else. The review summed up many of the arguments for and against owning the device but left out one seemingly obvious point: Angles.

I went to Connecticut for Easter and reunited with my hometown friends. I proudly started the evening with the pronouncement that I had, in fact, played with an iPad at Best Buy. The tone of the room went dark and the Apple bashing began. I knew that I needed a concise statement that would sum up the potential of the device, but it was out of my grasp. I had one friend tell me that she did not want to carry a computer around — that's why she had a Kindle. Another chimed in about how dirty the screen would get. Another about the superiority of netbooks. I wanted to stop the discussion and address each point separately, but that would require more than a couple sentences and the room lacked that kind of commitment when it came to technology discussions. Instead they talked about wedding photos.

I lacked a key discussion point that I desperately needed and then I reread "Looking at the iPad from Two Angles" — well, more specifically, I reread the title.

Portable devices are almost universally meant for one person to interact with simultaneously. The iPod Touch and iPhone are small. Video or photo viewing is difficult with a group, as are having multiple participants in the same activity. Most laptops have limited points of view and condense all of the input components close to the screen. Laptop interactions are optimized for a single user. The Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable are too small for more than one player. Each of these systems offers multi-user interactions through wireless networking technologies, such as WIFI and Bluetooth, and relies on the other participants to have the same or similar device and the same program.

My ESI colleague, James Tu, and I were stuck at the airport this past winter during one of New York's fantastically inconvenient snow storms. We both had pages of games on our iPhones but only shared a single one, which luckily allowed us to burn a half-hour or so landing imaginary airplanes (he beat me every time). We also played a little Scrabble, which required a Hot-Seat mode, meaning that we constantly passed the device around to trade off turns. This was the second time we were disappointed with our competitive gaming capabilities, as we once tried to network our Nintendo DS's only to find that we only had a single cartridge of the multiplayer game we were trying to play.

Place the iPad in the center of a table. Four players (or more) can sit around the device and play a game — or shuffle ideas — or watch a video without really having to move. The device is a brainstorming tool, a gaming machine, an eReader. The screen is wasted on a single person. The sharp and bright colors can be easily absorbed from a couple of feet away, meaning everyone can enjoy the content from a comfortable distance without squishing against one another. Anyone can be the driver at any time without interrupting a group.

I should have told my friends that the iPad is for everyone to enjoy at the same time. I should have told them about angles. Next time I see them, however, I will simply pull one out of my bag and place it flat on the table. Then I'll load up some wedding photos or a cool multiplayer game and let the device speak for itself.

Pete Vigeant

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