In one day many words have already been written about the Apple iPad. I won't attempt to describe it here - for that see the walkthrough above, or read Stephen Fry. Instead I'll discuss how technology is developing, as demonstrated by the iPad.
I've owned an iPhone for two years. In December I also bought an iPod nano. Why? I wanted something more lightweight to go running. I don't need the iPhone's large screen when running, and the nano is so lightweight I can strap it to my arm. It has the right form for its function.
The iPad has its place as well. It isn't a phone replacement - I can't put it in my pocket, and I can't even make calls with it. Neither is it a laptop replacement. I could take the iPad with me instead of a laptop for a day or two, but it is missing too much for me to use it as my main computer.
So what is the iPad? It is something different. It's an appliance, not a computer. It is designed around its form factor (think A4 pad or photo frame). It is better than a phone or laptop if I want:
- to show my family photos in the living room,
- to read a magazine in bed,
- to study journals on the train,
- to check my agenda discretely in a meeting.
Some of these products are already available, albeit with rough edges (iPlayer on Freesat, Pure Sensia radio). Others exist as convincing demos (Microsoft Surface, MIT Sixth Sense). The iPad is here. It is smooth, slick and makes a convincing demonstration of what is to come. It is cheap(ish), has good battery life, and has the right form for its function. Apple's tablet will get cheaper and better each year, while other manufacturers will build them running Windows, Android & Chrome OS too.
Whatever the organisation wants our staff and students will buy and use these appliances. How does the university respond? We must understand diversity and embrace it.
At the moment our starting point is "IT = computers". We provide a desktop workstation for our staff and think that's sufficient for most needs. We expect our students to provide their own laptop and do their work on that. We streamline our business processes, but with client software which only works on one OS. We embrace the web with our portal, but assume it will be viewed on a large screen.
Computers are getting cheaper and are disappearing into the furniture. Access from a phone or tablet will be as common as access from a laptop or desktop. We should stop worrying about issues such as whether the university or the individual buys the device. This won't matter - you will naturally use any computer or appliance you come across. The OS won't matter either, any more than you worry about what OS your washing machine runs. The web will be the new common layer.
Information Technology isn't about computers, it's about information. We must think about:
- how we store information, index and catalogue it,
- how we share information within and outside the organisation,
- How we break down silos and connect up the dots,
- how we access information easily but securely,
- how we provide the data people need without overwhelming them with trivia.
Imagine a digital dashboard on the web. An evolution of our portal displays timely, relevant information: orders to authorise, todays calendar, and emails ordered by priority. As the dashboard is standards compliant and designed to be used at different resolutions you can view it on any device. You check items from your phone when out and about. In the office and around campus you display the dashboard on your tablet. While you prefer your desktop workstation for composing longer documents you like the tablet's intuitive touch interface for dealing with quick tasks.
William Gibson said that the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed. The iPad is here from the future, and the rest of it will be along sooner than we think.