Dave Allen

Your problem is stopping to think about it

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iPad, ReviewOr, more thoughts about the iPad

John Swansburg of Slate has written a rather droll article about using his iPad. It is simply titled,  I Hate My iPad. That might come across as a little strong, but I feel his pain. For anyone who has bought an iPad it’s an amusing read, not least because Swansburg asked some of his Slate colleagues to prove him wrong. Their responses are a wonderful mix of regret and justification, embellished with the occasional hint of admission that spending $600 on a device, that hasn’t changed their lives, wasn’t the smartest thing to do. As Swansburg says – “Now I just feel annoyed, having spent $600 on a device that hasn’t done anything to improve my life. A salad spinner would have been a better investment, and I don’t even eat that much salad.”

Ok, so maybe Swansburg is reaching, or he fell into the trap of thinking more like a magpie than a human – the shiny object attracts my attention, I must have it.. maybe it started out as his precious? And now, not so much.

The title of this post is a telling quote from Swansburg’s colleague, Farhad Manjoo, who also says – “The problem with reading a book on the iPad is that there’s always the Web and Netflix to compete with. I’ve never finished a book on the iPad.”

What’s interesting to me is how Swansburg, or anyone else who has bought an iPad or another tablet, dropped their money in a faith-based way. Steve Jobs is the ultimate sales guy and now I think about it, he sold the iPad to us as a game-changing device replete with apps that would change the way we interact with the web, how we read e-books, watch streaming movies, etc, etc.. Nothing wrong with that except the audience, the iPad buyer, didn’t grasp at first what the iPad actually is.

I noticed that people that I respect and follow on the social web were writing about how they were going to leave their laptops locked away for a week as they tried to use the iPad for business. For many, the results were not what they’d expected, and that’s because they were attempting to replace a computer (laptop) for a device that is not meant to replace a computer. As we approach the release of iPad 2 on March 2nd, I wonder if prospective buyers or those upgrading have really worked out how to use it to their benefit, or at least for pleasure?

And it’s not just those buying the device that have had their struggles – media companies, most notably, have failed to deliver an app that solves the problem for the iPad user in how to access the content of newspapers and magazines. The list is long but recent apps, ones that I will generously call “well intended,” include The Daily, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair and Project Magazine. These apps were provided by companies who are focused in the present of solving problems of the past. By that I mean the apps are delivered to us with the intent of trying to fix the loss of the revenue that those companies have suffered since the onset of the web. They are not meant to create an easy, simple way for us to access the companies content. (Although I suspect that the apps designers believe they are doing just that.)

Alexandra Lange, who blogs at DesignObserver.com brings up a good point about how, in our hyperactive digital world, tech critics who review new devices such as the iPad, review them rapidly and in the immediate moment. They never wait a beat to see how the device gets used in real-world conditions because the race is on to be the first to review it, to get the scoop. Here’s her insights:

Last semester I was looking for examples of interaction design criticism for my D-Crit class and came up short. Reviews I read were either in love with the idea of the app, never mind the execution; or too tecnical for the lay reader; or too focused on the device and not the experience. I’ve seen the iPad reviewed as fetish object and as tech advance, but never before the whole user experience. What Swansburg provided was what I have been missing: a walk-through of how a regular person might use the device. It is sidewalk criticism for the digital world, and we need more (a lot more) of it.

The fact that this review is “late” is part of its beauty. I’ve often considered starting a column called The Late Adopter, to talk about what is surely my shared experience as someone who can’t and won’t rush out and buy the latest thing. I don’t have the money for much of it, but more to the point, I like to see what people say a new thing is good for, and whether that’s something I need to do. But so few reviews go there, since the tech critics have to review immediately and move on. And most real people, once they have spent $600, are loath to admit they can’t actually do anything new and better on their latest purchase. Sounds a lot like some architecture criticism, no?

I love her phrase “sidewalk criticism for the digital world..and we need more (a lot more) of it.”

I can happily stop right there.

Related Posts:

Radiohead and research versus Rupert Murdoch and The Daily

iPad Mags Need a New Blueprint

My iPad Magazine Stand – Khoi Vinh

Nieman Journalism Lab

Closed Publishing Apps? I Don’t Get It

The Daily a Tablet Newspaper For Everybody (There they go again…)

This Is Violence – The Daily


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  • Dave Allen


    Of course, you at least have the sense of humor!! Keep spending, your desired results are out there, I promise..just buy my iPad1, all will be revealed!

  • Hugo B

    “Taller”? “Thinner”?

    jesus…that’s what I’m aiming for when I buy ANY piece of technology.

  • http://www.losowsky.com/magtastic Andrew

    All of which kind of reminds me of this:


    Our lives are too complex for any particular piece of computing technology to make everything better. I like my iPad, and enjoy interacting with various apps on it, but I don’t love it, or use it daily. Does that make it worth the money? Depends how much you have, and what you want to use it for.

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  • http://www.charliequirk.net Charlie Quirk

    Agreed. I think Justin summed it up well. It truly is amazing, and I think Apple is a victim of its own success in that people look for whatever the tiny flaws there are and ignore the whole package as a feat of engineering.

    I don’t mean to sound like a crusty old luddite, I know there are are enough tech related distractions floating around already and I struggle to fathom yet another one. it reminds me of the Portlandia Technology Loop :)

  • Dave Allen


    I think it’s down to what you would want to use it for..as Justin points out above, “The iPad is a computer that you can leave on a table, unplugged, for days, have it instantly turn on the second you want it to, and connect you to the world. That in itself is incredible. That it’s so simple to add media and applications should leave us all on the floor wondering how any of this works at all.”

    And you have the right attitude. If you can’t see the value for yourself then you should save the money..

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  • http://www.charliequirk.net/2010/09/e-readers-weapons-of-mass-distraction.html Charlie Quirk

    I’m with you Dave. And Swansburg. And particularly, Manjoo. Finishing a book is hard enough without having to be checking Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as the temptation of the web right there.

    I wish I could say I’m tempted to get one, but I simply can’t see the value add in my life. And I’m not talking just next year, but the next 5 or 10. Weapon of mass distraction if you ask me.

  • Dave Allen


    “What did you think was going to happen?” sums it all up. We both know the answer to your question so I’ll refrain from playing insider baseball, but I do know that the disappointments will continue with iPad 2. It’s inevitable.. and as you say, the device is inanimate, it doesn’t care, and however much we wish upon it it will only do what it can do – as you rightly say “it will instantly turn on the second you want it to, and connect you to the world…”

  • Dave Allen


    I think you’re right when you say the iPad is “indicative of the future without fully *being* the future (yet).” As we can note, if we read the articles I reference in my post, that people who I would presume are as intelligent as Swansburg can’t fathom the iPad out, then we still await the future. It may be bright, we’ll have to see..

  • http://www.mattmercer.com Matt

    Lange’s thoughts about expediency vs thoughtfulness as far as reviews go is indicative of review culture in general. Everyone is hot on the trail to be the first to talk about _____, which usually results in a first impression rather than a well-rounded, thoughtful criticism based on thorough experience, be it music, software, technology or other.

    I do think the iPad has quite a bit of merit as a piece of technology, but replacing the laptop is not its strength or goal, and some who’ve invested in the device might be as such misguided. However, I do think that the most valuable aspect of the iPad is its greatest shortcoming — that it’s indicative of the future without fully *being* the future (yet). It’s perhaps more of a teaser of where things are going, a step in the journey and not the destination by a longshot. Still, there’s plenty of novelty and utility to be found in the App Store in my opinion — especially beyond the area of media readers, which sometimes barely harness the strengths of the device — enough to justify the cost for those who genuinely enjoy tinkering and exploring. Or at least for me. :)

  • http://www.madebyfight.com Justin Spohn

    Good post Dave. One thing that confuses me about articles like Swansburg’s is that I’m always left wondering: what did you think was going happen?

    It’s like they bought the device, opened the box and expected to be taller, maybe a little thinner, smarter, and with a better sense of humor.

    It’s a piece of electronics. It’s an inanimate object. What you get out of it is what you put into it.

    I’m reminded of Lewis CK’s bit about technology being wasted on this generation. The iPad is a computer that you can leave on a table, unplugged, for days, have it instantly turn on the second you want it to, and connect you to the world. That in itself is incredible. That it’s so simple to add media and applications should leave us all on the floor wondering how any of this works at all.

    Instead we get people blaming the iPad for their inability to finish the book they were reading because they instead wanted to stream a movie, or play a game, or surf the web, or listen to music – ALL ON THE EXACT SAME DEVICE!

    None of which is to say that any one HAS to like the iPad. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. Rather, I wonder what people were expecting in the first place.

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  • http://www.roberthuston.com Robert Huston

    Wow, thank you for opening, or well sharing this discussion! We all just need to slow down, and talk, or even more, think things out.

    Thanks for sharing!