iPad Provides New Platform for Touch Screen Developers and Users

iPad w hands

Apple’s highly anticipated unveiling of their iPad tablet revealed an impressive new device in an as yet unproven product category. Tablet computing has been discussed for several years without yet becoming a major category. E-readers like the Amazon Kindle have had some success with the form factor but address a narrower range of applications than the iPad strives to tackle. However, like the Kindle, Apple has included, and may improve upon, the wireless capability, content partners, and content store business model that have served the Kindle so well. In analyzing reactions to the iPad and assessing what makes the iPad different in important ways, I have settled on one aspect that will allow the iPad to set itself apart and will potentially lead to its success.

The iPad is the first widely available platform that will give users and developers the opportunity to explore large size multi-touch applications. Steve Jobs made the point that in developing the iPad, Apple stands on the shoulders of devices like the Kindle. The iPad also stands on the many shoulders, and benefits from the ecosystem, of multi-touch-trained users, content providers, and applications developers that Apple created with the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Along with their good industrial design, and excellent hardware and software attributes, Apple has consistently been a leader in providing elegant and effective user interfaces. Apple has steadily incorporated high quality input/output devices (displays, keyboards, mice, touch screens) in its products. In recent years, multi-touch input has been a notable feature of Apple products including MacBook computers, the iPhone, iPod Touch and Magic Mouse. No other device designer has had such wide success with touch interfaces.

Magic Mouse

Apple’s iPad is a bold extension of the touch interface to a much larger size allowing more evolved one hand and two hand gestural inputs. To give earlier workers their due, there have been prior developers that have demonstrated large scale multi-touch devices. However, Apple’s legions of app developers will likely have a field day working to exploit the interface opportunities.

Other ingredients of the iPad may evolve in future versions (cameras, voice, wireless air interface, etc.) but multi-touch input will likely be the defining feature that determines the success of Apple’s latest offering in the tablet category. The continued evolution and success of the touch interface will be validated, or not, by the iPad. Multi-touch on the iPad will be the product’s breakthrough or breaking point. The app store opens the iPad to experimentation by developers and users. I wonder who could have anticipated SonicMule’s Ocarina app for the iPhone and the music potential that has sprung from it.

By creating a larger size, mass market, touch device with a built-in user base and developer community, Apple has enabled its customers and developers to invent the future of user interfaces.

About Phillip Wright