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Mac Planet: The Dynabook

Photo / AP
Photo / AP

A former Apple designer recently caused ructions (or at least, ripples) in the Apple blogosphere by stating some criticisms of the iPad. Alan Kay is a Turing Award winner who played an integral role in the development of object-oriented programming. Kay worked for many years at Xerox's famed Palo Alto Research Center, from whence Apple developed several ideas and technologies into products including the mouse and the first Apple computers and their operating systems, and he later did a stint himself at Apple, as an Apple fellow in the company's Advanced Technology Group during the 1980s and '90s.

Kay had actually envisioned a sort of tablet way back in 1972, which is pretty extraordinary: he wrote a research paper called A Personal Computer for Children of All Ages that described a device Kay dubbed 'the Dynabook'. This was to be a notebook-sized device with functionality remarkably similar to what the iPad eventually came to encompass. For example, in that paper he wrote "Suppose the display panel covers the full extent of the notebook surface. Any keyboard arrangement one might wish can then be displayed anywhere on the surface."

While some take his recent iPad criticisms seriously, I'm not a hundred per cent convinced. I mean, holding the iPad to a 1972 vision cannot be that comprehensively helpful to us a full 41 years later, surely? Things change. Things have changed.

I'm not writing off all of his criticisms. Not by any means. Kay quite obviously knows a lot more about this stuff than I do, and some of his points definitely hold water. These surfaced in an interview with David Greelish in Time Magazine. Basically, Kay said Apple's iPad fails to live up to the promise outlined in his admittedly ridiculously ahead-of-his-time research paper, but worse, actually betrays that promise in some ways.

"For all media, the original intent was 'symmetric authoring and consuming.' Isn't it crystal-clear that this last and most important service is quite lacking in today's computing for the general public? Apple with the iPad and iPhone goes even further and does not allow children to download an Etoy made by another child somewhere in the world. This could not be farther from the original intentions of the entire ARPA-IPTO/PARC community in the '60s and '70s ..." and so forth.

I have to agree with TUAW here.

There are large numbers of individuals, some very young, learning to program and many have even released apps on iTunes. That means their work is accessible to millions of iOS users around the world. Additionally, apps including Minecraft, Woodcraft and Eden allow the sharing of created objects and worlds.

That's not to say you shouldn't read the article - Kay is as sharp as a tack, with huge experience. He is full of cogent insights.

Personally, I don't believe that sales success should be the only indicator of a product's usefulness. If that were true, Starbucks would be the best coffee (bletch) and MacDonalds the best food (ditto bletch). It's not. Notice I didn't include 'and Windows the best operating system'. Oh, darn, I just did. So on that point, a report from Gartner claims Microsoft's reign is nearing its end, as 2013 will be the first year that more Apple devices are purchased than Windows devices. This, of course, adds iPads and iPhones into the Apple Mac equation.

Last year, Apple sold 159 million iPods, iPhones, iPads and Macs, while the number of Windows devices totalled 175 million units.
Coincidentally, I am currently working with a large bank (which I hope to write about in more detail some time) that's equipping staff with iPhones and iPads: the hundreds of iPads are being used to access the Microsoft suite everyone there is used to using through traditional PC terminals. It's rather odd for me seeing iPads running Windows software, but it is in fact eminently workable.

The London Evening Standard has an article detailing how prominent the iPad has become in a wide range of London (of England) businesses. The iPad is popular in medicine, as has long been the case. Doctors use the iPad for administrative access to medical records, but also to teleconference with patients over FaceTime and to help educate patients via visual aids such as anatomy or medical-imaging apps.

But recently iPad has made waves in the food trade, for taking orders and displaying menus, and Westminster council is currently spending £3.25 million to install smart streetlights in the borough, to save residents £420,000 a year. The central London council's engineers use iPads to monitor the smart lighting, for example when a bulb goes out or becomes faulty. This eliminates the need for residents to report dead lights, hastening replacement times.

In the US, Piper Jaffray published a report called, somewhat forbiddingly, Taking Stock with Teens. The PDF examines US teenagers' buying habits, having looked at two groups of teenagers around 16 years of age: 1600 from upper-income families and 3600 from average-income families. The study found nearly half (48 per cent) of American teenagers own iPhones, representing an 8 per cent rise since the previous survey.

Further, 62 per cent of teens plan on making the iPhone their next smartphone purchase.
The survey also found that 51 per cent of teens owned a tablet, up from 44 per cent in fall 2012. The iPad share of that is 68 per cent, down from 72 per cent in the previous survey, so those knock-off tablets are gaining ground. I feel I can say 'knock-off' with confidence, since they mostly look like iPads, and there was nothing like this as a widespread phenomenon until iPad, which marked it's third birthday on April 3rd this year. Additionally, 17 per cent of teens said they plan to buy a tablet in the next six months, with 68 per cent of those specifying iPads. Of those, 54 per cent said they planned to buy regular iPads, 14 per cent wanted iPad minis. You can download the whole report, if you wish.

It's been a pretty impressive three years since the iPad was introduced, as I am sure Google will agree.

- NZ Herald

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