Why would you want the iPad to function like a laptop?
Why, I wonder, have the editors at The New York Review of Books drafted Sue Halpern to cover the iPad, when it’s clear that she is unsympathetic to the device? Her long piece in the 10 June issue of the Review never touched on the iPad’s function — its primary function, in my view — as an Internet reader. Now, in an entry at NYRBlog dated 8 June (but obviously written long after the printed piece), she comes closer, but lets the point slip out of her hands.
As it is built now, the iPad is the ultimate consumer device, meant primarily to consume media, not to produce it. That’s why, in its first iteration, it has no native printing application, no camera, no USB ports for peripherals.
Because Ms Halpern wants the iPad to be a computer. Why on earth, I wonder?
But the impulse to make it into something else, a lightweight computer that can stand in for a PC in the classroom, at a meeting, on the road, wherever, is strong. This is why iPad users have been buying keyboards to bypass the touchscreen, and finding apps that allow for rudimentary multitasking, printing, and remote access to one’s home computer in order to use non-iPad-enabled software like Microsoft Word. The paradox of having designed the ultimate consumer device is that ultimately the consumers will make of it what they want—if Google, with its rumored Chrome Tablet, doesn’t get there first.
Doesn’t she already have a computer?
Heading the blog piece is the image of an extravagantly marked-up book; we’re told that it is David Foster Wallace’s copy of Don DeLillo’s Players. Ms Halpern helpfully outlines a hack for writing notes on books that you’re reading on your iPad, although she complains that you have to know what you’re doing “to avoid getting tripped up.” Awkward or not, I won’t be giving the hack a try, because I don’t write in books. Except to insert the odd “Ex libris,” I do not mark my books. Possibly because I am really very bad at multitasking, I find taking notes to be unhelpful. I find that it’s better to let strong impressions simmer untended; if I feel that I have something to say when I’ve finished reading, then I try to write it out in as finished a manner as possible, often in the form of entries that, without too much editing, appear on this site. But that is me; that is my idiosyncrasy. In the end, reading books is not what the iPad is really for.
Well, that’s precisely what the iPad may be for — the specific tablet sold by Apple — that and all the other apps that Apple markets. I don’t have much time for apps, and, like James Kwak, I think that there’s something retrograde about them. Eventually, there will be other tablets, with or without their own apps markets. Some of them may support browsers superior to Apple’s Safari. I may come to prefer one of them to the iPad. All that is down the road. As Jason Kottke wrote when the iPad first appeared, it’s a “proof-of-concept gadget for adults.” But the concept that it proves is that reading the Internet can be as pleasurable as, or at any rate no less pleaurable than, reading a book or a magazine.
Since my way of reading the Internet is pretty much the same as my way of reading books, I am not incommoded by the difficulty of taking notes in a browser. The Daily Blague might indeed be regarded as a notebook, even if it’s a notebook that’s designed to be intelligible to other readers. Or just plain intelligible: in my note-taking days, I was often at a complete loss to make sense of a good many scribblings, even when they were perfectly legible.
When I acquired my first personal computer — an IBM Peanut — in 1985, I had high hopes of using it to organize my life. But life is far too complicated to be addressed by one machine. For several years now, I’ve been writing longer things on a laptop, in another room, without opening any email apps. The sensed difference between the computer where I work (with its two screens) and the one on which I think (in order to write) is intense. Now the iPad has introduced a third — and, I suspect, a completing — mode: a computer on which to read. Sue Halpern may try to tarnish the device by using the dirty word “consumer,” but I’ll embrace the description. As I stroke through Safari, I’m letting the other guy speak.