* 17:02 09 April 2010 by MacGregor Campbell
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Of the thousands of reviews of Apple's iPad tablet computer, one of the most informative and ultimately convincing is a YouTubevideo of a two-and-a-half-year-old girl playing with the device for the first time.
In the clip, the girl's father hands her the book-sized device and within seconds she's navigating various apps through the now ubiquitous swipe, pinch and point gestures. Over the next 5 minutes, she plays a spelling game, looks at pictures, plays with virtual bubble-wrap and bangs on a virtual piano.
Seeingthe little girl use both hands to manipulate virtual objects on a screen bigger than her head, it's hard not to think that this seemingly simple multi-touch screen will define her expectations about what a computer is and is for.
She will grow up in a world in which screens that don't react to touch seem broken, and devices that cannot be anything at any time to anybody will be annoying at best.She will expect virtual objects to behave as instantaneously and intuitively as their physical equivalents. This blurred distinction between real and virtual could very well seem like magic, but could equally probably become the new "normal".
You'll get what you're given
However, not everyone thinks the iPad is a magic window showing us a futureutopia of ideal human-computer interaction. As commentators like Cory Doctorow on the Boing Boing blog have pointed out, Apple seems to think that intuitive computing comes at the cost of giving users the freedom to modify hardware and software – a right held sacred by many techies.
"Clearly there's a lot of thoughtfulness and smarts that went into the design. But there's also a palpable contemptfor the owner," writes Doctorow.
But as Tim Wu points out on the daily-magazine website Slate, hacker ethics and mass-market usability may forever be at loggerheads. "The ideology of the perfect machine and open computing are contradictory. They cannot coexist," he writes.
After playing with a greasy-fingered demo at the AppleStore in downtown San Francisco, this reporter gets the sense that the iPad not for the tech set. It retains the rounded metal-and-glass aesthetic common to most Apple products, although you can feel sound reverberate inside it, which makes it feel slightly less solid than its smaller touchscreen cousins. The screen is crisp and reactive and the software interface is pleasantly unnoticeable.
TheiPad does not attempt to replicate the multitasking, stacked-windows approach of our desktops and laptops in the way that previous tablets have – with mixed results. Designed less for productivity and more for entertainment, it isn't trying to be a computer of the sort we are used to. For the time being, it is a general-purpose media consumption device that is quite good at its job.
There are, ofcourse, a few glitches that break any spells Apple might wish to cast. As most reviewers have pointed out, it's fine for sofa-computing but too large and heavy to hand-hold and use as you would an iPhone or a Kindle, its closest competitors in the "stand and read" division.
It's fast, but not crazy fast. The reaction speed is not noticeably different from an iPhone or iPod Touch, though the webdoes load quite quickly over Wi-Fi.
Finally, while many of the available apps, such as the Marvel Comics reader, display content in novel ways, most seem to miss the opportunity for richer multi-touch interaction. The larger screen should allow for more creative use of the gesture-based interface than in smaller devices, and one gets the sense that developers will eventually take advantage of...