"I will be 18. Legally an adult." This has become a refrain of late in my life. From the passenger seat of my car the other night, my daughter blurted the warning/promise/threat/celebration that is her upcoming 18th birthday.
She has been gearing up for this milestone moment since she was three. No kidding. When she blurted this mantra out again, I actually had a parental flashback to a little tike at 3 in this very seat (well, four cars ago, and from a car seat in back) fuming after a pitched battle back at home over getting her in the car. "I can't wait until I am grown up," she said in 1995 on her way to day care. Why, I asked? "Because then no one can tell me WHAT TO DO!" I can still hear the way she punctuated those last words with a fierceness that foreshadowed fifteen years of staggering stubbornness and daily episodes of resentful seething.
Well, the day is upon her. This former three-year-old, who now drives up in her Honda Civic and pores over her buzzing BlackBerry with the intensity of any middle manager, is coming of age in the next few weeks. She and her friends are trying to celebrate their group emancipation with a major road trip this summer across country. Dad, terrified, of course, is trying to figure out what is the wireless plan here -- so I know how and where to airlift little Miss Legally Independent out of trouble when she and the rest of the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine crew run into evil Old Man Smithers in Ohio or find themselves in a scene from "Deliverance" in Oklahoma.
Here's an idea. How about an iPad 3G? It will have mapping so she can find gas stations and hotels -- and helicopter pads for Dad's SWAT team.
There are times when I wish I could call my daughter in when I meet with media types. This season they are gushing -- I mean gushing -- over the prospects surrounding the iPad. The enthusiasm, especially among magazine industry folks, has desperation written all over it. While I don't entirely agree with her assessment, my daughter's dismissal of the iPad is notable in the rapid-fire way she swats it away, and how it's so quickly and obviously of little use to her.
"What can it do that my BlackBerry can't do? We're bringing a laptop and we'll have five phones among us." Point taken. The in-between-ness of the iPad is a hurdle. GPS, maps, email are already on her phone, and the most important two communications tools she has -- text and voice -- are absent from the iPad. As she well understands, as a data retrieval device, the smart phones are narrowing the niche between laptop and phone.
"I need a keyboard. Even my phone has that." It is really all about input for her, and her focus on interactivity underscores a glaring limitation of the iPad. It is primarily a media consumption device, not an interactive device. Publishers think of digital merely as a delivery vehicle, but users think of digital as a communications and interactive platform. After a life of leaning in, why would she want to lean back and consume content just to make media companies' business models work for them?
But doesn't she want to flip through her favorite magazines on a device that can add in video as well and do all of these cool multimedia pyrotechnics? "If I want to read a magazine, I will buy a magazine," she says. "Or I go to their Web site."
That actually is going to be an issue for publishers of iPad-specific digital newspapers and magazines. Unlike the iPhone, where an app can clearly trump a mobile Web site experience, the iPad makes full Web browsing much more viable. Early audience research I have seen suggests that for even those interested in the iPad, Web browsing and email are rated far above app downloads as the device's main attraction. And so, publisher apps will be competing with their own Web sites.
But you can interact with the iPad. "I am not using that screen keyboard thingie," she says. "How do I hold it up and type?" I am with her on that one. As a longtime reviewer of Tablet PCs, I spent hours navigating the Web with a slate interface and found a real logistics issue with input. Two-handed typing on a touch screen requires some anchor for the device. Lay it flat on your lap to type, and you are hunched over the display and wishing for a laptop.
Also, it actually is a bit tiresome to interact with touch across a larger screen, when we are used to traversing the full real estate of a display with small gestures on a mouse or touchpad. You do get tired of having to shift your entire arm in order to activate a menu item in the upper left after having tapped the lower right. A full screen touch interface requires a much different level of repetitive physical movement than even a touch cell phone, let alone the mouse/touchpad conventions.
What about apps, I ask my daughter. All those glorious apps that iPhone users download by the billions? "I have Facebook and AIM on my phone. That is all I need."
Arguably, the iPad is not even pitched to my daughter's demo. She is not an ideal focus group by any means. The niche of mediaholic 20- or 30-somethings who seem to be embracing the Kindle is more of the sweet spot. But there is a kind of foreshadowing in her dismissive attitude toward the in-between devices. Her reliance on the mobile phone as a "good enough" portable computer is notable, and it might migrate upwards as her demo ages. She looks at a next generation of hardware and easily skirts the publishers' fantasies that are attached to them with a simple question: What does this do for me that I am not already doing with what I have? She is more focused on gadgets that are years old.
"Can I borrow your Flip video camera and some Nintendo DS games for the trip?" she asks.
I, on the other hand, already have my iPad pre-ordered and am poised to pick it up from my Apple Store as soon as it opens on April 3 -- like some teen fan-boy. My "barely-legal" daughter is more reserved, practical and unimpressed by new technology than her gadget-bedazzled Dad. I can't even give away an iPad to this girl. Good thing she is "legally independent" and venturing out from the nest. This kid is really starting to tick me off now.