What The iPad Means For Social Media

My poor editors. I don't get to thank them enough (that means you, Phyllis), but when writing a column about the iPad while using an iPad, I'm out of my element. Without multitasking, I can't readily fact-check. I'm less prone to make major revisions. And I may miss a few autocorrections that guess the wrong spelling.

Then again, do you know how many times I am checking Facebook, Twitter, and Digg while writing this? Zero. Score one for the iPad, at the expense of social media.

It's a fitting segue, as social media isn't one of the best-use cases for the iPad. In the few days since I got it, I've come to pick up the iPad for quick email checks early and late in the day, and while my PC boots up at work. I loved watching "Lost" and "Flash Forward" with ABC's media player. Reading news has been great, and reading books has been enjoyable, though I still prefer the glare-free Kindle for the latter. Gaming has proved especially fun, ever since I downloaded Real Racing HD (though I had to exit this document app, Apple's Pages, to look up the name).



Real Racing wound up being a very social game, and it started to make me aware of the social possibilities for the iPad. Anyone who has come by my office over the past week has had to take a turn playing Real Racing, with my COO so far the only one to place first. I also joined racing leagues to compete against others, and I can compete with anyone live when we're on the same Wi-Fi network.

Another new favorite is the game We Rule, which isn't too far from Farmville in principle, though it's more about growing your medieval turf, and farming is just a part of it. We Rule can search your iPad contacts and find friends, and you can interact with their feudal territories. I can blame my colleague Matt Wurst for introducing me to that one; if there's ever a way to pillage someone's castle, please pillage his first and tell him I sent you.

Scrabble is another social favorite, thanks to one innovation. You download the $10 game on the iPad and then get the free Tile Rack app for your iPhone or iPod Touch. When turning on Bluetooth, up to four people with Tile Rack can compete in the same iPad game. Each can keep their tiles on their smaller devices, shuffling tiles and even looking up words. Then, when a player is ready, he just flicks the tiles from his own rack on to the "board." Cool? Hell yes. Better than the board game? It's far more portable, and you'll never lose your tiles -- unless you lose your device.

That's a taste of how social gaming works today on the iPad. It's going to get far more interesting when Apple debuts its Operating System 4.0 this summer. It will include Game Center, which will have built-in features such as friend lists, leaderboards, and a matchmaking engine to pair similar gamers with each other. This could transform social gaming on the iPad and iPhone from games with a few social features to games that are inherently social.

It's not just gaming that's social on the iPad, but it does have the most potential. Most mobile social media as we tend to think of it (mobile social networks, photo sharing, check-in services, etc., etc.) will still happen on pocket-sized devices, not tablets. Yes, you can check in to Foursquare on the iPad, but why, especially if you're mostly using the iPad at home? Loopt has an iPad app, but it looks more like a city guide and less like a mobile social tool.

It has only been days since the iPad has been out. By the time it stars in a "South Park" episode we'll have a better sense of what it can do, socially and otherwise. Don't expect it to transform social media, but it will transform your office if you get a few people to download the Tile Rack.

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