I have had a transformative experience. And I’ve figured out what the iPad is for.
Much like the process I went through when Google Wave came out, I’ve been mulling the true import of the iPad. Photoshop seems like a natural choice, and would probably be an improvement over the computer–touch-screen in drawing improves everything–but it still wouldn’t be as good as a Wacom tablet. Powerpoints are an option, but then you get to the onerous business of typing. Reading is okay, but it’s far from ideal: I have the perfect ebook reader in my head already, and the iPad doesn’t come close. But there is one thing the iPad does better than almost anything else.
The iPad is a big freaking de-consolized DS. And that’s kind of awesome.
The iPhone has games, and I tried a few of them–little arcade-style games and Asteroids-style shooters. But the iPhone always seemed a little too small, or my thumbs a little too big. I’d have to try some of the really serious iPhone games, like their Metal Gear Solid or Grand Theft Auto offerings, but non-arcade games seem particularly awkward on mobile platforms. Doom on the Droid works okay with a hard-keyboard interface, but using those tiny WSAD keys to move around on a space the size of a pack of cards feels both literally and figuratively cramped. Perhaps the best metaphor for my Droid gaming experience so far is, in fact, a game I played on it, a point-and-click 3D horror game in which the objective was to escape from a bathroom.
A creepy bathroom, but come on.
But the iPad is basically exactly the right size for arcade games or simple adventure games. It’s pretty light, you can hold it in two hands, and the screen feels full, even capacious. It doesn’t have some of the options of the DS–no blowing on it to douse a candle or so on–but it also eliminates the single major problem that keeps me from buying consoles: The fact that I can’t really use them for anything else.
Sure, I could watch a DVD on them, or go all Little Brother and install some kind of remixed Linux on an Xbox, but one of the big reasons I’ve never bought a console is because I hate to have a device that only has one purpose (well, and because I’m laughably bad using console controllers, but that’s another matter.) For all I complain about Apple, most consoles are even more locked-down–heck, if an Xbox gets banned from Xbox live, it’s basically done for. An iPad can do a slick but rudimentary job on a lot of things, but if it offered a really great gaming experience, that might be worth it for me.
An example: I got the chance to play Activision’s Geometry Wars on the iPad today, and it feels completely natural. The game’s simple graphics look good on the sharp screen, and the console-like two-thumb interface takes advantage of the iPad’s multitouch.
Of course, I’m still not going to drop $500 or more on a handheld device I don’t really need, and the iPad is absolutely off-limits to me as long as it doesn’t have a camera (because seriously, games are cool now, but how great would a big, high-resolution version of the augmented reality game Spads & Fokkers be, with iPad users meeting up to control digital airplanes zipping around the real world?) But if the Apple product cycle holds true, I might buy the $200 version a few years down the road, if it goes the direction I’m hoping.