Recently I wrote a big ol’ research paper on the future of tablet computing, in which I discussed the popular perception that the introduction of Apple’s iPad in 2010 (was it really that recently?) began a shift toward consumption-only computing— you buy a tablet and then use it more or less like an interactive TV with a pay-per menu of entertainment products. No more content production and contribution from unsanctioned entertainment entities, a.k.a. average people. A retreat from the hive-mind ideology of web 2.0 and a return to our place in front of the tube.
At the time I wrote this paper I agreed generally with this assessment of the iPad, particularly because of its sole reliance on the finger as an input method. What realistically could you create without pens, keyboards, and other tools of expression? The thing was, this conclusion was based on theory, as I didn’t have (nor had ever used) an iPad, which has since changed.
I had no idea of the sheer number of productivity and content creation apps that existed for the platform, having only previously used an iPod touch, for which most such apps are either unavailable or impractical. On using a few, I realized that the kind of creative expression best suited to the iPad is one which the computer didn’t formerly serve well or at all: a portable, spatial sort of creativity, in which one builds flowcharts, drawings, collages, to-do lists, information requiring visual elements that one can rearrange or manipulate directly onscreen, anywhere they are. It’s not about text.
Now, text is the internet— Google has built a colossal empire upon it. But as it stands, Google can’t do much with the visual products we create, unless they’re hitched to textual metadata. (I’ve been typecasting for years, and not a word of it has ever been understood by search engine technology). What little I know of HTML5 suggests that the keepers of internet technology aim to evolve the web in a more visual direction, but this will remain a theory until browsers comply (years from now, if ever completely). The kinds of information products you can create with an iPad don’t really fit well into the internet’s open ocean of words, which has become by any measure a glut of info-pollution. Is text passé?
Unlikely, but it’s merely a single and overtaxed information channel, one far more effectively paired with visual input for optimal learning, according to the dual coding theory. Rather than taking the instruments of creation out of our hands, are tablets like the iPad empowering us to begin creating visual and spatial information products alongside textual ones? I intend to begin reviewing particular iPad apps against the measure of this question.