Technology and modality: The iPad as Platform

When something is made to sit in the middle of a table, it’s hard to see it as anything other than a table center. For years, PCs have occupied prominent places on our desks. Desktop PCs cannot move around so their modality is fairly singular.

What is modality? As always, you could go to a go to a place like this and look up “modality”. For the purposes of this post, modality will refer to how something is used; as in a procedure or method.

Let’s get back to the PC. Over time, desk-top PC architecture got unified and repackaged. That’s why “luggables” and subsequently laptops were created. Few imagined putting a PC in your pocket. For years, neither the use case nor technology were available to make it happen.

The ways that you can use a device are as important as how you interact with the device. Use describes modality, interaction describes interface. If one takes a look at Apple, it is obvious that interface simplicity and elegance are a hallmark of their designs. It is also clear that when one looks at the arc of product that has been delivered by Apple since the release of the iPod that modality has also been a key part of their design genesis. The latest generation of iPad Air and Retina Mini demonstrate the extent to which the product’s modality is being expanded.

Great product design is not just a matter of answering the question, “what problem does this product solve”. A great design provides extensibility. It allows for further creativity. It can be a platform for something else. From its introduction in 2010 to its latest iterations, the iPad has been completely re-worked to make it thinner, lighter, faster. With each iteration, these optimizations have added dozens of new uses.

So many have wondered what has happened to Apple’s innovation mojo. It is not waning, it is accelerating. To achieve the optimizations that they are delivering requires a tremendous amount of design, science and engineering effort. Is Apple defining a new paradigm of computing with each model change of the iPad? Of course not but the iPad defines an epoch in computing development.

Platform extensibility is leading us in at least 2 new directions:
1) Thinner indicates a trend toward a device that could become flexible and resemble a type of “digital paper”. At scale this could lead to screens that are in some way more like wall paper than stand-alone boxes. This is the real promise of a future Apple TV
2) Reduced weight paves the way for larger mobile screen sizes. Apple could easily ship a 13″ iPad with its available technology that weighs about the same as the original iPad.

From here, the number of usage modes for touch and visual computing grow more and more.