As I write this--about 15 minutes before Apple's "Newest Creation" event is set to begin--I feel, if the hype is to be believed, that I am writing this on a piece of papyrus, musing on the concept of the printing press. I think it is fair to say that this morning's presentation is the most anticipated technology announcment in Apple's history, if not of all time…and we are not even sure if Apple's actually going to announce it!
"It," of course, refers to Apple's entry into the tablet market, the next wave of computing, which does away with the standard keyboard/mouse/screen computer and provides just a slab--a slate, if you will-which is both a display and an input device. I would argue that Apple has already made their tablet, in the form of the iPhone or the iPod touch, which, though small, has taken the concept of the smart phone and taken it one step further, creating the ultimate digital accessory, perhaps? Your world in your pocket, that provides not only personal communication and the wealth of the Internet, but also information that is relevant and contextual to your physical location.
Seven minutes to go.
What do we know about the device? Nothing, really, as I write this. For many of us, the next few hours will be spent jumping from liveblogger to liveblogger, tweeting as we go, until Apple posts the video of Steve's presentation, hopefully around noon.
Of course, we at Symantec have been abuzz about this for all week--everyone's very interested to see if this is more a reader (ala Amazon's Kindle) or a big iPhone that incorporates more of a "real" computer. Depending on how the device interacts with personal information, we'll know just how we can support the user to make sure that their identity and data remains safe.
Of course, we on the Mac team have been wondering about a tablet for years--there's sort of a running joke that one of our QA guys, Brent, has been pulling for a tablet announcement at least once a year for the past decade. For whatever reason, this device is less a tablet than a grail, representing a complete break from the past and a dive headlong into the future. Indeed, Star Trek has had PADDcomputers for awhile now, right?
One minute to go.
See you on the other side.
Okay. It's 1 hour and 40 minutes later and now the world is discussing the iPad. Here in LA, the rainy skies have cleared, the birds are chirping...coincidence? After spending some time on twitter and various Mac sites, there seems to be an even split on whether or not it is that big of a deal, but we expected that, right? Someone was bound to be disappointed, if only because the iPad didn't cook bacon.
There are hundreds of sites that will dissect and explore every aspect of the device, so I will leave you in their capable hands. Here are a things strike me initally about the iPad, which we won't be able to get our hands on until March:
1 - Where's the social?
Yes, the iPad let's you surf the web, chat with friends, send and receive email, share photos, hang out on facebook and send tweets…but not all at once. The great thing about my portable computer, a MacBook Pro is that I can do my work and interact with people at the same time. Since the iPad seems to based more on the iPhone OS, right now we are still limited to running only one application at a time. This is already annoying on an iPhone or iPod touch--you have to quit out of a movie to check your email, for example--but you would think that the iPad, which exists in a still fuzzy reality between laptop and smartphone, would address the reality that people like do more than one thing at a time.
Similarly, where's the camera? This seems like the perfect video chat device, but, alas, a camera is nowhere to be found. Perhaps some third party developer will create a camera that can clip onto the iPad, but that would ruin the design, which is at least half of the experience. With broadband speeds only getting faster and cheaper, video conferencing is becoming an attractive alternative to text-based chat. Many a family will spend at least a few minutes using Skype to talk with other family members that weren't able to make it home for the holidays. Being able to hand an iPad around the dinner table to say hello to Uncle Frank seems like a wonderfully "Apple" experience.
2 - From a security point of view, we are still basically beholden to Apple. The iPad now runs mobile versions of their popular iWork suite (Numbers is apparently "fun and cool" now), which opens the door for downloading and sharing important business files. This does make push security more into the fore than years past, as users will be open to non-Apple approved bits coming into their device (other than media files). Symantec will continue to investigate how these apps interact with the operating system--and I know folks are already looking into the SDK--but given the popularity of the iPhone and iPod touch, I can imagine a lot of people being very interested in this device.
Symantec will endeavor to provide the relevant products, but right now we are hampered by the limitations, such as they are, of the current mobile OS in iPad, iPod touch and iPhone, primarily because we can't run processes in the background, for example, if you are checking your email, we can't scan an attachment for viruses because our scanning engine can run while the mail program is running. Similarly, we cannot run our phishing protection engine (which scans pages while they load for threats as opposed to just checking to see if the site is listed as a phishing site) because the Safari browser is running. Of course, that is just one aspect (an important aspect to be sure) of what we do; there are other more assistive solutions that we are investigating, but from a classical security perspective (Symantec protecting you from malicious threats entering your system), we need a bit more flexibility in the OS. Happily, the rumor mill is already back in action, with hopes that iPhone OS 4.0 will actually allow background apps, but we'll have to wait for that to happen later this year, if at all.
The iPad is an exciting product--my friend Michael said this was the most disruptive announcement by Apple ever--and I think it's fair to say most people are really excited and intruiged by the possibilities of the iPad. Yes, it's a big iPod touch, but, still — that's a very cool thing. Will it change the world like the printing press? We're not sure--but after seeing what The New York Times and books look like on the iPad, that's a distinct possibility. Reading news on the iPad could very well be like reading The Daily Prophet in the world of Harry Potter--newspapers with little movies instead of still pictures.
So the iPad is here! Looks like Star Trek had it right all along.
Mike Romo is a Sr. Product Manager at Symantec who works on Norton products for Mac.