What you see, is not always what you get.

The recent release of Apple’s iPad was met with the usual excitement, but behind the hype, it raises several interesting design issues not being discussed. Reviews of technology generally focus on issues such as memory, battery life, number of applications, and speed. Such technical issues are free from any risk by the reviewer because they deal with facts not judgements and are easy to quantify. I am a fan and user of Apple products and like everything they produce the iPad is sleek and beautiful. I have yet to play with the iPad so my comments are based soley on feedback from friends and Apple’s advertising. I posted this before trying it myself to see if my perceptions from images match my direct experience.

What first brought the iPad to my attention were the huge billboards advertising it. They reveal a problematic relationship of this new device to the body. No doubt, the iPad perched on the lap of a person reclining is meant to reveal scale, portability, and to suggest a relaxed comfort of operating it. Ironically, however, it also demonstrates basic flaws in the design and reveals an awkwardness about using it. The left hand which you can barely see in the ad is relegated to the sole function of holding the iPad steady so that it does not slide to the waist and become extremely difficult and uncomfortable to use.

To “see” images on a flat screen and read text without distortion it is necessary to view the surface at the correct angle. This requires a parallel relationship between our eyes and that surface. Notice that while the iPad in the ad seems to be resting comfortably on the persons lap, it is actually being tilted upwards to achieve the corrcect angle to see it it properly. Laptops do not have this problem because the screen is separate from the keyboard and the angle of the screen to the eyes is adjustable. My feeling is that the design of the ipad is not resolved and that it is actually too large and cumbersome to handle easily. Unlike a cell phone that is small enough to operate with one hand, the iPad requires support so both hands are free to use the keyboard. Another option, of course, is to lay it flat on a table but this requires either bending your body over the iPad, propping it at an angle on another surface, or looking at the screen with a distortion caused by perspective. To true lovers of technology compelled to own the latest gadget, the things I have brought forth may be of little or no consequence, but they raise important basic design fundamentals crucial to the act of “seeing”; form and function.4565349481_3c12d49affPicture 4

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