iPad frenzy and The Story of Stuff

The past few days there have been hundreds of stories about the release of the iPad. Stories about standing in line to buy it, stories about why it’s a great product, stories about why it’s not a great product, stories about why you should buy one, stories about why you shouldn’t buy one.

It’s a media frenzy around the shiny new tablet from Apple.

I am not one to talk. I’ve written about the iPad myself. I’m part of the frenzy.

How did you feel watching this barrage of iPad stories? Did you feel that there was something wrong with you if you weren’t standing in line outside an Apple store? Did you have an undefinable urge to buy one, or envy someone who had one when you didn’t? What emotions did the iPad bring up in you?

I’ll confess first. I’d love to have one. I love techy gadgets, I’m a Mac person. I’m sure I would feel wonderful if I owned such a sleek and beautiful device. So my emotions ranged from longing to envy to just feeling bad because I didn’t buy one like all the cool kids. Sigh.

During the same few days the iPad frenzy was going on in the media and blogosphere, I was doing something else. I was reading a book called The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. There’s a storyofstuff website and a video.

The video came out before the book. It encapsulates most of the points in the book into a 20 minute visual with commentary from Annie Leonard. I hope you’ll take the time to watch it. Afterwards, I want to discuss a specific aspect of the book that may make you feel better if you are struggling with whether or not to buy an iPad.

In “Chapter 4: Consumption” in The Story of Stuff, Leonard describes a phenomenon of consumerism that is based on social comparisons. She says,

. . . our sense of wealth and material well-being is relative; that is, it has to do with how much Stuff we have compared to other people. So, if we’re hanging around a bunch of ostentatious spenders, we feel poor. If we’re hanging around with people who are lower than us on the economic ladder, we feel rich.

Leonard talks about how our sense of comparison has expanded. We aren’t just trying to keep up with the Joneses next door, now we’re comparing ourselves to millionaires and celebrities that we see on TV. She credits Juliet Schor who wrote The Overspent American for the concept called “vertical expansion of our reference group.” We’re now comparing ourselves with a much wider group of people than ever before. Leonard tells this story about wanting to buy a new pair of shoes every time she was in Manhattan.

I’d see women with gorgeous designer shoes everywhere. I’d just have to buy a new pair of shoes even though—believe me—I really do not need any more shoes. It was irresistible. . . . Then I read Schor’s book. In my experience, a powerful way to free oneself from an unhealthy dynamic is simply to name it. Now when I am in Manhattan and I get that rush of need, I can call it out: “There’s that vertical expansion of my reference group thing again: just gotta hang on until I get home,” and I can walk right past those shoe stores.

Leonard’s tale about the vertical expansion of a reference group really resonates right now. Everyone everywhere is talking about the iPad, and I’m wishing I could rush out and buy one, even while I know I don’t need it and can’t afford it. Reading The Story of Stuff made me realize that I could use her mantra: “There’s that vertical expansion of my reference group thing again: just gotta hang on,” and I’d be able to get through the frenzy and come out on the other end with no iPad.

Am I telling you not to buy a iPad? Absolutely not. It may be the perfect thing for you. But if, like me, you know you don’t really need it and can’t really afford it, I’m telling you that you don’t need to feel bad about not buying one. In fact, you can even feel good about consuming less Stuff.

Useful Links: use :focus, some new product, ad culture

Whenever you use :hover, also use :focus from 456 Berea Street explains why this is an accessibility issue.

Apple came out with some new product this week. Maybe you heard about it. I think it made the news. Okay—seriously, amid all the posturings and opinions about why the iPad was a great thing or a terrible thing, came this post from Daring Fireball: The Kids are All Right. This one appeals to me as an educator who thinks that all change is a trade off, and all trade offs are an opportunity for learning.

Which came first, the ads or the cultural change? at In Women We Trust shows some real ads from about 50 years ago. Work with me here: Mentally make those images reflect the present, and make those women the women in tech, where the images are still pretty much true to the current culture. Is this the way men should be remembered for their leadership in the tech community?

Useful Links: iPad rumors, Mini-Bang, Facebook Fan Pages, POUR websites

From the don’t you love to speculate about the iPad rumors (or iPad competition) department, here’s news about Qualcomm’s Multi-Fold Device and about the future of the iSlate and Magic Slate names, and a story speculating about Verizon which would affect both the iPhone and the iPad.

At CERN, scientists managed to create mini-versions of the big bang with the Hadron Large Collider. See a summary and some video.  That’s more physics news that Internet tech news, but still interesting.

I collected a bunch of resources for creating a Facebook Fan Page and posted it on BlogHer. If you’re thinking your college or business or website needs a Facebook fan page, here’s a helpful collection of resources.

Constructing a POUR website at WebAIM refers to Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust. I think I linked earlier to Glenda Watson Hyatt’s free ebook called How POUR is Your Blog, which is a PDF document. The WebAIM info is in HTML.

Useful Links: Digital News, Young Designers

Why the iPad (and kin) is Unlikely to Yield Consumer Savings at Wired Pen puts pen and paper to the math involved in digital distribution of  news by media companies trying to transition from print.

Group Interview: Expert Advice for Students and Young Web Designers at Smashing Magazine was eye opening. And annoying. For one thing, everyone they interviewed was male.

Another problem I had was that I didn’t recognized many of the names of the web design experts they interviewed. Of course, there’s no reason why I should know every web design expert on the planet, but I do stay in touch with this area of knowledge. All the men interviewed had interesting job titles, and are no doubt good at their jobs.

None of the men interviewed by Smashing Magazine were educators. Few of them mentioned formal training for web designers, and when they did, it was all about what happens outside of formal training. They talked about passion and experience, about finding work and freelancing. None of them talked about how their education prepared them to work in the web design field.

As a web design educator, I think the attitudes and comments of the men interviewed in this article deserve careful thought by folks like me who identify as educators of web designers.

Useful Links: iPad accessibility, Gmail, browser share, textbooks

ATMac tells about Accessing the iPad: Mouthsticks and Styluses with some tips for how a user with limited mobility can work the device. It’s useful to also read ATMac’s post Accessibility and the iPad: First Impressions.

In the category of “stuff I didn’t know you could do but it sounds really great and I want to try it” comes this news from Demo Girl: How-to: Google Search in Gmail.

Where did Internet Explorer’s Browser Share Go? in an interesting look at trends in browser usage. I tried to have an effect on this trending information by installing Chrome on my Mac, but it won’t open after it’s installed. Instead I just get error messages.

Yes, there will be textbooks on the iPad. At least according to this article in the NYTimes.

Apple’s new iPad–is it magical?

(A shorter version of this article posted at BlogHer.)

Whether Apple’s announcement of the tablet dubbed iPad made you long for one, scoff at how unnecessary they are, or crack jokes about the choice of name, you have to admit it was a huge announcement.

In Internet terms alone, the number of tweets as the announcement event progressed was in the hundreds per second. Servers couldn’t keep up, sites that promised live blogging were over capacity. Engadget’s live blog managed to keep up and send many good photos, but it was struggling.

The Facts

Let’s examine the facts about the iPad, then discuss whether it’s revolutionary or unnecessary. The first fact, and possibly the most important fact in terms of marketing, is that the device is stunningly beautiful.

Apple's Steve Jobs Announces Launch Of New Tablet Computer

The high resolution device is 9.7″ big and 0.5 inches thin. It weighs 1.5 pounds with a 1GHz Apple A4 chip. It runs on the iPhone operating system with the multi-touch screen controls familiar to iPhone users. It uses wireless technology, but not every model comes with 3G wireless. There’s a full sized keyboard. Apple Announces Launch Of New Tablet Computer

I’ll get into what it can do in a minute. What it does not do is fit in your pocket, have a phone, or have a camera. It isn’t meant to be a phone, and it isn’t meant to be a full computer. It’s meant to fit a niche in the middle of those two, according to Apple.

Apple Announces Launch Of New Tablet Computer

How about price? The base model is $499, the fully loaded 3G model is $829. Apple Announces Launch Of New Tablet Computer

The wi-fi model iPads start shipping in late March, the 3G models will be available in April. All of the iPad 3G models are unlocked, which means you don’t have to be stuck with AT&T. Even so, Apple secured a special pricing deal from AT&T for an unlimited data plan for $29.99 a month with no contract. International data plan deals are promised by June.

For more tech specs see The Apple Store.

What can it do?

Two word answer: a lot. Here’s a brief rundown.

  • An ebook reader using ePub technology that links to a new iBook store from Apple. The ePub technology plus the usability of the ebook reader may make it superior to Kindle and may prove to be the killer app for the iPad. In landscape mode, you can see two pages side by side, or let one page fill the full screen in portrait mode. @susanorlean thinks this feature is just what she needs. Early content partners include Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon&Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette.
  • All 140,000+ iPhone apps run on it. A feature called pixel double lets your iPhone games run at double the normal size.
  • Mail. The redone and improved mail program is rich and capable.
  • Web browsing. Safari is the browser. There’s no Flash, which some people are calling a deal breaker.
  • Syncs with iTunes, iPhoto, your contacts, and other Mac apps for music, photos, video, movies and games. All your iPod tunes, your photos, and other goodies work.
  • All new calendar features that are, like Mail, reworked and rife with rich features.
  • Mac iWorks apps including word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software are available from the App Store for $9.99 each. This feature alone means the iPad can serve as a mobile work computer for many users. You can import iWork ’09 and Microsoft Office documents and send documents in iWork ’09 and PDF formats.
  • An optional keyboard dock can turn the iPad into a laptop-like desk machine. After noticing Steve Jobs make typos on the touchpad keyboard, @triciad tweeted that the keyboard dock means that maybe even Apple doesn’t consider the touch pad so easy to use.

A feature it lacks, and one that keeps it out of the full-computer niche is multitasking. There’s no way to have Twitter, Mail, Safari and Words with Friends all running at the same time. I’d like to see multitasking come in a later version, along with 3G wireless at every price point.

Cindy Li listed the users she immediately realized can benefit from the functionality of an iPad. She lists the vision impaired, snow birds who live in two places throughout the year, and travelers of all stripes. ATMac has a preliminary rundown of all the accessibility features, not just the font resizing capability Cindy Li mentioned.

I agree with Cindy’s initial reaction, but I think that a lot of demand is going to come from gamers and folks looking for entertainment. The graphics are stunning, the games run fast, and the controls are so simple that games will really, really, really be popular on the iPad. Close behind that is video and movies. Yes, it has plenty of features that make it useful for work and serious business, but the fun is irresistible.

Apple Announces Launch Of New Tablet Computer

The pricing structure (and nonproprietary ePub format) for books from iBook Store is different from what we’ve seen at Amazon for the Kindle. See Apple Tablet Portends Rewrite for Publishers at The Wall Street Journal for a deeper look at this. An unnamed guest author at Tech Crunch thinks iPad is a Kindle killer.

The name

Did you vote your opinion on the name choice at Apple’s iPad: Love? Hate? Now With Wings? yet? Reaction to the name was immediate on Twitter, mostly jokes about feminine hygiene products, such as these from @alywalansky, @Katebits, and @StephanieSmanto. @Maria Young did speak in defense of the name, however. Skud found the reactions to the name both hilarious and disgusting.

To me, it looks like a pad—a writing pad, not the pad everyone else is obsessed with—or perhaps like a clipboard. I think the complaints about the name will fade quickly as people get accustomed to using it.

Is it green?

According to Apple, it’s environmentally friendly, with no mercury, or arsenic. The battery is supposed to have a 10 hour life.

iPad environmental checklist
photo from Engadget

I’d like to hear some outside analysis on how environmentally friendly the iPad is before accepting Apple’s word for it.

Is it magically revolutionary?

You can agree or disagree with me on this, it’s all my opinion. I speak from my requirements. I think Apple has been brilliant about finding an unfilled niche in the mobile market: not a phone, not a computer, but something powerful that bridges between them. The iPad is impressive and beautiful, but I’m not sure it’s going to change everything in quite the way the iPhone or the iPod did.

My reasoning goes like this. I already own an easy-to-tote MacBook and an iPhone that can replace it for short term trips away from my home computer. When the time comes for me to replace my computer, I can’t quite fill the need with an iPad unless it sprouts a CD drive and runs PhotoShop, Fireworks, Dreamweaver, and several other things I can’t live without. When the time comes for me to replace my phone, I can’t fill that need with an iPad. I don’t spend a lot of time playing games. In other words, I’m not planning to buy one immediately.

That said, I do think there is a huge market for the iPad. I mentioned gamers. I also think it might change the netbook market completely and shift the eBook landscape around about 180 degrees.

I’m not particularly the target audience for this device, loyal Apple fan that I am. Young people are. As my buddy Melanie from Blogging Basics 101 told me in an email,

I think the iPad is going to be much more popular with the teens/college/20-something crowd. Those are the people who are already watching TV on their computers instead of the actual TV. They can research their papers, download textbooks, and write their papers all on one device. That would have been indispensable to me at that age (if I’d known how to use a computer then). I think it’s harder for us codgers to be on board when we’ve already spent the money on the laptop, iPhone, Kindle, etc. We see one more device, those “kids” see a consolidation and more portability.

She’s right, of course. If I didn’t already have a MacBook and an iPhone, this would be perfect.