Everybody was buzzing with excitement yesterday morning. A flurry of Twitter comments scrolled by all throughout the morning and the afternoon. You could taste the iPad in the air (OK, almost).
Shortly after the unveiling, people divided themselves in to two camps: the iPad haters, and the iPad defenders. Each of them was intent in convincing the other camp that their view is the right one. Just like most of the pointless human conflict over the last two thousand years minus the bloody wars part.
Of course, I felt the same way. As a consumer, I was very disappointed by the lack of video camera and the non-widescreen form factor. But I stepped back and realized that the iPad is here, and it is what it is. All the wishing and convincing in the world isn’t going to make a difference. The platform is here to stay, and with Apple’s genius behind it, I’m sure it’s going to be anywhere from “moderately successful” to “a huge success”.
The only question to answer as a developer is, how can I make the most out of the iPad? And for that, we need to understand what the iPad is.
There’s been a lot of talk on the iPad specs: 1024×768 resolution, a custom A4 chipset including a CPU and a modern GPU, etc. But those are just dry facts about the hardware. They will be crucial things to keep in mind to develop for the iPad, but they don’t help us that much understanding it.
Some people are claiming the iPad is a large iPod Touch, but I think that nothing could be further from the truth.
Precisely because the iPad is larger, it’s not a device you’re going to carry in your pocket. It’s something that’s going to be laying on your desk, or piled on top of a few books on the coffee table. And that changes everything.
Whereas on the iPhone/iPod Touch users could use an app for a few seconds or minutes during the day, the iPad is going to encourage longer sessions, just once or twice a day. The kind of apps, and in particular the kind of games that are going to be well suited to the iPad are going to be much more than a higher-resolution iPhone game. For the most part, they’re going to be totally different genres.
For example, Civilization never made much sense for me on the iPhone, but it now becomes a perfect iPad game. On the other hand, Flower Garden, was designed from the beginning to have multiple, short sessions throughout the day, so it will make very little sense as an iPad game. I suppose that makes me one of the first developers going on record saying I’m not going to port my existing iPhone app to the iPad 🙂
The differences with the iPod Touch go beyond how frequently people use it. For example, games controlled by tilt are going to be restricted to a more hard core audience. Someone who really wants to sit down and spin the iPad around like a driving wheel controlling a car. Casual users will be less likely to grab the iPad and play a quick game of Scoops or Doodle Jump because it’s going to feel like a bigger deal than slightly tilting the iPhone in your hand.
The target demographic for the iPad is very different than the iPhone and iPod Touch. It will appeal mostly to people in their 30s and older, whereas the iPod Touch is really spreading on the younger demographic of middle and even elementary school. That will also radically change the kind of apps and games people will play on the iPad.
So it’s clear that the iPad is not a large iPod Touch, and it doesn’t pretend to replace it. That’s a key point. Instead of replacing it, us as developers should think about it as complementing the iPhone and iPod Touch. The kind of experience I expect from the ideal iPad application is one that lets me access the same data set or game state I was using with my iPhone during the day. Maybe I’ll put up with the iPhone interface to play some Civilization while I’m commuting to work, but I expect to come back home, sit down on the couch, pick up my iPad and continue the same game with a much better interface. So we’re going to see a trend towards more apps and games that store all their state in the server, and let you access it from any device.
The older demographic, deeper games, and server integration, combined with a higher-resolution screen is going to make people expect a more polished experience, and development costs are going to increase significantly. It’s definitely a new challenge in a market that’s ever changing, and whoever figures it out will have a good chance to have an early iPad hit in their hands.