Apple iPad and bigger touch screens

The piece of computer hardware that I would most like to buy right now is a 30″ touch screen computer monitor. I find it difficult to use the mouse while walking on a treadmill desk. Lifting up a hand to press a link on the screen would work well, I think, and I believe that Windows 7 already includes support for a touch screen. I’ve grown accustomed to the Dell 30″ monitor on my desktop. It cost about $1300 back in 2006. Surely an innovative industry would have the same thing now, for about the same price, but with touch sensitivity. A quick look at the Dell site reveals that thanks to four years of innovation by engineers, hard work by Americans to boost the value of our currency, and the manufacturing learning curve… a slightly improved version of my monitor is selling for $1700. It is not touch-sensitive.

How come I can’t buy at least a 24″ touch-sensitive monitor to plug into a standard PC? The technology has been around since the 1960s (Wikipedia) and was widely available in the 1980s.

Separately, Apple has announced its latest contribution to the touch-screen world. I’m more enthusiastic about the iPad than I was about the iPhone (my ideal phone would be a flip-phone with a real keyboard). If they deliver on the 10-hour battery life it could be a nice electronic book reader, though not a perfect substitute for a Kindle, which can be taken on a one-week trip without a charger. An on-screen keyboard should work reasonably well on the iPad’s 9″ screen. The fact that Apple is mass-producing the iPad should make it a good value.

Things that I like about the iPad:

  • reasonably large screen size; computers have gotten orders of magnitude more powerful since 1976 when I started programming, but the screens have not grown much
  • dedicated volume up/down buttons; I have never liked the traditional iPods because it is possible to get them into a user interface state from which it requires numerous twists and clicks to get back to a state in which it is possible to adjust the volume
  • presumably fairly rugged (the iPhones seem to survive a lot of abuse anyway)

How would a family use it? Maybe park it on a bookshelf as a digital photo frame and for charging. Take it out of the stand for use as a book or magazine reader. Use it to adjust a Sonos music system (though for most people, probably the iPad will be the music system, docked into a stand that includes speakers). Hand it to a child who wants to watch a TV program that nobody else wants to watch. Take it into the car for back seat entertainment.

I haven’t quite figured out why the iPad is useful for business. Most people with desk jobs already have a laptop computer with full keyboard. The iPad is a little too big to be carried around by people who actually work for a living (i.e., it can’t replace the handheld computers used by UPS drivers and its screen would become unreadable if used by a mechanic with greasy hands).

When you see a product like this you realize why the car industry is in so much trouble. I am considering becoming a recidivist minivan owner. I priced a Toyota Sienna the other day, the only minivan that comes with AWD for our hellish driveway and which has been supposedly completely redesigned for “2011”. One might have expected the kind of radical re-thinking of the dashboard that Tata did for the Nano (on track to sell 100,000 cars by March), but no. The tachometer is right in front of the driver, hogging real estate. When was the last time a minivan driver wondered whether the engine was turning 1800 rpm or 2500 rpm? The navigation screen is way off to the right and lower, necessitating a much longer diversion of the driver’s eyes from the road.

Since electronics have gotten ridiculously cheap, did Toyota throw them all in as standard? Let’s consider what we’re talking about here: a Bluetooth speakerphone ($50?), a GPS ($100), and a back seat DVD player ($150). In fact, none of these are standard. You can buy these $300 of electronics in a bundle for $6000 (which will really sting a few years down the road when DVDs have gone extinct in favor of digital files and Blu-Ray). Does the car offer a “keep my dog cool” mode that runs the existing fans when parked? No. Does the car offer a “call me if I’ve left a baby in the car” mode that uses the existing microphones, alarm, and temperature sensors to detect that someone is in a parked car while the temperature is climbing? No. [This article explains that the nanny state required parents to move kids to the back seat to save them from the big bad airbag (a previous mandate from the government). Due to consumers not exhibiting the perfect memories that government bureaucrats depended on, now “vehicle-related heat deaths far outnumber fatalities caused by airbag injuries” (car ride tends to put baby to sleep; parent forgets that out-of-sight baby is in the car).]

My neighbor sold an older Chrysler minivan in perfect condition for $2000. Someone who bought his minivan could buy a Motorola Droid phone ($2000 over three years, including service), a car dock ($30), and enjoy a far superior GPS experience from Google Maps (which includes free traffic information; with the Toyota system you have to pay for a subscription). Then he could add two Apple iPads for the kids to use in the back ($1000). He wouldn’t need the bluetooth speakerphone because the Droid already is a speakerphone. So… for the price of just the basic electronics options in the Toyota, a consumer could have a minivan, free phone service, and $1000 left over.

Is it any wonder that car sales in the U.S. are stagnant?

20 thoughts on “Apple iPad and bigger touch screens

  1. Interesting edge case for a large touchscreen. More generally, people people don’t like to hold their arms out perpendicular to gravity very long (especially if they’re reaching over a keyboard), so they are considered unsuitable for all-day computer use.

    There’s an interesting demo of the “10gui” that discusses this issue, and suggests a conceptual improvement from the Xerox STAR GUI that we use:

  2. All my friends love Toyota and it is good to see I am the only one who doesn’t get it. Toyota skimps on anything it can. A coworker’s car came without floor mats, right side mirror and even antenna. Our Rav4 had the worst sound system I’ve ever listened making NPR unintelligible. The stereo interface baffles pretty much anybody who is not used to it. The worst seats of any car I’ve driven without any lumber support. The steering wheel is not adjustable. The AWD works only if you are going slow and manually select it. 2009 model lacks any information about fuel efficiency but takes the real estate to constantly inform me about the outside temperature like I need to do something about the fact that it is 1 degree colder at the office parking vs my driveway. The remote entry buttons are extremely sensitive and go off often in my pockets. Nobody sells replacement wipers for the rear window – you have to go the dealer. The flat tire sensor goes off if you spare is underinflated

  3. The Acer 23″ T230H is available nowish:
    There’s also a less-than-rigorous video review here:

    Of course, what I’d really like is something that comes close to Jeff Han’s vision for multitouch on a 36″ screen, demoed here:

    The iPad I’d be desperate to buy would be one I could hold in my left-hand and operate with my right. This would limit the size to roughly that of a DVD case, which wouldn’t help battery life. (The Archos 9 touchpad is DVD-case high, but a bit longer. However, it’s not multitouch and can’t be used in portrait mode.) In addition to using it in stand-alone mode, I’d want it to use it as the UI for a big screen.

  4. Phil,

    I’m very interested that you’ve started combining computer use and your treadmill. I’m considering purchasing a treadmill for just that purpose. Can you tell me what kind of setup you have (table, treadmill, speed, etc).

  5. Michael: I have a homemade thing that I keep meaning to write about. Maybe in another month or two! I suspect that the latest commercial incarnations are better. I have a 24″ monitor right now mounted on a swing-out wall arm. A 30″ monitor would be better, but I’m waiting until I can get one with a touch screen (the link that Mayson helpfully provided offers a 32″ monitor but it is really a television, not a computer monitor (the resolution is 1366×768)).

    When typing, I walk uphill at 8% and at 0.7 to 1.3 mph. For surfing and reading off the Web, I can bump up to the speed to 1.5-2 mph.

  6. “I find it difficult to use the mouse while walking on a treadmill desk. Lifting up a hand to press a link on the screen would work well, I think…”

    Wouldn’t an eye-activated screen be even more convenient in that situation?

  7. No: I guess it is a good idea to turn an iTouch into a trackpad, but a trackpad would be just as difficult to use as a mouse, perhaps more so. And in any case, a USB trackpad can be purchased for about $30. I don’t want to have to register my hand’s position with something on the screen; I just want to push a hyperlink when and where I see it.

    Henry: It is true that the computer should simply read my mind! I’m looking at the link and want to press on it so why can’t electrodes on my head figure this out? Let’s get the functional MRI nerds on this!

    Duncan: Thanks for the Acer monitor link. I guess that is the closest thing to what I want (maybe 23 is the new 30, at least if you’re converting dollars to euro!).

  8. I have a Toyota and while they do charge and arm and leg for many “features”, the reason I got it is one feature none of the US minvans had. It is fairly quite and decent to drive. I bought a $80 DVD player for my kids and a $150 GPS which I can move to other cars.

    The stuff the other poser mentioned is true to some degree, but has never really bothered me that much (I don’t have the AWD version).

    The biggest downside is that the non-AWD version stinks in the snow.

  9. You mention using an iPad for the family. And Jobs mentioned “having one in the kitchen to buy movie tickets.” Well, it is set up like an iPhone, which means it is mated to a single computer for a single user. So if I buy one and set it up for me, I’m certainly not going to leave it in the kitchen for my teenagers to send email from. They would be sending from MY account.

    I don’t know if it would be practical to have multiple users on the iPhone OS, but it certainly would make it a more userful device for me.

  10. Dave: I’m surprised to hear you say that your 2WD minivan doesn’t work well in the snow. I only got stuck once in my 1998 Sienna and it was in about 10″ of snow that I somehow thought I could power my way through. Our neighbor who sold his Dodge Caravan also never any problem with a snowy/icy/somewhat hilly driveway. Front-wheel drive plus heavy weight should equal pretty good snow traction, no?

    Colin: I didn’t realize that the iPad could not handle multiple user profiles. That would make it a problematic household appliance, except for the solitary. It is odd that we all recognize how much Windows sucks for a consumer and yet when we tick off the capabilities that a home computer needs the required features are a fairly substantial subset of the bloated Windows 7.

  11. Colin, to be fair, we don’t yet know if the iPad will be conveniently multi-user. It might sync to multiple iTunes profiles. Apple spent some time positioning it as an ad hoc around-the-house sort of device…clearly it will be far more useful if it isn’t bound to a single user, so I remain hopeful. 🙂

  12. Some of you with PC mindset are really something.
    There is no multitasking because it is difficult as UI metaphor.
    The same reason there is no concept of logging in iPhone because the
    logged-in user is abstracted away. just passcode is available.

    repeat after me. iPhone, iPad is an appliance no a computer.
    Just stick with your windows 7.

    I don’t know why you are asking for touch control
    when keyboard navigation allows you full control
    since you want to type as well.
    Why aren’t you using the voice control, doesn’t Microsoft give
    you that feature.

  13. As to why the iPad might be interesting to business – perhaps as I came by a different path, the possibility seems obvious. It’s a book – a book with all the pages in the organization. The strong threshold is a paper-sized page (for which the current iPad is a shade small – a 12″ screen would be better, and likely will appear in a year or two). Anything below that size is simply too tedious to use.

    Seems I’ve spent a lot of time working on “Content Management” systems (from the start of FileNet, through a few other products in the same space). Lots of content that wants a page-sized display.

    Of course, displays that size are not new, but the combination of features make for a considerable distance from other products. Page-sized display, network-everywhere, low price, low weight, long battery life, excellent design, a platform with many applications, and many qualified developers.

    Where a book, clipboard, or binder survives in usage today – you have a use-case.

  14. For a photographer, this could be an excellent way to show wedding clients their photos. Its a dynamic, living proof sheet. I can bring the device into the couples home, review the photos with them, and help them choose what to order, right there. Its cleaner looking than a laptop, and you hold the thing like you’d hold a photograph.

    Same logic applies to board room. For quick meetings its a pain to fire up the PC, log in, turn on the projector, fix the blind, dim the lights…its all very dramatic for say, an IT status update. But then sometimes in such a meeting you want to bring up all users in a certain Active Directory group to answer a manager’s question, or display a dynamic representation of big files on a network share…the remote desktop app can help with that. What about Visio diagrams that print on 4 8.5×11 sheets…well, here you have zooming.

    So, its basically dynamic paper. I wonder how it will be for note taking. If its easy to type on, maybe it will be useful. If not, then paper is far from dead.

    I HOPE I can use this as an external monitor for say, a D700…or whatever replaces the D700 at the PMA this year. I want to put the camera on a boom, over the side of a building, or looking down on a dancing bride/groom at a wedding, and get a live preview of what it sees…field monitors are crazy expensive. According to Apple’s presentation…this app should run on an iPad.

  15. I remember when I was taking flying lessons thinking how great it would be to replace a kneeboard with an ipod touch; I realized that the screen was way too small… The iPad might be a pilot’s best friend.

  16. It really doesn’t start with the iPad being useful for business. It starts with business people buying it and then finding stuff to do which will motivate the purchase in the first place.

    It’s not release yet where I live (Sweden), but I will use it mostly to check email, it’s a large part of our business. But do I really really need it? No, but it seems hell of a fun!

    The tachometer on an automatic is really a waste of space. Removing it will even improve usability so I’m all for it! The only exception is maybe Porsche or some other sports car, as the tachometer would be part of the experience.

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