The iPad: not just for passive pastimes

Writing and making art on the iPad, in defiance of those who say Apple's latest machine isn't for the creatively inclined.
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Apple's iPad

Writing and making art on the iPad, in defiance of those who say Apple's latest machine isn't for the creatively inclined.

How many people in Seattle bought an iPad over the weekend? I don't know the number but I know there were quite a few people still in line and in the store, gawking at the device, when I bought mine Saturday around 3:25pm.

In the heart of Microsoft country. Tsk tsk.

The iPad is of course a media sensation. I downloaded the new WSJ app, the AP app, and the USA Today app, all of which opened to front page stories about Apple's new wonderdrug. And as with any new Apple product launch there is a raging debate in the early-adopting tech community about what features got left out and why these shortcomings are going to destroy the world.

The iPad-is-the-apocalypse cry probably comes loudest from Lev Grossman, a senior writer at TIME magazine, who shared his wisdom in the latest print issue:

"The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it. It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other people's masterpieces. In that sense, it's a step backward. Not much of a fairy-tale ending. Except for the people who are selling content."

Grossman's got it all wrong. True, Version 1 lacks a camera. But I doubt that Apple plans for the iPad to remain camera-less long term, especially considering how the company tends to roll out new products: innovate, and offer the newest features for a premium. I can see the iPad 3G as the "cheap" option a year from now, and the "iPad Video" the one for those who want top of the line.

But even more ridiculous is this idea that you somehow can't (or that Apple doesn't want you to) use the iPad to create. Apple is actively pushing the sale of its iPad versions of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation creation software.

Yes, this device presents a brilliant consumption experience. Yes, that's probably it's primary purpose — bringing music, video, web, print, and interactive media browsing to one, unified device. The fact that this device is closed, philosophically and physically/literally, doesn't mean that tools of creation aren't available or won't be taken advantage of.

I'd argue that the iPad does a lot to facilitate creation: It makes it mobile and enjoyable. As a freelance writer, I create most often when I am inspired. I'm often inspired in places where having a laptop, or even a netbook, would feel burdensome, but where the iPad feels appropriate: on a bus, say, or maybe just in bed.

Making a creative process more accessible is going to result, on the whole, in more of it (think digital cameras and the explosion of amateur photography). I've written this entire post on my iPad. My friend and local Seattle artist David Hoang tweeted his first piece of iPad art yesterday.

To think that the iPad is not a pen, a publishing house, a music studio (there's already an app for that), or a darkroom is thinking very narrowly indeed.


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