Sorry, I don’t want this to become an all-tablet-all-the-time space.; but how often do we get a new computer form factor? Anyhow, yesterday I got my hands on an iPad, and suddenly I find myself disagreeing with the world about what’s important.

The problem is that the iPad combines a whole bunch of new things and it’s not obvious off the top which of them matter.

Speed Is A Feature · For a 1Ghz device with limited memory, the iPad is unreasonably fast. I suspect this accounts for a whole bunch of the “Wow!” reaction the iPad obviously provokes.

Since there’s no free lunch, I think it’s really important that we understand what they sacrificed to get that performance. My bet would be on some combination of windowing and virtual memory. I tend to work on lots of things at once, but in fact I look at things in rapid succession, my eyes can really only focus on one thing at one time. Given sufficiently fast switching, maybe we all ought to be getting less WIMPy.

Touching · When touch works, it works great. I think there are going to be a bunch of apps that just turn out to run way better with a well-considered touch interface. But this is orthogonal to tablet-ness; after fifteen minutes with an iPad, I want a touch-screen on my laptop. Such things already exist; Werner Vogels of Amazon has one right now.

Unexciting · The performance and the touch interface totally dominated my appreciation of the iPad. Here’s a run through the rest.

Yeah, the screen’s nice, but the pixel density is lower than on my Nexus One — I could see font jaggies on the pages of the Time Magazine app. I’ll say one thing, though: Anyone with exposure to Android or Apple phones, and now tablets, is going to be increasingly unsatisfied with today’s laptop screens.

The form factor is OK but not thrilling; my exposure was on an airplane and the iPad was not dramatically easier to use than my 13" MacBook.

The on-screen keyboard is surprisingly good, but for serious motor-finger touch-typists like me, I’m still pretty skeptical. For example, on the same plane trip I wrote and revised that Memory Matters piece. Apple itself sets a pretty high bar with the current MacBook keyboards; I’m unconvinced that anything much less capable could have supported that writing task.

The iPad has provoked an outburst of publishing-business-model lunacy. $5 for Time? $17.99 for the WSJ? Give me a $#@%! break. The Marvel app is exquisite, but the two things you do with comics are read them and trade them; no longer. Earth to publishing-biz management: Check in again when you sober up.

The attempt to do away with folders, and hierarchical storage, is bold, but it’s not clearly a winner. I’m not hostile to the idea — after all, almost all my own files are in YYYY/MM/DD hierarchies. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this notion that hierarchical folders are part of the problem, that “ordinary people” can’t understand them, is simply wrong. We’ll see.

Take-Away · New form factor, no attached keyboard, touch-screen, window-free UI, folder-free storage; there’s a whole lot of stuff here. There’s no tablet, stone or otherwise, on which it says that this particular bag of features all have to go together.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: J. King (Apr 06 2010, at 11:36)

I'm pretty well convinced that hierchical storage isn't a necessary thing. While I'm used to thinking of files in a hierarchy, I am conversely used to thinking of e-mail as a searchable repository since I started using Opera for my mail back in 2003, and I couldn't imagine having to deal with folders and rigid structures for my mail today. I have a few filters I make use of (though mostly Opera's built-in ones), but mostly I just search, and it works very well.

I see no reason this can't work for a filesystem in theory. Now, I don't have an iPad, and my iPod Touch doesn't really have any "files" on it, so I can't have any real conviction about it, but if my experience with mail has taught be anything, it's that a folder hierarchy is more complicated than it should be, even for me who's used computers for twenty years. I can see how less nerdy people would easily be daunted.


From: Andrew (Apr 06 2010, at 12:01)

The performance of the iPad is no accident and won't have resulted from a silver bullet. Like all good system engineers Apple looks at the complete product and figures out how to make it the complete package into a compelling experience.

This is what leads them to put memory and CPU in the same physical package in the iPad (so that they can squeeze more performance out of the DDR memory by minimizing latency). It's also why they don't put a virtual machine between apps and the CPU, why they test every app before it can be widely distributed and why they'll spend big money on using an IPS display. Every little decision adds, incrementally, to the user experience.

The end result might be a user experience that you personally don't like (perhaps you want the widest possible choice of apps and are willing to take the risk of spyware) but just looking at market share numbers proves that most people do like that experience.


From: John Cowan (Apr 06 2010, at 12:02)

Actually, you *don't* want a touchscreen on your laptop, because laptop screens are (normally) vertical. See for what's wrong with that.


From: len (Apr 06 2010, at 13:28)

Now it's not On The Web. It's On the iPad.

Is that progress?

You say you can't see what's coming but it is so easy to see. It's never a question of what is coming. It's a question of what will last.


From: Michael Kozakewich (Apr 06 2010, at 19:00)

I've been waiting FOREVER for a 300dpi screen to be released. It's like waiting for movie producers to finally make something above 12fps, where the eye doesn't notice every bit of granularity.

I have a Nintendo DS (Lite). I was annoyed when I heard the DSi has a larger screen, and now I'm confronted with the DSi XL, or whatever it's called. We're talking about 4.2" screens with 320px diagonally (256x192).

I've considered raising the system fonts on my computer to 24pt or so, and then complaining when things don't fit well on my 1920x1200 monitor. When you get right down to it, the screen would only be 6.4" x 4" (7.5" diagonal) if crammed down to 300dpi. That would be smaller than a netbook screen.

I'm using a 3x5 pixel font. The fact that I can even make out the text on this screen is rather sad.

In short, I agree with you wholeheartedly about resolution.


From: Marcel Weiher (Apr 06 2010, at 19:13)

The surprise is less that a 1 GHz class device is fast, but that we find this surprising. A 25 MHz NeXTStation had excellent responsiveness using DisplayPostscript...

While we are now doing more, we get insanely more computing resources to throw at the problem. We now have insanely more computing power (especially considering the GPU is doing most of the pixel-shuffling), but we've generally not spent those resources wisely:


From: Karl Voit (Apr 07 2010, at 06:54)

I do think that hierarchies of directories are NOT the solution we want to use. Really.

(This is not the primary topic of this blogentry but I like the issue due it's my research topic)

No matter how great your personal workaround (aka hierarchy of directories) is: I'm able to give you one file which fits at least into two different spots. And then your hierarchy fails. The problem gets worse if multiple people access the same hierarchy.

In my opinion information should not be represented in the context which is defined by a directory. Information representation should only be defined by the context when you're looking for it. Some times you want to access it by its date representation. Sometime via filetype. Sometime via file name (substring) and next time via metadata.

There are pretty impressive prototype software solutions that provides great alternative ways of file storage and search/navigation. None of them hit the average desktop.

My work aims for a solution that bridges the gap between nowadays desktops (Linux, OS X, Windows) and the

inevitable future solution to the problem. Future solutions need to replace current file system stategies. Future FS will be more like database systems.

"Isolated systems" such as iPad, PDAs, Webpages, ... (can) take advantage of providing a solution without the burden of the past. I'm pretty convinced that once an alternative concept is spread, mainstream operating systems will follow. The desktop metaphor was important in the 80s but nowadays it's an obstacle for "advanced" system usage paradigms.

Sorry but I do have way more ideas than I can mention here for now.

Discuss with me (novoid) on freenode-IRC at #no_dir_hierarchies or write me:


From: Bill Petro (Apr 08 2010, at 16:56)

I think your observation about speed on the iPad is insightful. I really appreciate your comments on the "touch-ness" of the interface.

I wrote a recent article explaining how the iPad is the 5th generation of user interfaces at


From: len (Apr 09 2010, at 07:57)

So in the contest over which company, Google or Apple, is the New Evil Empire, it looks like Apple is the clear winner.


From: Sam P (Apr 09 2010, at 17:17)

Michael Kozakewich: The Fujitsu Lifebook U820 has ~ 270 dpi screen.

It's a convertible tablet PC with a 5.6" 1280x800 display (resistive touch). Windows on it is a bit annoying since it doesn't handle such high resolution displays well.

Fujitsu has a wide range of slate and convertible tablet PCs; capacitive multitouch has been showing up on their model refreshes, I'd like to see that on U820 and P1630 refreshes.


From: Alexander Kuzmov (Apr 28 2010, at 23:47)

About hierarchical folders - when conceiving the idea about B-Folders for Android product we thought a lot about the best way to allow users organize their personal and business information. Finally we had to choose between metadata only organizing and searching and folders + metadata. One study paper made our decision easy - "Don’t Take My Folders Away! Organizing Personal Information to Get Things Done" -

You can also see the idea implemented at


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