Back in early 2001, I heard about something called the Audrey by 3Com.  This was the first “internet appliance” meant for different parts of the house, like having the internet on an intercom system of sorts.  It was not fancy, heavy at 4.5 lbs, and it never took off.  I wanted one for a long time, but since they were made and then gone before they were really widely available, it never happened for me.

So let’s look back at why the Audrey didn’t succeed.  At that point, the internet was still growing, and social networking still consisted of meeting friends, in person, at a pub, where the message went out over email or- gasp- by phone call.  The need to have the internet in every room, for $500, no less, seemed like an expensive luxury and not all that useful.

Flash forward roughly a decade, and the iPad, bringing the internet to every room (and more) at the same $500 price tag, is taking off like hotcakes!  The iPad is certainly, at best, a kissing cousin of the Audrey, which was like a big palm pilot.  The iPad is likewise a big iPod Touch, but the differences are what makes the device.  The additional screen space, along with the apps and vivid color touch screen make the iPad a dream to use.  Whenever we get in the car, a kid seems to have already grabbed the iPad before I can even locate it for the trip.  It’s only a pound and a half, so instead of sitting on a counter, taking up space, the iPad can be used on a lap, in a holder, and taken just about anywhere with us.    It’s simplicity is its largest virtue, and while I tell folks it’s not really a replacement for a desktop, it does a good portion of the  daily chores I used to do on the laptop just as well, in a more portable, more social fashion.  (Heck, when I chaperoned a school dance recently, kids were coming over and playing the two person air hockey game instead of roaming the halls.)

Others are reporting the general social nature of the iPad and how easily people fall in love with its ease of use.  I can attest to similar findings in our own house, where the iPad is well loved, and by the crowd surrounding the iPad not only at the local Apple Store, but at the local Best Buy as well.  It’s not a desktop or a netbook.  It may, however, be one of the first social object computers, where people can share one screen, touch and interact with it, and get things done in a very zen, simplistic way that meets many needs.

I know my brother-in-law, for one, is thinking of using one to show pictures of the boats he sells to clients, since pictures on phones and ipods are simply too small to be worth much.  Like with real estate agents, the ability to show pictures and videos of perspective boats/property is vitally important to finding the right fit for the buyer.  The ability to do that on the fly, with email immediately available for inquiries, just might be the ticket to more sales, or at the very least, meeting and exceeding client expectations.   (If anyone needs a yacht in Florida, Gregg Somerville is your man. 🙂  )

We’re on a jumping off point for what mobile computing is and what it will be.  We’re also at another crossroads for what it means to interact with data, as I’ve talked about before with Jeff Han’s amazing multi-touch screens and the programs that allow visualization and manipulation of large, complex data sets.  I’m really excited to see where all of this goes, and I think we’re just at the beginning of a new way of working with technology, rather than having to work around it’s quirks and limitations.

I know having one gadget instead of many is a blessing for our household, especially since they all work on the same charging system.

What do you think?