iPad – the ideal kitchen appliance

I’m on a quest for the iPad killer app. Not the Apple need one, with two million units sold the first two months. It’s more of a personal quest to discover if the iPad has a place in my computing & information universe.

There’s always the cool factor, of course. There’s street cred in having an iPad – although interestingly I’ve had better luck getting in touch with members of the appropriate sex with the Kindle. The iPad evokes “oh, cool” – the Kindle generates genuine interest and conversation. But I digress. I’ve been toying with the iPad, tried Apps, taken it to meetings, on trips, and into the living room. All nice, but not quite convincing.

Taking the iPad into the kitchen, however, has been a runaway success. I like cooking, and I like being in my kitchen. Over the years I’ve collected a lot of recipes, and I have the classical information management problem. I’ve tried folders of clippings, post-it notes in books, binders with printed recipes, neatly typed into a LaTeX and sorted by category and type. And still I’ve found it impractical. I’ve tried recipes typed into a computer and found that I either always had the recipe on the wrong computer or had trouble managing multiple versions of the recipe documents.

Enter Google docs. A while ago I started entering my recipes into Google docs. It’s ideal – I can access it from any computer, I can update from anywhere and access it any time I need it. Just take a laptop – any laptop – into the kitchen when cooking, And this is where the iPad comes in. It’s ideal for this; Google docs works perfectly, browsing files is fast and easy, the device sits neatly next to you on the kitchen tape, you don’t have the screen sticking up so you don’t knock it over, and it’s easy to turn on and off, put aside with one hand, etc. Clearly the iPad will be the way I access my recipes in the future. It lets me do the job without taking focus away from cooking.

This tells us something about what the iPad is. It’s a perfect information appliance – especially for this kind of light use. It’s perfect for accessing information when the information access isn’t your actual task. It’s so easy to grab it, get at the information, and continue the actual job. The iPad does not get in the way or force you to think of information access as a separate process. In that way it’s more like a piece of paper than a computer. In this the iPad is transformative; it’s not just a smaller, sexier, cooler computer, or an overgrown cellphone. It’s a new device that promotes better and more integrated information access. If you’re doing something where information access is an integral part of the job, the iPad might very well be the answer. For me that kind of task is cooking, and the iPad sure fits the bill. If only they would come out with a rugged, water- and flour-proof version.

Paper, paper, paper….

I’m getting ready to go to TNC2010 – this years edition of the TERENA Networking Conference. By tradition, the conference, held annually, roams Europe, from north to south, from east to west. This year we go to Lithuania. As always I’m looking forward to meeting my colleagues from around Europe, to catch up with people, projects, and ideas in the community, to get inspired, and hopefully provoked.

As always when I go to these event – and, actually, whenever I travel – the last step in my preparations have been printing. Hotel reservations, airline reservations, google maps, addresses for restaurants, agendas and locations for meetings, etc. I might live the digital life, I might be heading to a conference about advanced technology and community for the digital life, but for my travel essentials I’m still strictly analog. OK, I do also copy all this stuff to dropbox, as PDF’s, for easy access from laptop and iPhone, and I do copy stuff to my kindle. But I’m not relying on that. I’m a seasoned traveller, I’ve had both flight and hotel reservations disappear mysteriously, and when that happens in a far away place, a place I don’t know much about and where I do not speak the local language, I want my papers. I want paper to show at check-in counters and hotels, and I want paper to show to the taxi driver when I arrive four hours laten, and say “take me to my hotel”. And I don’t want to have a flat battery get in my way.

It’s a hassle with all that paper, and environmentally wasteful. Hopefully some day I will trust the digital version. But not yet.

Augmenting reality

At the recent NORDUnet conference in Copenhagen, Pranav Mistry gave an excellent talk on his many experiments in reality tagging and augmenting reality.

The talk was recorded and is available in streaming video

The talk was both an inspiration and a call for a different perspective on the way we use (internet) technologies. A recurrent theme in the talk was that Pranav prefers the real world over virtual realities, prefers to interact with physical objects to interacting with things inside a computer, and very much prefer interacting with people face-to-face to computer-mediated interaction. As a result, he pursues ways to make the computer assist and help in invisible ways; he seeks to improve physical-world objects and interactions by using tech to augments them. At times it’s sort of reverse human-computer interaction research – he’s using handwriting recognition, but not as an input method for computers; instead, the computer is used to improve the handwritten note. In Pranav’s vision, the paper with handwriting on it is the real thing; the computer is as invisible as the paper mill, contributing to making the paper useful, but not the subject matter for the user, or even an objet the user should be aware of.

It’s worth pointing out that there’s nothing luddite about it. There’s lots of tech, and even exciting new tech in what Pranav is doing. The result is just very different from what you usually see. His hugely exciting mobile phone device is a good example. It’s impressive tech, but it actively projects attention on the world around it – in a way that could hardly be more different than the iPhone i have in my pocket.