Skip to main content

CUPERTINO, Calif. (

TheStreet

) -- Most of the

iPad

reactions I've read have been negative, but I have been completely satisfied with what

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report

announced.

iPad is exactly the product I've been wishing for ever since I wrapped my mind around the iPhone and its constraints. Although the rumor mill was churning with all kinds of crazy possibilities for the Apple tablet, I mostly rolled my eyes, because I felt strongly that all Apple needed to do to revolutionize computing was simply to make an iPhone with a large screen.

Anyone who feels underwhelmed by that doesn't understand how much of the iPhone's operating system's potential is still untapped.

I spent a year and a half attempting to reduce a massive, complex social networking Web site into a handheld, touch-screen form factor. My initial goal was just to make a mobile companion for the Facebook mothership, but once I got comfortable with the platform I became convinced it was possible to create a version of Facebook that was actually better than the Web site!

Of all the platforms I've developed on in my career, from the desktop to the Web, iPhone's OS gave me the greatest sense of empowerment, and had the highest ceiling for raising the art of user-interface design. Except there was one thing keeping me from reaching that ceiling: The screen was too small.

At some point I came to the conclusion that Facebook on the iPhone OS could not truly exceed the Web site until I could adapt it to a screen size closer to a laptop. It needed to support more than one column of information at a time. I couldn't fit enough tools on the screen to support any kind of advanced creative work. Photos were too small to show off to my farsighted parents. The Web required too much panning and zooming to enjoy reading.

Beyond Facebook, most of the apps I used most on my iPhone -- such as

Google

TheStreet Recommends

(GOOG) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class C Report

Reader, Instapaper and all image, video, and text-editing tools -- also suffered from these limitations.

The bottom line is that many apps which were cute toys on iPhone can become full-featured power tools on the iPad, making you forget about their desktop/laptop predecessors. We just have to invent them.

Opportunity

The iPad is an incredible opportunity for developers to reimagine every single category of desktop and Web software there is. Seriously, if you're a developer and you're not thinking about how your app could work better on the iPad and its descendants, you deserve to get left behind.

True, iPad 1.0 has a lot of limitations that make it difficult to compare to a laptop today. We're not there yet, people, but does it really take that much imagination to see how we will get there? Apple clearly wants to increase its investment in iPhone OS and reduce its investment in Mac OS X.

At some point in the near future, Apple will adapt the iPhone OS to even larger screens, add multi-tasking, and release something like a laptop or an iMac with the iPhone OS. When that happens, it will make perfect sense, because by then there will be orders of magnitude more iPhone/iPad apps on the App Store than there ever were for Mac OS X and Windows.

A Closed Platform?

Given my concerns about the way Apple runs the App Store, you might expect me to jump on the bandwagon screaming about how Apple is evil and how iPad is the death of open computing. Nonsense. My only problem with Apple is the fact that they insist on preapproving every app on the App Store. The store may not be open in this sense, but the iPhone/iPad platform itself could hardly be more open to tinkerers of all ages.

The one thing that makes an iPhone/iPad app "closed" is that it lives in a sandbox, which means it can't just read and write willy-nilly to the file system, access hardware or interfere with other apps.

In my mind, this is one of the best features of the OS. It makes native apps more like Web apps, which are similarly sandboxed, and therefore much more secure. On Macs and PCs, you have to reinstall the OS every couple of years or so just to undo the damage done by apps, but iPhone OS is completely immune to this.

As a developer, it's a bit sad losing the ability to come up with crazy plugins and daemons and system-level utilities, but I believe it's a trade-off worth making.

What people are overlooking is that the Internet is an integral part of the iPhone OS, and it is the part of the OS you can tinker with to your heart's delight.

If you want to invent a new scripting language or background service or something, you're still totally free to do that, but you're going to have to run it on a Web server.

If you want total freedom on the client side, then write a Web app. You're simply no longer going to be able to tempt users into installing software that corrupts their computer.

So, in the end, what it comes down to is that iPad offers new metaphors that will let users engage with their computers with dramatically less friction. That gives me, as a developer, a sense of power and potency and creativity like no other. It makes the software market feel wide open again, like no one's hegemony is safe. How anyone can feel underwhelmed by that is beyond me.

Joe Hewitt is a software engineer from Santa Cruz, Calif.