tech, simplified.

iPad: The Microwave Oven of Computing

In 1967, American consumers were introduced to the new, must have item for their kitchens: the microwave oven. This device, manufactured mainly by defense contractors such as Raytheon due to their expertise with the magnetron, the device that generates microwaves in a radar system or microwave oven, was now supposed to be a fixture in every home, restaurant, and more. It could heat food faster, use less energy, and be less likely to burn your house down than a traditional oven. And it cost just under $500. What more could you ask?

Actually, there was a lot customers could ask. First, why in the world do you need yet another way to heat food? Kitchens already have an oven and range, plus perhaps a toaster, waffle iron, or a grill on the back porch. And the coffee pot can keep coffee hot anyhow. Do you really need another oven? Plus, surely it won't work quite like an oven, or quite like a stove. It's like something in the middle. How could we need that?

Looking just at the specs, a microwave didn't make sense to many. So manufacturers bundled them with cookbooks that detailed the many things you could cook in a microwave. Look, you can make this great Chinese dish in a microwave! Our microwave lets you bake a cake! Need a hot cup of this complicated spiced cider? It'll only take 15 steps in our microwave! They thought the microwave needed to be a full oven, and more.

But, wonder of all wonders, people started buying microwaves and using them regularly. In the store, a microwave didn't seem like a must-have item to many, but once you incorporated it into your daily life, it was irreplaceable. How in the world did we used to heat up leftovers? Sure, people tried out the crazy, complicated recipes, but for the most part, they found new uses for microwaves. The microwave didn't have to be a regular oven or stove; it was a wholly new category of cooking device that made cooking accessible to even the least talented guy on earth. Who would have ever put an oven in a hotel room, but it makes perfect sense to put a microwave in one.

The microwave isn't easier for every cooking task, and perhaps it takes longer to prepare a complicated meal in a microwave. Perhaps no award winning meal will be created in one, unless it's a special contest for microwave cooking. But it simplified simple cooking, and consumers around the world saw it as a necessary piece of equipment within in years of it becoming popular. It didn't need to be an oven, and didn't need to be better than an oven. It just needed to be the best for some certain cooking scenarios, and that was enough to win the hearts and minds of people around the world.

Last year, Apple introduced the iPad, a computing device many have struggled to classify. It's bigger than a smartphone or iPod, smaller than a computer, but can do some things you'd otherwise do on both of these. You can type a document in Pages or find your way with GPS and Google Maps. So what makes it so special? From a specs perspective, tablets don't make sense. It cost just under $500, but if you've already invested in a computer and a smartphone, it's just another expense. Plus, netbooks only cost $300, right?

Everyone thought the iPad needed traditional computer programs to be successful. After all, if you can't use Office, what's it good for? And so Apple made the iWork apps for iPad, and amazingly managed to capture the best of office productivity with the best of touch screens. Then VNC apps were all the rage, and tabbed browsers, and everything else you could think of that made the iPad like a PC.

And then customers bought them, took them home, and something special happened. They realized that reading eBooks or browsing the internet from their couch was nice on a tablet. They found things they would have never thought to do on a computer were fun and simple. Apps that never made sense on computers with keyboards and mice, like GarageBand and finger paint apps and eReaders, suddenly found life on a 9.7" slate of glass and metal. Flipboard would have never become as popular on a desktop, and who would have thought of Twitter for iPad's interface without an iPad? People that would have never touched a computer suddenly found ways a computing device could help their lives, and techies that spent 10+ hours a day in front of their glaring monitors could now break away from their hefty PCs easier. Not doing the same old stuff, but new, innovative things that you would have never thought of on a traditional PC with a screen, keyboard, and mouse on a desk. As Marco Arment said, it's time to move on from office productivity apps; the iPad opens the window for all types of creative, interactive, personal programs. Finally, the term Personal Computer actually makes sense.

The world has discovered that the iPad doesn't have to be a full computer to be successful. It's a new form factor that makes computing more accessible to more people than ever. Sure, you might not create a new app on it, and there's still not Photoshop on iOS. You can't bake a medium-rare roast in a microwave, either. But now instead of waiting for your computer to boot, you can read the news, type a short document, and get on with your day all in the time your aging desktop takes to boot. And for millions, it'll be their primary computing device; there's simply no reason they need email to be more complicated than a couple taps and a device that runs days of normal usage on one charge.

Come to think of it, sounds like preheating your oven versus taping Quick-On 2 on your microwave to warm up your food...

Microwave Oven history from Wikipedia

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