A close look at Apple's "guided tour" of the iPad.

Culture and technology.
April 1 2010 10:48 AM

Life With iPad

Do you have what it takes to own this magic and revolutionary product?

Also in Slate, Jeremy Singer-Vine asks whether it's bad for your eyes to stare at an iPad for hours, and Magnum Photos fondly remembers reading on paper.

iPad guided tour. Click image to expand.
Apple's "Guided Tour" of the iPad

The early reviews are in, but do you have what it takes to own an iPad? The architect Frank Lloyd Wright would revisit the houses that he designed for his clients and rearrange the furniture to his liking. I feel a similar impulse behind the "Guided Tour" videos that Apple has put together for their new screen. While the company's previous offerings in this genre have typically featured Apple Store employees in a neutral space, the iPad videos take us into a model home of an iPad user. It's a pristine environment, fit for an IKEA showroom, with lots of coffee around. This is how Steve Jobs wants us to use his revolutionary device. Let's take a tour through Apple's tour of how an enlightened iPad user lives.

There are 11 videos in all, ranging in length from two to four minutes. The first video presents the Web browser Safari. It opens with an overhead shot of our iPad user putting his cup of black coffee down on a dark wood table next to his iPad. (Film buffs will note the similarities to Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes.) And, lo, what site is loaded on the iPad? The New York Times, of course. It often seems as if all Apple products are designed merely to provide us with a more convenient way to read the Times.

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Our iPad user, a man, is reclining on a chair, and he props the iPad on his knee with his legs crossed. This is the start of a theme. iPad users prefer the couch and the lounge chair. Should an iPadder have the unfortunate experience of sitting at a desk, he will immediately put his feet up on the desk and rest the iPad on his thighs to type. The iPad world is like an opium den, where one is always reclining, the better to enjoy its strange, new, vivid wonders.

Next, the voice-over begins. It promises us that, with a "multi-touch display this large … you feel like you're actually holding the Web right in the palm of your hand." When I hear that, my first reaction is to drop whatever I'm holding. Our iPad man is reading the following article from the Times: "Happy 1,300th to Nara, Japan." Naturally, he would love to go visit a meticulously restored palace in an ancient city that helped the spread of Buddhism. As an iPad owner, his soul exists on a higher plane.

The voice-over introduces another theme: that of touching. Throughout these guided-tour videos, we are constantly being urged to touch, flick, and pinch our music, photos, and Web pages. I get that the iPad makes the experience of using a computer more tactile, but the videos make using the new device sound a lot like picking out a good piece of meat.

In the "Mail" video, you're greeted with the promise that you can "see and touch your e-mail like never before." Kinky! Our iPad user here is invited to a "Day at the Beach!" and is also informed of a meeting delay. He looks at a "Final Sales Report." Then he learns that salary increases for "his team" were approved today. After that, he decides to join a friend on a trip to Joshua Tree National Park. Then he checks the location for a surprise birthday dinner at the Slanted Door in San Francisco. The message here is that in iPad-land your e-mail inbox is not a torture chamber of obligation, undone tasks, and spam. It's full of bright, crisp photos and groovy reports!

The "Mail" video also offers the only down note in the guided tour, when the voice-over admits that the iPad's on-screen keyboard is "nearly the same size as a notebook keyboard." That "nearly" must have been painful for the Apple team to say.

On to "Photos," where our iPad user is a woman. She, of course, immediately sits down on the couch and puts her feet up. The photos show good-looking friends, adorable children holding umbrellas in Paris, and the like. Thanks to the iPad, we can have the novel experience of holding our pictures "right in our hands." Uh, thanks. Haven't done that before.

The "Videos" video opens with a shot of a popcorn bowl and our iPad woman watching Pixar's Upwith the iPad on her tented legs. The video immediately touts the iPad's 10 hours of battery life. Have you ever tried to hold your hand still for 10 hours? I can't imagine our iPad woman watching Up comfortablyfor 15 minutes without looking for a book to prop up her device. In this video, we hear again how "immersive" the iPad is. The simple, glowing screen sucks us in and drowns out all noncrisp, nonbright, non-Apple-designed distractions.

Next up is "YouTube." Why are they even showing us this app? Some lawyer at Apple must have negotiated a very bad contract. His punishment is to use Vista. The video has iPad owners watching some guy skateboarding around through balloons. Yep, that's exactly the kind of original, noncopyrighted stuff we watch on YouTube.

In the "iPod" video, our iPad man is back in his lounge chair. He's listening to the indie pop of the Boy Least Likely To near a window with a view of a city street. Why so melancholy? Isn't your iPad enough? Things perk up in the "iTunes" video with Lady Gaga's "Just Dance." A woman is sitting at her kitchen table with a French press coffeemaker. We pinch and poke our way through the iTunes store where the Black Eyed Peas, Precious, The Hurt Locker, and South Parkall make cameos. We watch a sensitive HD clip from the Keats biopic Bright Star. The most head-spinning moment: when the iTunes university is shown and the featured course is Stanford's "iPhone Application Development."

The "iBooks" segment contains the guided tour's most shameless attempt to gull us. A mother is reading Winnie-the-Pooh to her Vans-wearing son. On the table is a recently abandoned crayon drawing and a reference book showing illustrations of elephants. The boy points to something on the screen. They are "discovering the joy of reading all over again." Don't worry, the iPad won't replace books in your house, but will live peacefully among them. Your son won't use the device to play Shrek Kart; he'll nest beside you on the couch and then go outside for a game of Pooh sticks. And, if he gets bored, just change the font size! The "iBooks" app also animates the pages being turned, a cute idea that creates a delay that will quickly become intolerable.

The final three videos—"Keynote," "Pages," and "Numbers"—can be lumped together. These apps are Apple's versions of PowerPoint, Word, and Excel. The "Keynote" one was so complicated that I could barely follow the action. "Pages" shows that the iPad will be excellent if you're writing an Earth science textbook for fourth graders filled with photos of giraffes that need to be moved around a lot. In "Numbers," the iPad man seems to be using a spreadsheet to cruelly rank the various players on a girls' youth soccer team. The not-so-subtle message in these productivity-app videos is that you can use your iPad like a laptop. Just make sure that you don't need to do anything silly, like print something out.

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Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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