Requiem for the Desktop

Chad Mazzola

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you build websites or software for a living. And if you’re reading this today (Friday, April 2, 2010), chances are also good that this is the last day you’ll feel good about doing your job the way you’ve been doing it.

Yes, this is about the iPad.

Even though I haven’t ordered one yet, I have no trouble believing that the iPad is as amazing (yes, even magical) as nearly everyone who’s touched one so far claims. It’s no great stretch to say that it will fundamentally change expectations for how computers and applications should look, work, and feel.

Make no mistake: we’re all going to have to run to keep up.

The iPad and iPhone provide a platform that makes excellent design the standard, not the exception. The elegance and power of multi-touch technology and the iPhone OS, matched to restraints on factors such as screen size and browser, have allowed the creation of applications that fit perfectly in the environment they inhabit. More and more, websites and applications built specifically for iPhone OS are overtaking their desktop companions in ease of use and sheer beauty. Compare the experience of checking the weather on the iPad to checking it in a browser on your current computer.

So what will be the fate of “full OS” computing? On the iPad and iPhone, it can often be hard to tell the difference between an application running natively and one running inside a browser. This fact brings into sharper focus the difficulties web designers and developers have been laboring under since the beginning of the web. We’ve grown used to using the same bunch of tired fonts; to debugging on a few platforms and a handful of browsers and still not knowing exactly how a page will render in the wild; to arguing about where “the fold” is and whether people will use that weird little plastic thing in their right hand to go farther down the page. We build sites that are exactly 960 pixels wide even though we have 30" displays with several thousand more pixels to spare.

Almost anything you can do on a desktop OS, you can do better on an iPad.

Except of course, for building the stuff that will actually run on the iPad. Sadly, you’re going to need to keep your old computer around for that. But will that soon be the only reason?

Enjoy this weekend, because when you come back to work on Monday morning, some of us will have had our first taste of the future. And what you’re working on today might not seem so interesting anymore.

One more thing… if reading this has you feeling like you need an iPad for yourself, then I suggest checking out Landing Pad, our iPad app showcase site, a little later today.