Why would I want an iPad with no USB port…?

I’m will get round to doing giving my thoughts on the iPad one of thee days (such as they are).  This is a bit of a tangential rant.

I get the iPad out, and people want to chat about it (this is great, I love this).  But often there’s a question, or a comment “but it doesn’t have a USB port” or “I’ll wait for one with a USB port”.  This drives me nuts.

It’s often those who (quite rightly) talk about focussing on the practice and the outcomes we hope to achieve with technology over and above the tool itself. “It’s not about the technology, it’s about how you use it”.  So WHY DO YOU WANT A USB PORT? What magic do you expect an iPad to accomplish with a USB port that it couldn’t without?

Sometimes there isn’t even an answer to this.  People have become so obsessed with the number of USB ports on a new laptop that they’ve forgotten why they wanted them (and I’m not doubting that they do – by the time you’ve plugged in the printer, a camera, your memory stick and a mouse you’ve probably already unplugged one or two of those again). But a USB port is just a means to an end, so tell me: what do you want to do?

Sometimes, people have a clearer idea.  They want to plug a camera, a keyboard or a headset in, and they don’t know that for the price of an Apple Camera Connector Kit (CCK) they can, in fact, add a USB port and have all of this.  Or they want to plug something else in, which of course they could also do using the CCK although it would be pointless because you also need software on the device to support these things, and it’s not there so they’re not supported.  (That is, of course, true on any other piece of hardware with a USB port.)

I don’t believe Apple are unaware of what people want to do with their iPads. They know people want to connect to their printers.  They just don’t see a USB cable as being the best way to do this on a wireless portable device – hence AirPrint.  It’s not there yet, but they’re thinking about how we should do printing tomorrow, not how we did it yesterday.

No one gets excited about USB ports. It’s what you can do with the things you plug into them that’s exciting, and if you can do those things without plugging anything in, that’s certainly no less exciting.

It’s always valuable to take a step back, or sometimes two, and think about what you want to achieve with your technology.  The technology we use now gives us our point of reference, but it’s important to think about what it teaches us as we use it. The affordances that are offered to us quickly develop our habits, routines and perceptions. It’s worth taking the time to consider which lessons are worth keeping and which we would like to leave behind.

About Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

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