Yesterday was the iPad's launch day. It's a new beginning, and the consensus so far seems to be that the iPad really is a new kind of device, that the future of computing will look more like this magical multi-touch gadget than the clunky keyboard-and-mouse jobs we've been using these last two decades.
What was most surprising to me about yesterday's launch, though, was how smooth it was, and how Apple, their developers, and their accessory vendors (like Incase and Belkin) managed on day one to get an entirely new computing platform off the ground in roughly ten weeks.
When other companies launch new devices they pre-announce them weeks or months in advance, or at least give certain key partners early access so they can rush some software or other stuff to market for launch day. Apple doesn't do that. While some iPhone OS developers got early access to iPads and pre-announcement alphas of the SDK, most found out about it on January 27 with the rest of us, and didn't have actual hardware to work with until yesterday at 9 AM, just like the rest of us. Case manufacturers like Incase had it easy—they had the physical specs, and so could design products around (say) a cardboard replica of an iPad and be pretty sure their sleeves and stands would work with the real thing. Developers could only poke around in the simulator and create paper mock-ups of their user interfaces based on those same physical specs, and had only Apple's developer support and their own design judgement to guide them.
The amazing thing is: it worked. When Apple announced the iPad SDK in January I fully expected to have to make do with scaled-up iPhone apps for a few weeks while the developers of my favorite apps—Evernote, Instapaper, Twitterrific, Things—got their shit together. I expected the App Store review process (which was already slow) to grind to a halt, leaving only certain top-tier game and app developers like The New York Times and EA able to get launch titles out in time.
It never occurred to me that Apple would do such a great job with their developer tools, and iterate them so quickly. It never occurred to me that the iPad would launch not only with apps, but great apps, and lots of them.
Apple's developer ecosystem ain't perfect, and it sure as hell isn't open. (As far as I'm aware, the actual iPhone OS 3.2 SDK was still considered "in beta" until yesterday at 9 AM, and therefore was still under an NDA.) But we've come a long, long way from 2008. Remember when iPhone OS 2.0 came out, yet Apple kept the SDK under the "FUCKING NDA" for three whole, completely unnecessary months?
It feels weird to compare the shotgun marriage of Apple and its developers to the old cliché about a whole village coming together to build a barn. But that's basically what happened in the last ten weeks. On January 26 we had rumors. Today, on April 4, we have a platform.