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Single user vs Multi user: how will the iPad work? 17 March 2010

Posted by Oliver Mason in Apple, iPad, iphone.
1 comment so far

Note: this post is somewhat speculative, as I obviously do not have an iPad (yet!). It is simply an observation that got me thinking about how it is going to be used, and how that possible usage will influence the user experience.

I suspect that in our house the iPad will be a multi-user gadget.

I have an iPhone, my wife has got an iPod touch, and the kids currently use a clapped-out ancient Sony Vaio laptop whose disk is about to fail. Everybody has their own device to do things on. However, this is likely going to change when we acquire an iPad. I envisage this as being a general device that just lies on the sitting room table, to be picked up by whoever wants to use it for reading their email, checking something on Wikipedia, playing a quick game, adding an entry to a calendar, looking up a phone number, and so on.

When I check mail on my iPhone, it is set up to look at my email accounts. Similarly, the calendar is sync’d with my general calendar, and the address book is too. I don’t (and cannot) easily switch between identities (though it is possible to do so with mail and calendar). Some games that I play on my iPhone store their state in case of interruption, and I can resume them later. The same applies to other applications, which usually have one set of data they work with.

This is OK for a phone. Typically you have a phone, and you’re the only one using it, otherwise it’d lose some of its usefulness if you don’t know who you will reach when calling a particular number. But if the iPad is shared between people, how can I avoid reading my wife’s email, or swamping her address book with all my student email addresses (which Google puts into it automatically)? If I play a game, and then have to stop and go back to it later, what if one of my daughters wants to have a go in-between? She might not only end the game I’m playing, but also mess up my high-score records. My todo-list application only has one set of todos, so what if I look at it and suddenly find “Feed my puffle on Club Penguin” on top of my priorities?

On a Unix system you have different user accounts, and you log in and out; this avoids the problem on Mac OS X. But logging in and out is tricky if a system is shared. If I forget to log out when I interrupt my task, and the device is locked, nobody else can use it until I have come back. And how can this be made easy, without constantly having to remember a user name and password?

I somehow suspect that this will be an issue for which there is no satisfactory solution. But if the iPad is to become a general household item like a television or a radio, then there needs to be some non-intrusive way that allows easy sharing. I’m looking forward to finding out what Apple came up with here…!