The Inevitable Impact of Apple's iPad

Regardless of how Apple's iPad and Google's moves around HTML5 shake out, these developments will change the future of technology--because every new product and technological innovation helps shape what will follow in the future.

So now we've seen the most hyped and anticipated product of the new year. There, finally, was Steve Jobs, showing off the new Apple iPad amid claims that the future of computing would never be the same.

I'm not quite sure just how revolutionary the iPad will be. I am of two minds when it comes to the new Apple device.

On the one hand, I kind of get where the people who call it just a big iPod Touch are coming from. And I have to admit that if I'm going to carry a new device that's basically just for browsing the Web, reading books and consuming media, then I'd rather it be small then big.

But it is certainly cool. I think it blows single-purpose devices like the Amazon Kindle right out of the water. And, best of all, for a very complex device, I'm pretty sure I could hand it to a computing novice and he or she would be able to work it without too much trouble.

That said, it was a little disconcerting during the iPad demo when Steve Jobs was Web browsing and we all saw those big blank areas in Web pages where Flash videos and applications were supposed to be. It definitely looks as if, like the iPhone, the iPad will not be able to play Flash applications.

Of course we're all used to this now. Apple controls its interface and application ecosystem with an iron fist, and anything that doesn't fit with the Apple vision--no matter how widespread and necessary to regular Web and Internet use--is strictly forbidden.

But at about the same time as the iPad announcement there was another new technology development that pointed a way around these restrictions and may even prove to be more significant than the iPad.

The announcement was of Google's development of an HTML 5-enabled version of its Google Voice application. Since this version of Google Voice is based on the most important upcoming Web standard--and one that Safari's underlying WebKit engine has strongly supported--it works on the iPhone, despite the fact that Apple had killed the old Google Voice app for the device.

This is, of course, just the first chink in the wall that Apple has put around the applications available for its devices. As HTML 5 grows in capability I expect to see more and more Web applications based on it. This puts Apple in a bind.

Does it continue to support HTML 5 fully, and lose control of its application ecosystem? Or does it cripple HTML 5 on its devices, making them second-class Web citizens?

Whatever Apple does, it will be interesting to watch. And, best of all, both of these developments--Google's use of HTML 5 and the Apple iPad-- show what is best about technology: Everyone, from giant companies to small open source developers, is constantly working to innovate and improve the future of technology and everyone.

Looked at that way, even if the iPad launch is a flop, it will have changed the future of technology--because every new product and technological innovation changes what will follow in the future.

And the future is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. That's because this is my final column here at eWEEK. After 16 years of covering everything from the beginning of the Web to Twitter to the first Palm Pilot to the OLPC XO, I'll be stepping away from my keyboard to find out what the future holds.

I've learned a lot in this time--from vendors and developers, from IT administrators and from my colleagues here. And I've learned from readers, especially those of you who e-mail me and comment on my stories. Thanks for everything.

And as a noted space explorer once said, "To infinity, and beyond!"