The iPad needs its HyperCard

Easy to use content creation tools are key to the iPad's long-term success.

(Note: With the iPad scheduled to arrive this week, we reached out to a number of folks across a variety of industries to get their take on the device and the changes it may usher in. We’ll be featuring these pieces over the next few weeks. — Mac)

Dale Dougherty, editor and publisher of MAKE:

When I think about opportunities around the iPad, I recall the CD-ROM market of the late 1980s. CD-ROM followed packaged software but created a number of innovative “content” packages, creating new categories such as “edutainment” with products like Reader Rabbit.

iPad CoverageMy favorite CD-ROM product, which I thought held such promise as a landmark approach to multimedia, was Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by Robert Winter, a UCLA music professor. While listening to the symphony, you saw notes appear that explained the music and some of its features. This was liner notes on steroids. This CD-ROM offered something you couldn’t get on a TV or a stereo.

The Beethoven 9th application was written in Hypercard and it was produced by Bob Stein at The Voyager Company. Stein also combined documentary or feature films with the critical commentary in products like “A Hard Day’s Night” and children’s books such as “The Amanda Stories.”

The CD-ROM market also consisted of “productivity” titles from Broderbund such as Family Tree Maker and Print Shop. It also gave birth to a game market that culminated in Myst (also based on HyperCard.)

The market for CD-ROMs collapsed because the distribution channel for boxed software went away, and the web became the primary means for users to find entertainment, games and productivity apps. It was also true that the web lowered the bar for creating applications, even though it was much less capable of delivering rich content. (Nothing like the Beethoven’s Symphony app has been created on a website that I know of.)

So, when I think of the iPad, I wonder if a new opportunity will exist for interactive applications, which will find a space somewhere between a computer and the TV. They’ll need to do more than convey information, as most ordinary websites do. They’ll need to be more user-driven than television but they’ll need to integrate all forms of media. iPhone apps certainly look more like simple CD-ROM apps than they do websites.

What’s missing today is HyperCard, or an equivalent tool that can be used to create a new wave of applications for the iPad. And if Apple isn’t thinking about it, you’d expect that Adobe would be, especially since its acquisition of Macromedia brought in-house the other professional tool used by CD-ROM creators, Macromind Director. It’s not that HyperCard or Director is the answer, but I am just pointing out the lack of really good tools available for amateurs and professionals to use to create new kinds of applications for the iPad. HyperCard was not only used by The Voyager Company; it was used by teachers to create coursework; or students to prepare a report; it was used by individuals to develop novelty applications like recipe databases. We had highly produced, professional applications and mostly free shareware apps.

Making it easy to create content and increasing the number of people who can create applications for the iPad could be very important to its long-term success. The web has made producers of us all. If the iPad is just another consumer platform for consuming and not creating content, then it will just be another way to watch TV or listen to music or download information. Convenient, yes, but just another device. To be something different, the iPad must not be just a delivery platform but a creative one, offering professionals and amateurs an opportunity to create a unique experience with interactive media.

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