I was recently in a dentist’s waiting room reading a library book. A couple walks in and notifies the receptionist they are their for their cleaning appointments. They sat down to wait as well and take out their iPads, with their matching black neoprene sleeves and begin amusing themselves, oddly together and separately. I suppose that would be no different from me reading my book. I probably wouldn’t have noticed, except the guy had his audio ‘haptic’ feedback noises set to ‘on’. It wasn’t particularly loud, but it was the only noticeable noise in the room. Everyone else in the waiting room looked up as soon as they heard ‘Doink!’. They turn away, pretending not to notice. Then again — ‘Doink! Doink!… Boop!’ Several of us breathe out in long measured sighs, glance at each other and attempt to return to what we’re doing – reading magazines, books or texting on cell phones. None of us wanted to say it, but we were thinking we’d wish he’d turn off the stupid noises.
His wife was happily doing her thing on her own iPad, but the sound on hers was not turned on. In my twenty minutes subjected to this personal whim, I thought about similar instances. I thought about those generous citizens with expensive woofer systems in their cars that share just the base percussion of whatever contemporary hi-jinks they’re listening to with the immediate neighborhood at four in the morning. I thought about the guy on the train, adroitly projecting into his cell phone and in my direction. I thought about mid-life crisis cars and people with pocket dogs who use them to get dates or as party icebreakers. I thought about ‘Poke’ and the other bordering-on-creepy apps on facebook. I wondered which category this guy fell into and whether he was consciously subjecting us to his experience.
Each ‘Doink!’ was like a little stab at those of us sitting in the room. Doink! — ‘Hi, I’m an iPad.’ Doink! – ‘You don’t have an iPad.’ Doink! – ‘I do.’ Boop! – ‘I pwn you.’ After twenty minutes of this, leaving the waiting room to get my teeth cleaned came as a relief. It made me think about cell phones, iPads, e-readers and all the other gadgets encroaching on our public lives.
The apps you can buy… The music you can listen to while you look ‘chillaxed’ listening to it in Starbucks with your hip friends as you sip your half-calf, half-foam mocca chai latte, no whip-cream, no cinnamon… What is the iPad other than a little doorway for commerce? ‘Status’ today sometimes seems to involve the ease with which we can buy things from our gadgets. It’s a one-way door for your money to flow through as you sit and watch the screen like we watch a campfire — mesmerized by its bright, sparkly light. Most of us would not turn down a free iPad if it were given to us, even though it’s likely we would spend money training it, petting it and giving it the things it needs – and staring for hours at its shiny screen. I am conflicted because I know I want one, but I know its just a sink-hole for time and money.
True haptic feedback is a tactile sensory feedback mechanism employed by many phones today, but sometimes phones — and obviously iPads — come with ‘user-friendly’ audio feedback. Tactile haptics can be very useful. I call the iPad ‘doink’ noise an audio haptic feedback because it is touchpad technology with audio feedback instead of tactile feedback. The nice thing about tactile feedback is that only the person using the interface is subjected to it. It’s pathetic that iPhones and iPads apparently don’t have haptic feedback, when other gadgets do.
Audio feedback for a touch screen might be great for the guy who owns the iPad, but to the bystander, the noise is just like the guy shouting on his cell phone next to you in the train to his co-worker, his wife or his stock trader. It’s annoying. Feel free to share the feedback noises with your family at home, but leave it off in public.