Apple iPad: Will it run Second Life?

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Apple's iPad Tablet

As a Second Life enthusiast, I really want the iPad to run Second Life. There's no reason why it shouldn't. As my friend Wagner James Au points out on the blog New World Notes, the iPhone already has a couple of rich, text-only Second Life clients, and the iPad now has the horsepower and screen size to support Second Life graphics.

Moreover, as a Second Life enthusiast I want to see more people use the service. The existing software client is a major barrier to widespread Second Life adoption: It's hard to learn. And it only runs well on desktops or powerful notebooks, while the world is adopting smartphones instead. The iPad has the potential to solve both those problems: Touching and tilting the iPad would provide an easier interface for Second Life than mousing and keyboarding. And iPads and other tablet-netbooks are going to become very popular pretty soon, as Apple sells iPads by the millions and competitors jump in to grab some of that action.

Back when Second Life was at the peak of its hype cycle, almost exactly three years ago, I interviewed Clay Shirky about it. Shirky consults, teaches, and writes about the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. He's an adjunct professor at NYU and a popular speaker at technology conferences.

At the time, the predictions about Second Life were just crazy, that everyone in the world would be on SL, and that it would replace the Internet. But Shirky was a rare voice of pessimism, and in retrospect he was prophetic. He told me that Second Life and other virtual worlds were too hard to use for most people, and that SL and services like it wouldn't become mainstream until science perfected direct brain-to-computer interfaces.

We still don't have direct brain-to-computer interfaces for consumers (although we're surprisingly close -- that research is moving much faster than I would have believed possible when I spoke to Shirky three years ago). But a touchscreen tablet interface like the iPad's might well be close enough.

I really think a good iPad interface could do a lot toward propelling Second Life into the mainstream. More important to me, I just want it for myself.

Meanwhile, although I'm waiting for my iPad in my first life, I have one in the Second Life, courtesy of Dizzy Banjo. It doesn't actually do anything -- but here it is, on my desk in my Second Life office.

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