By Brian | January 30, 2010 | Share on Facebook
I have been notified by the blogging authorities that I am in violation of Blog Law #865309, subsection 2, paragraph iii, which clearly states that anyone running an active blog on or about January 27, 2010 must post their thoughts on Apple’s new iPad product within 48 hours of Steve Jobs’ announcement or face severe ridicule in the tech-geek community. Because of my failure to do so, I have hereby been sentenced to provide tech support to my entire extended family at all hours of the day and night for the foreseeable future.
In posting this now, I am throwing myself on the mercy of the courts, in hopes of earning myself some time off for good behavior.
Now, where were we? Ah yes, the iPad. First of all: Wow. Wicked cool. Seriously. I mean, DAMN! You don’t get more Star Trek than that. Come on! Check out the picture to the right – those Personal Access Display Devices (or P.A.D.D.’s) they used on the show might as well have been iPads, and that was back in the early 90′s. As always, Apple gets props for turning science fiction into retail electronics. If the Blackberry was the Tricorder, than this thing is the P.A.D.D..
I suspect a lot of people will spend a lot of time (and a considerable amount of money) gawking at how cool it looks. But eventually, you need to turn it on and actually, you know, use it for something. On that score, at least for now, I’m still impressed. After all, who are we kidding? It’s a 10-inch iPhone/iPod Touch. All those people who insisted they were comfortable watching a full-length feature film on a 4.5″ x 2.5″ screen can finally admit that yes, a 9.6″ x 7.8″ is much, much nicer, thank you very much. Same goes for viewing pictures, playing video games and browsing the web. After all, that “pinch and spread” technology is very cool and all, but reading a content-rich web page would be much nicer if we didn’t have to do quite so much pinching.
There is a new wrinkle here in iBooks, and while the interface is Apple-style cool, there’s the little sticking point of eInk vs. LCD screen. As pretty as the iPad’s screen is, it can’t be as easy on the eyes as eInk, putting iPad at a disadvantage in the eReader category. I don’t think this is insurmountable, though. If people like what the iPad can do, they might accept a slightly inferior eBook reader to avoid buying (and carrying around) two devices. And, as I said in my review of the Amazon Kindle, the other eBook readers don’t even attempt to do what the iPad can do.
That said, if iBooks is the new wrinkle, then the new crease is the presence of content-entry apps, specifically the iWork suite and Mail. That keyboard that would pop up for texting/e-mailing on your iPhone is almost full-size now, and so Apple is placing a (small) bet that people will use the iPad to create content, not just to consume it. Here, I think they wade into dangerous territory. The “wow” factor will fade quickly when you have to get your presentation done, and if Keynote is much easier to use on the MacBook than it is on the iPad, people will revert back awfully quickly. Also, and I know I speak blasphemy here, there’s still the small problem of Microsoft Office’s 80% market share in this space. Those of us who haven’t entered Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field can still plug our iPods, iPod Touches, and iPhones into our Windows PC’s, but there’s no way we’re doing the budget spreadsheet in Numbers, and then sending it to our boss who expects Excel. If they want the iPad to truly replace the laptop, they’re going to need to reach out with the olive branch and get Microsoft to write iPad specific versions of those programs. (No, I’m not holding my breath).
Then there is the matter of what isn’t there. I’m surprised, for instance, that the iPad cannot function as a phone. If you’ve got 3G capability (optional), the iPhone OS, a microphone and speakers/a headphone jack, isn’t phone functionality just another app? Or is Apple suggesting that we buy (and carry around) an iPad and an iPhone? Dubious. Also, I’m reading where Safari for iPad doesn’t support Adobe Flash? Didn’t Steve Jobs tell us we’d have the “whole web in the palm of our hands?” This is kind of like the semi-secret “no, it doesn’t do cut & paste yet” thing with the original iPhones. I’m looking for a flash-enabled browser in the very near future. I’m sure other gotcha’s like this will dribble out once the iPad actually gets in the hands of users, but for now, those are the two that surprised me the most.
As things stand today, if someone were to buy me one as a gift, I’d gladly give it a permanent home in my laptop bag, where it would replace my (old and aging) iPod and probably also my Kindle. It would provide me with a good portable photo frame, video player and web browser, none of which I have today. I don’t think I’d use it for e-mail (except maybe an occasional one-off, blackberry style) and I’m pretty sure I’d never use the iWork apps. For those reasons, if I’m spending my own money, I’d probably save the $300 and buy an iPod Touch, which does OK as a photo frame, video player and web browser, and doesn’t make me pay for all that extra stuff I’d never use.
But that’s today. In the near future, I fully expect someone (be it Apple or a competitor) to take the ball from here and run with it. And if a similar device were to become available for less money, running the apps I’m used to using, and making it just as easy to create on a tablet as it is on a laptop, then I am so there.
One last thing: the name. There are two problems with it. The first is somewhat localized in the American northeast (specifically, Boston) where the word “iPad” and the word “iPod” sound way too similar for everyone’s liking. More globally, though, I join pretty much everyone in the world in wondering if there are any women who work in Apple’s marketing department. Or at least any men who might have remembered this from back in 2006: