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Allright already, here’s my iPad post

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.

Conclusions?

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:

Topics: ISBS Reviews, Tech Talk | 9 Comments »

9 Responses to “Allright already, here’s my iPad post”

  1. Jeff Porten says at January 30th, 2010 at 9:38 am :
    Re: ebooks. Amazes me how quickly we’ve all forgotten stuff we knew in 1970. You want easy on the eyes, you make amber or green text on a black background. Those monochrome monitors from 1982 weren’t those colors because someone liked them; they were those colors because those were the best possible use of available technology. eInk might be easier yet… but I’d rather have an ebook I can read regardless of ambient light.

    iWork: no question in my mind, these exist to give people an excuse to buy the iPad. It’s possible they’ll actually work, and in very few cases may even be better than the originals. (Particularly Keynote; multitouch does look like a better interface.) But they’re there to transform the “new toy” into the “new work gizmo, which also happens to be a new toy”.

    Onscreen keyboard: forget it. Here we know what haptic feedback is good for. Don’t try to tell me how great my Timex Sinclair 1000 was for text input.

    Office on the iPad: will never happen. Create your documents in iWork, convert them on a Mac. If you have Windows, you’re not target market — or Apple wants to convert you. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Documents To Go for iPad comes along at some point.

    Flash on the iPad: also will never happen. Good technical overview here. My debate about it with a buddy at Adobe here.

    iPad as phone: VOIP is coming over 3G; apps just started getting approved this week. I think it’s presumed that a 10-inch device is unlikely to be used for regular phone calls. Will be surprised if a 3rd-party front-facing camera isn’t available in the next 12 months.

    Conclusion: Apple just invented a new category. Me-too devices will follow from many competitors. Wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is better suited for you, but will also suck rocks in many ways in comparison.

  2. Janet says at January 30th, 2010 at 10:11 am :
    So, I’ll do the non-technical comment and go straight to the last point. Not only are there apparently no women in the market department, or in whatever higher-up departments authorize these decisions, but also no men who have any part in household shopping.

  3. Brian says at January 30th, 2010 at 12:08 pm :
    @Jeff:

    Re: Monitors – I always thought monitors were green on black because that was the color phosphorus turned when you ran an electrical current through it. As for easy on the eyes, we can go back before 1970. Gutenberg pretty much established the “black text on a white background” thing, and it’s done pretty well over the years (centuries).

    Re: Flash – thanks for the link (I added some thoughts on Terrence’s blog too), but to summarize: this is just Apple being Apple. The most important two things in the world are a) the device never crashes, and b) Apple doesn’t get blamed for anything that goes wrong with the device. That’s great if you’re OK with depending on Apple & their partners for every thing your device does. But there are other software providers out there, and some users (particularly gamers) are OK with an occasional freeze-up or crash if it means they can play their favorite game. On the iPhone, this wasn’t that big a deal because, as you say, it’s an appliance, not a computer. If iPad is intended the same way, then it’s not a big deal. But if they really want to invent the “tablet computing” category, then they’re going to have to get out of that mindset.

    Re: Phones – 10-inch devices can be phones in much the same way as laptops & desktops can be Skype devices. If I’m staring at my 10-inch screen, have earbuds in my ears, and want to talk to you, it seems silly that I’d have to pull out a separate device.

    Re: Conclusion – what makes you say that a device more suited to me would “suck rocks?” Again, I remind you, most of the people in the world are like me, not you (speaking purely about technology here. ;-) )

  4. Brian says at January 30th, 2010 at 12:14 pm :
    @Janet: rumor is they’re putting out an even larger device, and calling it the Max-Ipad. ;-)

  5. jason says at January 30th, 2010 at 1:35 pm :
    Re: the controversy — if you want to use such a strong term — over the name… I get why everyone is making the connection to the feminine hygiene category, but is that the only connotation the word “pad” now carries? Granted, I’m a man and all, but in the context of a portable device for viewing and manipulating information, my first thought isn’t “feminine hygiene,” it’s “paper.” As in the good old-fashioned (non-computerized) notebook. Maybe it’s just because I was unfamiliar with that SNL sketch until this week… or maybe I just have a real blind spot here.

    Reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a female friend who couldn’t believe that Ford would be dumb enough to name its new sports car “Probe.” I asked her what she had against robot spacecraft…

  6. Brian says at January 30th, 2010 at 6:05 pm :
    @Jason – I don’t think it’s the only interpretation, but it certainly is one interpretation, and that’s enough for the late-night talk show crowd.

    And not to be crude, but if your female friend didn’t like the “Probe,” I can only imagine how she felt about the “Hummer.”

  7. Janet says at January 30th, 2010 at 6:36 pm :
    I think part of the problem is “pad,” unmodified. People – at least around here – still say “pad of paper” rather than just “pad.” If a female colleague stuck her head in my office door and asked if I had “a pad,” I would think “feminine hygiene” – such a bizarre term – first, not paper.

  8. Jeff Porten says at January 31st, 2010 at 2:11 am :
    Brian: I always thought monitors were green on black because that was the color phosphorus turned when you ran an electrical current through it.

    Nah. Check out oscilloscopes from the 1950s; they’re white. Green or amber monitors come from the glass in front of the phosphors, IIRC.

    As for easy on the eyes, we can go back before 1970. Gutenberg pretty much established the “black text on a white background” thing, and it’s done pretty well over the years (centuries).

    Well, technically, it was randomly dark text on shades of beige, as black ink was more expensive than some alternatives, and truly white paper didn’t come along in printing press quantities until the 19th century.

    I think it’s somewhat amusing that we’re enamored of the ergonomics of the printed page, because it’s 20th-century technology that made it so. For most of print history, books became nearly useless at sundown, and blindness among scholars was common because they ruined their eyes reading by candlelight. Ben Franklin had a massive 18th-century advantage in his childhood: candles are freely available when your dad owns the factory. Most of his peers couldn’t read like he did, because their families couldn’t afford it.

    The most important two things in the world are a) the device never crashes, and b) Apple doesn’t get blamed for anything that goes wrong with the device.

    I guarantee you, the first time you heard someone say, “My phone crashed,” you laughed. Because phones weren’t computers, and didn’t crash. (For all I know, it was me who said it.) I don’t blame Apple for saying, “we’re going to define the floor of this experience such that crappy things people take for granted simply do not happen.” It takes a certain amount of expertise to assign blame to components of a phone; personally, I’ve never sworn out loud, “*Goddamn* this Broadcom Bluetooth stack which is making my phone so flaky!” Most people are the same way about browsers and plugins; Apple gets the blame if the phone goes down.

    But there are other software providers out there, and some users (particularly gamers) are OK with an occasional freeze-up or crash if it means they can play their favorite game.

    No argument, it sucks if there’s a web app you want to use which isn’t compatible with your device. The iPad would be a nifty Hulu player. Arguably, if enough people use iPads, that’ll happen.

    But if they really want to invent the “tablet computing” category, then they’re going to have to get out of that mindset.

    Right, because the lack of Flash on the iPhone is what prevented it from redefining *that* category. No, wait….

    Re: Phones – 10-inch devices can be phones in much the same way as laptops & desktops can be Skype devices.

    Again, no argument. Seems to me there are two obvious reasons why the iPad isn’t equipped for video VOIP: 1) the general lack of VOIP for iPhone OS, whose reasons have always been murky, and appear to be abating, and 2) the need to cut features to hit the $499 price point.

    Re: Conclusion – what makes you say that a device more suited to me would “suck rocks?”

    Sorry, that implied a cause-and-effect which I didn’t intend. I’m noting that in year 10 of iPod and year 4 of iPhone, no competitor has come up with a device which superseded their design. There are plenty of copies, and many devices with more functionality, but Apple reigns supreme as the pacesetter. I expect the same for the iPad, which is where the “all others will be worse by comparision” conclusion comes from. “Suck rocks” was just a strong way of phrasing this.

    And not to be crude, but if your female friend didn’t like the “Probe,” I can only imagine how she felt about the “Hummer.”

    [spit-take]

    Very nice.

    I’m a male-type human being, so perhaps I’m not qualified to comment on this particular bit of sociology, but IMO, within a year, the “iPad” will mean just the Apple gizmo, and other meanings will drop off.

  9. Brian says at January 31st, 2010 at 11:08 am :
    Apple gets the blame if the phone goes down.

    No argument there. I’m just saying that Apple also gets the blame if the phone won’t run Flash, not Adobe. That same level of expertise is required to know about “32-bit vs. 64-bit,” “source code ownership” and the like.

    Right, because the lack of Flash on the iPhone is what prevented it from redefining *that* category. No, wait….

    Actually, that was kind of my point. Do you know anyone who uses their iPhone as their only web browser? They’ve dominated the Smart Phone category, but they’ve enabled things like Netbooks to come along as a result. If they want the iPad to be a computer, not an appliance, they need to cure their “Not Invented Here” syndrome.

    There are plenty of copies, and many devices with more functionality, but Apple reigns supreme as the pacesetter.

    This coming from a Mac guy? How many times have I stipulated that the Mac OS is technically superior to Windows, and yet Windows maintains its 80%+ market share? I haven’t played around with the Droid yet, but the fact that more people use the iPhone doesn’t, in and of itself, mean that the iPhone is the best product. Remember – #1 because of its ubiquity, not because of its quality..

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