First Thoughts on the iPad

Yesterday, after the Apple presentation “Come See Our Latest Creation,” geeks and bloggers worldwide took to their medium of choice to complain about the underwhelming iPad and its impending failure. I’ve seen all sorts of arguments for why this device will fail, but I’m convinced that this device is going to make them all red in the face, and soon.

The problem here, as is often the case, is that this device is not built for geeks. In truth, the iPhone isn’t either. But it’s an undeniable success, largely because it solves most of the problems people have with computing interfaces: single vs double click, right click vs left click, app install, the HFS, etc. And the iPad will be a huge success too. Let’s take a deeper look.

The biggest complaint heard round the world is the lack of multi-tasking. Let’s be straight about this: that’s a friggin’ software issue! It’s widely rumored that some sort of light multi-tasking is part of iPhone OS 4.0, we know the demo’ed iPad was running 3.2 beta. So it’s fair to expect that this could come in a future update. But if it doesn’t, it’s still fixable if Apple determines that lack thereof is a major weakness.

I’ve heard people complain about lack of Flash. I couldn’t care less about Flash. Flash is a total monkey on the shoulder of the internet. I have an iPhone, I pretty much never miss it. Every site that relies on Flash is a poorly designed site I don’t want to visit. Flash is NOT coming to iPhone OS. Here’s why, in a nutshell: there are no runtimes on the iPhone, Flash is a runtime; Apple supports only one native platform – through their own SDK; Flash is the most unstable part of OS X; and most importantly, Flash is quickly gaining the reputation of being the #1 source of vulnerabilities, which Apple does NOT want to inherit. Since it’s closed source and controlled by another company, it ain’t happening, and not only don’t I care, I bet most others don’t either. And the proof? Literally millions of sites have built iPhone specific versions of their sites. With Android and WebOS both sporting compatible Webkit-based browsers, those sites are getting to be “smartphone” type sites, but people are clearly hearing the word of the future: you can’t depend on a plugin for the core of your site.

Third largest complaint we hear is that people could just buy a laptop. Sure, you could, but the iPad is a supplement. I have a 24″ iMac and it sits in my office. I don’t always want to get up to check my email, browse Google Reader, or fool around on the web. It’s a great lightweight extension of my Mac. I don’t need a whole new desktop with a whole new library of data in iLife. I don’t want a big old laptop. With the laptop, I hold the keyboard portion, and inevitably, my kid comes up and pulls on the lid which bends back out of my way. It gets 4 hours of life if we’re lucky, so it’s always plugged in. It’s pretty hot, so it usually rests on a cushion or a laptop pillow. The iPad is light, one piece that can be aligned to my liking, and has a much better battery. It’s a near perfect supplement to my current computer, because it works as an EXTENSION of my current Mac, not in addition to.

Next up is the bezel. Yes, people are complaining about the border around the screen. Apparently, these ninnies would prefer to grip their movie player with their fingers overlapping the content. This one is too stupid to address seriously.

I’m sad to say that the biggest yammering I’ve heard around town is that “Apple fanboys will slurp this up”, as if anyone who wants one is too lovedrunk to think clearly. This arrogant tenant is especially silly given that the iPhone is pretty much an iPad nano plus a phone. If you just wanted a phone, there are much better choices than the iPhone. Flip phones last for days or weeks without a charge and certainly connect more reliably, but people wanted iPhones. Does this sentiment extend to ALL of them? I suppose the 21 million active iPhone users are all blind Apple loyalists as well?

Some people have said, based on real experience, that this is a 1.0 product, they’ll wait for the revision. But to me, this one is just ignoring history. The old computer catch 22 is “this will be outdated in 6 months.” That’s still true. The next revision will always be better. But the iPad is not a rev 1 product, it’s a rev 4 product. It’s an evolution of the iPhone. Yes, it has a new chip, but so did the 3Gs. The 3G had the first 3G antenna. Every rev has a first generation of something, but this is obviously a revision (maybe a big one, but still a point release) of existing hardware.

HDMI out? Seriously? Is there ANY “average joe” who’s going to use this? I think a TV out connector is probably fine for most that require the iPad to be a portable movie player. You have to remember that Apple doesn’t – and has no history of – catering to geeks when they can cater to the masses. The device is a device “for everyone”, and that usually means leading edge technologies are not included and geeks are disappointed.

I’ve heard quite a few people sharing how a netbook is so much cheaper, yadda yadda yadda. Puh-lease. But these are facts: virtually every netbook I’ve used is SLOW SLOW SLOW. They almost always run either XP – which is not only old and clumsy on a tiny screen, but has a sordid history of becoming slow and broken for most users, or Ubuntu, which is a total mystery to the average guy, and also has an even more complex install system. Netbooks have tiny screens and ALL of the same problems and confusions that traditional computers have had when it comes to most users. My mother still names documents with additional underscores so they move to the front of the folder list, and she has no idea where she saves anything… My Docs, Desktop, root of C, etc. I see this all the time, people can’t manage a traditional install, that’s why they need geeks. Except… they don’t with the iPhone, and they won’t with the iPad. The netbook is a joke compared to an iPad. You show me an HP Slate, I’ll show you an LG Voyager or some other would be “iPhone Killer”. Almost everyone’s response to the iPad is already an also-ran, because it will most likely be based on Windows or Linux, and it will almost certainly fail where the iPhone OS has already succeeded. I think the only hope here is that Android evolves over the next few years at this continued rapid pace.

Another complaint being tossed around is the lack of a physical keyboard. Are we seriously still addressing this? Did the lack of physical keyboard stop the iPhone from selling something like 75 million units? No. Because this device is all about touch, and the virtual keyboard is going to be just fine, just like it is on the iPhone for the vast majority of people who use it. After 20 minutes of using the iPhone keyboard, I was comfortable and much more accurate. I’m sure the iPad will be the same way. Yes, software like Pages seems odd without a keyboard. I suspect it’s more for viewing and quick editing than it is for full creation. It’s a supplementary device, not a full on computer. Non-issue.

There are definitely some legitimate complaints against the iPad.

  1. At 1024×768, the resolution, and aspect ratio, leave me wanting more. Widescreen videos will require zoom or letterboxing, which means I lose content or real estate. Boo.
  2. The name iPad is horrible. If I have an accent, iPod and iPad might sound the same.
  3. Still no wireless syncing!?
  4. No SD slot for media? The “shared directory” is a nice concept, it could show up like the camera does as mountable file storage. I hope it’s writable, but I bet it’s not. Native SD slot would have been nice.
  5. No camera. I’m not sure I really care about a camera, per se, but I certainly think the ability to video chat would have been an incredible sales point for this device.
  6. Lack of format variety. I can’t believe Apple can’t add support for AVIs and MPGs to the iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, and iTunes. Also, I don’t get why Apple doesn’t just add FLAC support to iTunes.

The biggest and most valid complaint is that once again, we’re locked into the arbitrary and closed App Store. This is, by far and away, the most legitimate complaint. But, we live in a capitalist world, and the best of breed will succeed. People are generally okay with this. Once again, the masses have accepted something less than stellar. People will jailbreak their iPad the same way we’ve jailbroken our iPhones, and once again, we’ll be a small group in a large pool of users. This practice by Apple is horrible, and I predict it will eventually lead to a Microsoft IE style lawsuit that requires Apple to open up not just the App Store, but maybe even the iTunes Store as a whole to competition (meaning a separate store on the device that can manage apps, or another way to get apps on the phone without going through Apple).

That said, I’ll likely be getting an iPad at some point. It’s a fantastic complement to the big iMac in another room, an extension of my data, and a great surfing device. The 16GB is plenty for me now (The 64 GB would cover my entire MP3 and iPhoto libraries, but not with enough growth space, so the 128 may be the magic point for me), but I’ll probably want the 3G just so the device isn’t confined to my living room 100% of the time.

This is all my opinion. No question about that. But some of it is steeped in fact. Geeks looking for a geek friendly device were bound to be let down. Those suggesting that the iPad can’t meet someone’s needs unless they are drinking the Apple Kool-Aid are high on their own pompousness. And those who don’t want one, well.. they’re entitled to their own opinion and can pass on this device. But those who suggest this is going to be a failure… check back with me in 18 months. My money is that I’ll be the one saying “Toldja so.”

2 Replies to “First Thoughts on the iPad”

  1. I agree with most of your points. I am still curious on how typing will be as it seems you need to put it on your lap or table to type well. I am shocked by the lack of a camera, that seems like a big mistake, that thing is built for video chat. My final big open question is so far there is no mention of MS Exchange support in the Mail app. I hope it is just an omission in the listed specs as this is crucial for not just enterprise folks but also for those of us that sync contacts and calendars via gmail.

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