Thoughts on the iPad

The new Apple iPad

The new Apple iPad

This is mainly just to get ideas out of my brain and onto a page somewhere for my future reference. It’s this or talk to my wife about it and at least on the internet I can pretend I can’t see your eyes glaze over 30 seconds into the conversation.

A new Apple product stirs up a lot of buzz, both g ood and bad, as usual. If you know nothing about the iPad, here are the technical specifications. Go ahead and read them. I’ll wait.

I’ve tried to steer clear of early opinion pieces by my trusted Mac news sources such as Daring Fireball. I want to sort out my own thoughts first and then compare and contrast them later.

My first impression is that this is not a laptop replacement. This is a media consumption device, and one that favours being used in portrait mode given the iPad’s 4:3 aspect ratio for the screen (old school TV compard to widescreen TV which is a 16:9 ration). I was thinking along the same lines as Adam Lisagor, but he says it much better than I ever could (Edit: Oops, I linked to the wrong post. Fixed now. The correct post is “Aspect Ratio”). This is a convergence product for the not-quite-geeky. It’s a media player with a slick multi-touch screen, it’s a loungeroom web surfer and it’s a e-book reader. However, if you already have an iPhone, laptop, desktop, home theatre PC and a Kindle, I would suggest that you are not the target market.

I sensed dissatisfcation online about the iPad (leaving aside the obvious feminie hygeine jokes about the name that stopped being funny 5 minutes after they started and about 12 hours before they finished). A common complaint was that the long-awaited Apple tablet device bore no resemblance to the classic Tablet PC ideal. My initial feel is that the Tablet PC market is too small for Apple to ever hope to make much money. All the buzz was for a lower price point, somewhere south of the current bottom-rung Macbook ($AU 1,299). I think Apple is hoping to carve out a new niche with greater potential than they stylus-wielding superuser.

Being able to dock a keyboard (and apparently any old Bluetooth keyboard will do if you don’t want to pay for the special keyboard/dock accessory Apple will sell) makes it a device more suitable for conferences, lecture halls and hotel rooms than a more fully fledged laptop – all situations where I would prefer a keyboard to a stylus. My handwriting is terrible these days and I can type faster than I can write. The iWork suite of applications will be available as individual apps. At $US 9.99, they are most likely cut down versions optimised for quick use. For short notes, emails and so on, the touch screen keyboard will be okay (as it is on the iPhone) but an external keyboard opens up more office/enterprise possibilities.

The lack of a webcam of some sort is interesting as I can see the form factor being a good fit for video conferencing and video chats. I wonder if perhaps battery life is a concern here, or perhaps heat? It will be interesting to see if the inevitable tear down of parts reveals a space for a camera to go in a later version.

An onboard mic (probably for voice control for accessibility purposes) makes this a potential VOIP machine over wi-fi, much like Skype is already available on the iPhone over wi-fi. I suspect that the iPhone mic and remote will work with the iPad, much like it does with later model iMacs and MacBooks.

The e-book reader side of things is interesting (and the iBooks application explains the change of name for the laptop range from iBook and PowerBook to MacBook and MacBook Pro). A full colour touch screen is an attractive proposition. I do wonder how an LED backlit screen compares to an e-ink screen like that on the Kindle over the course of a couple of hours of reading. The point is moot for me though as I have trouble booking in reading time longer than 30 minutes at a stretch. I want to see more about pricing and content deals with publishers that have the rights in Australia before I get too excited.

This could be the text book and tech book reading device of my dreams, provided it is possible to highlight and annotate the books in some way.

Still no multitasking allowed, just like the iPhone. This is either a battery life issue or a Steve Jobs “I don’t like it” issue. I have no idea. It doesn’t bother me on the iPhone, but I can see how it would be a hassle while working in the hotel room and you wanted a browser and an iWork app open at the same time, or you wanted to take notes and live tweet a conference. If I wanted to use the device enough, I would adjust my workflow to suit (which appears to be the Apple way of things).

The final point from me is negative press is not necessarily a harbinger of doom for the product. Exhibit A – iPod launch: “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame” Look at the iPod now. Exhibit B – iPhone v1: Lots of complaints about missing features like 3G, MMS, GPS, ability to shoot video, 2 megapixel camera with fixed focus, no microSD card support for additional storage, no cut and paste, no native applications. Look at the iPhone now.

On the other hand, look at the iPod Hi-Fi, or the PowerMac G4 Cube, or to a lesser extent the AppleTV. Time will tell.

I would love to have one around the house as an educational tool. I would finally be able to answer my son’s questions about the world (“Daddy, why does it rain?”) quickly and easily. We could learn together, sitting on the couch, exploring science and how stuff works. It would be awesome.

Do I want one? Yes. Do I need one? No. Most importantly, can I afford one? Not right now. Would I use one if I had it? Most definitely.

Right. Now it’s time to read the pundit views I have been so studiously ignoring.

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1 Response to Thoughts on the iPad

  1. Luke says:

    There is a multitasking, just need to jailbrake, or as I call it, make it usable * smile *.
    You’ve mentioned truth in saying that we don’t need one but want very much. Hopefully there are folks out there who need it and want it.

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