The Apple iPad – The Appliance I Never Thought I Needed
Apple has introduced a new piece of hardware to their lineup. You’ve certainly heard about it. I’ve been hearing about it nonstop for weeks. It’s called the iPad and was released on April 3rd. It’s a tablet computer with a screen roughly the same size as a sheet of paper. For all the technical details check out the Apple site or just Google around a bit.
I haven’t held one in my hands yet, so I can’t really give a hands on review of it. I have read a number of articles and quite a bit of comments relating to those articles. What I find interesting is the haters seem to outnumber the fanboys on most every comment thread except on the Apple site itself. Why is this? Are the haters just that much more vocal, or are the newest iPad owners just too busy to comment?
Analysis of the Public Reaction
On a few of my favorite blog sites, like Gizmodo, Lifehacker and even Tom’s Hardware, they’ve had quite a few posts per day about the iPad. Before release, the posts were speculative, then reviews started pouring in on release day, then we started getting tips/tricks, app reviews, articles about accessories, etc. There’s been a ton of coverage and I could understand feeling inundated. If that’s the case, then I think the average reader would probably just scroll past the post, like I do for LoLcat articles.
No, even those feeling like there’s too much coverage post their grievances in the comment threads. It’s just too much to resist I guess. And, well, a troll is a troll.
In response to articles about the iPad, more than 60% of the comments are about missing hardware features. 44% are complaints about its inability to run software from someplace other than the app store, or being tied to AT&T. Even more are complaining about the iPad not supporting Flash from Adobe. Almost 40% are really annoyed because they wanted the iPad to replace hardware they already have, like their laptop or netbook.
Most of the remaining comments are from fans defending the iPad point by point.
Of course I just made those numbers up, because I didn’t actually categorize and enumerate the comments as I was reading them. I did however, get a general feeling from the comment threads of numerous articles that supports my pseudo mathematical analysis.
What the iPad Isn’t
The iPad is not a laptop replacement. A laptop has become a portable version of your desktop. Period. Laptops are no longer the underpowered, space limited, little cousin to your desktop that can _almost_ do everything your desktop computer can. For me, my laptop is my desktop, albeit with a large monitor and external keyboard and mouse plugged to augment my reality. When I’m at the coffee shop and I need to do some work, I need to have my laptop with me. I wouldn’t dream of composing documents or testing code on a tablet computer. I just don’t see the format being practical for that.
The iPad is not your Movie, Music, eBook, PodCast, Photo or other media repository. No, as much as the software is capable, the capacity of the iPad will just not ever be big enough to carry around your entire library of media. You’ve got some planning ahead to do. Take with you what you need. Leave the rest at home. 64 gigabytes is a lot, but just not enough for everything. Sure, an SD card would have made it ‘expandable’ but, the time you would spend populating the SD card will have to be spent grooming the internal media space instead.
The iPad is not perfect. It can’t be. It isn’t meant to be. It won’t run FarmVille (or any Flash content), won’t play an AVI movie, won’t animate a GIF file, won’t create content with the same robustness as a laptop, etc. But for a moment, consider that for some people, it may be perfect. Running exactly the way they need it to, running what they need it to, and doing it trouble-free and perfectly perfect. For others, it’s off by a mile. This is always going to be true for any product. My 4-bladed shaving razor is okay, but it would be even better with 8 blades. It’s impossible to please everyone with one thing that is so specific in its nature. For those who don’t think the iPad is their Mr. Perfect, move on. There’s many other tablets and they may be closer to what you consider perfect.
What the iPad Is
The iPad is a content delivery device. Soon after taking it out the box, you’ll see it can deliver web pages, email, appointments, contacts, your photo album, your music and movies. With a visit to the App Store, you can start adding capability right away. Need a mapping application? check. GPS? check. Create a simple presentation? check. Strum a simulated Harp? check. You get the point. The iPad is really whatever you want it to be.
So… What is the iPad? It’s what you want it to be.
The App Store for the iPhone has over a hundred thousand applications. Everything from fart noises to Astronomy applications to Physicians Desktop References. The scope of the application genres is amazing. The iPad will run almost all of these applications, and those made specifically for it. The number of applications at launch time was in the hundreds. In a month or so, the number of applications available for the iPad will be record-setting. I see the iPad becoming ubiquitous. I can envision applications that would improve or augment such professions as artists, musicians, physicians, attorneys, salesmen, architects, astronauts, heck, even the UPS guy.
About iPad Applications
Your laptop or other computers are general purpose computers in the sense that they will run any software designed to run on whatever operating system you have installed. This software can come from any number of sources, obviously. The iPad runs only a proprietary operating system and approved software. You can only get the software from one place. The iPad applications must go through an approval process by Apple before you can ever consider using them.
What does this mean philosophically, and why are people so mad about it? Is it because they have favorite software packages from favorite vendors and they want to continue using those packages? Is it because there’s a specific piece of software they want to use, but it’s not available at the App Store? Is it because they don’t want to pay for a piece of software that they can get (almost certainly illegally) for free? Maybe it’s because some users just want to root around in the kernel and tweak/hack/customize until they get their machine running just right. There most definitely are reasons for people to hate the closed nature of the iPad software, but I haven’t seen any good explanations as to what would be achieved by opening up the platform, or who would benefit from it.
I can see the benefit of software controls. It really turns the iPad into a dependable appliance. To start with, the operating system is designed for the hardware, and the hardware is designed for the operating system. The applications submitted to the App Store are scrutinized for compliance with coding principles and guidelines. This keeps developers from developing applications that use non-documented or internal features that may change over time, causing the application to be behave unpredictably if the underlying operating system code changes, such as may happen with a software update. Having the applications go through an approval process also keeps out the rogue, sloppy, malicious code that so often ruins our fun on the desktop.
If there’s a downside to this, I suspect it’s the cost to become a developer, and the time/effort spent getting an application through the approval process. There’s also the cost involved for Apple having to employ so many people and the infrastructure to support the process. It’s a two way street. It’s the cost of doing business and the price of buying the product that has to support this. What we, the consumer, get in exchange, is a much more dependable and mostly trouble-free experience with the iPad.
Conclude what you will from my thoughts, but my opinions should be clear. The iPad is a content-delivery appliance. The hardware is stylish, over-designed and well-built. In practice, the iPad will only be as good as its content, which is limited now, but will be enormous in the future. The iPad will become ubiquitous because of the content it will be able to deliver. Not everyone will embrace this tablet, and will either avoid tablets altogether or opt for another source. I, for one, will be adding one to my stable of computers in the next month or so. Welcome to the future.
Update: On April 8th, almost a week after release of the iPad, Apple has announced some sales figures. As of this morning, they’ve sold 450,000 iPads; 600,000 eBooks; There’s 3,500 apps in the App Store that have been downloaded 3.5 million times.