It’s not a Phone! It’s not a Computer! It’s an iPad!

This has been discussed to death, but I have decided to weigh in a few thoughts. If you love to customize your PC, run Linux, or would give up your netbook only from your cold dead hands, then this post is not for you. If, on the other hand, you think that the iPad is actually a bit more than just a large coaster, feel free to continue reading.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the iPad hasn’t been released, has only had a limited hands-on time for a handful of people, there will be a version 2, and most of my thoughts could be somewhat translated to another appliance-like tablet device.

That Really Is The Name. No Joke.

There have already been hundreds of jokes and parodies about the name, some recent, a few in the past. Will we continue to mock it 6 months from now? Probably not, as either it will have failed as a product, or the name will fade into the background as almost every name does (think Microsoft, Bing, even Google for that matter). Sure this name may sound the most ridiculous right now, and there is merit to women being upset that it wasn’t thought out even a little. But over time it will just be the name and in six months it won’t matter anymore.

Hyper-Hyped Up Beyond Imagination

Is it even possible that Apple’s reveal could have lived up to most of the hype showering the internet? I don’t think so. It may have been short of many reasonable expectations, but the hype was definitely an impossible goal to be reached (especially since Jobs did claim the device to be magical). I think I can safely say that the version they showed off at the event was not magical, and really was just a larger iPhone. That said, I think Apple delivered a product very similar to the first iPod, something that initially is a letdown, but with lots of potential.

My Netbook is Better

Yes, netbooks obviously have more capabilities and power, as they are meant to be a cheaper and smaller laptop. I personally enjoy my 14” laptop over working on a 10” netbook, and anything I want the ultra portability for I have found the iPhone to be sufficient, and I have started even to not bring the laptop on trips. Again, a netbook can do more – much more – in the traditional sense of computing, but really a netbook is a laptop. This is where I think iPad seems to fit nicely between a full laptop and a smart-phone. Whether or not there is a market there is of course another matter.

There will be plenty of people who want a netbook or convertible tablet to work as they always have with a keyboard, USB ports, flash, and most of the features of a modern computer. But I can see myself sitting on the couch using something akin to the iPad while watching TV. I think this is a big part of what the iPad and similar devices will be meant for, the casual computing around the house.

No Multitasking

Being able to listen to Pandora while an app for tracking my run would be nice, I hope they eventually enable this in a future version of the iPhone OS. If you sit back and think about it this really is only an artificial limitation, the iPod can already play music in the background, along with email, and mobile safari, so why not any other app? What if I want an alarm clock app, or maybe a location aware app to notify when I’m near a Starbucks. Do I need full multitasking like netbooks or the nexus one? Probably not exactly, but why not give us some form of a real background app? Maybe limit it to a set small number of allowed background apps. This is probably not a huge deal for me, since I’d have my iPhone with me to play music, video, etc.

No Camera

Not having a camera isn’t a deal breaker for me, but I think that the possibilities that would come with both a front and rear facing camera, or even two front cameras for non-touch gesture recognition, or even object and facial recognition. I’d be surprised if the cost of the camera prevented it from being added. However, there’s possibilities of 3rd party cases that include a rotatable camera, or a stand that is angled for the tablet, with an extended camera above it. I think that a front facing camera right in the bezel isn’t necessarily the most elegant solution. Also, I’d rather take my point and shoot or iphone to take photos. Sure it’d be nice to have the photo camera for those few times you only have the iPad, but is it really a necessity? I think not.

No Flash

Flash is ubiquitous, so why doesn’t Apple support it? I believe it’s an issue of controlling the ecosystem and elegance of interacting with the device. Some claim it’s due to performance or stability which is likely some part of Apple’s decision. If you use it for video, Apple will tell you to switch to H.264 and the HTML5 <video> tag, or better yet make an app. If you use Flash for animations, games, or an interface Apple would tell you to make an app instead. They might also have decided against allowing Flash since it was not originally created with a finger touch interface in mind, much less multi-touch.

Advocates of open operating systems allowing installation of any application will of course not enjoy this control that Apple has on their devices, but those who support web standards would like to see Flash be replaced. This will hopefully push development of SVG and Canvas further, and Apple could do its part in this by funding it.

This does not push Adobe out of the way, they just need to share their focus of their developer tools to publish to both Flash and other open standards. They are moving this way with CS5 and will enable iPhone Apps to be produced from their flash tools.

Hulu is probably the most prominent example of flash that I use, but when I think about it do I really care? I might if I’m at an airport, or coffee shop, but really I watch Hulu on my HDTV for the great viewing experience, so I’ll stick to using a media server for Hulu instead of an iPad.

No Deal

If you wanted Apple to include at least one of the missing features and you won’t be buying one because of this, make no mistake, with Steve Job’s claiming this to be one of the key products he’s created, there will be a version 2 of the iPad. My guess is that it’ll be on similar to the change from iPhone 2G to the iPhone 3G with OS 3.0. I hope they include similar functionality as just discussed, but for me these aren’t necessarily deal breakers.

My hope is that the iPad both improves itself overtime, and also improves the usefulness and ease of computing tools in the future.

Glimpse To Future Computing

According to Fraser Speirs people are having Future Shock in the sense that they aren’t comfortable with the likely shift to purpose driven computing – or task-based interface computing. I think I agree with John Gruber of Daring Fireball that the iPad, and similar devices in the future, will be like driving an automatic transmission car:

That’s where Apple is taking computing. A car with an automatic transmission still shift
s gears; the driver just doesn’t need to know about it. A computer running iPhone OS still has a hierarchical file system; the user just never sees it.

There will definitely be a percentage of the population (probably 5%) that will want to have full control and use of a computer. Similar to those people that like to work on their car and use a manual transmission to fully enjoy the driving experience, some people like myself will want to customize and utilize the full power of the Computer we now today in PCs and Macs. Many of these people will be developers, and some will be hardcore computer users who still enjoy building their system hardware, or installing and compiling their own Unix-based kernel, or just enjoy the open nature of the PC platforms.

That said, it doesn’t mean the iPad specifically is the computing device of the future, but rather the idea of more appliance style devices that are intuitive, easy to use, and get out of the way when not using them. Even Microsoft had this idea of a docking device – see video “Microsoft’s Vision For 2019” – that you could hook up to a monitor, carry with you, and is surprisingly similar to this iPad device.

Also, if you think about where Chrome OS is taking us, you might come to a conclusion that the iPad and Chrome OS are on two different paths heading toward the same convergent point. This convergent point will hopefully bring computing devices that will enable you to use the applications you love without configuring every separate computer you use, instead you will access everything from the cloud where you will synchronize and cache data locally allowing you to use the device as a tool. The iPad is bringing us a step closer to this idea of simple task-oriented computing.

The Price is Decent

$499 is much better than $800-1000, and while 16GB isn’t that much space, you could still sync enough content for a week on there. There are more expensive options, with more storage, and 3G/GPS, but the price will only drop over time. Many people will still compare the iPad to netbooks and not buy due to the cost, but they weren’t going to buy an Apple product anyway. If you want access anywhere, it’ll cost you a few hundred more and you currently have to use AT&T (which many people hate) but who is offering the data plan with no contract, which along with the price is a great precedent being set for mobile data access. The pricing will be $15/mo for 250MB and $30/mo for unlimited is actually very good considering most data plans, even those capped, are more like $60/mo. Some people are hearing rumors of Verizon joining the iPhone or iPad, and I hope they are true, but it seemed like Apple is going to continue holding hands with AT&T for the foreseeable future.

Multi-Touch That Just Works

The Nexus and other Android-based devices can support multi-touch and hopefully will soon officially be supported in Google’s apps. However, the experience is much better currently with multi-touch on the iPhone. Partly due to stringent UI guidelines, at this time the SDK for the iPhone supports touch that is better integrated with the default UI elements. There’s also a possible patent issue that Apple might have, but some people are saying it wouldn’t hold up in court. Regardless so far from the phones I’ve used, including the Nexus One, the iPhone is still the superior multi-touch device in my opinion.

It’s All About iTunes – Content and Apps

Finally we get to the last, but not least, item of importance and discuss the iTunes store. While the iPad will definitely have a better web browsing experience than the iPhone, it still doesn’t support plug-ins, and thus there are many websites and applications that won’t work on the iPad in the browser. Also Apple has created the iBook application for ePub format books, and like apps Apple will take a cut of the revenue from all content and applications delivered through iTunes. This is really the success of Apple’s new mobile strategy and focus.

New media content from books, magazines, and newspapers will be available on the iPad device, and it will probably be a very good device for reading and consuming this type of content, and I think is one of the core areas they think the device will be used. Think about the concept video of the Sports Illustrated magazine.

Even without the camera, there are already applications that the iPad will be useful for, including reading reference material like programming pdfs, board games with iPhone integration, navigation tool for hiking, stargazing, tracking stats at an event like baseball or horse racing, photo frame, simple sketching canvas, configurable user input for DJs and media editing, diagramming, editing video, editing photos, there really are a lot of possibilities even with this current version’s limitations.

Developer Story

The iPad uses the same SDK and OS platform as the iPhone, and thus writing an app for both will be relatively easy. There will definitely need to be some changes made to the UI, and some apps and games will work fine with the 2x scaling, but some will want to make an even better version specifically for the iPad. Similar to how there are slightly different capabilities between the various iPhone versions, so will the iPad have some as well. These can be coded in a way that checks the device for the capabilities and allows an app to be run on any of the devices. The iPad does bring with it a separate binary and thus Apple has created Universal Apps similar to what happened with the PowerPC/Intel transition. I also am not a huge fan of objective-c, but as with any language, you just learn the syntax and live with it if you choose to program for the given platform.

There are also some new View Controllers that allow the split screen view, and a popovers view. These are specific to the iPad because of the screen size. Here is another area Apple is going for convention over configuration in that you can’t resize the split views, it’s meant to simplify the UI and learning curve to using the iPad applications.

I do have some issues with Apple controlling the submission process, and the idea that my app might not be allowed is something that I continue to think about, but I believe I will continue to develop as long as they have a large market. I am also going to make sure my apps run on Android, and hopefully HTML5 becomes more ubiquitous so we can get more native-style capabilities within the browser. Also some tools and frameworks have been written to write once – usually using
HTML/CSS/JavaScript – and compile to any device or platform, which I plan to research more in the next few months.

Due to some of these limitations, I expect an open Android device to be better suited for some tasks and applications. It’ll be interesting to see what 2010 has in store for developers with new types of devices springing out of nowhere, and new marketplaces and app stores. As a developer, I am actually pretty excited about the future, even if the iPad is not part of it, and even if it just means making some kickass HTML5 applications on top of the ever more ubiquitous cloud.

60 Days For Improvements

The iPad will probably ship as the same device that people were able to get their hands on at the Apple event. However, they could come out and introduce a new Touch OS (likely it would be OS 4.0) with support for multitasking. It’s possible they even deliver a camera in the device at launch, maybe they didn’t have time to add the camera in the shipment of devices to be ready for the event. I doubt any of this will come to pass and they will wait for the 2nd version to bring anything new to the iPad, but there is an opening here for them to possibly do something before launch.

I Won’t Buy One At Launch

At the moment I have no intentions of buying the iPad, but I will go to an Apple store and try one out when I get the chance, and see if holding it changes my mind. Even though I think the price is reasonable, it is still high enough, similar to the kindle, that it’s a want and not a need. If someone gave one to me I would happily use it, and I think it would fit well as a media and internet device around the house, during short trips, and at a coffee shop or park. For me, a netbook is just too small and underpowered for what I use my laptop for and the iPad would fit quite nicely as the device between my laptop and my iPhone.

There is much more that I could discuss, but there are many others who have already commented on every aspect of the device so I’ll just finish by saying don’t write off the idea of what the iPad will bring us in terms of computing in the future. It definitely won’t be this first version and maybe not even an Apple product, however there will be a move toward appliance computing, even Google is attempting this with their GoogleOS.

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