Is the iPad really great?
Seeing as there is so much hype surrounding the iPad, I'm almost afraid to write anything about it, for fear that I'll be misunderstood as simply trying to join in. But, given that what I'm going to write will largely be viewed as a negative assessment of Apple's new product, I'll risk it.
So why am I writing this? Well, mostly because I think there is so much hype, and I want to try and balance things out and help people gain a more balanced perspective.
What is the iPad?
The iPad is a tablet computer. It is not magic, it is not revolutionary, it is simply a tablet computer.
What is all the fuss about then?
Apple make nice products. The iPhone, the iMac, the MacBook and MacBook Pro, are all nice products. Apple fans, get excited every time Apple is talking about launching a new product, no matter what it is.
The iPad was rumoured for years, and a lot of excitement built up in the past few months as details started to emerge. Perhaps most people studying the specs and waiting for the launch got so blinkered that they failed to notice anything else in the world, and now they actually believe that the iPad is some kind of magical and revolutionary device.
Yeah, but isn't it great value for money at just $499?
No, that is very expensive when you consider what you are not getting. First off, the rumours and hype machine surrounding the iPad pre-launch made it sound like it was going to cost around $1000. Then when it was launched, Steve Jobs alluded to the thousand-dollar rumours, before delighting the crowd with the revelation that the "magical and revolutionary" device was a just $499! Sounds impressive, except... does anyone really know if this is good value or not? First, this $499 is for the basic model with just 16GB of storage space. The 64GB 3G model will cost you $829!
Is that good value for money? I don't know that it is. Unless this device can do something really amazing.
Can it do anything really amazing?
Well.... NO! Okay, I haven't used one, so perhaps it tastes amazing. Ask Letterman if you're interested. But the reality is that this device is little more than a big iPod Touch. It shares the same OS as the iPhone/iPod touch, with some new applications to take advantage of the bigger screen. And that's it! Seriously? Yes, that's it.
Billed as a "revolutionary" and "magical" device, I was expecting a lot more.
Okay, so it's just a big iPod, isn't the iPod Touch great? Yes it is. Primarily because you can fit it in your pocket, and take a bunch of apps around with you. You can listen to your podcasts, watch movies, read books, and play games on the bus or train, and then simply slip the device into your pocket when it's time to hop off. The iPad is too big to go in your pocket, unless you have very big pockets. But essentially it can't really do a whole lot more than the iPod.
When is an iPod not an iPod?
When it's too big and too awkward to function like an iPod. The iPad looks to me the way the iPod would have looked 20 years ago, before miniaturisation! But seeing as it is what it is, what advantages does the iPad have over an iPod that costs less than 1/2 the price.
The main advantage is the big screen. Since they are both multi-touch devices, and are both able to perform a wide range of functions, the large screen will allow the iPad to be used for some applications that the iPod is too small for. Example: a photo frame. Additionally, and more seriously now, the bigger screen allows for a bigger on-screen keyboard. This is good and bad. Good if you are sitting down and can balance the device on your lap so that you can touch type on the screen. Bad if you are trying to type while holding the device.
There is the option of pairing a bluetooth keyboard or plugging the device into the optional keyboard dock, but then you have another piece to the puzzle, and it starts to get awkward.
The iPod is the most obvious competitor. But similar functionality is also available on the iPhone, which has many additional advantages, including that it is a phone, has a camera, can shoot video, and has a real-working GPS.
But Apple won't want to be competing with its own products. Steve Jobs tried to promote the iPad as filling the gap between your iPhone and MacBook. He showed that usually this gap is filled by a Netbook, but he maintains that they are "not better at anything", and a device trying to fill this space must be better at something. So, assuming that Apple are targeting the space currently filled by the Netbook, let's assume that they are the main competition for the iPad at present.
Netbooks are basically small laptops. They usually have small keyboards, but these are usually very good. They have small screens, with many being about 10", like the iPad, and are light weight and very portable. Snap the lid down, and throw it into your backpack, and off you go. Not sure I would feel so confident throwing a iPad into my backpack.
Netbooks are cheap. You can get a good one for less than 1/2 the price of a iPad. Neither of these devices does anything that you can't do on a laptop, but one of the appeals of Netbooks is that they are cheap. The iPad isn't cheap, because you can get a full laptop for that sort of money, albeit a non-Apple laptop.
Apart from the multi-touch screen of the iPad, which might be an advantage if you like tapping and dragging things, and take pride in cleaning your fingerprints off your Apple devices, the iPad doesn't really do anything that a Netbook can't. But a Netbook has a lot of things that an iPad doesn't. A physical keyboard, a camera for video chat, SD card slots, external display port, USB ports, and the ability to install and run applications from competing vendors.
The Netbook is ideal for checking and answering email, tweeting your twitter tweet, facebooking, instant messaging (if anyone does that any more), and watching/listening to media on the move. They also work great on trips when photos can be transferred to from cameras to free up SD cards for more images.
Because you can plug directly into an external projector it can work great for presentations too.
Remember, we are still talking about all the uses of a Netbook. Laptops can do all this too, just more comfortably, albeit at the expense of lugging around the extra weight.
Back to the iPad.... no physical keyboard means that entering text, such as composing emails is less comfortable. No camera means that video chat is out. SD slots and USB ports require extra adaptors which will mean extra expense and more stuff to carry around.
And while the iPod/iPhone OS is good, there is no multitasking! A Netbook can run Windows, Linux, or both. And you can be online browsing the web while your computer is doing something else useful too. Imagine waiting for a YouTube video to load and not being able to compose an email while you wait? That's the sort of life the iPad introduces. 20 years into the past.
I own an iPhone. It's a nice phone, and so far it's been a very solid and useful device. I've previously owned a PowerBook G4, and my wife uses a MacBook pro. Just sharing that so that when I complete this article I won't be branded a hater. I'm not against Apple. I just think that in this case the product is underwhelming and overpriced. People will buy it, and sleep with it, but at the end of the day it's an expensive toy, and there are cheaper and arguably better alternatives available.
If you are on the move, and want to play some games, listen to some music, or read a few pages of a book to pass the time on the way an iPod will be handy. If you are on the move and want to type, you probably need a laptop or a netbook. If you are at home, you can use whatever you have there, such as: TV for watching movies, PS3 or Wii for games, and your real computer for work etc. So where does the iPad fit into all of this? I don't get it!
Many people will buy the iPad hoping that it will make their lives better. It probably won't, but if it does then you really need a new focus in life!
The tablet computer has been around for a long time, and has never really caught on. The iPad will at least make it as a main-stream tablet device, but is this really a device that we need? Comments welcome.