Why the iPad Doesn’t Impress and Why it Doesn’t need to.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Dejo Fabolude of Digital Crossings. He is a tech blogger and an industry analyst who writes at www.digital-crossings.com. In this post, he critically looks at the brilliance and buts of the recently launched Apple’s iPad.
I wasn’t there. So I didn’t see or handle the iPad on the day Steve Jobs unveiled. While that may cost me some legitimacy, I will lay claim to some objectivity in writing about it. Indeed, my very distance from the infamous reality distortion field should probably be a credential of some sort.
For those who were comatose, or just didn’t care, Apple announced a much anticipated tablet computing device called the “iPad”. The features are here and the specs are here. At one point I got fed up with all the chatter in the blogosphere about Apple’s expected tablet computer. From the 3rd quarter of 2009 until it was finally unveiled this January, the rumour mills were churning fast enough that if they were turbines, they would have powered all of Nigeria. It reached a point where no matter what Apple created, it was guaranteed to be a disappointment. That much hype cannot be lived up to and Mr. Jobs’ newest project didn’t.
The thing that was unveiled was quite simply a really large iPod Touch. That’s what it is. That’s all. Spin it all you like. Insist on pointing out that Apple created a brand new processor for it. Claim that it is a new product category. Celebrate that it came in at half the price the pundits thought it would. Sing the praises of the newest example of Cupertino’s design excellence and it still comes down to the fact that it is a large iPod Touch with almost exactly the same feature set, the same strengths and almost exactly the same weaknesses as its forbears.
The thing is, it doesn’t need to be anything more.
My personal sense of the thing is irritation more than anything else, because it does magnify the annoying things about the iPod Touch/iPhone. Something of this size, you expect at least 100GB of storage. You expect that storage to be accessible without having to fire up something as monolithic as iTunes which only lets you put what Apple say you can put on it. You expect to be able to install a printer and print from almost any application that can display a document. You expect to have access to that one document from and everywhere that can do something with it (email, an editor, a reader, Bluetooth). You definitely do not expect to need to pay a premium to access your digital cameras or other devices. And unless something changes in the next OS version, I still can’t run more than one non-Apple provided application at once. I most especially hate the thought that it will take at least three iterations before it becomes nearly the device it should be (iPhone 3GS anyone?), what the other tablet devices already will be.
And yet for all its disappointments, in its creation, Apple really didn’t try to do more because they just didn’t need to. The iPad is simply an expansion on the brilliance that is the Apple iPhone OS and the App Store. All they did was remove the limitation of the small form factor and now developers can do on the iPad stuff they could previously only get away with on laptops and desktops. Without doing anything more, Apple has virtually guaranteed that it will be successful.
First as Jobs himself pointed out, there are already millions of iPhone users who already know how to use the device. A lesson from Microsoft whose OS and Office productivity suite ubiquity mean that most people can use almost any computer anywhere.
Secondly, when an iPhone user lays hands on an iPad, there is almost guaranteed relief at seeing their apps writ large. The buttons will be easier to hit. The text will be easier to see. The videos clearer to view.
Thirdly, there are a lot of specialised professions that already have a natural use for this device’s form factor and user interface. The most obvious is education. I can see entire classrooms where the iPad is the textbook and the exercise books for the students who submit assignments to their iPad wielding lecturers via email or Bluetooth (of course the blackboard will be a Microsoft TouchWall, but I digress). On a broader level, consider every single situation a tablet has seemed to be the natural form factor and found failure or only limited success and it is pretty likely that the iPad’s UI will find success in those niches.
Lastly, it is a device that hides the computer science and engineering that goes into it from the end user and simply presents the functionality they really care about. While I am a techie and may not be the best example for this, the first time I picked up an iPod Touch, I knew almost exactly how to use it. Millions had the same experience with the Touch and the iPhone. Millions will have it with the iPad. This will make it universally attractive to so many who are still not comfortable with computers but need to use them.
The iPad’s success is almost guaranteed. Almost. The irritations I pointed out could result in a negative backlash against the thing. There are forces arrayed against it. There is the current version of the Windows PC OS, Windows 7, that can very easily duplicate all of the strengths and none of the irritations on a product such as the HP slate with very little modification. There’s the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Android and all sorts of other product ideas being brought to market. Who is to say that one of them will not capture the imagination of the world. Besides all that, Windows Phone Series 7 is lurking in the wings and I would seriously love to see it on a tablet.
Still time, as it always does, will tell whether Apple have a true success on their hands or product that fizzles like the way some of the most well thought out products sometimes do.
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