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What the iPad Is and Is Not

This article was written by in Consumer. 42 comments.

I’m an Apple fan, which I define as being anybody who takes time out from the workday two or three times a year to watch their media events and keynote speeches. I’m happily using a Mac Mini as our entertainment hub at home (Boxee, Front Row and Hulu Desktop? Yes, thanks), I use a MacBook Pro for work, and both my wife and I have an iPhone.

Earlier this week Apple showed off their forthcoming device called the iPad, which they explained is something in between a laptop and an iPhone (or iPod Touch). They pointedly contrasted it with Netbooks, as well they should, since tablets and netbooks serve different purposes. If you sold hardware, and you had to decide which aisle to put the iPad in, you’d put it in the “tablet” aisle.

The rumors and speculation leading up to the reveal were rabid and annoying, as is the resulting disappointment and backlash. I admit I was initially disappointed, too, but I gave myself some time for the information to percolate, and here’s what I’ve concluded.

It’s the User Interface, Stupid

There will always be a kind of person who can’t understand Apple’s appeal. All they see is another computer, but more expensive. My main problem with Apple used to be that you couldn’t buy software for it in the mall, you had to use a catalog, but the Internet fixed all that. I spent more than ten years suffering through Windows before I finally had the resources to switch. And I’m happier for it, since I’ve found that Apple developers think through many more user scenarios than their Windows counterparts do. The interface just makes more sense to me, but it’s clearly not for everyone. You have to unlearn a lot of Windows before you can learn OS X.

“It’s just a huge iPod Touch.”

There’s only one positive hardware difference between the iPad and the iPod Touch: it’s much bigger. But I’ve never had trouble reading anything on my iPhone. When something is too small, I just zoom in. So at first, the iPad was looking nearly useless.

At the Apple event, they made one huge mistake, which was that they didn’t show off any third-party apps which took advantage of the bigger screen. (Gaming might be enough for some audiences, but not yours truly.) They showed off some existing apps, but zoomed them in. Whoops. It wasn’t until the next day that I started imagining special iPad-sized apps for, say, Nurses, or engineers on oil drilling platforms, or cruise directors, or stage managers at fashion shows, maybe. You know, people that you often imagine holding a clipboard. People that need to see a lot of information at a glance.

Is It an E-reader?

Apple talked about the iPad being great for books, newspapers and magazines. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried reading an entire book off of a normal computer screen, versus something that uses electronic ink like Amazon’s Kindle. I have, and I failed each time. It simply hurts the eyes. I tried the Kindle app on my iPhone, and had the same problem. I will reserve official judgment until after it starts shipping and I get some reviews from normal folks, but my suspicion is that it’s not good for reading books.

Is It an iPhone Replacement?

I would say that if you already have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you won’t be replacing that with an iPad, if only for this reason: it doesn’t fit in your pocket. That means you can’t plug in some headphones and take it outside to go rake the leaves.

“That keyboard looks weird to type on.”

I agree. Especially in the preview video, when typing with both hands, it looks awkward. But then I remember that I had the same doubts when the iPhone was new. In fact, the software keyboard was, in my opinion, going to make or break the iPhone’s success. Then I taught myself to type on it, and it’s fine. I’m hoping that with the iPad, you’ll still be able to reach around with your thumbs and type that way. I’ve gotten pretty fast.

“What’s this about no multi-tasking?”

While I haven’t personally found much need to run simultaneous apps on my iPhone, I can understand the usefulness. Contrary to some reports you may have heard, you can listen to music while using other apps. That is unless Apple has grown more stupid since the success of the iPhone, because I can do that on my iPhone.

What It Does Well

To summarize, I think the iPad will be good for:

  • People who often carry clipboards
  • People who spend too much time on airplanes (because of the battery life)
  • People who sell books, magazines and newspapers. If you’re in this group, please consider choosing just one business model instead of insulting your subscribers with advertising.
  • People in the entertainment industry. It’s likely more effective to show off your demo reel on a tablet screen as opposed to a mobile phone screen.
  • Helpless early-adopters and interminable show-offs. (Not judging, I swear. I love you guys. You let me play with the shiny toys before I decide if I want to buy one.)

Updated August 1, 2010 and originally published January 29, 2010.

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About the author

Smithee formerly lived primarily on credit cards and the good will of his friends. He is a newbie to personal finance but quickly learning from his past mistakes. You can follow him on Twitter, where his user name is @SmitheeConsumer. View all articles by .

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

“I’m happily using a Mac Mini as our entertainment hub at home (Boxee, Front Row and Hulu Desktop? Yes, thanks), I use a MacBook Pro for work, and both my wife and I have an iPhone.”

And you wonder why you have massive debt issues.

Also, many people at Apple make over $150,000/year. Since you’ve said previously that no one should make over $150,000/year, shouldn’t you be boycotting them?


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avatar 2 Smithee

The Mac Mini will have paid for itself in about a year, since it’s allowed us to cancel the cable subscription.

I didn’t say that nobody should make over $150,000 a year. I said that there were very few jobs that actually earn or deserve that high of a salary.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

As a developer, I hate developing for OSX. Microsoft makes things so much easier with .NET. I would use Java, but Apple has intentionally crippled the Mac version of the JVM. I find their tight controls very annoying and draconian.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Quote: “I started imagining special iPad-sized apps for, say, Nurses, or engineers on oil drilling platforms, or cruise directors, or stage managers at fashion shows”

Yes, if Apple gives these apps the stamp of their approval to be made available in the iPad store. That’s a huge downside of the iPad. Imagine your cruise company wants to use the iPad for their customer verification boarding check. The existing iPad apps aren’t tailored to your needs. Your company then develops their own application or works with a software consultant to create one. Do you need to submit your app for approval to be sold on the iPad store? With traditional laptops (running Mac or Windows), you could just load up your app on all your laptops/desktops.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

It looks neat. But it did strike me as just giant iPod touch. Bottom line the iPad is 40% more than a netbook and I don’t see anything the iPad can do that a netbook can’t.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

The touch interaction and the fact that it is potentially an always on and always connected internet and media portal is still pretty cool for me. I agree with some of your drawbacks but I think this is a decent step towards significant information accessibility.

I posted some fun calculations and found that the price is easily 5x what is advertised if you count in the wireless subscription and all the extra stuff you are likely to buy over its lifetime. It’s just my way of trying to justify not buying it. : )

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avatar 7 Anonymous

There seems to be so much hate whenever Apple announces a new product, but the reality is that Steve Jobs has made very few missteps since he returned to Apple in 1997 (G4 Cube, Apple TV, namely). More often than not, Apple’s product launches, particularly in new categories, redefine the categories themselves. By the time iPad 2.0 rolls out next January, it will be on its way to being Apple’s next big hit. People are going to want one on their coffee table, end of story!

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avatar 8 Anonymous

There’s so much hype about the iPad! I think that they could have chosen a better name. :)

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avatar 9 Anonymous

You are killing me. I don’t even know where to begin, instead, I will just say that I am done reading your drivel. Out.

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avatar 10 Anonymous
avatar 11 Anonymous

I see the IPAD for Mom and others who don’t spend x hours a day on a computer and want a simple ecosystem that gets them connected to the interweb and enjoy media. This does that in a nutshell. I bought my mom a macbook after her PC took a dive. I wanted something simple and knew that the macbook would be overkill but it was the only option (I was not going to offer her up to the Vista gremlins (this was 1.5 years ago). Now I am going to buy her the IPAD and call it a day… and get the macbook back…

I also the this as IPAD 1.0 – clearly there will be a demand for a more robust IPAD with other features for a more discerning demographic.


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avatar 12 Anonymous

the problem I have with it is the price range of the “higher end” models (read more storage space), bump into the cost of the lower end tablet pc’s. And for my money, I’d rather have the tablet pc.

Though, having to go through the app store for things is what’s really killing it for me. Well, I guess I’ll just have to wait for someone to hack it and figure out how to drop linux on the thing.

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avatar 13 Anonymous

Nothing is ever as it seems. The “tablet” aspect of the iPad isn’t going to be as important as the “App Store” aspect – the app store allows millions of people who don’t really “get” software installation to participate in purchasing and installing software.

The fact it’s a tablet is still important – it’s a differentiator. That buys Apple some time to convince people that the iPad is different from and thus better than other computers, even though it’s main difference is that it’s less feature-full, less expandable, and will have a more limited software market.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

As far as the limited software market is concerned, most people won’t have a problem with there “only being” 140,000 apps available for the iPad.

What Apple’s successes seem to have in common is they concentrate on trying to do a few things very well, as opposed to trying to be everything for everybody. If you’re upset that you won’t be able to do intensive video editing or run professional accounting software on the iPad, you’re missing the point.

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avatar 15 Anonymous

I think it looks pretty neat. If not this generation then one or two down the line and I’ll probably be trying to get one. I recently bought a Kindle and then this came out and I wondered if I’d jumped too soon. I read on my iPhone with the ereader app and, size of the screen notwithstanding, have no trouble with it. I wish the Kindle had a backlit display. I see lots of potential for the iPad and I’m pretty excited about it!

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avatar 16 Anonymous

It has a lot of great qualities, e.g., pretty, responsive, tons of apps, great display, excellent battery life.
But it is expensive.

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