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.