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Jan 10

iPad impressions

At the risk of adding to what’s already been said on the net all day today, I join the crowd which is thinking, “Is that it?”

To be sure, the iPad is a very nice product. But, for all the incredible publicity the device received over the last several months, the expectation was set that the device wouldn’t just be “very nice” – that was a given – but it would be “magical and revolutionary”, as Apple’s own advertising copy trumpets. That it would be a game changer. It’s not a game changer. Therein lies the disappointment.

The iPad is a luxury device. It’s the middle-class family’s replacement for the Sunday morning paper at the dining table; the magazine on the coffee table next to your soy latté; the paperback novel next to the toilet; the remote control for the 60″ LCD TV; the photo album you hand over to friends when they come over after you get back from your trip to the Caymans; and the laptop you sit up in bed with, browsing through Facebook. It’s something you can chill out with on the couch, in front of the fireplace, by the poolside, standing in a queue, or sitting on a plane. Or of course in a big comfy armchair like the one Steve Jobs plonked himself in today.

"My precious!"

But it’s not a killer app. It’s not a must-have, in the same way that a computer, or a mobile phone is a must-have. It’s kind of like the Macbook Air. Neat in theory and if you have some spare cash, but ultimately a luxury.

The iPad is essentially an iPhone with a 10″ screen.  Without a camera, it doesn’t even have all the features an iPhone has (and you obviously can’t use it like a phone by holding it up to your ear).

A market killer?
Despite a claimed 10 hour movie-playing and 1 month standby battery life, this device was never truly going to compete with the Kindles and the Nooks. The color screen will be difficult to read outdoors, and be harsher on the eyes than e-ink is over long periods. I haven’t read this anywhere, but as is usual for Apple, I doubt the battery is replaceable. Over time, the battery life will degrade, and that will hamper the utility of the iPad for battery-intensive applications (my 18-month old Macbook Pro now barely gets 75 minutes on a full charge, down from 4 hours when new, and my 18-month old iPhone 3G needs to be charged daily if it’s used even a little bit during the day).

I doubt it will destroy the netbook market either. The iPad can’t at the moment handle Microsoft documents, which is what most of the working world uses. So it’s not so good for professionals who need mobility, but also something which runs a normal O/S. And as good as the on-screen keyboard may be, nothing beats the tactile feel of a real keyboard, even if it’s not full-sized. (What happened to those rumors of haptic feedback?) However, it might be good for a backpacker, or a transcontinental bicyclist, who wants something slim and light, with near-universal net connectivity.

Apple’s stock trended down during the iPad announcement, until the price was announced. The stock shot up, mainly because – as I’ve written before – the market expected a price range of $600-1000, and the price beat market expectations. Stock price is all about expectations. However, $500 is for the entry model, and $500 is still expensive when I can get a decent netbook for half that price. Add 3G and a bit of flash memory and you’re looking at something within sniffing distance of a Macbook.

People have been disappointed at the lack of features: no multitasking, no built-in SD card slot (you’ll need to buy Apple’s overpriced proprietary adapters for that), no camera, no Flash support (although Adobe says it will happen) and so on. Also, the relationship between Apple and AT&T appears to have solidified, rather than to have dissolved as was widely rumored. A $30 unlimited data plan is quite good though, given it provides universal net access. (If it permitted internet tethering, that would be a big drawcard for it, but as we know, AT&T outrageously doesn’t support tethering.) On the other hand, the iPhone SDK now allows apps to make voice calls over 3G, and not just WiFi, so we’re seeing a change now. Should at least take some of the heat off them as far as the FTC is concerned.

What about the name?
It’s pretty blah, and very similar to iPod. But we’ll get used to it. More interestingly (for lawyers at least), is the IP strategy that Apple used in connection with the iPad. It appears to own no iPad domain names – which implies to me that Apple regarded name secrecy was more important to it than IP protection. They don’t yet have a registered trademark for iPad, but they’re probably in the process of obtaining one. A search on the PTO’s website shows that the IPAD word mark has been registered in a variety of other classes, including class 25 (clothing) under a US subcategory including “Bras, Lingerie, Panties, Pads for Use in Bras”. So I guess the joke about MaxiPads isn’t that far off.

Speaking of MaxiPads, the iPad’s looks are questionable as well – the bezel is too big, and the 4:3 non-widescreen ratio makes it look squat. That said, I still think the iPad will be extremely fun to use and the UI is more than just simply pleasant.

Not that it won’t do well…
Let me get this clear: I will be surprised if the iPad flops. The device is sure to sell very well, and add another healthy channel of revenue for Apple. It just won’t be as important as the iPhone. However, I do have the feeling that we will see some very creative apps developed for the iPad that will make it a much more useful, cool, and valuable tool than a lot of people give it credit for today.

Paired with iTunes, iBooks, and other applications that content providers will eventually create, it will also be a great media library device (although there’s no video output jack).

Ok, so my overall verdict? If someone bought me one as a gift, I’d be over the moon. But I’d find it difficult to swallow the price and fork out $850+ (with 3G data) of my own to buy the top of the line model, whereas I didn’t hesitate to shell out for the iPhone, or even the high-end Macbook Pro.  (I wonder if this means that Macbooks will start to get equipped with A-GPS or 3G capabilities? My guess is that although Apple could go this way, it won’t because it might cannibalize its iPad market.)

  9:58pm  •  Consumer Electronics  •   •  Tweet This  •  Add a comment