By January 27, 2010

Initial thoughts on Apple’s iPad

Well, the wait is over. A long, long seventeen year wait if you had (or lusted after) an Apple Newton: Apple’s return to a hand-held, touch-sensitive computing device. The iPad was unveiled today and attempts to fill the niche between full-fledged laptop computer and a smartphone. Yes, you could say the iPod Touch or iPhone are hand-held, touch-sensitive computing devices, but the iPad is designed to be a portable Internet appliance first and a communications device second. And even defining the iPad as a “communications device” is a bit sketchy, as I will get into in a bit.

For those of you not playing along at home, what is the iPad? It’s a small computer that is about 0.5″ thin and appears to be roughly the size of a sheet of paper. It has nearly a 10″ touch-sensitive screen and runs the same operating system as the iPod Touch and iPhone. It does not have a hardware keyboard, so is technically classified as a “slate” or “pure tablet” computer.

I was pretty excited about the prospect of an Apple tablet. I knew they would get the form factor right, and I was in the market for a secondary, light-weight computer. I have a pretty sweet workstation up here in the office, but I would like to be able to surf the Internet or make posts to Gibberish from anywhere in the house. I also do a fair amount of work on my motorcycle and firearms wherein I could stand to look at a how-to or technical manual. As-is, I walk inside or back upstairs a few times during each project.

The other thing I was anticipating was a better, more cost-attractive storefront for eBooks. I like Amazon’s Kindle, but I can’t bring myself to spend so much money on a dedicated device that still charges you as much or nearly as much for a digital book as a paper version. Sure enough, when the iPad was announced today Apple said they had agreements with several publishers to offer their wares iTunes-store style. This even means giving them up to 70% of the revenue generated through the Apple Store, trumping Amazon’s recent announcement of 60% profit sharing with publishers. Better still, Apple’s iPad is supposed to support ePUB, the growing and most popular electronic book format.

I did some initial comparisons of the projected Apple Store ebook prices vs Amazon’s Kindle prices. One book (“Lovely Bones”) is $4.99 via the Apple Store, while it’s $7.99 on Amazon. However, other books are cheaper on Amazon. “True Compass” is $5 less via the Kindle. Looks like users will be thrust head-first into an eBook content provider war, with no clear price point advantage.

The iPad has some other sweet features that I really liked, such as an optional built-in 3G wireless network access, and built-in WiFi. Even more interesting is a partnership with AT&T, which allows users to connect via AT&Ts data network and WiFi spots for as little as $15 a month with no contract. No contract from AT&T? Holy shit that’s something worth blogging about in and of itself.

The last thing I really liked about the iPad was the price. I was thinking it would sell very well at $500 – $600. This would allow it to compete on-price with Windows- and Linux-based netbook computers, which start at about $300 and can run close to $600. Given the usual Apple fanaticism “price adjustment,” I figured Apple would tack on an extra $100 – 200 just for the brand name and industrial design. Industry pundits thought the iPad would sell for about $800 with a data subscription from AT&T or $1000 without.

Luckily they were kind of wrong, and the iPad base model sells for $499. Sure, you get very little onboard storage (16GB) and no 3G, but that’s not terribly expensive given the touch technology and Apple up-charge. 3G is a $130 option to any of the iPads, which are otherwise priced based on storage capacity. By the time you outfit a 64GB model with 3G you’re looking at $830. That’s a lot of scratch, but still the “bottom end” of the industry prediction.

The $499 price point makes it plausible for me, and the 3G upgrade for an extra $130 doesn’t take it out of my price range. So far so good. I asked to be notified when the 3G iPad starts selling in 90 days.

Then I started thinking. There were a few notable omissions or weak points on the iPad that hurt its mission to be a personal Internet device. It made me wonder how much use I’d actually get out of the device, and if I would be better off spending my money on a similarly-priced but much more robustly-equipped laptop.

  • No integrated Web cam. This is absolutely retarded and I can’t believe Apple didn’t integrate at least one Web camera into the iPad. It needs two, since you can hold the tablet in landscape or portrait, but if it did have a camera it would be a fantastic Internet video telephony device.
  • No Flash support. Another ridiculously stupid omission. Devices made to live on the Internet need Flash. End of story. From video to Web UIs to games, Flash is everywhere and isn’t going away any time soon. I know that Apple loves QuickTime, but it’s a delivery system only a mother could love.
  • No multitasking? This still seems like a rumor until someone outside of Apple gets a unit, but it doesn’t appear that the iPad will allow you to run multiple applications at once. It will work like the iPhone, wherein it could “pause” an active application while it switches to another. This might be okay (maybe, not really) for a phone, but for a personal computer? Meh.
  • iPhone OS. The Mac OSX is marginalized as far as home computer operating systems go — and the iPhone OS is even further in the corner of the room. Although the iPad isn’t a gaming machine, it was shown playing games and it would be fun to play some five or six year old PC games or Mac equivalents from the couch. I also really like Google Chrome, and while it just came out for the Mac I don’t imagine it coming out for the iPad any time soon. Major drag.
  • No USB ports or memory card slots. I know you are butt hurt that the majority of the computing world doesn’t give a shit about Firewire, but why did you ditch USB, Apple? This device should have at least three USB ports and an SDHC or MicroSD memory slot.

So all of a sudden, the $500 – $830 price point doesn’t look so good. Maybe the “jumbo iPhone” should be priced closer to $300 – $500. For $400 I would be inclined to get the 16GB version with 3G on a one year contract from AT&T. I’d be willing to do a single year lock-in to get a subsidy. But the more I think about it, the things the iPad lacks keep it being from the ubiquitous Internet computing machine Apple designed it to be.

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1 Comment on "Initial thoughts on Apple’s iPad"

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  1. David in MS says:

    Also, the screen aspect ratio is 4:3, not 16:9. Widescreen movies will look lousy on it. Reminds me of the Mad TV skit on the IRack. This device should go the way of the Newton, except the rabid Apple fans will probably gobble it up.