The iPad Part 2 – The Bad

Having given a quick summary of  what I like about the iPad, now it’s time to talk about what I’m not too thrilled about. And with such an over-hyped product, there’s no shortage of “faults” and weaknesses. But I will point out, that the vast majority of things I don’t like about the iPad are geeky, nerdy things. Things that won’t bother your everyday Joe Blow, and things that iFanboys will hate me for saying.

The first, of course is obvious: It’s Apple. I don’t say that to be a hater – I have a lot of respect for much of what Apple has done over the years. It’s innovative “dumb it down” approach has brought smartphones, laptops and mp3 players to the masses and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately though, only one Apple product really offers anything to geeks, and that’s Mac OSX. And even that’s because it’s based on a free, open-source operating system (linux) that Apple charges a shiteload for. You see, the problem with the iPod, iPhone and iPad is control: in using those devices you surrender all control over what you do on them to Apple. And as long as you’re doing basic, simple things, that’s great. But try using a different web browser on your iPhone. You can’t. Because any third-party web browser gets rejected from the Appstore because it “duplicates the functions of the iPhone itself”. And we all know what happens when you force people to use your web browser until it’s everywhere. So, can’t use a more powerful email client, can’t use a different SMS style, can’t use Google Voice or another voicemail system. You also can’t tether it to your computer (tethering is when you connect by bluetooth or usb to your phone and use it as a modem, for example if your home internet cuts out or you’re on the road). There is no sensible reason for this. Being able to use Opera Mobile on an iPhone wouldn’t worsen the iPhone’s sales, it’d boost them. Running Firefox on the iPad won’t make the iPad less secure, it’ll strengthen security. But Apple needs everything you do on your device to be approved by Steve Jobs, so bad luck.

A follow on from the control issues is a key feature of the web: flash. “A revolutionary device for browsing the web”, says the iPad press release. As the good folks at Adobe (who make Flash) have pointed out,not exactly. The vast majority of the internet uses flash – whether for streaming video, fancy menus, advertising or online games. But iPods, iPhones, iPads – none of them can run Flash. Not because of Adobe – Adobe WANT their product on all mobile devices, iPads included. Adobe have been trying to get Apple to include Flash support for years, but Apple refuses to. And they haven’t given an explanation either. Some say flash is unstable, buggy, crashes too often – well, I’ve never had a website crash, from Flash or anything else. Some say that mobile devices aren’t powerful enough for flash – which is bollocks. Flash works great on the Nexus One, as proven in this video, and the Nexus has the same processing power as the iPad. It’s true that a lot of Flash will, in many ways, be replaced by HTML5 – an open, standardised Rich Media format.
I will concede that this could also be a good thing – part of the reason HTML5 hasn’t been widely adopted (apart from the fact that it’s still being developed, but parts are in final beta) is because web developers haven’t known there’s a need for it. If you’re a web developer making games playable on the web, you don’t care that iPhone users can’t play them. If people want to play games on an iPhone, there’s thousands of downloadable apps for that, and if you want them to play your game you can write it for iPhone. But on a desktop, you can play fllash games. On a tablet, you’d want to be able to play them. So there’s now a NEED for web developers to factor that in, and move on to HTML5. Again, though, it’s Apple trying to control how the internet works, and how we surf the net – which is only a good thing until they do something bad.

It’s not a phone – so why can you only do one thing at a time! It’s got more speed and power an old laptop, but it can only run one program at a time. I can’t browse the net and have a twitter app open at the same time? I can’t write an email while running a chat client? It makes sense (I suppose) to limit multitasking on a tiny phone, but on the iPad it’s a glaring shortcoming. Multitasking is a natural way of doing things – we humans are always multitasking, we shouldn’t be restricted on a lifestyle device like the iPad.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could go on holiday for a few days, leave the laptop/netbook at home, and in the hotel room fire up Skype and see your brother and new baby niece in video chat? But the iPad has no camera, either front facing or on the back. Sure, it has a retarded port that you can plug accessories in (once they’ve been developed, of course), but that’s an extra thing to pack which defeats the purpose in the first place!

No USB port
As usual, Apple is trying to force us to use their proprietary connector for everything – instead of using an industry standard like micro-usb for example. This means that your existing webcam, USB speakers, external hard drive, printer, or keyboard won’t plug in. Oh sure, you can plug Apple’s adaptor in, and then plug things into that – MAYBE – but again that’s more crap to lug around with it, and it’s inconvenient and ugly.
Speaking of ugly…

It’s Ugly
Seriously, we’re used to stylish, glamorous products form Apple. This looks like an uglydigital photoframe. Look at the massive frame around the screen:

That massive frame around it looks horrid, in my opinion. The screen SHOULD go right up to a few millimeters of the edge of the device.

It’s not a lot of things – and nor should it be
It’s easy to compare the iPad to a desktop computer or a laptop and say “Well it sucks, because it hasn’t go this, that or the other thing”. Seriously, it’s damn easy – look I just did it up above. But that’s not what the iPad’s about. As I said in part 1, the iPad is an appliance. It’s not a laptop, it’s definitely not a desktop. It’s an appliance – a digital toaster, if I can invoke Battlestar slang. Journalists won’t be writing articles on this, authors won’t write books on it. You won’t make videos – apart from simple Youtube style vids – and you won’t use the iPad to do graphic design. This is not a replacement for any device you use now – except possibly a netbook, but even then probably not. This is for Mums and Dads, to leave on the coffee table. And for an hour or two on a weekend, Dad will read a book or Mum will flick through a magazine. Or while they’re watching TV, they’ll think of something to look at on the net, pick it up and while watching tv they’ll surf the net. And of course there’s Home Shopping at 3am when you see that  practical weight loss device you can just pick up your iPad, go to the website and order it. Order one for your wife, too, if you think she needs help. You’ll go interstate for a work function, and you won’t need to lug a huge laptop around. You’ll take your iPad to stay in touch with your office, your family. You’ll watch a few videos and catch up on the latest episode of Survivor 53: Adelaide.
And that’s also why I come back to my point about this being a stepping stone device. It’s the first model, first generation – the  initial iPod was unbelievably limited. Future versions WILL have multi-tasking (even if that’s just cos this is likely to be Steve Jobs’ swansong). They WILL have cameras, and standard ports, and they’ll get really cheap until they’re as ubiquitous as the iPhone. They will always be under Apple’s dictatorial thumb, because Apple is a conventional corporation, but other companies will step up on more open platforms.

More to come: in Part 3 I look at the competition for the iPad, and the future for tablet devices.

The iPad Part 1 – The Good

It’s hard to be a geek and not feel compelled to talk about the iPad. Steve Job’s latest creation Apple Computer’s latest creation, a very big iPod, was announced on Thursday after months of hype and media speculation. The build up to this was incredible – as much driven by fanatical Apple-lovers as by marketing. And the rumours about this device have been about  for nearly ten years.

There’s been plenty said about the iPad, but these are some of my favorites:

“Wouldn’t it be good if Apple could shrink this down in size to fit in your pocket?”

“Did you ever wish your iPhone was bigger and didn’t make phone calls? Then this is for you!”

“Yo mama so fat, she uses an iPad as an iPod.”(That one has a little sister: “Yo mama is so fat; she can fit an iPad in her pocket.”)

And of course, the  UnNews page is brilliant: “Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs put an end to weeks of speculation by unveiling Apple’s latest technological masterpiece – an extra-large iPhone designed specifically for giants, trolls and other large humanoid creatures.”

So, here’s my thoughts:

The Name.
iPad. Seriously. C’mon. That’s the BEST you could come up with? You didn’t have any women on the “Name deciding” team, did you, Steve? Surely the first thing you did, having decided on “iPad” was to Google Bing it? Didn’t you see that  MadTV sketch from 2007?

Within hours, Twitter was full of jokes poking fun at the name, with iTampon going straight to the  number 2 trending topic worldwide. Of course the  Uncyclopedia jumped in on the act, as did  just about  everyone  with a  copy of  Photoshop.

Am I the only one who thinks the “i” prefix is so 2003? iPod, iPhone, iBook, iMac, iTunes, iLife, iWork, iDVD, iPhoto, iMovie, iChat, iTheater, iStumbler, iCal, iSync, iArchiver, iCab, iWeb, iCan’tBelieveIt’sNotButter…. move on. Find a new theme. Stop tying yourself to one moment in October, 2001 when you started to make sales.

But despite all that criticism, I don’t actually have a better alternative.

The Good.

The really really really really awesome thing about what Apple’s done? They’ve gotten the ball rolling for other tablet manufacturers to lift their game. Futurists, sci-fi writers and geeks have  for long time envisioned a world where flat, paper-like devices are  as common as, well, paper. And the touch concepts that have been recently introduced to mobile phones and now the iPad are an early stepping-stone to that. While the iPad uses a conventional LCD display, new devices (like my Google Nexus One) use OLED screens which, as  this preview from Sony shows, are unbelievably thin and bendable.
So the technology is there, has been around for a while but nobody’s really come along and made it marketable. Nobody’s made it cool for non-geeks. And that’s what Apple does best – simplify, and dumb-down computers for the masses.

It will sell. It will sell LOTS. It will mainly sell to Apple’s core market – iFanboys. The people who buy iPhones because they’re made by Apple and so they have to have one (see MacBook Wheel). Popular gadget site already has three thousand users who have marked it “Want”.

But it will also sell reasonably well to everyday ordinary people, who want to read ebooks or watch Lost on train to work, or in bed. It will sell very well.

It’s cheap. Surprisingly cheap. Un-Applelike cheap. The basic version, without mobile internet (just your home/work wifi) starts at USD$499 – so about AUD$600. By comparison the Amazon Kindle (black and white, just a book reader with no apps) costs only AUD$300.

It won’t sell as much as the iPhone. You NEED a phone. You WANT an ebook reader. You NEED to be able to listen to music, you WANT to surf the net on the toilet. Because the iPad isn’t a tablet pc. It’s not a computer. It’s not must-have gadget: it’s a big iPod. It’s an appliance. It’s something
you buy as a handy way to do a few simple things. It does not replace any existing device you have now, except possibly a netbook.

At the moment.

In five years time, it will though. Because in five years time, it will be bigger, lighter, thinner and most importantly: do most of the major things it currently can’t do.

More to come later: in part 2 I take a look at what’s not so good about the iPad.