iPad FTW?

iPad Promo Images

Yesterday Apple introduced their massively anticipated iPad tablet device. For those who haven’t yet heard about it, it’s basically a hudge iPhone (that doesn’t make phone calls). The iPad is meant to unlock a “new” market segment for small computing devices that is somehow not already met by the iPhone and netbooks.

What does it do, anything new?

The iPad doesn’t bring new functionality to the computing world, but it does consolidate and simplify use particularly of eBooks. There have long since been many very cool eBook readers out there built around providing simple means for people to read electronic books.

Amazon's Kindle eBook reader

With the release of iPad, iTunes will expand to include support for buying eBooks and of course that functionality will be easily available for regular computers and perhaps for the iPhone as well, unless Apple decides allowing that would result in you buying less stuff.

Beyond books, the iPad does all the stuff you expect from an iPhone. It runs the exact same applications (with rare exceptions), it will play back music and movies. Of course one major distinction is screen size. The iPhone’s screen is made up of 480×320 pixels where as the iPad provides 1024×768. So in the case of browsing documents, this will make a major difference. The iPad’s resolution however is like that of a standard TV – so all our new HD/widescreen content won’t fill the screen (unless you like cropping out much of the scene).

Like some of the better eBook readers, the high end iPad offers 3G connectivity. This enables those users to be connected to the internet via the cell phone network (like our smart phones). The sad part here is the extra ~$130USD for 3G is well on it’s way to paying for an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes & Noble Nook (both $260USD) which are optimized strictly for reading eBooks but both include 3G as well.

So does the iPad rock?

For When You Wish you'd bought a Laptop
Jobs Demoing iPad

Meh. Maybe..

Ergonomics is the Achilles’ heel of the iPad. One has to manually hold the device in a position so that you can see the screen. If you’re sitting like Steve Jobs in a chair, you’ll be fine, but anyone with decent posture to maintain can’t stay like that for hours.

Apple says the iPad can run for 10 hours playing video, but I’d NEVER be interested in holding it at a good angle for nearly that long. I don’t like watching full movies on my iPhone and that thing weighs a great deal less, not mention the added leverage factors that come in to play in holding a large screen from one side. Devices like the Kindle and the Nook (which obviously won’t be playing videos and games) are much more streamlined, so holding them like a pad of paper is going to be less of a strain.

I think the iPad is likely to enable the masses (if only via excellent marketing) to access loads of eBooks and it may boost people’s casual drawing habbits. The starting price of $500USD seems reasonable, but for people with laptops and iPhones (or iPod Touches) the device only gives you a differently shaped platform to enjoy the same content through.


The Barnes & Noble Nook

If you’re mostly just interested in reading eBooks, then save some $ and get yourself a Kindle or a Nook. They cost half as much and for another $200 or so, you can get a cheap laptop or a decent netbook for the games/multimedia side of things.

The iPad doesn’t use epaper which is really low power and is much easier on the eyes. The iPad also packs a ton of guts beyond that of a typical eBook reader thus more parts to fail, it’s heavier, etc..

Defective By Design

Big Brother 1984

The Barnes & Noble Nook in particular uses the Open Sourced Google Android platform which therefore enables users demanding certain functionality. The Apple approach is very thoughtful, but there are occasions where Apple will squash a demanded innovation in favor of their own agenda. With devices running Google Android, it’s much easier for the innovative idea of an individual to make it’s way in to general use with the device.

For non-developers, you’d probably never realize or care about this aspect of things. For those interested in using their devices to their full abilities, Apple’s process of developing applications for the iPhone platform (which is used by the iPad) is quite exclusive and puts the interests of the users second to Apple’s.

For more information about DRM check out the Defective by Design website.

Punchline, should you buy one?

Star Trek PADDs

If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, then no.

The iPad is interesting and beautiful like anything else Apple does. The only particularly cool new ability one gains is finger painting. The eBook functionality will be available to any machine with iTunes unless Apple decides to explicitly block that functionality to “motivate” us to buy an iPad. Further, those interested in reading eBooks should really hold out for a device with epaper as it’s so nice on the eyes. Also epaper based readers are a competitive market that’s been through a few revisions by now. Also, in going after those devices the user gains the ability to chose an open system rather than being forced in to the Apple world of absolute control. Just keep in mind most devices are insanely locked down, so if you’re going for open, pay attention (Look at the Nook).

The iPad inherits a lot of value by being tightly integrated with the existing iTunes App Store and Apple’s valuable marketing engine. Apple is in a great position to bring content that the competitors lack and they’ve nailed down making things extremely easy to use. Yet still, the iPad lacks a Camera, USB hosting, SD card reader and a lot of other features that could have helped it play more on par with features found in typical reader tablets. Perhaps if the iPad ushered in multi-tasking or even ran what looks like a desktop version of OSX my opinion would be different. But for their first version, I give it a thumbs down.

As consumers we have a ton of options from the small device world, such as the ~$350 Acer Aspire One 751H-1709, which sports a high resolution screen, a beautiful keyboard and some other nice features. There are multiple multi-media tablets out there to choose from, they all have strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day, you need to ask yourself what ‘need’ are you wanting to satisfy.

If you were me, you’d make sure you have a laptop (a refurbished Apple is a good move), an iPhone and maybe a Nook. Apple will keep working on the iPad and perhaps before long it’ll become the Star Trek PADD that we all wish it to be.</Two_Cents>

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