The inevitable thoughts on the iPad

January 28, 2010 at 7:50 pm
filed under Technology
Tagged , , ,

Hoo boy. The Internet has worked itself up into a fine frenzy now, on account of Apple’s latest device, the iPad. For my part, I’m already sick of hearing people pontificate about it. The extent to which people believed baseless Internet hype isn’t terribly surprising. What I did find surprising is that people’re pissed that Apple’s device didn’t live up to the mythical device people had built up in their heads.

Oh, sure, if we’re talking about the actual device, I’m intrigued.

I decided a little less than a year ago that I had no interest in a netbook. The small form factor and low price were attractive. The keyboards were cramped; I didn’t want Yet Another Windows XP machine; and ultimately, I saw the lackluster performance firsthand. I could’ve gone for Linux, I suppose. My girlfriend’s netbook, originally an XP machine, now has a bunch of Linux Problems.

By contrast, I could see myself buying an iPad, either this generation or next. I own an iPod Touch and a Nexus One (disclosure: I work for the big G, meaning I received the latter as a Christmas gift). I frequently make use of one of my miniature devices, and while I enjoy the browsing experience, it could easily be improved.

Beyond that, I have some other thoughts.

Remember the iPod?

A pet peeve of mine is pronouncing that the device is DOA. I have no idea how well it will do, but some amount of perspective is in order, here. Only a very small set of people have actually used the device, and the ones that aren’t under NDA only got to use it for a little while.

Remember, too, that the iPhone lacked a great many features that the 3GS has today. An iPhone without apps is nearly unthinkable, given how prominent the App Store is these days. But the iPhone launched without one. It didn’t have GPS. Or cut-and-paste. Or even 3G.

The real clincher for me? Well, does anyone remember the original iPod launch? It launched in October of 2001. It was roundly criticized. People hated it! It was too expensive ($400). It supported FireWire only. It didn’t support Windows! Now, of course, the iPod is widely praised. It’s ubiquitous.

So that’s why I shake my head when I hear people talking about how this thing doesn’t do enough of this or that.

Closed systems

My biggest concern about the iPad and its potential popularity lies in the software. If we’re to infer from the iPad Apple’s vision of the future, it’s quite different from the world today. Apps are heavily controlled, meaning that whatever Apple doesn’t like won’t make it on to the device. That’s a huge difference.

Now, I am sympathetic to the reasoning behind this. Isn’t users running all kinds of unauthorized or sketchy software one of the biggest problems we face in computer security? A single repository of curated apps is an effective way to mitigate this problem, as well as a bunch of others that modern operating systems face.

And all right, sure: you can use web apps. And I use a heck of a lot of webapps. I spend most of my time reading RSS feeds and e-mail, both of which happen in a browser.

But in terms of the device, the iPhone is surely among the most locked down computing devices in the industry. It works out that, in this space, DRM is the rule, not the exception. You do with your device what Apple says you can, and no more.

E-readers

I don’t really care for e-readers, but I suspect that Amazon’s got a bit of a dilemma right now. As I understand it, most people probably aren’t interested in e-readers. But they are interested in netbooks, if netbook sales over the last year or so are any indication. Furthermore, if the rumors of a high return rate are to be believed, the iPad is pretty well positioned, price-wise and functionality-wise, to become a new standard among satellite computing devices.

For these people, the fact that it’s an e-reader will be one bullet point among many. E-books will be a couple of taps away in iTunes, which by the way keeps your credit card on file. That makes it fiendishly easy to buy music, apps, and now, ebooks.

Another question, of course, is price. I don’t mean the Kindle vs. the iPad. I think the iPad has it beat, if nothing else, in terms of value. The sole difference is whether eInk is worth sacrificing a full-fledged Internet device. I think most people will opt for a netbook-like device that, incidentally, is an e-reader.

No, by price I mean: will people pay $13 or more for an e-book? Amazon sells new hardcovers for, what, $9.99? It’s a reasonable price, I’ll admit. But I’m not sold on e-books myself, and I suspect most other people aren’t, either. An unscientific survey of Amazon’s best sellers indicates that the majority of books that people buy are either free or cost less than a couple of dollars. Is the iTunes e-book store liable to suffer the same fate? I think it might.

Ubiquitous Internet

I’d say that the thing that excites me most about the iPad, if I can be said to be excited, is the notion of ubiquitous Internet computing. That’s really just a fancy term for Internet everywhere. I’ve only recently stepped into the world of smartphones, and it’s lovely. It’s just too bad it’s so damn expensive to get something like that on your laptop, right?

WiFi is nice, but at the rate that municipal WiFi is taking over the world (cough), it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to use a WiFi-only device on the bus or the train.

Consequently, what excites me is a device I can carry anywhere, confident that it has an Internet connection. It would have to be big enough to read stuff on, but not as big as a laptop. And that’s roughly what the iPad is aiming at. If that’s the proposition, I’m very nearly sold.

TTFN

Beth is telling me to wait for v2, and given that we’re gearing up for some Big Things nowadays, that seems like the best bet. It won’t be out until June anyway, and in the meantime, I’d like to get the heck off of Windows as my main machine. (Latest anger point? Lack of RDP in Home Premium. Why should I pay $80 more for a single feature that, by all rights, should be free?)

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