Just in case you have been frozen solid and living under a rock- yesterday the eagerly awaited Apple branded tablet device, the iPad, finally was unveiled… to a lot of fanfare and a fair share of catcalls. It has been anticipated as a bold new step for the way people use technology in their daily lives.
Will it live up to the hype?
I think it has a chance to, but right now there is just not enough software written to take advantage of the hardware. Personally I think once there is a wide selection of software out there that is native to the iPad (right now it only has a handful of apps that are designed to work with it’s larger screen… it will run iPhone apps they look tiny at native size and clunky at increased size) the device will start realizing its potential. Right now it’s little more than a better portable way to surf the internet, watch movies or read books than the iPhone or other smartphones. That’s not to say it won’t eventually be the revolution it was anticipated as being, but it’s in its infancy right now.
I’ve read a lot of angry reactions from people who seem disappointed that this gizmo won’t do everything but tie their shoes for them. I think they are missing the point. It’s not supposed to be able to do anything radically more than what your laptop or iPhone already does… what it’s meant to do is those same things but in a way that addresses the limitations of the laptop and the smartphone, and do them better. It’s the form factor that is the selling point. I don’t think people really understand how much this “giant iPod touch” is going to make the Touch and the iPhone look like toys in comparison. The potential that programmers have in this large of a multitouch surface is huge… Apple’s handful of native apps only scratch that surface and yet they look fantastic. By the time Apple releases an updated iPad in a year or so, it will be a completely different animal thanks to the software that developers are no doubt slobbering to start creating and marketing.
The multitouch technology is one of the most intriguing parts of the iPad. In the iPhone and iPod Touch, the tiny bit of real estate makes the technology little more than a novelty by comparison, yet it was hailed as groundbreaking. Imagine being able to drag things around a real screen, access pop up menus, use fingers from both hands to combine and shift objects and make choices. It’ll be like the computer interface from Minority Report. People have been using computer mice for so long they’ve forgotten what it is like to use their hands and fingers for tasks in front of their eyes, instead of separated from them. When some of the native programs start popping up there will be a few eyes opened. Apple’s next step will be an iMac without a mouse using a multitouch monitor.
Regarding the functionality, I think there is a market for something in between a laptop and a smartphone. Let’s face it, using an iPhone or Blackberry to surf the web is an exercise in exasperation… the screen is just too small for it to be easy or enjoyable. Can it be done? Sure, but it’s a major hassle. I’ve been frustrated many times attempting to use my iPhone to order some supplies or such on a website for one of my caricature concessions, trying to switch back and forth from the text field entry boxes back to the entry page. Almost impossible. I’ve had order pages time out on me before I can get to the end of the process. Likewise forget about reading books on the iPhone. Too small a screen. Laptops are plenty big… in fact too big. A laptop is great if you have the room to open it up and use it, full sized keyboard and all. That’s hard to do on a bus or train, at the lunch counter, while you are on a coffee break- even with a “netbook”. Laptops are heavy, clunky in their clamshell design and just not that easy to whip out anytime. Few have built in cellular connectivity, either. They are built to be transportable computers, not instantly accessible anywhere machines. Battery life is only a few hours. They are not truly portable in the way a smartphone is.
The form factor on the iPad is the major appeal, rather than the clamshell/keyboard design of a laptop. Here is a device with a screen big enough to be able to comfortably read a real web page, use a web 2.0 site, read an eBook (and the iBook app looks truly awesome… it’s my favorite thing I’ve seen from the iPad so far), read and respond to an e-mail with a decent sized keyboard, watch a movie that won’t give you a headache from squinting, allow you to really view and edit photos while you are on your vacation, store, read and edit documents from work… all while you are sitting on the bench at the park or on an airplane (even if the jackass in front of you reclines all the way back from takeoff to touchdown). The iPad is lighter than a typical hardcover book, and about the size of a magazine. Not pocket sized, but a far cry from a laptop that needs a shoulder bag to lug about. It’s got (supposedly) 10 hours of battery life, so a day’s worth of use is not a problem.
If you are expecting it to be a portable replacement for your desktop, you are going to be disappointed. If you want it to fit into your front pocket, you will also be disappointed. That’s not the point and never was. This device and it’s eventual decedents will someday be what we get our news, magazines, entertainment and productivity from. Someday everyone will have some form of this kind of portable multitouch device, and we’ll have subscriptions to all the content we want delivered to us invisibly, ready for our consumption when we are. Eventually they will be powerful enough to replace our desktops, but that is years away.
So, do I want the iPad? Yep, absolutley. I will likely get one at some point. I was considering getting a Kindle for eBooks and for just a bit more I can get the iPad which does books even better and so much more besides. This device will let me bring all the videos, books, music, documents, photos, access to current news, communication and information I could possibly ever want or need with me in a 7.5″ x 9.5″ 1.5 lb package. That is pretty handy.
Is it perfect? Hardly. No camera? Only 64 GB max? No flash capability with the browser? Only Apple sanctioned software? No pressure sensitive/stylus drawing (that’s just for us artists)? It has some growing to do, but as software for it matures and expands, and as future hardware improvements are realized, this kind of device really is the future.
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