Thursday, January 28, 2010

Launch Pad

March, 2015 update:  I noticed this entry on the old blog and decided to bring it over. While the piece is completely out of date, I thought it was fun to keep it around, seeing how well the iPad has fared. Some of what I wrote was off the mark (i.e.. Flash support), a few points I made make sense today. 

OK, now it's time for another techno-blather post.

Since everyone else is talking about the recently-announced iPad, I thought I'd weigh in.

Like nearly everyone else, I have not seen the iPad in person so I can only evaluate it from what I've read so far.  My initial impression is that the hardware side of this device is very nice and the software seems good, but could use some improvement.  A few technology writers have already written some first impressions:

Farhad Manjoo in Slate wrote a piece called, "I Love the iPad".  'Nuff said.

The collective editors of Engadget, a site I read pretty regularly, posted their thoughts on the device.  They're not exactly thrilled about the thing and if you want some real Apple/iPad hate, read the comments.

Slate's sister site, The Big Money, had a good piece on the potential effect the iPad could have on other businesses here.

And of course David Pogue of the New York Times had his say (positive on the whole).

Right off the bat, I have a few pros and cons:

The good:

1.  The Apple-built processor, the product of a recent chip maker buyout, looks fast and energy efficient.  Battery life is good, with a claimed 10 hours.  Very nice.

2.  The size of the device seems good for many uses.  The mobile Safari browser should be quite usable.  I don't always find the screen on the iPhone/iPod large enough for some extended web browsing.

3.  Apple is offering this thing with 3G (cell carrier data) optional.  You can buy this thing with wi-fi only and if you still want 3G, the pricing is quite reasonable without contracts.

4.  The price seems right to me, considering what the iPod Touch goes for.  Comparing its price to the Kindle is completely bogus.  The hardware and capabilities don't come close to matching.

5.  The iPhone apps will work on this thing.  This opens up a lot of possibilities for developers to make some great stuff for this device.

6.  Apple is using ePub for its electronic books.  Thank you Apple for not introducing yet another proprietary book format.

The not so good:

1.  The iPad, as of now can't run more than one application at once (save perhaps for Apple's own stuff like playing iTunes while checking mail).  This can't be due to the hardware.  I can only hope this will be addressed when the next iPhone OS is released.

2.  No Adobe Flash.  The iPhone doesn't run it either.  This is a long-standing complaint against Apple and one that I agree with.  Make Flash work with the iPhone OS, preferably with some kind of disable mode.

3.  The iPad has no camera.  Neither does the iPod Touch.  It'd be great for this thing to have a built-in camera so one could do video chat on it.  Let's hope both devices get it soon.

4.  The screen, a back-lit LCD, won't be as easy on the eyes for reading books as e-readers that use e-Ink screens.  This issue is a tough one because e Ink screens are pretty much only good at one thing:  reading monochrome text.  The iPad has many more uses.  Will this thing be a good e reader?

My opinion right now, again not having used the thing, is that I will wait and see how it does and what software developers do with the platform.  I believe there could be a lot of potential in this device.  Right now, I think it'd be cool to have one of these to use at home for basic use like surfing, email, and social networking.  As many have pointed out, the screen isn't really movie-friendly (it isn't widescreen) but that doesn't bother me since I don't find watching video on portables all that attractive, save for the occasional Youtube clip.  I have a real video system in my home for real movie/TV watching.  Many people have slammed the iPad for its inability to access Hulu.  This is of course part of the Flash problem.  While I want Apple to make Flash work on these devices, I don't think Hulu is going to be the downfall of the iPad.  I've never found Hulu to be that great and Comcast might kill it off anyway.  Of course I think it's fair to slam Apple for limiting its products to protect its content sales.  Apple sells a lot of video content and they probably aren't in a rush to help their competitors.  This is a real downside of being in the Apple ecosystem.

I've read a lot of bile-filled comments about the iPad, often referred to as the "MaxiPad" by those commenters who like to talk like 12 year olds, and they are so very certain of its impending failure.  To them I would say the following:

Get a life.  Screaming about the evils of Jobs/Apple is incredibly lame, especially when your favorite company Microsoft still owns the PC OS market.  I think some people would only be happy if this thing ran Windows and cost $99.  Go buy a Zune and shut up already.

Bet against Apple in the portable device realm at your own peril.  These same people were certain that the iPod/iPhone were going to be a colossal flops.  There is a chance that this product will flop, but it seems foolish to predict it at this point.

This product is not aimed at the tech press or people that comment on Engadget.  Yes, I realize that includes myself.  As much as I like having control and flexibility on my home desktop PC, I also find myself wanting a more appliance-like computing device at times.  The iPad and its siblings are locked down and controlled:  this is one reason why they work well and have a consistent experience for the user.  Sometimes I just don't want to screw around with the same ongoing maintenance that is required on pretty much all laptops or netbooks.  I just want the thing to work and I believe this device is a step in that direction.  It won't replace my main computer, but it will find a use.  We'll see if Apple and the other developers really make use of this thing beyond what they have now.  I might be wrong and the techno-weenies might be right; the iPad could be the next Apple Cube.  Stay tuned.

And one more link:  Stephen Fry went to the iPad launch and wrote up a compelling, IMO case for it.  He's always an entertaining writer and his comments can be found here.

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