Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPad Second Impressions

The iPad got a surprising amount of bad press. This was quickly followed by hard-core Apple defenders rebutting the complaints. Wired lists 10 Things Missing From the iPad then dismisses them as nothing anyone would want, anyway. I'm going to take a closer look at Wired's list. I reordered the list and combined four items into one.
  • Flash
  • Verizon
  • OLED
  • Multitasking
  • 16:9
  • USB, HDMI, Keyboard, Camera
  • GPS
Wired's take on some of these is interesting. For Flash and Verizon, the answer seems to be that it is their fault that Apple doesn't support them. Wired even predicts that the iPad will kill Flash. I'm not sure why. There are tens of thousands of iPhones out there and Flash still survives. Even if the iPad is a success, it will take it years to equal the impact that the iPhone has.

Wired has a point about OLED. It would have pushed the price point up too high. More on that later.

People don't really expect to do multiple things on their phone so multitasking wasn't a big deal. Even so, the ability to multitask is a selling point for Droid and Palm. The iPad is supposed to be more than a simple phone so why does it have this restriction? Wired assumes that anyone buying an iPad will be too busy watching movies to want email going in the background (which ties into the next point). Ok, if the iPad is going to be a personal movie device then you might not want email interrupting the movie but what about people who are using it to browse the web. I thought that most people multi-tasked these days.

The lack of a 16:9 proportion argues that the iPad is not primarily meant as a way of watching movies and TV. Wired points out that the logo and the home button are positioned for portrait, not landscape, which also indicates that video is more an afterthought than a goal. The lack of built-in HDMI says the same thing. It is possible that they positioned things the way they did so that the iPad would look like a big iPhone. Microsoft used 16:9 in the Zune HD and it looks fine in portrait and landscape. That makes the proportions really puzzling. It's even more puzzling if you assume that the iPad will mainly be used for web browsing. Most web pages look best in landscape. Did they design it around books? Or was my big iPhone theory correct?

This brings me to the real design factor in the iPad - cost. They wanted it to be cheap so they left a lot out. You can add USB, a keyboard, a camera, and possibly HDMI but you have to pay extra. These extra will add up quickly, too. A USB port and a docking station adds 20% to the base price. I'm betting that Jobs came up with a list of features that the iPad has to have to be considered functional and cut everything else out if it to save money. Some things are available as ad-ins. GPS was eliminated except on the higher-end version that can use cell-phone technology to approximate it. That may explain the 4:3 screen, also. It is probably cheaper than a 16:9. It certainly explains why the iPad is so light on memory. $500 only gets you 16 gig and the most you can get is 64 gig. That's not much for a device that is supposed to become your entertainment hub.

Sacrificing features for price is probably a good idea. A recent survey found that most people would not buy an $800 iPad. A $500 is much more attractive. Still, you really have to wonder how successful it will be as a media device? It's too big to be a dedicated MP3 player and it is pretty expensive as a single-person video player. The ability to download movies and TV shows and play them on your wide-screen TV without having to resort to a second computer or an expensive adapter seems like a missed selling point.

I haven't talked about games yet. The assumption is that this will be a great gaming platform and possibly that is its real intended use. I'm still a little skeptical about that, too. I know that the iPhone has been embraced as a gaming platform but I wonder just how much fun it will be using a 1 1/2 pound game controller. I predict a lot of repetitive stress injuries.

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