The bomb dropped this morning while I was out shopping for groceries. It’s not that I didn’t know apple was hosting an event today, I just didn’t care. With Robert Scoble on the scene to do what he does best and aggregate/contextualize and curate, nothing said of the countless blogs and other media outlets covering it as if it were, in Mitch Joel’s words, the MosesTablet, successor to the JesusPhone.
I’m not really down on the iPad, despite its stupid name, but I had better things to do today than play sheepdog with the rest of the blogging world. Instead, I’m going to tell you what I think of the iPad with only the input of my own gadget sense (Why, Read The Manual! style, that is) and armed only by the information available at Apple’s official page on its site for the iPad.
This is not a preview. This is what I’d tell you if you came to buy this from me when it launched, 60 days from now.
I don’t usually perform exegesis on my presentation style, but now’s a good time for a demonstration, because I think it’s the only fair way I can do this with the information I’ve got.
I asked for some non-news, non-curation related perspective about the iPad on twitter. @StevenHodson replied with “- it’s a nice toy .. nothing much more than that .. it definitely isn’t the savior of old media regardless of the hype.” I agree with that assessment, with a few provisos. I mentioned I expect to see a more than 10% return rate at the store for the iPad when it launches, @ChrisDca replied “Couldn’t agree more. People will take it home, play with it for a week and get bored quickly.” – A fair assessment.
I’ll have to explain first what I think the iPad is for, and what people probably think it’s for. This is always the difference between buying in, and returning a product.
We’re not seeing a reinvention of anything here; we’re seeing what Apple has proven themselves best at, which is a partial conversion between a number of devices. Obviously, the UI is designed with the iPhone and iPod Touch in mind, clearly well beefed up, and geared toward the app store. this is excellent because it’s a familiar platform, by now, and the concept is firmly set in people’s minds. Also, for those of us who are Windows junkies, the iPhone OS means we’re not really adopting Apple’s OS – this may seem trivial, but it’s a big deal. Not having to learn a new operating system accounts for nearly a third of the “don’t really want it” reactions for new computer buyers. We saw this with netbooks – now we have Windows 7 on them.
It’s possible for the iPad to win. Just less likely than the hype presupposes.
What the iPad is going to be great at is – you guessed it – exactly what the devices it emulates are. Like an iPod touch, it’ll have apps. Like a Netbook, it will be for portable internet. Like a Kindle, it will have eBooks, which may be the real killer app on the iPad. We’ll see.
The key here is that you have to actually be able to use the device. It’s not a netbook, and even with the keyboard attachment you can get, using it like a small laptop is a failing idea because there’s no current office app. Microsoft isn’t about to get OfficePod approved, and Google is likely focusing on its web-based If that changes, this application for the device changes.
It’s also not an iPod. As much as the possible top end of 64gb suggests that large amounts of music storage is possible, and matches the current iPod Touch and iPhone top end limits, the device itself is so multipurpose that using it exclusively as a music machine is broken. I ran into this when I bought my iPod Touch 8gb when they first launched. I swiftly had more apps and cache than music, which annoyed me. More memory is good, but people will have to be careful with their acquisition of junk apps. Until Apple works out expandable memory and partitioning, this will be a recurring issue for people less focused on curation of their libraries.
The iPad is also not strictly an eBook reader, though it will be easier to conquer this market than people expect. Where Apple has the real possibility to shine here is academia. Imagining a good iBook app is easy. Imagining the costs of college text books being replaced with the one-time cost of an iPad when you enroll to a high end school, and the further, far less drastic costs of textbooks as you take on courses is a stretch – but a very small one, assuming Apple jumps on the idea. Books are so thoroughly ubiquitous, even in today’s less-than-focused literacy culture, that really crushing the market is a simple prospect. People love to read. What they hate is cumbersome books and costly acquisition and maintainence. The iPad avoids both of these issues just like other eBook readers.
Not too many people will see the possibilities this way.
I’m betting a lot of the buying public will pick up an iPad and, as @ChrisDca’s tweet suggests, get bored within the week. Especially if they’re already exposed to iPod Touch and iPhones. It’s just a bigger screen for the same functions, with some new accessories, which are always a money suck. It’s also rather big for an iPod, which is how many people will see it, which makes jacking in your headphones and slapping this in a pocket a non-option.
It’s not a phone either. Perhaps the 3G model will have Skype, or somesuch, but that’s still not a universal fix. The iPad is not an all-around device. It’s not for gaming either. Much as I can imagine many rounds of Tap Tap Revenge being played, and racing games, and tower defense games on its massive screen being a huge upgrade from the iPhone experience of these games, there’s no inherent Flash support for now, and certainly no way to install non-App store programs. It’s a web productivity tool.
It’s also NOT a computer. Much as Apple hypes the micro-computer aspect of their portable devices, the iPad still runs on the iPhone OS. Local storage is not indicated, there are no USB plugs, card readers built in, or any other kind of file system accesses. This is a closed system running entirely on web access for its functionality.
But there’s potential here. Right? real potential.
Wait. You know what this reminds me of? A closed system, running entirely on the web. Could it be that Apple is going after ChromeOS with their own device? Now that could be an effective battle. Where Android is battling the iPhone in the smartphone market, the iPad seems, on its face, directed very much at the possibility of a web-computer culture.
I can see the productivity here. Bloggers, citizen journalists, any species of web native, will all see the potential here to become a very good access point. Not a toy, an access point to information, to the sites they follow, their own personal magazine daily, hourly, instantly. Both the iPad with its current iteration (because we all know this is only version one) and the promise of ChromeOS tablet and netbook computers foretell the possibilities that cloud-based operation holds. It’s a dream made of pipes, a series of tubes really – wait, that’s someone else’s analogy.
So what’s the bottom line?
No one is getting everything they wanted with this device. Few people are getting what they expected. If I had planned on buying one as it was hyped before the announcement, I would be disappointed with the run down I’ve seen so far, and likely begin to look elsewhere. However, enough people will get what they’re looking for that this will not fail as a product.
A caution, though, to people who have watched Apple’s trajectory in the past and are waiting until version two if the iPad. When not enough people adopt something early, companies like Apple don’t get enough feedback. Which means that version two will never come, or will not be enough improved over version one to merit the wait. If this looks at all like something that will do any version of what you want, go buy one. don’t be afraid to return it, just make sure you use the heck out of it (kindly) in the first week to know whether it really is worth your dollars.
You have 60 days to decide whether or not to camp out. I’m not getting out my sleeping bag, but if I get the opportunity to own one of these, I’m not liable to pass it up either. There’s no jury to be out or in.
I’m predicting a 15% return rate for the early adopters – high, considering between 8% and 10% returns on most consumer electronics.
Photo by d!zzy.