Thoughts on the Apple iPad

Well, after weeks of hype and near-constant media attention, Apple announced their latest product yesterday with huge amounts of hyperbole and fanfare:
The Apple iPad.

It’s basically a super-sized iPod Touch (which, while it has the iPod name and does play music, is more like an iPhone without the ability to make phone calls…call it a mini-computer and you’re more on target). Instead of being the size of a cell phone, this is about the size of a stack of papers.

Prior Art

What’s come before in this size and style are the “tablet PCs” running Microsoft Windows and sold by various manufacturers. (I checked the HP web site this morning and see no mention of their TX line of tablets.) These, and the upcoming HP Slate, have always been “real” PCs that run Windows programs on the current notebook-grade Intel and AMD processors. They have hard drives, some of them have docking stations that allow DVD drives and other add-ons.

These have not generally done well in the marketplace. Why?

  • They’re expensive for what you get size and performance-wise
  • Microsoft has been pushing handwriting recognition which is processor-intensive and not-so-accurate; on-screen keyboard input has been single-touch and an afterthought
  • Fast + small + hard drive onboard = lots of heat and poor battery life

The iPad Approach

The iPad takes a different tack. It is built on similar processor technology to the iphone/ipod touch, which is similar in capability to those little netbooks that are all the rage. This is not a “real” computer that will be happy to run Photoshop, Excel, and switch between applications.

The iPad is also multitouch, so it should be much better for typing as it can understand more than one “click” or press at a time.

Estimated battery life is about a day of use or a month at standby. While this is better than most cheap notebooks it still pales in comparison with any of the e-book readers out there.

For Home Use

iPad seems to be a mixed bag for home use. It’s a great format to sit on the couch and surf, but the lack of a built-in camera kills any thoughts of video-calls (which most $399 notebooks can do), and I don’t think I’m able to live without real multi-tasking. I always have an oodle of tabs and programs open that I constantly flip between. And then there’s the prospect of yet another data plan if opting for the 3G version.

For Business Use

The business applications that come to mind are a bit confusing. I understand that there are two hundred gazillion iPhone Apps out there. Given the device’s limitations I suspect these tablets will be best used like netbooks….good for web browsing, a few very lightweight applications, and connect-in to a remote desktop to do the real work. More on that later.

Analysis

First, let me point out that Central Massachusetts is the Middle-o-Nowhere. We’re lucky to get a consistent cell phone signal much less any usable data rate. Forget 3g completely here.

IF the on-screen keyboard is good then I think the device can go a long way. A major problem with other tablet devices has been (lack of) ease in getting information into the machine.

I have no doubt that Apple’s User Interface will be beautiful and well thought out.

I see the inability of the machine to multitask effectively as a major problem for my use. I don’t mind a phone that can’t surf and flip to calendar while talking and streaming music but for a sit-down device of this size it’s a problem. At the moment I think most people would be better served with a netbook or cheapo notebook PC but that may change when I have a chance to play with one.

I see the Amazon Kindle as still viable as its battery life, ruggedness, and overall $ factors will beat the iPad. People go to Amazon for books, not Apple. That may change as publishers will immediately see Apple as the new 800 pound gorilla.

It will be interesting to see if Apple adds things that lots of techy people have been asking for, like a built-in camera, true multi-tasking, better battery (replaceable if not hot-swappable) but I reckon that some of these are architecture decisions and that we may not see an multi-tasking iPad anytime soon.

On the other hand, I can also see some business use here. Hosted Desktops are a big buzzword today. The concept is simple: just like in the old days, your “terminal” connects to a virtual desktop on a “real computer” that does the work of computing. Whether your real computer is in the office or out on the internet somewhere doesn’t really matter for the sake of this discussion.

Imagine a workforce moving about their offices, cubicles, phone calls, and meetings carrying around paper-sized iPads. Get to a meeting, wake up the iPad…it connects to your work desktop. Finish the meeting, walk back to your cube, plug your iPad into a real keyboard for a while. Go home, bring your iPad with you and be able to connect to your office machine from home.

No muss, no fuss, no personal information travelling on an unprotected device.

I had read rumors that the iPad is inspired, if not peripherally designed for, the health care market. Most hospitals have secure wifi and most medical records systems are (or can be) web-based.

This is something that isn’t nearly as likely with the $2,100 HP tablets. But at $500 per the iPad is cheap enough to give it a try.

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Comments

  • Craig Cormier  On January 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I could see the iPad being utilized in a conference room setting, especially with the inclusion of iWorks apps.

    There are rumors that a camera is forthcoming, from those who have found reference to it in the newly released SDK.

    I don’t know that multitasking is as necessary in a touch device. It might actually lead to a little more focus. I know that Twitter and e-mail can distract me from what I’m doing when I’m working on something else. As the processing power goes up and the power consumption goes down I bet multi-tasking will make an appearance.

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