Being a world renounced technology pundit… wait scratch that. Being a geek I get asked about various technological doodads and gizmos quite often. Since the iPad is the current hot tech device I’m getting asked my views on it. Because of my inflated ego and perceived self worth I’ve decided reads of this site (both of you) may be interested in my views on the device. So here it is.
First let me start by saying I don’t have an iPhone or iPod Touch. Coincidentally I also don’t have an iPad therefore this post is going to be my views based upon the published specifications and my person beliefs as a computer scientist (note that’s the only credential I’m going to be using because I have no other credentials related to this). I do have the development tools for the iPhone installed on my computer and have written test applications for the platform and most of the time I view a platform based on my development experiences. I have played with physical iPhones but have yet to hold an iPad. There that’s straight up and honest. My opinions may change based on exposure to the physical device at a later date and if that is the case I’ll post my revised ides.
A final note is I’m basing this post on the iPad in its stock configuration. I realize that is has already been jail broken and thus additional functionality exists. I don’t like messing with such things and if I need to jail break a device to make it useful to me I generally just get a different device.
First and foremost I’m going to mention my gripes with the iPhone (the validity of which will be made clear in a few paragraphs). The biggest one for me is third party applications can’t multi-task. If you don’t know what that means it is a pseudo-fancy way of saying multiple third party applications can not run at the same time. So if you have an IRC client you can not allow it to run in the background while you open the Pandora application meaning you’ll miss any messages sent to you during your time outside of the application. This is a huge issue for my uses. I often have an AIM client (don’t laugh, it’s what the majority of my friends use), IRC client, and various other programs open and running at the same time on my laptop. Likewise on my phone I have ran my AIM client while doing other tasks (yes the old Palm OS had some limited multi-tasking capabilities including network connections continuing to run in the background). Not being able to get messages sent to me using these clients while I’m doing other things is a huge strike against the device.
Another issue I have with the iPhone is the fact you can only install applications Apple has blessed. Their process of blessing applications is fairly random and they haven’t published exact specifications stating what will and will not get approved. They have mentioned some things but other things they seem to make up on the spot. I don’t like a third party having this kind of control over a device I have purchased. If I want to install a shitty application that will break my phone I should damn well be able to do so.
Third the battery in the iPhone is not easily user replaceable. Yes Apple will replace the battery should it become weak at a nominal charge but that doesn’t do anything for me when the battery runs out of juice while I’m on a trip and I need to swap in a fresh one. I have a spare batter for my current phone specifically because of this scenario. I want the ability to swap batteries when the one in my phone is completely discharged after a long phone conversation. Likewise I’m a big fan of self-servicing my electronics. My the fan in my old laptop died I bought a new one and installed it myself. I could do this because the case could be opened easily while the iPhone isn’t built in a manner that allows easy service. It’s a disposable device, when it breaks you’re just expected to replace it. I hate this idea.
I also hate AT&T which is the only United States carrier who has the iPhone. This is a non-issue for the iPad so it’s irrelevant to this post though.
Those are the big ones. Beyond that I haven’t much against the iPhone. But that brings up the first issue I have with the iPad. It doesn’t correct any of these issues I have with the iPhone. The iPad doesn’t multi-task and any application you want to install must be blessed by Apple. Also like the iPhone the iPad battery is not user replaceable which just pisses me off.
With that said the iPad does have one option available to it that I like. You can sync up a Bluetooth keyboard to the iPad giving you the ability to do actual typing on it. Combined with the size and portability of this device that means the iPad should be fairly proficient for writing tasks. This means you could theoretically bring an iPad in place of a laptop if you needed to write reports or blog posts. Of course the iPad lacks many tools (virtual machines and development tools mostly) I require for day to day tasks and hence would not be a laptop replacement for me. But that’s my uses and I don’t think most people require the same tools I do therefore the iPad is a potential laptop replacement. Most people outside of the computer science field I know would be able to function a week on the features available on the iPad.
Now the part I really like about the iPad, it’s simplistic interface. Once again this isn’t something for me personally but for people I know. The iPad would be the perfect computer for my grandmother. My grandmother knows nothing about computers. While trying to show her how to run one I noticed several things. First she always tries to touch the icons on a screen to open an application. She doesn’t get the interaction between the touch pad on a laptop and the pointer on a screen. A touch screen device would be perfect for her which is exactly what the iPad is. She doesn’t touch type, instead she has to hunt and peck for keys on a keyboard. Due to this she really gains no benefit from a physical keyboard since the main benefit is speed. An onscreen keyboard would be ideal for her uses (especially if you could sort the keys in alphabetical order instead of using the QWERTY layout). By default the iPad has a web browser which is pretty much all she needs or wants. She has no interest in third party applications at all. Of course a JooJoo would fit this use case well except for the fact it’s larger and heavier while my grandmother doesn’t have the best ability to hold a heavier device up for very long.
Overall I think the iPad is perfect for those wanting to use basic Internet functionality (web browsing, e-mail, etc.) but have no experience nor interest in computers beyond that. It’s simple and basic which is exactly what many people want.
As an e-reader I think the iPad suffers from the same flaws as any portable computer, the screen. The reason I love my Kindle is because the screen is something I can look at for hours on end and use outside in direct sunlight. Yes when the weather is nice I like to take my reading outside to places like my little deck or park benches. The iPad screen is highly reflective. Apple did that because it makes colors look much richer but it also comes at the price of being almost unusable outdoors. My laptop has a glossy screen as well and using it with any light source behind you can suck pretty hard. Finally the iPad is a bit on the large side for an e-reader in my opinion (I love the Kindle’s size, especially when I’m sitting on an airplane). Without an e-paper display I can’t imagine replacing my Kindle with an iPad. Of course somebody will bring up that I can’t view color illustrations on my Kindle to which my replay is, I don’t care. Truth be told through most of college I obtained international editions of my required text books. These are the same books you buy in campus book stores except they are not hard cover and they only have black and white illustrations. I never encountered an image or diagram in a book where I though, “Hey I wish this was in color.” And most of my reading involves novels and technical manuals which are mostly text and therefore don’t require color. If your main reading material are things like comic books I can see where having a device with a color screen is going to be a huge plus and in that case the iPad will fit the bill.
The iPad seems to also be a great portable movie player. The screen is large enough where you could watch a movie on it while still being small enough to have sitting out on an airplane or bus. If the screen is anything like the iPhone’s it’ll be plenty good for displaying good video. I think it’s too large to be an effective portable music player though. But most cell phones have this functionality built in. Having the larger screen the iPad offers is no benefit for playing music so most people will probably continue doing that on their phones (or MP3 player as in my case).
Overall I think the iPad is a great device for many use cases. None of them happen to be my use cases and therefore it doesn’t really fit me. The price seems to be in line with other similar devices although with how much more expensive it is than many netbooks in addition to have less features I’d say it’s not a good price point. For the most part my feeling towards the iPad is that it’s a solution in search of a problem. It’s too large to be as portable as a phone but tool limited to be a laptop replacement for many people.