Monday, February 1, 2010

The iPad - Whatever Happend To Innovation?

With the "most important announcement of Steve Job's life" done and dusted, but without the dust having settled what is the verdict? Am I buying this or is it just candy wrapped in marketing?

I have to say that despite the anticipation and hype before the event I did not have high expectations. As more detail was leaked I became less excited until the night before my expectations had plunged to an all time low. In retrospect I have to say that all of my expectations were met. This was a fizzer and the hype appears now to be no more than marketing.

My initial response was one of underwhelmed and nothing at their presentation and all the glowing reports from those who used it have not changed my opinion. All of the fancy things that Steve demonstrated elicited no more than a ho-hum from me. Interestingly it reminded me a lot of the iPhone launch which I can still recall. My reaction to that launch was quite the opposite even though they are very similar devices.

I will start by saying what the iPad is not. The iPad is not a tablet. The tablet computer has a number of functions which are clearly missing form the iPad. First and foremost it has no digitiser and its associated functions. The digitiser is an active matrix built into the screen which allows the use of a multi function stylus or pen. It enables what is called pen computing, It doubles as a mouse in its simplest terms but it also has handwriting recognition, may be pressure sensitive, and write and erase. Pen computing is an extremely powerful tool and for anybody that has ever used pen computing to not include a pen in this format device is unthinkable. Not one of the news bloggers that are tablet specialists think that the iPad is a serious contender in this space. Touch has been around for a long time on these devices but until now they have all had the active digitiser. To remove that feature is like removing an athlete's leg. Some of the functions that require a pen are drawing, fine control graphics manipulation, and handwriting. These are possible with touch but you do not get the fine control with touch as you do with the pen. That is why conventional pens are held and not attached.

Neither is the iPad an e-book reader. As nice is the display is it is not e-ink. The e-ink displays are designed to minimise eye strain for prolonged concentration that is necessary for reading. It does not replace the e-book reader so that idea that somehow e-book readers will flock to this device is mistaken.

The iPad is not a web device. The lack of full web function ensures that you will not display many web pages. To criticise flash is to miss the point entirely and the pronunciation's of Steve Jobs in the last few days regarding his perceived issues with flash is disingenuous to say the least. In the last 24 hours I have visited several web sites that required flash to display, one of which is a daily visit and would be rendered useless without flash. Why would I buy such a device where I would be forced to return to my regular computer of choice just to visit this or that random site.

The iPad is not a portable music player. Lets be perfectly blunt about this, any potential iPad customer will already own at least one of iPhone or iPod, perhaps multiple such devices. Tho buy yet another device to replicate that function that you cannot put in your pocket makes no sense at all.

The iPad is not a movie/media player. Its lack of codecs, lack of connectivity and form factor (4x3) make this a vary poor media player. One can accept these restrictions on a small pocket device but not on a device that is supposed to be a replacement for a mid level computing device.

It is not a personal computer. I know that this is the most radical and potentially controversial statement but bear with me here. It is a closed computing platform. That means that all code that runs on this device has to be digitally signed by Apple. So none of the restrictions above can be bypassed without hacking the device. You cannot run a third party browser. (All browsers that run on the iPhone are simply Safari with different UIs). You cannot install additional audio and video codecs, for instance xVid or FLAC. You cannot do voip over 3G or Skype unless Apple grants their permission. You cannot run linux or parallels or Boot Camp to run your Win apps. You cannot even run your Mac apps without Apple allowing them to be ported, and even then some will have difficulty because of the interface. The addition of docking and pairing solutions makes up some of the gap but there is still a huge gulf between the iPad and a personal computer.

"So", I hear you ask, "What is the iPad".

The iPad is realy a portable iTunes player/games machine and not much more. I will concede that with the additional APIs and applications you can perform some of your more sophisticated tasks but without an open environment and pen functions any serious computing has to be done with a tethered keyboard and mouse(?).

Of all of the positive reviews of this device none have talked about its usability in a wider environment other than reading books, playing movies and playing games They all rave about its wonderful interface which I will concede looks extremely nice. One of the great things about the iPhone is the interface which is a great piece of design. But what is good for a hand held device does not necessarily scale up to a mid range device.

The iPad is light innovative and a wonderfully designed and architected but it fails to produce in its intended market. The things which made the iPhone a best seller will not save the iPad. It is a different format and different market. If Apple think that the success of the iPhone can be replicated by scaling up its features into a mid level device I believe they are mistaken. I am going to stick to my Tablet until Apple produce a serious contender.