Before you read, keep in mind that these are my gut reactions and are meant to be taken with a grain of salt.
Earlier today (or yesterday, if you want to get technical) I was in the midst of a History class while Apple unleashed their latest invention upon the world so I missed all of the liveblogs and typical launch fervor that was surely running rampant throughout the internet around 1PM EST but after coming home and seeing just what Apple’s iPad is going to be when it releases in approximately 60 days’ time, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. After the veritable deluge of rumors and speculation that has been spreading through gadget blogs for months now, I was expecting more. I was expecting more or less an Apple netbook (minus the keyboard) running a pared down version of OSX for $500 – $1,000, I was not expecting Apple to unveil what is essentially a giant iPod Touch. Honestly, given its feature set, I have no idea why this thing needs to exist, especially at the prices Apple is charging for the different versions of the thing (and there are a lot of them).
Before I get too deep into this, I’d like to set the record straight right now. I’ve never been what you might call an Apple fan. It’s not that I dislike Apple products in general, because that’s not true. I just don’t personally agree with Apple’s approach to pricing. In my opinion, Apple products shouldn’t be as expensive as they are for the hardware that they give you. The products themselves are well designed and typically offer a great experience for the end user but at least in terms of computers; Windows PCs offer more for less, especially if you build your own. But I digress and if I allow myself to keep going, I’ll have written an entirely different article than the one I set out to write. Let’s just say that while I don’t hate Apple, I don’t exactly view them as God’s gift to PC/MP3 Player/Cell Phone manufacturing either. So, now that you know where I’m coming from, let’s get into the discussion of the iPad.
Now, getting into what exactly the iPad is and why I don’t see why Apple has decided to make it, we have to examine the very core of the device, its operating system. Instead of the pared down version of OSX I was expecting, the iPad is running a modified version of the iPhone OS.
Sure, the iPhone OS runs great and already has a thriving developer community which will likely be lining up to create new applications or update existing ones for the use on Apple’s latest shiny new toy but the iPhone and iPod Touch are already available and, in the case of the iPod Touch, do nearly as much as the iPad for far less money.
Oh, and because it’s using the iPhone OS, there’s no multitasking. Fantastic.
I recognize that there are some obvious advantages to using the iPad over something like the iPod Touch or iPhone but do these advantages really justify the iPad’s existence? I don’t think so, but to be fair, let’s explore these advantages in detail. First and foremost, the iPad is much larger than an iPod or iPhone, which lends itself well to the web browsing and e-book reading experiences Apple touted in the press unveiling. While I agree that the web browsing experience on the iPad is bound to be superior with its 9.7 inch LED screen as opposed to the 3.5 inch LCD displays the iPod and iPhone have, there are still some shortcomings.
First and foremost, the browser included with the iPad still doesn’t support Flash, which is a huge drawback in and of itself. While this may have been annoying on the iPhone, this is unacceptable for what Steve Jobs calls “the best web browsing experience you’ve ever had”. Flash is a huge part of many major websites and the lack of support for it, especially on a device that’s designed to be a stopgap between the iPhone and a regular laptop in terms of browsing the web on the go, is ludicrous.
Second, the iPad’s hardware specs leave a lot to be desired. It’s powered by a custom ARM based 1GHz processor, which could potentially leave a lot to be desired in terms of overall performance but since there’s no multitasking support, it shouldn’t be a big problem. The iPad will be offered in 16, 32 and 64GB flash storage capacities, which doesn’t seem too bad on paper until you realize that the average netbook ships with 160GB worth of hard drive based storage. Now, these capacities are fine for an MP3 player, and make sense in Apple’s iPod Touch line but I would rather see larger storage capacities. As far as wireless connectivity goes, the iPad is hardly lacking with support for 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, and an optional 3G modem. Where it stumbles is in its hardware connectivity, which consists of the standard 30-pin dock connector and that’s it. No SD Card slot, no USB, no HDMI, no Mini DisplayPort, nothing. If you want any of those things in any way, shape or form, be prepared to shell out for some adapters.
Third, and you probably knew this was coming, this thing is too expensive. The iPad starts at $499 for the standard 16GB edition and the 32 and 64GB versions will set you back $599 and $699 respectively. Pretty expensive for what’s essentially a large iPod Touch eh? Well, that’s only part of the iPad story and here’s where things really start getting expensive. The pricing scheme I mentioned was only for the versions that don’t ship with the built in AT&T 3G modem. When Apple unleashes these to the public, each version will boast a $130 premium to accommodate the extra hardware. This boosts the retail prices for each edition of tablet up to $629, $729 and $829. Now, these are some pretty high prices but…with each of these, unless you want your 3G modem to go unutilized, you’ll have to throw in a monthly data plan which will be supplied by AT&T in two pricing tiers. One will set you back $14.99 and allow you 250MB worth of data per month and the other will cost you $29 for unlimited 3G data. Whew. That’s pretty expensive.
After all is said and done, there doesn’t seem to be a very compelling reason to buy the iPad. With each of its advantages comes a tradeoff. The device itself is larger and more capable than the iPhone! Great! But it’s also far less portable and practical to carry around than the easily pocketable iPhone. The iPad offers a more comfortable web browsing experience than the iPhone! Fantastic! But it also lacks Flash support, which despite the ease of use of the iPad is a glaring omission in a tablet sized device. See what I mean? The iPad has advantages, true enough, but each one of those advantages comes with a “but” attached.
For example, I was talking to a buddy of mine earlier and he mentioned that the iPad is nice because it could allow him to carry around what would’ve been a huge stack of important printed PDF files that he needs for his classes and view them in full color (as opposed to greyscale on something like the Kindle DX’s e-ink screen) and would be able to zoom in on them with ease on one device. I then asked him if he would be buying one and he said no. When I asked why, he said it was because it was essentially a giant iPod Touch that didn’t support Flash. While this conversation may seem small, it’s emblematic of the problem the iPad faces in the marketplace. It offers an interesting feature or two but its drawbacks are too great to entice a potential consumer to actually buy one.
Overall, the iPad is a tough sell. It doesn’t seem to have that spark that made the iPhone and later the iPod Touch so appealing to buyers. It’s far too expensive to be an impulse buy and too bereft of features to appeal to most gadget nerds. While I’m aware that there are certain applications in which an iPad may make sense to some buyers, I’m not sure the price of admission will be worth it. Even my inner gadget nerd is indifferent to the news of the iPad and my inner gadget nerd is usually always excited for new hardware unveilings, especially ones from such a large company such as Apple and especially when blogs everywhere had hyped this thing up to be a game changer. Perhaps the marketing geniuses at Apple have already found the proper niche for the iPad to occupy and will market the device accordingly to get consumers to rush out and buy this thing en masse. Apple has proven that they have the chops to pull off such a daring feat but it remains to be seen whether this will defy my expectations and take off like the iPhone or languish in a manner akin to the Apple TV.