I know I have some other Mac and iPhone users in my audience, but I’m confident that, with one or two exceptions, none of you have reached my level of Fanboyhood. Thus, I feel obligated to share some thoughts on last week’s unveiling of Apple’s iPad.
Over the last seven days, I’ve spent hours reading fantastic essays by some of the best tech writers sharing their reactions. I don’t know that I have any great insights, but it seems like I should put all that time and digestion to some kind of use. Not for the faint of heart (of those short on time).
Might the iPad be the most hyped gadget ever? Even those of you who only casually follow tech news were probably sick of hearing speculation about what Apple’s new product would be. Consider yourself lucky; if you were like me and read through multiple tech websites each day, listened to several Apple focused podcasts, and generally tried to keep your finger on the pulse of what was going on in Cupertino, you would have been hearing speculation for nearly two years. Cool or not, I was ready for something to be unveiled so the rumors would stop.
Keep in mind every Apple event comes with a massive amount of hype. Steve Jobs and his army of fanboys (and fangirls) know how to manipulate the media. The last time Apple presented a truly new product was the iPhone. Whether you own an iPhone or not, you can’t deny that it’s been a runaway success and completely changed the cell phone industry. When the expectation is that Apple is going to present another toy that is unlike anything we’ve seen before, they’ve earned an extra measure of hype based on the iPhone experience.
Meh. I’m not thrilled with it, but don’t think it’s the huge error some people have labeled it. I was in the camp of those who were hoping Apple would finally move away from the “i” prefix. After all, Steve Jobs was the iCEO, for interim, and the first iMac was named to remind people of it’s utility on the emerging Internet. Both terms were coined back in 1998. With over a decade of devices and software suites marketed with the “i” appendage, the unveiling of a ground-breaking tablet computer seemed like the appropriate time to rethink the branding strategy.
I suppose Apple thinks it’s a good thing that the iPad so closely resembles the iPod in name. It’s just the next step in the evolution of the iPod, from portable music device, to video-capable gadget, to the iPhone, and now to the iPad.
I would have liked another name better, but I’m not getting all worked up about it.
It’s beautiful, as expected. It has the requisite cachet of coolness. And, based on the words of those who were granted access to the iPad last week, you can’t truly judge the device until you’ve held it and operated it. I can’t wait for it to show up at my local Apple Store so I can fight through the crowds to get my own greasy hands on one.
Here’s where things get tough. Steve Jobs admitted that they’re not trying to replace either smartphones or laptops, but rather address the space between them. It’s one thing to read your e-mail or do casual web browsing on your iPhone in between meetings or while waiting in lines. But what if you want to sit on the couch and read a book, scroll through your pictures, or play a game? Why haul out the laptop when the iPad is available?
That’s a tricky argument. If you’re already dropping $80+ a month on your iPhone (or other smartphone) plan, it’s tough to suggest you need a companion device to improve the experience of many of the iPhone’s functions. Need more screen real estate to view your pictures? That’s when you break out the laptop.
The best counter to that argument is the price. Starting at $499, it’s priced favorably against the Kindle DX and Sony’s top-of-the-line ebook reader. Why not drop an extra $50 and get much more than just an eBook reader? Leave your laptop on your desk, where it can be safe, and stick the iPad on your coffee table or next to your favorite chair, for easy access whenever you need it.
You can’t discuss the iPad without considering what it means for computing as we know it. A recurring theme among those who held the iPad last week was that Apple is attempting to change how we interact with computers. It’s too early to say goodbye to the desktop/file hierarchy/mouse/pointer metaphor that has ruled since the Mac was introduced in 1984. But, for the first time, there is a reasonable alternative.
What Apple has suggested is a world where your interactions with your data are completed with your fingertips rather than by manipulating a mouse. Files are stored within applications rather than in complex folder systems. You never have to remember where or how you saved a file; when you launch an application you have instant access to all the files you’ve created with it.
No one is suggesting the the iPad model will necessarily be the replacement for our current interaction metaphor. What the experts are saying is that the iPad is the first step along that new path.
Will it succeed? My amateur technology blogger opinion is that the iPad will initially be a mild success, which will cause many to label it a failure. It will not have the quick adoption that the iPhone had* simply because of the new space it is supposed to address. People will think the iPad is cool and sexy, they will willingly play with one when their early adopting friends buy one, but they will question where it fits into their digital lives.
(Let’s not forget the iPhone was not a true success until Apple dropped its price three months after its initial release, and really took off when AT&T began subsidizing the price when the 3G was released.)
There will be fanboys lining up at the stores the day it is released, or who preorder the moment a valid link is added to the online store. I expect, though, much of its initial success to be in the pro-user and educational realms. People who can use the iPad to perform specific functions required for their professions. Photographers, physicians, artists. Schools, students, and teachers will have a field day with the iPad.
As time passes, and more functionality is added, I think the iPad will become a solid addition to the Apple lineup. Not the dud that the AppleTV has been, nor the admired but poor selling MacBook Air. But I don’t think it’s going to become the next iPod or iPhone, either.
At least not yet.
Others will quickly attempt to get into the iPad space, some mimicking Apple’s form and system as others advance competing ways of changing our relationships with computers. Where the iPad will be a runaway success is that it will be the first. In five or ten or 15 years, when using a traditional keyboard and mouse to interact with data is required only for highly specialized actions, we will look back on the iPad as the moment when everything began to change. As the Macintosh changed the way we viewed computers in 1984, the iPad will do the same in 2010.
To Buy or Not
The ultimate question. As a fanboy, I’m required to buy one, right?
Not so fast. I have an iPhone. I’m addicted to it. As much as I love it, I may love my MacBook Pro even more. Most of my waking hours involve me reading, writing, and communicating via one device or the other. As lovely as the iPad looks, I’m having a hard time seeing how I insert it into my current gadget lineup.
I will be eager to see complete reviews once the iPad ships. The aspect that interests me most is the iBook application, through which you can read ebooks. I’ve had one eye on digital readers for awhile. Everyone who has an Amazon Kindle seems to love it. But as I wrote above, why spend $450 on a Kindle DX when you can get an iPad for another $50? And why buy into the strict Amazon system with the $250 Kindle when you will be able to read more book formats, possibly including Kindle books, on the iPad?
I had high hopes for the Barnes and Noble Nook, but the early reviews suggest it is a pain to use. Some of the Sony digital readers get fine reviews, but again you run into the issue of price.
Countering all the shortcomings of digital readers is the fact that the iPad has a backlit LCD screen, which tends to be difficult to read for long periods of time. The aforementioned readers all have E-Ink displays, which mimic the look of real paper, reducing eye strain. It seems like if you’re a big reader, and I am,* you will want the option that allows you to sit and read for hours at a time.
(I both read a lot and am tall, so I’m a big reader in more ways than one.)
So, I suppose the answer is I don’t know. I’ll wait and see what the reviews of production models say. I’ll monitor the development of the Nook, as many of the negative reviews suggest that a firmware update will correct the issues that plagued the early models. I might actually pop into the Sony Style store for once and look at their line of digital readers. If, after all of that, the iPad seems the best way to read books electronically, I suppose there will be one on my desk. Otherwise someone else is getting the next big withdrawal out of my computer fund.
Then again, I may just stick to traditional books for now.