The other day, a blogger for a certain popular online publication listed five tablets that allegedly presented compelling alternatives to the iPad 3. After reading the article -- and it doesn't deserve a link -- along with similar rants about how the tech industry can really hold off the iPad onslaught, I've come to the conclusion that I must be living on a different planet.
Now I realize that no single product can possibly be perfect, and there are certainly ways in which Apple can improve the iPad in form or function. But one of the hallmarks of Apple design is to know what features to omit, or remove. It's also true that Apple won't add a feature unless it works, at least passably. Compare that to tech companies who can't see beyond their PowerPoint presentations.
If there's an area where Apple might enhance the iPad, it's in expandability. Now I understand that Apple wants to build appliance-like gear. That means they are meant to be fully functional out of the box without tinkering, and I suppose having a slot you can open to remove a Flash memory card amounts to tinkering of some sort. However, it's not as if you are going to just replace your $499 iPad 3 because 16GB isn't sufficient, and buy the $699 64GB version. You can sell it off, of course, and suffer a loss, but why? Surely Apple can devise some convenient method that allows you to replace the memory without having to seriously tarnish the seamless looks. Besides, isn't true that most of you will be putting your iPad in a case anyway?
So much for legitimate criticism.
Other complaints include the resolution of the front and rear cameras. If other tablet makers can install eight megabit sensors on their backs, why not Apple? What about the fact that the iPhone 4S has eight megapixels? Now I wouldn't care to comment on design considerations and the cost of the raw parts. Assuming Apple had to spend a fair amount extra for that nifty Retina Display, not to mention a beefier battery to keep battery life at the same level as older models, perhaps they decided to do a little cost-cutting on other parts. Now maybe a few dollars here and there isn't important, but such "luxuries" can have an impact on the bottom line. Apple may also have concluded that customers would be more likely to shoot movies than snapshots on an iPad, and felt five megapixels was a worthy compromise. In the real world, Apple has better camera software than the competition, so they can get the most bang for the buck. That's something the critics tend to avoid.
Another common criticism is the lack of a smaller model, to compete head-on with the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Barnes & Noble Nook. At the same time, there have been more and more rumors that Apple is seriously considering some sort of "light" or "mini" iPad, and that parts for an alleged 7.85-inch model are already being sampled. But I do wonder the logic behind that claim, other than the possibility that Apple experiments with all sorts of products that never see the light of day.
As most of you recall, Steve Jobs once seriously denigrated the value of a smaller iPad. Remember, this is not just a consumption device. Apps like iPhoto have an assortment of tools and fancy features that, while they work all right on an iPhone, only come into their own on the 9.7-inch iPad display. Having played with smaller tablets, I agree with Jobs that you'd probably have to sandpaper your fingers to be able to accomplish the same tasks as efficiently. The iPad is meant to be a general purpose computing device. In contrast, a Kindle Fire is essentially a glorified ebook reader with the ability to play videos. Beyond basic consumption, it's simply not very good. But I suppose people who couldn't afford an iPad -- or who just wanted something to consume Amazon content -- might have been willing to buy one.
In short, I don't believe the rumors. Apple is not going to make a smaller iPad unless there's a compelling reason to do so, nor are they going to make a larger iPod touch, which is essentially what such a device might be.
But the one thing the critics won't address when they point to potential alternatives to the iPad is that amazing Retina Display. Getting that thing into an iPad, keeping the price and battery life the same as the previous model, was no small feat. Go ahead and find one on any competing tablet, or even a notebook computer, and let me know what you come up with -- and at what price.
Sure, other companies will want to build tablets with a similar display, and they will some day. But I'm willing to suggest that Apple owns all or most of the production of such parts for now, just as they have first digs at the majority of the world's Flash memory.
While I have no doubt that a smart company could build a better tablet than the iPad, the ones to which the critics point just can't be taken seriously.
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