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  • The i-What? Questions Persist About the iPad

    January 28th, 2010

    Before I get into the meat of this commentary, one thing troubles me, and that’s whether Apple has jumped the shark when it comes to using the infamous “i” prefix for its products. Beginning with the position Steve Jobs assumed when he took over Apple shortly after his return to the company, iCEO, and ending with the iPad introduced this week, you have to wonder whether enough is enough.

    Of course until the name of the new tablet-based device was revealed, the tech media was thinking in terms of an iTablet or iSlate. You sometimes wonder if the actual name was conjured up late in the game by Steve Jobs simply because he wanted to do something contrary to conventional wisdom. Then again you have to wonder whether Apple is going to face legal troubles over the name, because there was once a Fujitsu “iPAD.”

    According to published reports, Fujitsu allegedly abandoned the name in 2009, only to reapply for it shortly afterwards. You wonder if Apple didn’t stoop in just in time to grab it. Regardless of how it plays out, Apple is not going to surrender, even if a big check has to be written to gain clear title to that trademark.

    Setting questions about naming aside, you can bet that Apple’s presentation this week probably raised far more questions than it answered. After all, how much stuff can they toss in during a presentation of less than 90 minutes? Bu tit’s not that the official spec sheet addresses the remaining concerns.

    There is, for example, the use of Bluetooth 2.1 and support for external keyboards. All well and good. Apple will provide their own solution, in the form of the Keyboard Dock accessory, which includes the desktop station and the “full-size” keyboard that may have keys of the proper size, but not all of them, or at least in comparison to the traditional Mac and PC keyboards that include the full numeric keypad. But what about third party keyboards that are also fully compliant with Bluetooth? Or will Apple just let the third-parties build their own keyboard and docking station combos?

    Also, would it be possible to use a standard mouse or trackball with an iPad? That may seem redundant in light of its multi-touch capability, but let me tell you that it’s awkward to constantly move from keyboard to screen and back again, particularly during a lengthy work session. Does the iPad’s operating system even support traditional cursor movement and functions?

    When it comes to the hardware itself, the critics have focused on the lack of a camera. However, the iPad would be rather an ungainly device to use for regular snapshots, particularly when you compare it to a mobile phone or standard digital camera. Having an embedded Web cam might make sense, since you get those with Mac note-books and the iMac. But Apple has been quite aggressive about pricing, and VP Phil Schiller made it crystal clear that they were watching their money. While I don’t pretend to know what an embedded Web cam might cost, certainly Apple would have to sacrifice some of its cherished profit margins.

    A memory card slot, similar to the one recently incorporated in the iMac and MacBook Pro, would probably make more sense. It would surely be more sensible than being forced to purchase the iPad Camera Connection Kit, although there’s again the bill of materials compared to the money Apple earns from selling you yet another accessory.

    Apple is also getting racked over the coals for failing to deliver true multitasking with the iPad OS. The limited multitasking on the iPhone, where third-party apps aren’t invited to the party, might make sense. But the iPad has a much more powerful processor, and it’s surely capable of running multiple apps at the same time. Then again maybe that situation will change over time, perhaps when the iPhone 4.0 OS is out.

    It’s also true that a key reason for missing features and built-in hardware is not just a matter of production costs, but time to market and making sure all the critical features are properly integrated. Although this isn’t being discussed much, don’t forget this is iPad 1.0. There will be bugs of one sort or another that will require periodic software updates to fix.

    On the long haul, there will likely be an iPad 2.0 within a year, and maybe even more product variations, although it seems to me that Apple is simply following its hugely successful iPhone and iPod touch product lineup approaches. Regardless, there will have to be great and hopefully useful features to make you want to upgrade to the next version, so that may be a key reason why some capabilities are lacking right now.

    One other item hasn’t been fully explained so far, and that’s the file system. How will the files you create in, for example, iWork, be organized? Will there be a standard Mac-like file and folder hierarchy? What about syncing the files with your Mac or PC? Would it require a visit to iTunes, or simple wireless file sharing? Indeed, there are going to be lots of questions that I hope Apple will begin to flesh out before the iPad officially goes on sale.



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    13 Responses to “The i-What? Questions Persist About the iPad”

    1. Bill Burkholder says:

      Why iPad, Why Apple, Why Now?

      In 1976, Apple ignited the personal computer revolution with the Apple II.

      In 1984, they launched the graphical user interface revolution with the introduction of the Macintosh.

      In 2001, the iPod and iTunes Music Store revolutionized the way we purchase, store, manage, and listen to music.

      In 2007, Apple showed us the convenience of carrying the real Internet in our pockets, along with our phone and our music and movies.

      In 2008, they invited third party developers to the iPhone/iPod Touch party, and by 2010, over 140,000 applications were available for immediate download on these devices. (!)

      On January 27, 2010, Apple introduced iPad, distilling everything they know into a half-inch thick, 1.5 pound device about the size of a paperback book (roughly 7.5 x 9.6 inches). It is more portable than a notebook computer, more powerful than the iPod Touch, and connects to the Internet everywhere, just like the iPhone.

      Apple is the only company who could launch such a product on the scale they’re attempting. They control the hardware, the software, and the ecosystem to deliver the contents. Although rumors abounded for years, they managed to work in silence until 1/27/2010, and by doing so, showed us a logically-planned, carefully-designed product with enough trimmings and toppings to make it thoroughly appetizing.

      This device is significant because of its connection with the way people already use the media in their lives. It distills potentially EVERYTHING we watch, read, and listen to, into one convenient form factor… allowing the user to move seamlessly from work to play to shopping to entertainment to whatever.

      iPad will be the progenitor of a whole new category of media convergence devices, and may well signal the ultimate death of most desktops and notebooks. In that sense, it is the computer, reborn.

      It also signals and enables the migration of print media from paper to digital form. This should have a major environmental impact, and lighten the load of students everywhere. It will accelerate the transfer of information and ideas in millions of ways we haven’t even thought of just yet, by virtue of its omnipresent convenience.

      If you doubt the above, take a serious look at the short history of the iPhone for guidance. Note the competitive urges it spawned. Then wait 60 or 90 days and visit an Apple Store.

      iPad will be an immediate success upon launch precisely because it taps into the power of all the other devices before it. It features an operating system similar to both the Macintosh and the iPhone. It runs nearly all of the 140,000 apps that run on the iPhone and iPod Touch. It runs special versions of Apple’s software, including the Safari Browser, Mail, Calendar, Contacts, iTunes, Pages (word processing/page layout), Keynote (presentations), and Numbers (spreadsheets).

      Although it has a larger virtual keyboard that pops into view whenever you need it, it connects to real keyboards and mice when needed. Although the multi-touch display can scroll and zoom through contents to control the view, it can connect to an outboard projector to present Keynote slide shows.

      With WiFi and 3G capability, it connects to practically everything. With the right headset and software, it should run Skype, at least over WiFi.

      Although it presents a few compromises (no phone, no camera, no real GPS), it is complementary to the iPhone. And although it won’t do heavy lifting of huge files and professional-level media content creation (TV/Motion Picture editing, pro photo editing, or pro audio recording), it is fine for at least 90+% of light office work.

      Even as they worked in silence, competitors kept guessing and pooh-poohing the mythical device, as they rushed “me too” products to market. A handful of tablets debuted a few weeks ago in Las Vegas at CES. Few cared. The trade press and the general public were all waiting for Apple to show its hand.

      Imagine this in the hands of a college student, who would read text books and other reference materials, take notes, compose research papers, and take on-line courses. In the off hours, she would socialize on Facebook, email the parents, watch movies, and listen to music.

      In the hands of a doctor, this would manage appointment schedules, update patient history, order prescriptions from patients’ pharmacies, access medical reference materials…

      In the hands of an attorney, this would replace tons of briefs with near immediate access to PDFs of depositions, Law Review references, and other case documents. Billing would be as easy as linking to an appointment calendar.

      For any role player in life who manages or organizes information for a living, this device could simplify life and empower that individual in many ways.

      (Full disclosure: I’m just a Mac and PC user, don’t own Apple stock, and I don’t even own an iPhone just yet. But I will, soon. I’m a 40-year student of media evolution. Trust me. THIS is a significant product, with far-reaching ramifications.)

      Oh, but about that name…

      • Andrew says:

        @Bill Burkholder, As one of those attorneys mentioned, I don’t know if this will work for me or not.

        Currently, I use a MacBook Air for my court machine and it works great, though I would love the form factor of the iPad much more. The issue is the lack of MS Word, which is essential for working with those legal briefs, pleadings and other documents that we deal with every day. Pages won’t do, because the special formatting on “pleading paper” is invariably broken when you open one in anything other than the application originally used to create it.

        Other than editing documents though, this would be THE PERFECT machine for use in court. If only there was Word for iPad.

    2. degrees_of_truth says:

      Everyone who buys an iPad is going to want a protective case. How about a hard case that opens like a clamshell, clips the iPad into the top with a dock connector, contains a keyboard in the base, and puts an auxiliary battery in the base with just enough weight to allow the case to sit open like a notebook computer. Then a user could use the tablet as a tablet when appropriate, and like a notebook when either a keyboard is needed or the tablet needs to be propped at an adjustable video-viewing angle. Hello, Mophie, Speck?

      By the way, I like the name, and this is probably the Apple i-something most appropriately named an i-something. This is a device aimed at consuming content sourced from the internet.

    3. dfs says:

      I suspect that the absence of multitasking has to do with the issue of battery life: Apple just figured the latter would be more welcome to more purchasers than the first.

    4. Travis Butler says:

      Mouse support: Don’t see it happening. You can’t duplicate Multi-Touch gestures with a mouse, so you’d have to have some kind of mouse equivalent for every gesture (with corresponding user confusion), or accept crippled running; I don’t see Apple doing either. I could see an external trackpad, though there’d be serious problems linking position on the pad to position on the screen, since there’s no ‘cursor movement’ on iPhone OS; every touch is a direct manipulation of the area you’re touching.

      File system: Apple deliberately abstracted away the file system on the iPhone, so users wouldn’t have to care about the technical details of where things are stored. Everything that’s a ‘file’ on a traditional file system is managed through an appropriate database viewer – Photos for pictures, Notes for text, iPod for music and videos, etc. Third-party apps like the Kindle and B&N eReaders follow the same pattern of managing documents through the app. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks like Apple’s pushing the same pattern with the iPad – users shouldn’t have to manage file organization, let the application handle it. Whether this’ll work out in the long term as users start storing more documents on the iPad, I don’t know.

      SD Card: Depends on how you’d expect it to be used. The camera connector sounds like the similar one that used to work with iPods – works only to copy photos off a camera memory card, nothing else. This is a limited enough use that I’m not sure it would be beneficial to include it for everyone. Any use of memory cards as more ‘general purpose’ storage runs into the file system issue – users would have to start explicitly managing where and how they store documents, and right now I don’t see Apple doing this. (Allowing cards to be user-accessible storage means forcing the user to be aware of storage locations; otherwise, you have things mysteriously vanishing when you remove the card, and that is Not A Good Thing. Even if you limit cards to read-only added storage for music/video, you still have to deal with the ‘what happened to my movies?’ issue when the card comes out.)

    5. Hairy Goomer says:

      Gene,

      I listened to last night’s Tech Night Owl, and David Biedny sounded like Apple had pissed in his cornflakes or…something. I sensed he was PO’d because he was not invited to the iPad keynote. All that blathering of his about how Jony Ive, Phil Shiller, and Scott Forstall had that “crazed look” in the video that was shown during the keynote was out of line, in my opinion.

      I’m hoping the “David Biedny Zone” hasn’t turned into some dark parallel universe.

      • @Hairy Goomer, What’s wrong with dark parallel universes? 😀

        In any case, David doesn’t seek invitations from Apple, since he’d still have to pay the plane fare and hotel accommodations — he lives in New York. I’ve been to more than a few, but I no longer accept the invitations for the same reason; budget. Worse, Apple used to send those notices out less than seven days before the event, which meant you couldn’t take advantage of those 7-day advance booking discounts. They don’t do that anymore, but nonetheless I’ve not asked Apple start inviting me again.

        Peace,
        Gene

    6. Hairy Goomer says:

      @Gene,

      So what was the burr in David’s saddle? Sheesh, he sounded like Thurrott for God’s sake.

    7. David Biedny says:

      Well, I expressed my opinions about the iPad and Apple’s rollout in an honest and straight way. I also was truly astounded at the look on those Apple employee’s faces – perhaps I’m the only one who felt that way, but doesn’t anyone else detect a bit of what I saw in their eyes? – hushed tones of reverence and awe, a bit too wide-eyed, almost cult-like. I’ve seen that look before, and not in the eyes of the sane. Meanwhile, reading the posts of readers of sites like Engadget and Gizmodo, and apparently I’m not the only one who is a bit underwhelmed by the iPad. Was I wrong about my opinions regarding the lack of multitasking, the inability to run real apps, the lack of connectivity options? Yes, the price point is great, yes, it looks like a cool way to cruise the web and watch movies, but the continued lack of Flash support is really lame, and is the result of pure politics, nothing technological. It’s sad. And I’m one of the few who seems to recognize the significance of offering the iWork apps on the iPad, and I also commented about how I feel the $10 price point is just right for these types of apps. I give credit where credit is due, but I’m not a wide-eyed Apple fanboy. Sorry, I’ve been using their stuff for over 30 years now, I’ve been around the block with them a few too many times to not see their flaws, along with their strengths. And I could give a damn about not attending the event – I got over those types of events many moons ago. I’d rather be at home with a nice cup of tea.

      dB

    8. Hairy Goomer says:

      David,

      Thanks for the explanations. I’m a long-time listener to the show (more than five years), and I didn’t see anything on the faces of Jony Ive, Scott Forstall, or Phil Shiller indicating they were crazed loonies…and I’m a psychotherapist. Now, Steve Ballmer’s another subject altogether! Ha.

      From what I read, the people who’ve had the chance to get their hands on an iPad say it is much more impressive in person than in photos and through a reading of its specs.

      I’ve owned an iPhone since day one back in June ’07, and my take is that Apple has made the exact right choices when it comes to how much multi-tasking they support. Everything, as I’m sure you know, is a compromise, and iPhone and iPad are no exceptions.

      I can assure you I will be purchasing an iPad – my quandary is whether to get the wifi-only model or have the patience for the 3G.

      Sorry for coming down rather hard on you in my earlier post. I find I agree with the vast majority of your opinions and observations.

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