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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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