As you know, Apple seeded iPads to a select few tech journalists in recent weeks. Two days before the product’s official availability at the Apple Store and Best Buy, the fruit of those marketing efforts paid off, in the form of highly favorable reviews that have been plastered all over the Internet.
Now to be fair to such people as my friends David Pogue, Bob LeVitus and others, I think they did a great job with their reviews. You read through all of them, you can get a fair picture of just what the iPad is all about. It’s likely that the millions who do see those articles will soon begin making final decisions about whether to buy Apple’s spanking new tablet computer.
Certainly it appears they are largely complaining about the same things, even though we’re talking about different people in different places, having different backgrounds. So, for example, you just know that the larger form factor makes the touchscreen keyboard less comfortable. The iPad is too large for the single finger or two-finger routine to which many have become accustomed on the iPhone and other smartphones sporting some sort of multi-touch capability. Apple’s forthcoming accessory keyboard, and the third-party alternatives, will be needed if you plan to write lots of stuff.
However, the iPad is clearly superior for consumption, from books, to games to music and video. Apple Mail will look better, Safari will present a beautiful, full-sized rendition of sites that normally display in a reduced fashion on a mobile device, as this site does.
Among the other negatives is, of course, the lack of multitasking, but I’m still highly concerned that this issue isn’t always clarified. Multitasking works for Apple’s apps but not for third-party apps. Apple’s reasoning was the potential for excessive resource usage and shortened battery life on the iPhone, but what about the iPad? Maybe they are right, or maybe that was just a smoke screen for not having a final answer as to how to make it work effectively on a wider scale. The latest rumors indicate that some sort of multitasking scheme is on tap for iPhone 4.0, but it’s an open question how it might come to be.
One possibility is an Expose-style environment, where you see a list of, say, open app icons, and click the one you want to move to next. It would still be a two-step process, but it would also allow the inactive apps to actually do something in the background when needed.
And, of course, the lack of Flash support is mentioned as a negative.
What isn’t being discussed in the reviews I’ve read so far — and I assure you that I haven’t checked each and every one — is the lack of native support for printing. I made a big deal of this missing feature, and Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell clearly feels the same in the interview he recorded for this week’s tech show. Yes, the iPad may be a simply wonderful device to read books, magazines and documents, but there will be situations where you just have to print something. The printing utilities available from the App Store usually pass along the task to your Mac or PC, but the iPad surely has more than enough native power to handle this critical function directly, so let’s see how it plays out.
Or maybe that’s something that will come in iPhone 4.0.
The other shortcoming not given much play is the fact that the iPad, despite being suited for tasks for which you might have used a note-book computer, cannot exist as a standalone device. You still have to dock it to your Mac or PC to synchronize apps and other content. So long as this tethering scheme is necessary, it cannot exist free-standing for very long.
This is something I would have liked to see discussed in those reviews, for Apple is going to have to find a way to separate the iPad from its hosts. The logical answer would be an entirely cloud-based sync system, and it certainly will use Apple’s MobileMe for some of this functionality. But a Time Machine for the iPad would be useful. That way you could wirelessly back up stuff to even a standalone networked hard drive, such as an Apple Time Capsule and, in fact, to any local network or cloud-based backup method. It shouldn’t be restricted to MobileMe, as much as Apple would like to get the annual gravy in the form of memberships.
When that occasion arrives, and it’s inevitable that it will, the iPad will truly come into its own as a note-book computer replacement. Right now, it appears to exist in that gray area between smartphone and note-book, and that may reduce potential sales to some customers. Yes, maybe Apple doesn’t want to cannibalize too many MacBook and MacBook Pro sales — although that’s going to happen anyway — but perhaps a final untethering scheme isn’t fully formed yet.
The real issue is that too many people are apt to expect the iPad to be fully realized, even though it’s a version 1.0 product. We all know about the features that it lacks. The software can be fixed, the lack of a built-in Web cam will wait for a future version. But that’s how things are if you choose to be an early adopter. I see huge potential in the iPad, but it’ll take a while before we know about its potential for long-lasting success. Right now the hype machine is in full force, and lots of units will sell quickly regardless of what happens later on.
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