Apple iPad – Coming for the lost

The development community have wrapped 140 000 apps under their collective belt; Apple have seen 3 billion apps downloaded from the App store; and the hitherto iconic iPod is fading into Apple’s focal background even as it surpasses an impressive number of its own: 250 million units sold. Steve Jobs and Apple haven’t made any promises – the iPad isn’t even at market yet. But it has pulled at myriad heartstrings: it has grabbed the spotlight. But why is it important and is it worthwhile to buy, and if so, who will benefit from it?

Congrats Apple, you have risen from the ashes of the 90’s thanks in no small part to the iPod. But just as the iPod’s squeaky clean lines saturate the world, you spring something on us from the annals of your own failed product: the Apple Newton. The iPad is everything the Newton should have been. The iPad is in fact, a less-stellar product than the Newton was – when contrasted with contemporary technology. But, with Apple 2.0, it is all about timing and THE device, not about technology.

Technology doesn’t matter because most people don’t use it, they scream about it. Giga-Mega-Dual – it is fool’s talk. At the end of the day, in front of Facebook or ミクシー it is how you use it – and most people use a tenth of what even the most meagre of modern computers is capable of. Still, for tech buffs, there is still plenty to yammer about: custom A4 processor, multi-touch capacitive display, IPS(!!!) LCD screen, WiFi, Bluetooth, etc., but it’s business time:

The iPad is isn’t large iPod touch
The physical size of the iPad’s touch screen – the fact that it is just a massive iPod touch – is probably its most important and most quizzical feature. The iDevice rocks because multitouch technology is smack in the palm of your hand. It aids daily tasks by effectively negating the small screen touch and feel. Web, print, and photos are great to browse and interact with because the iDevice interface isn’t clunky. Everything that the iPhone is, is hinged on technology the technology fulcrums of its manipulability as a touch screen device.

The iPad is neither pocketable, nor palm-able. It is a two-hand device as much as a keyboard and mouse are. Forget thumb-typing whilst sipping your favourite coffee. Forget discrete reading on the train. Forget ultimate portability. Steve Jobs and his associates and colleagues each were accompanied by handlers. Standing whilst operating the iPad must be tiring despite it weighing just over 600 grams. Apple conveyed is that the iPad isn’t for really active use, it is a sitting device. So whereas the iPod touch is an everywhere-device for: the living room, the office, the bedroom (oh, you are naughty!)

The iPad is isn’t a Laptop
So why is it important? What makes it a compelling purchase? Firstly, it is precisely because of the fact that the iPad is unwieldy that it is exciting. Like a laptop, it is meant for sitting. But unlike a laptop, it isn’t tied to a keyboard. You can use the somewhat cramped on-screen implementation of one, or you can add a bluetooth keyboard when at a table. But unlike tablet computers, it doesn’t run a desktop OS. Its design goals are simple: to do basic computing needs very well. Consider it an ad-hoc laptop, tablet, subcompact, and iPod – it is a bit of everything.

The iPad is isn’t an easel
The iPad is also an ad hoc easel. Steve Sprang showcased a great-looking iPad version of Brushes, his exciting finger-painting app. The iPad’s larger touch-screen playbox is perfect for art, for small-time presentations, for direct creativity. It is an ad hoc creativity device. Or, it could be. There still is dearth of vector applications, not to mention CAD software for any flavour of OSX.

Magazine: The New Yorker's cover was painted with Brushes

But that is where the developer comes in. The iPad will not thrive or dive based on its hardware function set; like the iPhone and iPod touch, it is the way its hardware can be activated by creative devs which will set it apart. The fact that it doesn’t run desktop OSX means that it has a chance as a platform, albeit in a niche market.

The iPad is isn’t a netbook or tablet computer
If it was either, it would have full-fledged OSX under the bonnet, proper audio IN/Out, USB, and God forbid, maybe even Firewire. Currently, the thing looks like a Korean PMP – gigantic portable devices which are a craze among the young – and its flashy screen screams money. It plays bolder games than its iDevice siblings. But rather than attaining to be the ultimate device for either leisure activity, it draws scorn from would-be fans. Audiophiles decry its lack of optical output, or USB for external DACs. Gamers think the thing too big and gutless to replace dedicated devices. And not even the Apple-approved SD card fits in anywhere.

Current-crop netbooks are aces of portability though some sport ‘full size’ keyboards. Others fetch speedy processors, large harddisks, and gobs of RAM, but not a single one makes use of the power – they can’t. The screens are horrid as are the majority of track pads and speakers; their diminutive size prevents any real work from getting done.

But worst of all, most are tied to Windows. While A-okay in a desktop or powerful notebook, Windows is too needy to be a realistic portable operating system – especially when that portable connects to internet. Windows-based netbooks crawl when churning through Norton Antivirus and fastidious firewalls. And Linux-based netbooks, though free from viruses and trojans preclude work and play by their very size and shoddy… everything.

The iPad is isn’t an eBook reader
Sadly no, it isn’t. But where eInk powered eBook readers are great on the eyes, they do too little for most users today. Apple 2.0 reach for the biggest market segment. That segment is dominated by young people, and as a former young person, I can tell you that reading isn’t a high priority for most. Instead, Apple include a good eBook store, iBook (snark), a great IPS display, and a goodly-sizes screen for reading. There will be eye-strain, there will be battery issues when compared to competing eBook readers. But, the iPad reaches for more than Amazon or Sony can with their sophisticated reading devices. Textbooks and professional publications are likely to follow, and depending on rights-issues, the iPad may become a very good reading device for the casual to serious reader.

The iPad is…
With Apple’s event over and the wee-willy-wow Jobsisms out of the way, it is time to focus on the iPad’s market. The above paragraphs point to a multiple personality split by portability, playability, and productivity. But as was repeated again and again yesterday, the iPad is: internet, pictures, movies, games, work – at your fingertips. I can see this being a potential for sales among the computing newbie. Sitting in front of a desktop or laptop is daunting especially if all you want to do is read an email or at most, load up YouTube. But at the same time, curling your body around a tiny iPhone is tiring. The iPad raises basic computing from out of the mire of the office without screaming “wannabe laptop!” like its netbook colleagues do.

Semantisists decry the name; but the iPad follows no cycles other than Apple’s own development cycle, and there are no strings attached. And, unlike sanitary devices of the same name, there are no strings attached. Apple haven’t always named things right. The iPod isn’t a pretty name, and MacBook is cacophony at best. But iPad is probably Apple’s most wink-wink-nudge-nudge funnily embarrassingly named device to date. And depending on your accent, iPad can sound just like iPod. Even Jesus Jobs slipped up in the presentation.

But in the end, Apple have done it again. I will buy an iPad, though not till my purse has recovered from the sudden shock of having to fix my 600Ω Beyerdynamic DT-880 headphones – what a doozy. For people like me who need battery life and portability, but still require simple productivity whilst out and about, there isn’t another feasible device.

The fact is that what we saw yesterday was a demo. By the time it ships, it will likely sport the new iPhone OS 4.0 and a slew of modified-for-iPad apps and accessories. It might even support Adobe’s proprietary Flash. The Premium App Store which circulated last year probably point to the iPad. Apple will support the device and as there is money to be made, so too will developers.

In fact, that is the number one reason why the iPad shouldn’t be overlooked: Apple designed it. The OS is built, tweaked and tested specifically for the iPad. The hardware is made specifically for the iPad. Apps will be made to take advantage of it as a platform, even above its regular iDevice siblings. This isn’t the plug’n play world of Windows where every hardware manufacturer competes for cutest colour, for best finger scanner, or most bounce-able hardware – the iPad is an Apple device which is made ground up to accomplish the purposes which Apple set.

It entices haters and lovers both to foam at the mouth; indeed, it draws “I am not an Apple sheep” sheep to slander the Cupertino company, its products, and chime in every second about superior products. Fans are probably dismayed by a lack here or a design flaw there, but most are already counting their pesos.

It isn’t perfect, but it is the perfectest non-laptop portable computing device which isn’t a smartphone yet. That, friends, is why it matters.

Lots of iPad love here:

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