The iPad FAIL/WIN hypothesis

28 Jan 2010

It was the night before Christmas for tech geeks and Apple nuts. Visions of muli-tasking and two-way webcams danced in our heads. But inevitably in the cold light of the morning a pair of socks is simply a pair of socks, even if they are cashmere. And how many things did Father Jobs leave off my list?!

It was being hailed as the ‘iPhone on steroids’; now the poor iPad is being referred to as ‘a bloody great iPod touch’. Over-hyping and wild conjectures aside, what did Apple get right and more importantly, what did it get wrong?

Doing the right thing

As far as I’m concerned, Apple’s design ethos still holds with the iPad. There is nothing groundbreaking in the overblown iPhone department but the 0.5-inch thickness, 1.5-pounds in weight and sturdy aluminium backing hold appeal as does the ‘not too small, not too big’ 9.7-inch LED backlit screen.

“I may as well buy a netbook,” some critics exclaimed, but the iPad is not claiming to be one or to take its place. It will change the face of computing in another way.

It’s no coincidence that Apple CEO Steve Jobs chose to sit down in an armchair to demo this device – this is where Apple sees the iPad – a consumer device aimed squarely at those seeking convenient to consume ‘infotainment’ at their fingertips.

And another thing: it kicks the e-book reader’s ass. Your Kindle and Nook may have wireless connectivity and magazine subscriptions, but it does not have the full-colour beauty and multi-touch navigation that the publishing industry, particularly newspaper and magazines in digital format, will thrive on.

Nor does the e-book reader have the legacy and interoperability of the App Store that will knit together with the new iBookstore. Sure, the only apps you will be able to run are vetted by Apple, but those using iTunes (lots of us!) and an iPod or iPhone will welcome the integration.

This obviously applies to consuming your music, movies and TV shows and extends the ease at which content can be obtained through iTunes and watched on YouTube (except for us here in Ireland still waiting on movies and TV shows).

If you’re sitting on the couch surfing the net, reading, watching, listening, streaming and updating your social-media profiles, then a big-ass iPhone or iPod touch does meet your requirements.

As for productivity, there is the option of iWork apps and a wireless keyboard, so a bit of business can be done even if it’s not really the aim.

What went wrong

I could make a list as long as my arm of things that I wanted to see crammed into the iPad, but seeing it for what it is, as an ‘infotainer’, there are a few real niggles, the lack of multitasking being the chief one.

If you look at the smart-phone world, the Nokia N900, Palm Pre and Nexus One all cope with multitasking so why can’t the iPhone or iPad do this? Is it computing power? Hardly. The A4 ‘system-on-a-chip’ should be more than enough to handle it.

It seems as though Apple looked at iPad priorities and multitasking wasn’t one of them, nor was a camera. It might have been nice to Skype your buddies from the iPad but if there is no multitasking you can’t exactly surf and video-chat. A curious decision from Apple but it does not rule out a future software update that would include this (the multitasking, not the camera, that is).

And here’s the killer one: no Flash. So for a web browser-heavy device you’re going to have to out up with the missing Flash plug-in icon even though there are plenty of Flash games and Flash-based websites and video players out there.

If you can get over these omissions you won’t be pleased with the next one: there are no USB ports. None. You’ve got your data/power connection and your earphones connection and that’s it, it seems. So if you’re thinking of plugging in USB speakers, uploading from your digital camera or using the countless other USB devices out there, tough.

Finally, something we expected because of the iPhone but it doesn’t make it smart any less. You can’t just lop data onto this and go. Music must be from iTunes, applications must be from the App Store. You can’t put a USB stick full of documents or photos onto this. It’s a closed system. The question is, do you like being locked down by Apple enough to enjoy the iPad’s good bits?

By Marie Boran

Photo: Apple’s new iPad has its pros and cons