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I will be buying an iPad… but why?

Apple ended months (for some people years) of speculation today by finally announcing the upcoming release of a tablet computer, the iPad. Like pretty much everything Apple releases, there is an overwhelming amount of hype surrounding the device, and many “true believers” are disappointed by what the device offers.

Even so, I plan on buying one when it becomes available. I thought it would be appropriate to explain my rational on the theory that my friends and family may doubt my sanity more than usual as a result.

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What is the iPad?

The iPad could be described as a really big iPod Touch with optional 3G (mobile internet) connectivity. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t help much if you have no idea what an iPod Touch is. The other description that you will see applied is to call it a “tablet” computer: however, it is quite different from traditional Windows-based tablets, beginning with the fact that it doesn’t run a full desktop OS. Similarly, it is kind of the same size as a netbook, but with a touch sensitive display in place of the keyboard.

None of these things really stack up very well in terms of describing it. So perhaps explaining what it does would help. It can browse the internet with a more or less full size (9.7″ 1024×768) display, built in home wireless (802.11n WiFi) connectivity. You can read and create email messages and, with optional software, work on spreadsheets, documents, or presentations. Photos can be downloaded, viewed, and edited. You can hook a keyboard up to it wirelessly via Bluetooth. It comes with 16, 32, 04 64 GB of storage. You can watch movies, listen to music, read books, and subscribe to various magazines and other periodicals. It has a full colour display and ten hours of battery life, meaning you can use it to watch movies on reasonably lengthy flights.

The iPad is “fully” compatible with the 100,000 + applications available for the iPhone and iPod Touch- it runs a special version of the same operating system, so this makes sense. It doesn’t currently multi-task like Windows does but, if you are familiar with the iPhone / iPad Touch, that often doesn’t matter much as many things can still happen “at the same time” (kinda multi-tasking, but not quite). The price will range between $500 and $1000 depending on the storage and options you select.

Why would I want one?

The obvious answer is because I love gadgets, and am a geek. For years I have chased the “ultimate” personal portable device. I own an original Apple Newton, a couple of Palm devices, an iPaq (Windows CE) device, an Irex Iliad, a Sony eBook reader, and a BlackBerry. I also own two laptop computers. Each of these devices has taught me something, and some have become treasured parts of my day to day life. Yet still they aren’t quite “right”, and so I continue seeking: purchasing the iPad is an obvious extension of this lengthy quest.

I can imagine a number of ways I would use it. There are a lot of times when the BlackBerry isn’t adequate for what I want to do on the web, but the MacBook is overkill. When I’m wanting to check something on the web quickly while watching TV, or need to reference photos I took of a clock mechanism while I’m working on it later, when I’m on vacation, or read my Internet feeds while on the… chair: all of these are circumstances would be a good fit for the iPad.

Before the announcement, I set out several features I wanted to see before I would buy. First, I wanted a price not much more than $1000. Secondly, I wanted the ability to use a wireless keyboard. Thirdly, it needed more than four hours of battery life. Finally, I wanted it to be high enough resolution with a large enough display that I could comfortably read web pages. The iPad hit all of these requirements and surprised me in the price arena: it only costs $1,000 in a fully maxed out configuration. If I don’t need so much storage and forgo 3G networking, I can get a decent configuration for a couple hundred less than that: by Apple standards, that’s downright cheap. And the ten hours of battery life is a very positive feature.

Things that bug me

The foremost flaw with the iPad for my purposes is the way they have packaged the 3G wireless Internet option. You can’t buy an iPad and add 3G later: you have to buy the feature from the start. This has two impacts: first, I have to decide to buy a feature I may not use, but might want at a later date. Second, because of how international licensing and approvals work, even if I decide I want to commit the extra money I won’t be able to buy the 3G version in Canada until likely six or more months from now. If they made 3G available as a plug-in feature, both of these problems would be eliminated.

The other issue with the iPad is the same one I have with pretty much all Apple portable products: the lack of a user-replaceable battery. I really wish someone could convince Steve Jobs that lacking this feature isn’t a “plus”, and in fact constrains the utility of every portable device they sell. Not having a replaceable battery means that you can’t ‘refresh’ the device with a new battery when the battery life expires: at least not without either sending it away for several weeks for “factory replacement”, or risking opening the device and doing it yourself. It also means that you can’t carry a couple of spare charged batteries in your bag for “on the fly” replacement. The lack of a replaceable battery isn’t a show stopper, but it surely is irritating.

Neither of these irritants will stop me from buying an iPad, but they will reduce my satisfaction in the process. And both irritants have no practical reason for existing other than a slavish adherence to certain design rules that fail to impress me after several years of observation.

In conclusion

The iPad isn’t earth changing, revolutionary, or astounding. Like most of the things Apple has produced, on the surface and in view of “bullet point” features, it has been done before. There have been tablets, e-readers, netbooks, and personal media devices of various sizes for years now. But what Apple has proven is that they have a gift for packaging functionality and wrapping it in a user interface that goes far beyond the feature list. From what I’ve seen, the iPad continues this history, and it appeals to me on several levels.

If you are curious what I mean by Apple being able to go far beyond mere bullet points via their user interface skills, check this quick video demoing the multi-touch UI and its responsiveness

3 comments to I will be buying an iPad… but why?

  • To me the only question would be why *you* wouldn’t be buying the latest tech toy.

    I do have to say that they have the right concept: a portable information device rather than computer. Though the cost of data via cell network in Canada still prohibits it being all it could be.

    But for someone that only uses the computer to download music, send e-mail and surf the web, it looks like and ideal concept.

    Mind you, it already has the moronic apple built in battery. I expect it will also have the traditional apple overheating problems, and some of the assorted other technical glitches that the apple true believers insist don’t exist or actually proof of superiority.

    One thing apple has done well, is cross platform integration. ( I realize it’s actually all the same OS, which helps. ) The fabled apple intuitive ease of use is BS, but they have realized that people want easy access to their digital stuff where ever they are.

  • The cell network is an issue, but not as big as I once thought. With my BlackBerry, probably 70%+ of the time I’m using it I’m connected to either my home or work WiFi. I’d expect 90% of the time that I’d want something like the iPad that would be true. I’d prefer 100% connectivity, but for the typical $100 a month cost, I don’t think so. If Rogers or Telus gets hooked up with Apple like AT&T did in the states, though… $15 a month for 250 MB or $30 a month for unlimited data might be just fine. But that is hightly doubtful in our wonderful over-regulated environment.

    As for the ease of use… my observation is that Apple really does do a better job than the competitors. There are a lot of features shared between Windows 7 and Mac OSX 10.6, things like the quicklaunch bar/dock and the like, but on the Mac they seem more intuitive. “Fit and finish”, I guess is what you’d call it in the car world. It’s like when I sit in my Acura, all of the controls fall to hand without a lot of looking around. When I sit in a similar vintage GM product, the same functions are all there, but I perpetually have to poke around with inconveniently placed and fiddly buttons.

    I’m on the list to get notified when it becomes available, so we’ll see.

  • I find that apple very un-intuitive personally. What I do find is that it’s all the same though, so once you learn on one apple platform, it carries over to the others.

    Windows changes a lot from version to version, and then depending on the particular install of office, the umpteen diferent browser options etc etc each machine is different. I would even go so far as to say that the very fact people can use windows machines at all would indicate that windows is more intuitive, because there is no way to actually “learn” it.

    What I like about apple is how they put the bits together. I have itunes because it was the only easy way of getting legal digital copies of movies onto to my laptop to take with me on my trip. I can actually play those movies on my network, whereas with vista machines I can’t even always play music I have ripped from a CD I own if it’s on a different part of the network. With apple you can have your phone, your music player, your TV, your home network, you pad … and generally have them all work well together and with online content.

    Very tempting.

    What turns me off of apple is the cost, and the attitude,

    It’s like those “I’m a mac. And I’m a PC” ads. I’m much more a shcleppy, socially inept middle aged nerd that muddles through than I am cool, laid back Mac. The commercials actually make me sympathize with PC and be proud to own one … which I’m sure wasn’t exactly the intent.

    Back to the iPad, I visualize using it the way you would take a newspaper, magazine or book with you on the bus, train or plane. Commuting to work or school, or showing friends your “stuff”. As such the 3G connectivity would be a major part of the package, as would ruggedness and durability.

    I’ll be interested in your experience with it, although I won’t be getting one anytime soon ( quie happy with my netbook for now )it has caught my attention.

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