27 January 2010

The iPad - The “Goldilocks” Computer?

ChasAt this writing I haven’t had a chance to view the video of the keynote yet, but I’ve heard the audio and read all the news sites and the many Mac forums I monitor.

The reaction, at least initially, reminds me a whole lot of what we got from this same community regarding the iPod at the time of its introduction. Which is to say “mixed opinion,” followed by historical revisionism as the mainstream decided (slowly) that it was actually a pretty awesome product.

As I listened and read, I too had a mixed opinion about this thing: I liked many of the ideas, but some things seemed to be missing, and I wasn’t sure that there was a place in my power-user’s life for one. I did think and do think that this new product passes the “Grandma” test in a whole new way and may well prove to be a big hit with normal people, book lovers and educators. It may even be revolutionary (starting with killing off the Kindle, the Nook and so on -- what staggeringly awkward and primitive failures of imagination those products look like now).

Then I thought about it some more. Second impression -- oh dear, I may just have to give Apple even more of my money.

As I’ve gotten busier, I have allowed all my magazine subs -- including some of the Mac mags I used to write for -- to disappear. I barely read magazines anymore, despite enjoying them. Ditto for newspapers. The iPad would make this much easier for me to do, particularly when I’m lounging in a coffeeshop/airport (or at home for that matter!). If I had spare cash, I'd be spending it on Starbucks stock (or any other chain that is also an AT&T wifi hotspot) -- I think business will be booming in a few months. Imagine being able to buy any magazine every published -- even back issues -- for a modest price and start reading them instantly. For me, at least, the doctor’s office will never be the same again.

If the AppleTV is the “den” Mac, and the MacBook/MBP is the “on the go” Mac, I think the iPad may be the “La-Z-Boy” Mac. I can certainly see myself enjoying it greatly in such a chair. :)

I’ve also been enjoying Classics on the iPhone, but have been very hesitant to get into eBooks properly. My wife has a Kindle, and it’s ... okay. The iPad, on the other hand, has real potential for eBooks (particularly that they are using the ePub format -- very smart), magazines, comic books (sorry, graphic novels), and even other written formats. Finally, I can invest some time and money into Canadian mags I’ve been wanting to check out!

So yes, I think this will inject new life into newspaper and magazine-type publications, and open the field to new voices (desperately needed, particularly on the political and investigative journalism fronts). That part, I think, I think will be revolutionary. Heck, its only been out a few hours and its already changed the eBook publishing industry, particularly when it comes to pricing.

A second example: I am typing this to you on an extended keypad attached to my BlackBook. Some years ago, I got tired of trying to keep a laptop and a desktop in sync, since I give a lot of public presentations. So I went all-laptop, and built myself a little base station here at home that the laptop plugs into. So now I carry a laptop with me on every airplane trip, carry the laptop on every presentation (and hope there’s working wifi where I’m going), carry the laptop on the ferry rides to Seattle or Vancouver. The iPhone has turned out to be quite good in a lot of these situations, allowing me on occasion to go without the laptop, but it’s never been sufficient for me to leave the laptop behind when I had any real work to do -- particularly since the main reason I travel is to do presentations, which like the lackadaisical schoolboy I used to be, often get, er, “revised” on the way to the gig.

The iPad + iWork changes that very significantly in several ways:
  • I can do "real work" on an iPad, whereas on an iPhone that’s all but impossible. Porting iWork over to the iPad was a stroke of serious genius.
  • The 3G option makes it possible for me to have internet almost anywhere, which will be a godsend to my presentations when wifi isn’t available. The minute I heard you could hook an iPad to a projector, I was almost totally sold. This is a game-changer for road warriors, educators, and maybe even students.
  • The greatly increased battery life means I can be away from my “base station” for a lot longer, but do almost everything I need to (including Back to My Mac if I need it). I don’t need to lug a “real computer” around with me at all anymore. My “real computer” can stay at the house, which means I can get a better/more powerful “real computer.”
  • 9.7" screen = easier on my aging eyes. There, I said it.
  • Bigger than an iPhone, but still able to be used usefully in coach seating. Try that with a regular laptop. HAH!
  • As Steve said (and I fully concur) ... beats the crap out of a netbook for most things. Amen.
  • Assuming (hehheh) that Rogers (our Canadian primary 3G provider) goes along with some similar pricing for an unlimited data plan a la AT&T for the thing ... I think that will cause a revolution in its own right.
The Apple iPadSo, whereas yesterday I had been thinking about whether I wanted to finally upgrade to a 13" or 15" MBP, today I'm thinking my next computer(s) will be a 27" iMac at home (I have really been wanting one, but couldn't justify it because of my need to do presentations) and an iPad for the road. Much easier to sync, particularly for me as a MobileMe member. Much lighter. Does pretty much 100% of the things I would want to do on the road. I can have 3G when I need it, for a very reasonable price, and not pay for it when I don't need it. No contracts, no ongoing mandatory expense. Fantastic battery life. Beautiful LED backlit IPS screen. Large (albeit virtual) keyboard. All my favourite iPhone apps.

There are a few other things I could have wished for, and the first one that came to my mind was a mic. Turns out it has one, along with speakers (just wasn't mentioned in the keynote for some reason). This means I can use Skype. With Bluetooth, even. Sold!

I would have paid extra for a model with an iSight in it, and an iChat app. It would have been really nice if it had at least one in-built USB port instead of making us buy and use a little dongle, but OTOH now that functionality will (probably) be available to the iPhone/iPod Touch as well, which opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities.

So the thing's not perfect. But it’s highly, highly intriguing. I think I’ve found a place for it in my life, mostly near the couch.

Still, I have little doubt that third-parties will plug the little gaps in short order, and as Jonny Ive said “there’s no wrong way to hold it,” so using it “upside down” with a webcam attached to the dock port could be huge. My wife will never get me lost again -- I could have a GPS app on this thing!*

*It is, of course, always my wife’s fault if we get lost. ;)

Obviously this is just my life and YMMV, but I certainly predict this to be a big hit (though I suspect there will be a slow start till the accessories and apps are fully built up. That’s okay, though -- the iPod had a slow start too) and I do think it will change the world, at least a little. I think it will kill the Kindle/Nook/etc (which may have the unanticipated effect of further hurting libraries), and I think it will revitalise the magazine/graphic novel and newspaper publishing companies, take e-reading mainstream and continue to solidify Apple's grip on the media world, which has so far been pretty mutually beneficial (but I can see where some people would be concerned about that).

I think it will largely kill netbooks that aspire to be anything more than bargain-basement Microsoft Office machines. After today, they finally look like what they really are -- toys.

Steve + TabletsOn the other hand, I think seniors and newbies and switchers -- and heck, most non-nerds -- would be very well-advised to give the iPad a test drive as soon as possible. I think this is exactly the right amount of computer for the average person, reformulated in a way that drops some of the barriers and makes learning it much easier. And it's a pretty fine supplement to a "real" computer even for geeks (at least, this geek).

Finally, I think the iPad will draw netbook owners who want something more, tablet owners (particularly artists) who want it done right, and adults who would have otherwise bought an iPod Touch (which is now pretty much a kid’s device). If Apple had offered a nice set of bluetooth headphones (and the aforementioned webcam) I think they would have made it just about perfect.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this later, but those are my initial thoughts.

1 comment:

REVO said...

I can see a point in my life (when wi-fi is super ubiquitous) where I will pony up for a Touch. I might not wait long, actually. Bento+Touch=record collector bliss. But I'm too much of a computer guy to want an iPad. I don't use a computer for non-creative work purposes that much. Certainly not enough for (another) monthly bill! But as I said in my earlier analysis, this is exactly the right amount of computer for a vast swath of lay people for whom actual computers are overkill of the worst kind.

I'm not that familiar with iPhone OS so please illuminate me as to how hands-free maintenance/configuration is on this device class. If a person can just use an iPad without configuring or specifying any settings, they've got a massive hit on their hands. You want e-mail? Internet? Skype? Don't know what IMAP, POP, DNS, DHCP, etc. mean? Want a virus & malware free platform? Go to the Apple Store, pronto!

So in summary: the desktop wars are long over Microsoft won. The everything-but-the-desktop wars are heating up, and Apple's dominating.