Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Apple’s iPad: 10 inch iPod Touch or iDisaster?

Posted in Apple, ipod, itunes by commorancy on January 28, 2010

Recently, I wrote the article “What is it about tablets?”.  In that article, I discussed what Apple must do to make the newly announced iPad (tablet computer) successful.  Apple needs a paradigm shifting technology embedded in the iPad that would make the usability of such a tablet go leaps ahead of previous tablet attempts.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.

Failure to launch (and type!)

The iPad may look like a pad, but it functions nothing like a pad.  In fact, this device looks and acts like an iPod touch on steroids.  But, Apple failed this device on so many levels.  First, let’s start with the design.  The iPad back is not flat (which is just like the newest thin iPod touch).  The back is curved. So, laying the iPad on a flat surface leads to wobbly typing or surfing.  This forces you to put it on a soft surface or hold it in your hand.  Not an optimal or convenient design.

Typing input

On the touch, however, it was small enough to hold in one hand and type with the other.  In fact, you could hold it with two hands and thumb type.  With a 10 inch sized device, one hand typing isn’t really an option.  But, this whole typing issue just goes back to the fundamental input problem with tablets.  How do you reliably get input into a tablet computer?  The options are voice, handwriting recognition and touch typing.  None of these input styles make for a truly usable computer experience.  So, on this level, Apple has failed.  Funny too, because Apple is usually the leader when it comes to innovative ways to improve user interface experience.

Finger Friendly?

I’d like to point out another possible problem.  On the iPod Touch, the touch screen surface only works with an actual finger touch.  It doesn’t work with gloves on or by using your fingernail.  As a result, this makes the touch surface a problem in the winter or for women with long nails.  I do not presently know that the iPad uses this same touch screen technology, but it’s very probable.  Therefore, this could make the iPad not friendly for glove wearers or women with long nails.

Lack of ports

Most computers today need to support the latest in port technology.  More and more, however, Apple seems to shun standards and try for their own proprietary connectors.  Sometimes it works.  More often than not, it fails.  In this case with this device, it adds to the design failure.  With the iPad, Apple should have added standard ports like HDMI and a Secure Digital slot.  Unfortunately, they didn’t do this and this device suffers as a result.  This is especially bad considering most Netbooks offer most of these ports.  Yes, some Netbooks even offer HDMI ports.

iPod Touch Clone

Unfortunately for the iPad, it appears to be a 10 inch iPod touch.  The interface is, of course, 10 inches.  This means it uses the same interface that’s on the iPhone and iPod touch.  On a small handheld device, that interface works well.  On a 10 inch screen, the oddness of it all is quite apparent.  The resolution is higher on the 10 inch screen and, thus, the iPad scales up most apps to accommodate.  The problem is the scaling.  Some apps look fine scaled.  Some can actually take advantage of the larger screen (mapping softwares).  With low res apps, the iPad scales up the app window to fill the 10 inch screen which looks quite lame.  Granted, all of this can be fixed by developers reworking their apps.  But, for now, it makes this device all the more clumsy.

App Store Tie-In

This is yet another in a series of devices that Apple is requiring the user to use solely with iTunes and the App store.  Inevitably, the iPad will be jailbroken.  Until then, the audience is captive to the Apple store.  So, if you want apps or media, that’s where you must go.  Of course, you can import media into iTunes app and sync that, but you cannot load any apps other than those that come from Apple’s app store until it is jailbroken (probably the day after it gets released).

This also means that tried and tested apps you’ve come to know on Windows or even Mac OS X may never become available on the iPad due to iTunes App Store restrictions.

A must have? No.  Not yet anyway.

Apple has yet to convince me (and many others) of the necessity of this device.  There’s no wow-factor here or anything compelling to make the iPad stand out as must have.  There’s nothing here to say that it is even useful for anything beyond what a Netbook can accomplish for less money.  The iPod touch is still much more useful due to its size.  The iPad is sitting in a cost space near Netbook pricing (the iPad is more costly), but Netbooks still have much more functionality due to a real keyboard and better use of the screen (not to mention, full fledged apps).

At the entry level pricing of $499, which will mean a bare bones model, you’re sure to get as little as possible.   To get all the bells and whistles, you’re likely to pay well over $1000 for the equivalent of a large iPod touch.

In other words, Apple did not provide a paradigm shifting technology necessary to make the iPad absolutely compelling.  In fact, the whole big clumsy nature of this tablet is quite apparent even from the image of Steve Jobs holding it.

This is a 1.0 device that feels like a 0.5 device with poorly thought out software.  The iPod/iPhone interface and its apps were designed to be used on handheld small screen devices.  Putting this interface onto a 10 inch sized display and expecting full fledged computing out of portable apps is stretching this device to its limits.  Granted, Apple can generally get the kinks out of new devices.  But, the tablet has such a long history of failure going back to Grid Computers in the early 90s that Apple has a steep bank to climb to get out of this trench they’ve dug themselves into.

Overall, I’m still underwhelmed and I’ve seen nothing yet that screams, must have.  An iPod touch screams that due to its sheer size and portability.  The iPad definitely does not!

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