John Stokdyk adds his personal impressions to the stream of reactions that followed last week’s launch of the Apple iPad.
After all the anticipation and pre-publicity surrounding the iPad, the product itself is something of a letdown. “It is the same size as your laptop but hasn't got a keyboard. You'll just look like a saddo trying to be trendy,” commented the daughter of tax software developer David Forbes.
Here’s what the fuss was all about – a 9.7in backlit LED touchscreen, just 1.5in thick and weighing less than a kilo, running a scaled up version of the iPhone operating software on a new “A4” processor with a claimed battery life of 10 hours. All for a price starting at $499 – you can probably assume the currency symbol will just change to pounds when it reaches the UK.
The iPad’s main functions will be consumer-oriented activities such as surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching videos, and listening to music. The device includes built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi with automatic network location and sign-in routines; 2.1 Bluetooth connectivity lets you use the iPad with wireless headphones, keyboards and other peripherals. A 3G iPad will also be available supporting data speeds up to 7.2 Mbps.
The analysis from the younger Forbes is not far from the mark – the iPad could be thought of as a supersized iPod Touch in 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB flash memory models, but enhanced by a built-in microphone, speaker and accessories such as a Camera Connection Kit and keyboard dock.
Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs have cultivated a reputation for innovation, but for once the centre of attention appears to be less of a visionary paradigm-breaker than an engineering cut-and-paste job rushed out to gain a foothold in what looks to be the next hot spot for hardware manufacturers. To these eyes at least, the iPad appears to be aiming at a gap that doesn’t need filling. Seeing Jobs holding what one commentator likened to a “dinner tray” just looked wrong – for something that size, you might as well lug around a netbook. The iPhone and its surfing buddy the iTouch did create a new paradigm, but the PC manufacturers appear to have seen an opportunity for slightly larger devices that give a better user experience, but still fit in a handbag or pocket.
Rather than wanting to rush out and buy an iPad, I’m suddenly much more interested in finding out more about smaller alternatives such as:
- Toshiba JournE Touch, priced around £250
- The HP “slate” and two similar devices demonstrated by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month.
- Dell's prototype 5in tablet has a smaller, more energy efficient OLED screen than the iPad, plus a 5 megapixel camera and a memory extension slot, “like an Android iPod Touch” said one admirer.
Aside from the Dell, most of these devices run Windows 7, which now supports touch gestures. But the iPhone operating system is much simpler and idiot-proof, which is an important requirement for this kind of consumer device. Elsewhere, prototype slates are being developed around Google’s Android/Chrome operating system. The Telegraph predicts that 5-10in devices will soon appear with a touch-driven user interface optimised to surf and run applications within the Chrome browser.
While the nerds will argue about the merits of different hardware specs, form factors and operating systems, the real crunch for these new devices will come down to the available software and this is where Apple has a head start. Using the iPhone architecture means there will be a ready supply of around 140,000 apps to run on the iPad including the iTunes media player, maps and games. But the device still can’t cope with media files stored in Adobe’s popular Flash format, nor can it run applications simultaneously.
The iPad launch stimulated well informed responses from AccountingWEB blogger David Watson and Gary Turner and other members of our Cloud accounting discussion group, who are speculating about the degree to which the device might become a client system for web-based applications. Feel free to add your thoughts to the iPad debate.