Apple’s new iPad seems to have been pretty heavily bagged since the announcement earlier this week. The commentary I’ve read primarily focuses on the lack of support for having multiple applications open, the name, the relatively high cost of the 3G-enabled version.
Over the jump I outline a few of the reasons why I think the iPad will do just fine in a commercial sense.
Not a laptop replacement
I was keen to see what Apple had in store as I’ve been hoping for an Apple-based tablet computer for a number of years. During the lead up to the announcement it was pretty clear that the tablet was going to run on the iPhone OS platform, which immediately meant it wasn’t a laptop replacement (though I was interested to see what the end result was before passing judgement).
During the announcement, Steve Jobs made it very clear where they position the device – landing between the smartphone and laptop, not as a replacement for either – and that they focused on making things like photos and browsing the web the key things that it did better than the other devices.
And I think they’ve done that pretty convincingly. And I also think that once people get over the fact it’s not a laptop replacement, they’ll start to see the device in a new, and perhaps more positive, light.
Some (not too clever) jokes have been made about the name. Some people were disappointed it wasn’t “iSlate” – but what is a “slate” to most of the population – a “Pad” (as in notepad) has a lot more meaning for people. And it fits perfectly with the “iPod” brand. I don’t think this will cause any serious issues for Apple – so moving on…
Lack of multiple open applications
When considering this as a laptop replacement, this is a deal-breaker. But the iPad isn’t aiming for this, and having used the iPhone for the past 18 months I’ve not terribly missed this feature.
And I see the simplicity of use as a boon for users that are not as confident/comfortable with computers – for example, I think my Mum would really appreciate the simplicity of such a device for basic emailing, web browsing and photo sharing – what she uses her fully-fledged Windows PC (with all of it’s complexity) for 95% of the time.
She doesn’t need to have Twitter open while she chats on Skype and sending an email – that type of activity just isn’t necessary all of the time – for many users any of the time.
I suspect that future versions of the iPad and iPhone will introduce this as an option, but it’s not, to me, the deal-breaker that a lot of people are making it out to be.
When I was considering the iPad the estimated AUD price for the 3G version approaching AUD$1000 seemed quite steep. I then considered using a non-3G enabled version (which is significantly cheaper) and realised that most of the time I would be using it would be in locations with wifi – at home, at work, or at a cafe (of which an increasing number provide wifi).
Given that the wifi-only version of the iPad is only about $50 more than a Kindle eBook reader, which has many more limitations than the iPad, it’s a no-brainer which one I’d buy if I was considering such a device.
The sharable computer
What struck me about the design is how it would be used in a family environment as a low-cost sharing computer. I can envisage a family after dinner with the kids interacting on Facebook or playing a game in the living room with their parents watching TV. The kids go to bed and Mum picks up the iPad to check their email. Some friends drop in unexpectedly and Dad grabs the iPad to show their visitors photos from the recent family camping trip.
The form factor of the iPad makes it an ideal appliance for this kind of sharing – and many of the features of the iPad seem geared towards this kind of use.
Multiple purposes to be discovered
Many of the uses for the iPad will become more apparent once they hit the shelves and people start to imagine using one.
I’m about to start uni again this year, and I can see the iPad being an invaluable tool for reading papers and researching. Reading PDFs on a laptop is only a little less sucky than reading it on an iPhone. The iPad would be a perfect device for this type of reading. Coupled with a stylus-based PDF annotation app that saves notes with the PDF to the cloud (which will surely come soon) it would be magic – think Skitch on the iPad.
Imagine if the iPad music playing app supports AirTunes/Airport Express? Even if it doesn’t, the device it would be a great “controller” for a Mac-based media centre setup like the one I’m hoping to assemble in the coming months.
Some of the Apple Keynote remote control apps for iPhone have options for spotlighting and annotating presentations in real time – the physical size restrictions of an iPhone screen make these a little clumsy. The iPad would be the perfect antidote to these limitations.
My partner Angela is considering the iPad as an option for taking notes with clients in her health practice – the form factor is less intrusive than a laptop, but potentially much better than taking hand-written notes.
There are many, many potential uses for the iPad that extend beyond the “laptop replacement” that many people were hoping Apple would deliver. This device really is the “webbook for the rest of us” – and I think it will do well commercially as a result.