I’m not in the least bit excited about the iPad, and it seems I’m not alone. The mood seems to have changed since before the launch, with countless tech journalists previously falling over themselves to declare tablets the next big thing. (Thankfully Rory Cellan-Jones from the BBC was more measured, focusing on personal projectors as a more exciting development). The mood since is considerably more downbeat, and I think more realistic.
I may be missing some crucial usage context that reveals the killer characteristics of the iPad, but I’ve tried really hard and still nothing. There are many obvious practical issues with the device:
- it’s too big for a pocket, but not sufficiently more useful than an iPhone or an HTC Hero.
- it’s about the same size as a compact laptop, but with less scope for comfortable rapid input.
- it’s probably too big to cradle comfortably in my hand for prolonged periods, and sitting with one ankle on the other knee is not always practical.
The only scenarios I can conjure up where I could imagine using the device are:
- showing people my holiday photos.
- reviewing design proofs without needing to print them out.
Neither of these, or even both, are very compelling at all. TVs are getting good for viewing photos, by including e.g. an SD card slot, and rumours of the death of paper are greatly exagerated.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about the scenarios used to promote the device is the one about the San Francisco to Tokyo flight, watching video all the way without running out of battery. Any airline with planes worth boarding has personal video screens. I don’t want to bring my own. I’d rather use the space to carry a decent pair of noise-canceling headphones, which I’m sure increase my enjoyment of onboard media far more than a little bit of extra screen real estate. The development I want to see is not a new device that I have to prop on the flimsy airline table, hold tight when we hit some turbulence, and stow away when my food arrives, but the capability to connect my own device to the in-built screen via USB or Bluetooth. Even a bare USB port with power but no connectivity would be a start, allowing me to run low-powered devices (that I already own) during long flights.
OK, so the flight reference is just a touchstone for how long the device can run without mains power, but I think it demonstrates a lack of grounding of the device in realistic scenarios.
Any new device has to have two key characteristics these days for me to get excited: interoperability and convergence. The iPad seems to have very little of either. You could argue that it offers some convergence between smartphones and e-readers, but that’s about as exciting as convergence between a smartphone and a wall clock.
I’m left wondering what the iPad is competing against? I’m guessing it’s paper, whether that’s in the form of a book, brochure, newspaper, restaurant menu or whatever. Unfortunately for Apple, paper is pretty well suited to each of these, especially when you introduce bath water, the risk of theft, or just ketchup, into the equation. Perhaps this is the end of electronic picture frames as dedicated device? Probably about time. Maybe the iPad will make an excellent Spotify console for the living room. Who knows? Whatever happens I can’t see this becoming a mass-market product worthy of even a fraction of the hype.
Where I wish that Apple had expended their creative talent was in addressing the power issue. Not in making sure I could watch 10 hours of back to back video, but in enabling me to spend that energy in whatever way I choose, powering whichever device I choose. It drives me crazy that I carry several batteries around, and short of running my phone off my laptop via USB there is no interoperability between these power sources. If Apple could produce a universal power supply that was sleek, sexy, efficient and interoperable, then I would be interested. Sadly this doesn’t seem to be the way.