With the iPad about to ship in bulk for Saturday delivery and retail launch, some friends on mine were discussing who is getting one and who isn’t, and somebody asked for the group’s thoughts. What started out as an email didn’t get sent, it turned into this here. Apple calls the iPad “magical” and “revolutionary” and that it has an “unbelievable price” – welllllllllll….lets talk about that.
OK, I’ve had it – Apple, or at least their marketing department, has jumped the shark.
I say this as a longtime Apple owner/fanboy/stockholder – “Apple, you’ve gone too far.”
Not with the product – that’s another conversation – but with the marketing.
1.) on Apple’s frontpage, “A magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price.”
Lets break that down one at a time.
“Magical” – Arthur C Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Maybe, but this is insufficiently advanced. Touchscreen UI? Had it/seen it for nearly 3 years on my iPhone. Magical? Not by a longshot, unless you’ve been living on the steppes of Everest for the last decade or three. Impressive? Arguably. But NOT magical.
“Revolutionary” – Hey, you made it bigger! Congratulations, but that is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Granted, the UI is tweaked to take better advantage of the form factor, but this isn’t brand new anything. Tablets have been around in suckier forms for years, but just haven’t caught on beyond vertical niches, where it is hard to pour more R&D into it to improve the UI – the market can’t support those costs. iPhone’s touch UI has been evolving for about 3 years in the public eye. So pretty much by definition, this is not revolutionary, merely evolutionary.
“Unbelievable price” – open to interpretation. In terms of functionality not previously available in this size and price, yes, it is a win, but “unbelievable” is subjective. As a device of a given screen size and price point to view content, it is pretty believable to me personally. As a device being seriously proposed to replace books? Pretty much a fail in my book. I can get a paperback for about $10, so with a $500 base price, I gotta by 50 books to break even on this thing? With inferior resolution, and I gotta worry about battery life, dropping it, protecting its fragile self? Not a viable replacement…YET. As a media viewer, it is going to have to boil down to a nice screen and a display engine. And for that functionality, it’ll need a price point below $200 to even think about taking off – same has gone for every media playback device of late – DVD players before, now Blu-ray, set top boxes, etc. That it can connect wirelessly, even over cellular networks (at a notably higher price point), access live data, online content, etc. is a dramatic value add. But I can already do that on my iPhone, MacBook, Mac Pro with 30″ display, etc. (even on my AppleTV – yeah I’ve got one of those) – on my alternative devices. Small form factor targeted device? That is nice, but not, at this time, something I feel the need to add to my arsenal. I’ve said it before – a much bigger screen on an iPhone would be very useful AT TIMES, but if it doesn’t fit in my front pocket at all times, the utility of such a device plummets massively.
Now, on to the videos – I started with Mail, and yes, it is a decent job of scaling up the UI from iPhone to this size. And rotating to go fullscreen? A very nice touch. But I’m not blown away, not by a longshot. Still pretty much the same as iPhone’s capabilities. Oh, and I STILL can’t check multiple accounts in one view? And I gotta hover-hands to type rather than touch typing? FAIL.
Watching it be manipulated in the hands, the thing just cries out for a rubberized back – the current metal one is made to slide around on your jeans and fall, or to get scratched if placed on a table. Beautiful design Apple, but physical usability fail.
Then I went to the iTunes tour video, since I wanted to see how the iPad version, with room for more access and controls, compared to the very mature Mac/PC version. But the started off with how great iTunes is to buy content and I couldn’t stand to watch anymore – what about watching your existing content, organizing your library of media that you already have? That was a lower priority. So they want to sell you a $500-$830 device, so you can buy MORE stuff from them? That is not the way to push this device! Sure, include that factor, but don’t LEAD with it! Come on, Apple – don’t be so greedy! OK OK, then I see that iPod video is directly above it, so they aren’t being as greedy as I thought. Retract retract, calm down. This leads to a semantical thought – is iPad a computer or a peripheral? iPod is definitely a peripheral. The apps on an iPhone pull it closer to the computer end of the continuum, but not there yet. The more highly functional apps that aren’t quite full applications (applets, anyone?) put iPad even closer to the computer end of the spectrum. The $30 add-on to get USB for camera connection is further evidence along these lines. But the iPod app puts us back into peripheral context – there is no way to build your own playlists here, gotta do it in iTunes back on the machine you dock it to. But anyway, yeah, interesting to note they call it the iTunes application, not the iTunes Store. Hmm…..
Steve Jobs stated and/or implied that this was going to be better than a netbook. Lets address a few issues along those lines:
-price – definitely pricier than most netbooks
-with a screen of commensurate size and resolution to a netbook, but inferior to a laptop’s
-media viewer – arguably superior performance on iPad – snappy fullscreen video
-access to a good media store – iTunes – oh wait, can do on a netbook as well, so that’s a tie. Add a 3G dongle, further tie.
-smaller form factor than a netbook – thin/light, so that’s a win
-more fragile than a netbook – MUST be kept in a case, and that exposed screen is very vulnerable to damage. So as a routine matter, iPad goes in case goes in bag to carry with you at all times. Hassle, and moreso than a netbook.
-web experience – decent screen, fast browser, but no Flash for video or interactive stuff, and no real keyboard to type in a speedy/useful manner. iPhone’s dinky keyboard at least let you hold the device and type with your thumb, keeping the entire experience one handed for walking, carrying, strap-hanging on the subway, etc. But the lack of Flash, and Steve’s lame “Oh, that’s not really a problem” attitude – FAIL.
-apps vs applications – the good news is apps are generally cheap, and getting pretty ubiquitous, but are limited in functionality – a netbook can at least run real applications, albeit potentially slowly. Which leads to…
-multi-tasking – oooooops – iPad, no can do. Wanna run Pandora while surfing the web? Nope. Limited multitasking – you can play music to multi-task, you can make phone call–wait, nope, that is iPhone not iPad. So hmmmm….what else can you do multi-tasking? Even worse than the iPhone in this case! I can play music, take calls, receive texts, etc with iPhone – iPad can play music and run apps, but that is the extent of walking and chewing gum on this device at this time (significant caveat – iPhone OS 4.0 rumors).
-touch – OK, touch UI blows away mouse and menu bar for a lot of things – picture sorting, map navigation, “just touch it” simplicity is GREAT. But it fails for efficient typing and anything requiring precision or finesse – selecting text is hard enough as it is. You couldn’t do a lot of precise Photoshopping on this thing without wanting to chuck it through a window, for instance. A combination would be ideal – how long until we get MacBook Pros with touchscreen UI, and a screen that can open then pivot then fold back flat for tablet mode?
-there’s more, but I’m too bored with this topic to continue
All this negative feedback is not to say I think iPad is a bad device – it isn’t – it is clever and within a certain set of usage cases, quite effective/productive/enjoyable/fun. But it is NOT as big a deal as Steve makes it out to be. Of course manufacturers are going to put their products in a good light. But when Steve says this is the best web surfing experience ever, I gotta call bullshit. With no Flash (and it is NOT as easy as he says to switch over, Flash on the web is more than video) and the lack of a touch-typable keyboard, it simply ISN’T even a really good overall web surfing experience. Apple used to demo the NYTimes as the iPhone’s “real” web browser’s capabilities. With embedded Flash for a lot of pictorials and videos, even their poster site is hampered on iPad.
So iPad is an interesting, fun, but pricey device. But it is a very different experience, a slightly sideways replacement for a netbook, not a direct one.
And sales should be interesting – all this hype will help get the fanboys to buy in, and some folks who were considering netbooks perhaps – but I think the key thing will be sales levels in a month or three – after the initial excitement, will they keep moving?
I don’t predict that I’ll buy one – but I’m open to being blown away by it, since I haven’t been hands-on yet. But in this economy, who NEEDS one? At $500-$800, it isn’t like a $50-$200 iPod that you buy because you WANT one, and it won’t dent your credit card too much. At $500, most of us need to think about it a bit before plunking down on it.
So far, I have two friends getting one – one is a developer of Mac software, so it makes sense he’ll investigate the potential. The other is a couple – they are going to split the WiFi model and the goal is to have it around for couch usage to share between them. OK, what about multiple accounts on the thing? Who gets to sync whose music to it? Oops, another issue where netbook wins.
So have they made an interesting device? YES
Do I think it advances usability overall and is good for the market to push ease-of-use further out there? YES
Do I think the future of consumer usability might be something along these lines, super easy and task specific rather than geekily all-capable? YES, and that’s important for the future, big time
Do I think Apple is overhyping this and calling it things it just flat out isn’t? HELL YES, and it bugs me – promote what it does well, but don’t lie to us that it is the end-all, be-all, does-it-all best – there are significant advantages and some disadvantages to a pure touch UI
Do I think it’ll sell decently? Probably
Do I think it’ll be a mad success as is? No, but in another generation or two of hardware/software revisions I will probably start to want one
Do I think Steve is full of it at times? YES
Might this be the most important thing he’s ever done? QUITE POSSIBLY – it is all about the future of this device. Even Apple didn’t knock it out of the park with the iPod 1.0. But look how elegant the later ones were, especially iPod Touch, and you can start to see this might be the future of consumer computing – if I could take the MacBook I’m writing this on, and detach the screen to be an iPad (with data sync before detaching), or just spin the screen around and fold it flat to be in tablet mode, that would be the best of both worlds. But that’s a couple of years off I’ll bet.
So where is Apple/Steve right?
-touch is a major component of future computing, especially for consumers
-targeted devices, rather than general purpose computers, will be more useful for consumers
-professionals will probably stay, for some time, with the general purpose, more expensive but capable computers as we now know them, to meet their specialty needs (think graphics, publishing, video, science, etc.)
-iPad is a nice media playback device
-iPad is a nice web experience on the couch or in the coffee shop
-consumers, most of the time, don’t need access to the file system
Where is Apple/Steve wrong?
-“iPad is magical” – nope
-“iPad is revolutionary – evolutionary only – iPod & iPhone were revolutionary, this one isn’t…yet.
-“iPad’s pricing is unbelievable”, in terms of low and exciting compared to other devices that can achieve the same goals, albeit in different ways
-“iPad fills the niche between laptop and iPhone” – it achieves some of this, but is too big and too small/limited at the same time
-“iPad is the ultimate web experience” – no real keyboard, no Flash, limited res screen (my 12″ Powerbook G4 had same screen res, and how many years ago was that?)
-“iPad is a netbook replacement” – it is a lateral move from netbook, does some things better, some worse. Can you say run own apps, see file system, plug in storage?
OK, enough. Done.