The Apple iPad: Transitional Device or a Trashy Tablet?

Apple iPadI’ve been agonizing over whether to post an iPad article. Apple certainly don’t need more publicity and the iPad isn’t a web-specific technology. But now the hype’s died down a little and people are discussing it in the SitePoint forums, I find myself unable to concentrate on any other technology story!

A third category of computing?

Apple claim to have discovered a gap between smart phones and laptops — which instantly reminded me of Homer Simpson’s discovery of a meal between breakfast and brunch! Netbooks are simply small laptops and Apple insist the iPad is a transitional device that changes people’s perceptions.

Opinion on the web varies. Many people love it. Others feel slightly underwhelmed by a device which looks like an over-sized iPhone.

It certainly has some good points:

  • iPhone application compatibility — all your existing apps will synchronize to the device
  • a great screen with gesture support
  • low weight and good battery life
  • a reasonable price for a tablet PC
  • a new eBook store

Although there are some startling omissions:

  • no multi-tasking — only one application can be opened at a time
  • no 3G on cheaper models
  • no camera or radio
  • no memory card port
  • no USB or HDMI ports
  • no Flash plugin within the browser

Take another tablet

Tablet devices have been around for many years. Microsoft had several forays into the market, but they’ve always been considered a niche device. Perhaps that’s because they were more expensive, offered less computing power, and were just as fragile as standard laptops. Windows may have been a problem too: the OS was designed for keyboard/mouse control and touchscreen support felt bolted-on.

However, Apple are adept at taking existing technologies, ironing out the wrinkles, and producing a polished product which users cherish. The iPad could do the same for tablet devices because it looks glorious, uses a recognizable interface, and is reasonably priced.

Apple is also eyeing the eBook market. The iPad may be twice the price of a Kindle but it offers much more and publishers are already signing up for Apple’s iBook store. Although eReaders sales figures are relatively low, Amazon and Sony have reason to feel nervous.

Do you need it?

That’s the $499 question. I’m not convinced it’s a must-have device, although people who’ve been lucky enough to use the iPad state it’s highly desirable.

If you need to work on the move, the iPad won’t be as useful as a (cheaper) netbook or laptop. Workers will struggle without a proper keyboard and multi-tasking applications.

If you want a lightweight mobile device, the iPhone or any other smart phone is better. It’s possible Apple will cannibalize it’s own market since it’s difficult to justify having both devices. Although Apple fan-boys rarely need justification!

However, there are two areas where the the iPad could make gains:

1. Entertainment
The device looks great for listening to music, reading books, viewing photographs, watching videos, simple web surfing and, most importantly — playing games. It’s more expensive and less powerful than a netbook or a console, but it does have a strong appeal.

2. Technophobics
The iPad might encourage people to try computing in the same way the Nintendo Wii attracted non-gamers to consoles. Screen gestures and accelerometer controls are far more natural input devices. Those users would also have few multi-tasking concerns.

Is the iPad a game-changer? Possibly. It could plausibly resurrect tablet computers and monopolize the eReader market. Only Amazon, Sony and Flash developers would bet against it!

What do you think? Will you buy an iPad or is it fundamentally pointless?

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