The Apple iPad: Transitional Device or a Trashy Tablet?

By Craig Buckler
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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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  • Ketira

    Hm… you make some good points here.

    Given the choice, I would probably go for a netbook over the iPad, simply because the netbook is like a PC computer, only smaller. I think I’d be able to do more with a netbook than an iPad –at least for now.

    So I’ll just sit back with my Incite (one of LG’s touchpad smartphones) and see what happens with the iPad.

  • ricktheartist

    I would save my pennies and buy one asap if it has Flash support. My wife really wants an mp3 player and a Kindle. This is both in one package. But it offers so much, she will want to do her web-stuff with it too and then the frustration will set-in. With no flash, she will quickly be irritated, not being able to play the games she likes to play. Add flash support and my tax-return would go right to Apple. Without Flash on the iPad, it goes into savings for a laptop.

  • Anonymous

    A reasonable price???? It would be if the device actually has USB or some other ports, supports Flash and has multitasking, memory card and has a camera (my Nokia 5800 can run 6-7 apps in the same time and has everything iPad doesn’t have including GPS). But iPad has nothing of those, and it’s just an overpriced toy gadget that once again proves that Apple doesn’t really innovates anything and again wants to force users to choose device that is limited and that is censored (everything controlled and overlooked by Apple).

  • Anonymous

    It is simply an iphone with a larger screen. That is it. I own a iphone, mac book pro, and have been a strong advocate for Apple, but this is just insulting. I will laugh when I see people use it at the airport.

  • Andre

    Definitely buying one.

  • I can see it being your mother’s laptop replacement in a year or so. She probably uses Facebook, maybe reads news, plays music, shops, does some email. She’s won’t miss a physical keyboard or multitasking. If she’s asking for advice on her next device in 12 months, maybe the ipad is a good spend at $500?

    I’m more skeptical about the ‘i’d use this at my next conference’ claims. Typing on glass is always going to be slow and trying to prop that pluggable keyboard up in portrait mode while punters squeeze past you in a packed auditorium seems like a Mr Bean sketch to me.

  • dcunited

    Apple may have made the exactly opposite mistake that Microsoft did. Microsoft had tried to put their OS on everything, even Windows Mobile has a start menu and programs. Apple, instead of putting a full-blown OS designed for a full keyboard and mouse, they put an OS that is designed for a 3″ screen. The OS itself is very limited with no multi-tasking and no way to access the device at a lower level allowed with PCs as we know them. I would like a device that I do not have to mess with the internals but I could if I would like. I would also like to install what I want to. I am interested in the tablet market that this will invigorate which may come up with a truly in-between OS (or maybe a lite version of a more robust OS such as with Chrome OS and Android). I would like to see it be able to handle printing, music importing, flash, and serious typing. For all this, the device has a long way to go.

    @ricktheartist – I think having an ipod with an almost 10″ screen might not fit what she is looking for.

  • I don’t think I would find myself using it often, but like AlexW, my Mom would love it. I personally think it is very cool and will grow quite a following.

  • arkinstall

    This article is written for web developers and users of high-performance computers, so I’m not surprised to see such a negative take on the iPad :P
    However, for the ‘real’ user market – the actual end-users out there, I can see some pretty neat stuff coming out of the iPad. For one, surfing the web whilst holding it like a book – that has to be a good experience. The reason I don’t use my laptop for watching movies or reading a lot of content (e.g. an ebook) is because the way we use computers is un-natural to us. Actually holding something like a (relatively heavy and expensive) piece of paper IS the future of end-user computing.

    Now, as for multi-tasking – this isn’t supposed to be powerful compared to a laptop. I mean, the size of it alone should tell you that. To be fair, using it for more than one thing at a time is against the point of it. With many applications, you simply close them down and when you reopen (a process taking a tiny fraction of a second) the work you had open is back on the screen. The whole concept of minimizing isn’t required – and that means that with everything you do, you are getting all of your processor’s potential working for you.

    So, it’s more of a leisure computer. You would use it for entertainment – movies, music, games, reading, leisure-browsing. It would feel much more like reading a book or a newspaper, like being a part of the game, like having access to thousands of songs in just a few touches. The intuitive interface is very impressive – and to be fair what they have done with the iWork is pretty astonishing.

    I have to say, I’m impressed. I thought ‘Not another needless apple product’ when I first heard about it – upon watching the Keynote speech… well it certainly changed my initial thoughts. The thing is a piece of technological art.

  • pablogreg

    Nice device, superb design and functions, but everything is Apple-centered and not open source. I think Apple has an ace under the sleeve, let’s see what happens at the end!

  • ScubaDvr2

    I think that the 2nd generation of this will have all these things that we need. Multi-tasking, some ports, a cheaper price and most likely a camera will be in the next version (at least I hope/assume). so a year, year and a half from now i am going to be buying this.

  • Rodrigo Flores

    I don’t think games on the iPad have much future without Flash support. Altogether, I don’t think it will cut it. It is like an oversized iphone, and this comes from an Apple fan.

  • appletsauce

    No flash and multitasking are dealbreakers for me. Oh well, maybe it’ll have good games support. Certainly won’t replace my laptop.

  • Whosdigit

    It may not be that bad.

    no multi-tasking — only one application can be opened at a time, I don’t miss it on the iPhone.
    no 3G on cheaper models – The option is there if you want it. Not much 3G here, wifi is used extensively.
    no camera or radio – Camera is coming, mentioned in the SDK. Probably through the power cable as an add-on.
    The radio is a big deal at the gym where I want to listen to the TV. Otherwise I don’t see using this at the gym.
    no memory card port – it’s coming, probably through the power cable as an add-on.
    no USB or HDMI ports – another add on, the keynote addressed the video out and the USB can be addressed through a third party hub.
    no Flash plugin within the browser – Do you miss the Floppy? That was supposed to kill the iMac. Flash IS a problem, it crashes and is a processor hog. A majority of the Flash developers don’t optimize their code.

    I think it’s gonna come down to seeing one before I purchase one, but I wasn’t that keen on the iPod until I held one. Now some version of it is with me at all times.

    I could see this replacing my laptop, I use it primarily like my iPhone, only with a bigger screen. I develop on a desktop.

  • PetitPaul

    The iPad is not a blown-up iPhone as it has no phone capabilities, nor GPS or build-in camera. In this sense, It’s more like a blown-up iPod Touch. Though GPS will be available with the 3G version, both of which are not available on the iPod Touch.
    The fact that it is not multitasking is because it is the iPhone OS (itself a version of MacOS X) and the iPhone OS has been deliberatly set as non multitasking (though it actually is to a point) because of the limited power of the iPhone processor, and in part to avoid drying out the battery too fast, not because the OS is not capabale of it. This new A4 processor is much more powerful though, and it’s not impossible that multitasking will come later. Yet, battery life will remain an issue.
    There is an SD Card reader as an option, as well as a Camera USB adaptor and a VGA video out adaptor and Bluetooth keyboard. Expect 3d parties proposing external Camera adaptors. A built in iSight webcam whould have been great, that’s a fact. Wait for version 2.
    Flash has always been a problem in MacOS X (which the iPhone is a scale down version of) as it rapidely consumes much of the CPU resources. It’s not supported by Apple on the iPhone OS, and then the iPad, because its use would kill the battery much too fast. With the advent of html5, supported by Safari, Flash will soon become much less of a necessity.
    Finaly, my opinion is that Apple has deliberately not make the iPad what it could have been, that is “the only computer that you’d ever need” just because it wants to continue selling iMac’s, MacBook’s and MacPro’s. They want you to have at least two of them, or even 3 with an iPhone.
    I bet that this will be my case. I’ll be expecting in depth reviews and possibly wait for version 2 or 3 as I did with the iPhone (finaly got a 3GS). Then again and like many, I see my mother, who has no computer yet, have one before long. So Apple will undoubtedly expand it’s market share with the iPad, to those who currently have no computer at all, though with some marginal canibalization with the MacBook the first in the line being 999$ “only”, but without 3G nor GPS, while the most expensive iPad with 64GB, 3G and GPS will be 829$.
    Interesting anyway.

  • Graham B

    The iPad is getting terrible press right now because only geeks are interested in arguing over the details. Once it’s released, it’ll easily sell to those who don’t care about files, folders, installing programs, Flash video or multi-tasking – and there are a lot of people in that category.

  • @anonymous
    It’s a reasonable price for a tablet PC, but not necessarily so good when you consider the functionality limitations.

    If I were Google, I’d certainly add touchscreen support to Chrome OS. A cheaper tablet with a more powerful OS could kill the iPad before it’s out.

  • Incidentally, I’m not convinced by the arguments that Flash is rubbish, drains the battery, and makes the OS slow. Even my cheap Nokia has Flash.

    Flash is a competitor to bespoke iPhone/iPad applications – that’s the main reason Apple don’t want it. Besides, why not offer it in the iPad? Processing power and battery life is much less of an issue.

  • If I were Google, I’d certainly add touchscreen support to Chrome OS. A cheaper tablet with a more powerful OS could kill the iPad before it’s out.

    Oh puleeze… Google coming out with a mobile device that would compete with Apple? Apple who just sold their 3 billionth app in about a year and a half and have just consecutively had their strongest two quarters in the history of the company?

    Apple is a household name for boutique computing and product innovation. Google is the search giant. I know Google is much more than that but does my mom, brother, cousins, or in-laws know that? If Google released a competitive item, I would look at it and most of the people here would too but would the general consuming public? Likely not and the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) was a few weeks ago so it wouldn’t even stand a chance at getting the kind of exposure it needs to succeed.

    The iPad with be successful for a number of reasons:
    1) Like AlexW said, this is perfect for my mom, aunt, uncle, brother, sister in-law, etc…. for recreational use.

    2) All the Mac heads will get one. It’s cheap (comparatively) and if it works as well as the iPhone/Touch does, it will be a huge success.

    3) The app store is full of apps for the device already. If you haven’t been to the app store, you probably won’t get it… I didn’t until I got an iTouch about a year ago. There are apps for pretty much anything you can think of. A good number of them are free and many of the others are worth the 99 cents or a dollar 99 they charge.

    No, I don’t think I will not be developing applications on it but compared to the tiny keyboard/trackpad/display you get on a net book, this is a welcome addition to mobile computing.

  • Whosdigit

    I use a flash blocker on my XP setup to keep the ads down. I like the option of running them if I choose. Yes, I program in Action Script and I develop in Flash where needed, but if done incorrectly it does cause issues. A lot of the Flash that is available on the web is poorly designed in my opinion.

    If you want an interesting take on Flash, try this –

    As to how the iPad stacks up against it’s competition, look at this:

  • There’s a bit of a myth that ‘multitasking’ is some kind of high end geek feature.

    If your mother wants to chat on MSN while facebooking, she’s ‘multitasking’. If your sister wants to watch the YouTube trailer for Twilight while googling cast photos, she’s multitasking.

    If your dad wants to email a question to the manufacteurer of a fishing rod he found on eBay, he’s multitasking.

    Were not talking ubergeek here.

  • SpacePhoenix

    A more common multitasking thing that a normal user would want to do is listen to their music whilst:

    * Surfing the next
    * Reading an eBook
    * Writing an email

    Hopefully version 2 will have multitasking. At the moment it seems like it’s Netbooks & laptops 1 iPad 0.

  • I will buy it for a kitchen computer!
    All those recipes in need of a greasy finger… ;)

  • unformatik

    Simply I will not get it, I’m waiting next buzz: iPad 3G or “now iPad with flah plugin”

  • pug2112

    I’m probably going to purchase one purely for reading ebooks in bed… The Sony and amazon book readers dont quite do it for me…

  • McAaron

    Does apple hate people? Is it really that hard to add multi-tasking or flash?

  • Chris Howard

    For the first day I thought quite “ho-um” about it too.

    But then I remembered the extraordinary things developers did with the iPhone. Then I got excited!

    I absolutely definitely want one, maybe two. One definitely to just leave lying around the house for reading newspapers, tv guides, imdb, internet, books, play games and maybe used as a digital photo frame when not being used. Plus, I hope someone will make a all-in-one tv remote control for it.

    I’d want a second one to take with me to meet clients. One running the Omnigroup apps and the iWork suite. Sweet!

  • I think the device is great for reading pdf magazines and looking up the latest gaming news/trailers while sitting on the couch. That’s what I will be using it for. Along with a 10 hour (probably less when watching videos) battery life, this is the device I’ve been waiting for.
    I’m sure flash will come once it’s been jailbroken ;)

  • SpacePhoenix:

    A more common multitasking thing that a normal user would want to do is listen to their music whilst:

    * Surfing the next
    * Reading an eBook
    * Writing an email

    Hopefully version 2 will have multitasking. At the moment it seems like it’s Netbooks & laptops 1 iPad 0.

    Ummm… You can do all of the above on an iPhone so why wouldn’t you be able to do that with the iPad?

  • dawgbone

    If your mom/uncle/grandmother/whoever hasn’t made the leap to technology by now, what exactly makes this thing the one to make them do it?

    It’s funny, every new device that comes out is the one that will get “My Mom” into the new ago.

    For those comparing the iphone and how it was received to the ipad, there’s one fundamental difference:

    The iphone is an actual cellphone first. All of the apps and that are an addition to it. What is the ipad first? Nothing.

    What does the ipad do that isn’t already done already? Absolutely nothing. At best you can argue that it’s a great ebook reader. Pretty expensive price point for an ebook reader. It’s great for movies! Sure, so are most netbooks which are about half the price. And 64 GB hard drive? Really?

    And the best part? They’ve already got you excited for the accessories they will charge an arm and a leg for! Camera’s, USB adapters, card readers… So now your $600 ipad requires an additional $200 worth of accessories to now have the same functionality of a $300 netbook… wonderful.

  • veikoh

    It’s absolutley overpriced!!! For $995 you will get a decent MacBook which can be professional music studio or professional video editing suite. I purchased Dell Axim x30 PDA in 2004 for less than 200 UK pounds, nowadays it’s something 50 pounds or so. This had SD memory port, USB and multitasking. For 250 EURO’s you will get a decent netbook with Windows 7, GSM broadband, etc.

  • Ok, so here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter what you (or I) want or what we think is cool. We aren’t the money making market for Apple. Sure they sell computers but that isn’t what floats the company… Apple, (according to Jan 2009) sells 10x more iPods than they do computers and that’s according to 1st quarter 2009 numbers. I talked to a head honcho of the iPod division at Apple a few years ago and she told me then that iPods were the main profit center of the company at the time, so things look like they have been that way for a while.

    If the iPad isn’t that useful because it doesn’t have a phone or a full blown OS, Keyboard, mouse, usb etc… it doesn’t matter because neither do iPods and Apple’s is knee deep in cash from the sale of them.

  • With regard to eBooks, the iPad has a glossy LCD screen. It’ll be useless while sunbathing or anywhere with harsh lighting. The Kindle uses E-Ink which is far closer to print and usable in almost any lighting conditions.

  • Ravensong

    “Apple doesn’t really innovates anything” ?? Have you been living in a cave someplace for the last 20 years? Virtually every aspect of modern computing, starting with the GUI and the mouse, came from Apple – including even the concept of a “personal computer”, which Bill Gates said nobody would ever want or need – followed a day (or two years) late and a dollar short by Microsoft. Zune, anyone?

  • Tom Paine

    I recently purchased an ICore7 Intel system by HP with the goodies in the system and WITH Apple’s Ridiculous PRICES you have to be totally retard to buy anything from Apple the (rip-off) company.

    So apple simple Jack’s go head and buy the stupid ipad which by the way was invented by Saturday Nite Live.

  • an00bis

    If Flash is so problematic on Apple hardware, perhaps Adobe should not sell an OSX version of their products. Mac users can use Boot Camp and Jobs thinks they’re lazy anyway. I’ve always thought the real reason Flash wasn’t allowed on the iPhone was because it forced people to use the App Store which Apple could snag 30% revenue from. The majority of apps sold don’t require anything hardware specific (accelerometer, GPS, etc.)

  • Tom Paine:

    I recently purchased an ICore7 Intel system by HP with the goodies in the system and WITH Apple’s Ridiculous PRICES you have to be totally retard to buy anything from Apple the (rip-off) company.

    …Or you actually have a need for Apple hardware because it’s the best hardware to get the job done. I bought my first computer in 1979/80 (8-bit RCA) and through the years have had all sorts of hardware from IBM PC Juniors to HP Dual Core workstations. This year I decided to upgrade to a Mac because it runs a rock solid OS with a better display than anything else I have seen or used. I’ve also got an MSDN subscription so I’ve got various flavors of Windows running virtually if needed. My take on the new Apple is that it’s the best hardware I’ve had to date. The only time I’ve had to start up my old Workstation since I bought the new Mac is to open up & repair Access DB files from a client.

    So apple simple Jack’s go head and buy the stupid ipad which by the way was invented by Saturday Nite Live.

    Ok, here’s the thing… It was Mad TV!

  • BStuder

    After the products Apple has rolled out the last decade and the success of the Apps Store, I wouldn’t be against them. I think most critics of the company and the iPad (as well as many fans) are failing to see the full potential of the product. They are framing their expectations based on what is on the market today. One commenter above said the iPad is “nothing.” That’s right—it’s an empty vessel with the unlimited potential of software and hardware developers around the world to figure out ways to utilize it.

    Few people who have mentioned the eBook capabilities have bothered to mention the way the iPad could revolutionize education. I could use iWork to write, crunch and graph data, create presentations AND carry an entire library of journals and textbooks with me. Package it with textbooks and we could do away with the need to carry 20 lbs of books to class or the library and there would be no need to package CDs or DVDs with eTextbooks since the books themselves could be fully interactive with links and embedded animations or applets. Even now I can think of dozens of ways it could transform the way I teach and students learn. I do see this as a new category of device where neither an eBook reader or netbook is the best choice.

  • Ravensong, you are wrong. Apple did not invent the mouse and the GUI. They were invented by researchers at Xerox Parc, and the ideas were then “borrowed” by Apple, who saw the potential of the ideas where the geeks at PARC didn’t, and produced the first commercially available personal computer with a GUI. See Wikipedia for a brief overview.

    The concept of the Personal Computer was invented by IBM (introduced 1981). The first Mac came out in 1984. Apple has innovated since then of course, but let’s give credit where credit is due.