After reading most comments on our latest Weekend Open Forum I can’t help but feel that many are taking the wrong approach comparing the iPad directly to a netbook or laptop. Apple is trying to squeeze a new category into the market and has yet to prove why we need it. What I do know is that I don’t *need* a full-fledged computer in this form factor — that’s what my laptop is for.
I’m as disappointed as many of you by its hardware shortcomings — there’s no point in listing them again here — but its locked down nature didn’t surprise me at all. Apple likes to have control over what you’re allowed to run on its devices, supposedly to ensure a relatively bug-free experience, and while the more tech-savvy may despise this strategy, to some extent it has been responsible for the success of the iPhone.
Where I really fear the iPad might falter is in having a clear purpose. We’re told it is the best way to experience the web, e-mail, photos, videos and e-books. But I’m not convinced. Laptop and desktop computers, even netbooks are still better for many of those things, while on others the iPad will have to prove itself. Take browsing, for example. It’s ridiculous to call this device the best way to experience the Web when Flash, one of the most ubiquitous and essential web technologies, is not supported.
I’ll admit that sifting through photos looks very cool on the iPad, but of course that will never be its key selling point — and let’s not forget you can’t even pop in an SD card if you want to view some photos you just took, at least not without buying an adapter. It’s the same with video. For now, the iPad seems like just another place for buying and watching TV shows and movies through the iTunes store.
And, well, I don’t want to write it off as a worthy competitor to the Kindle without so much as having tried either product, but from what I read Amazon’s device has many more things going for it: bigger library, better screen for reading over long periods of time, free worldwide 3G coverage (for buying books only), crazy battery life and a more affordable price tag.
Like Steve Jobs said, the iPad has to be better than the other devices at these kinds of tasks otherwise it has no reason to be. Unfortunately their tablet tries to do so many things that it might end up being best at none. It certainly seems like a cool gadget to have around the house or on short trips, if you don’t mind spending a few hundred bucks on something you will use occasionally, but I don’t see the mass appeal yet.
Maybe Apple saved a few surprises for the device launch; maybe they’ll just learn from their mistakes and deliver a much improved second-generation iPad a year from now. Who knows. However, for all its perceived flaws, the iPad does have one huge advantage that may determine its eventual success: a legion of developers ready to increase its appeal with countless games and apps, both free and paid, that could potentially fill some of the functionality voids Apple has seemingly left out.