iPad Hands On Thoughts

I haven't posted about the iPad (or tablets in general) since before the iPad announcement. I thought this prudent given that we all knew what was announced but I hadn't actually tried using one in person. Last week I played with a couple at my friends company and my initial thoughts were confirmed: the iPad as existing product today is interesting but not amazing, but as an indicator of the future is amazing.

When I picked it up it seemed smaller than in the pictures, and a tad heavier. Very solid, though. The interface is essentially a large iPod touch with a few flourishes. This isn't a bad thing, though. The iPhone interface was clearly designed to scale to larger devices. And on the faster CPU of the iPad it absolutely flies. This is one advantage of controlling both the software and hardware. I am surprised that they didn't put more memory in it, however, given how cheap memory is. Perhaps it was the only way to meet their margins.

The screen is gorgeous. Viewing websites, news, facebook, mail, etc. is a very nice experience. Where it falls down is content creation, specifically typing. Steve called this a magical keyboard or some such during his introduction keynote.

This is a lie.

While it may be better than the iPhone keyboard, it still sucks. Maybe for someone who is a hunt and peck typist it would be about as fast as a real physical keyboard, but anyone who is a touch typist will be immediately frustrated (and I mean *immediately*!). Now...it's not their fault.. they've done the best possible with their screen real estate, but hard immovable glass is no substitute for real physical keys with edges, dimples, and movement. No comparison.

However, this doesn't matter..

Why? Because most people aren't touch typists. And most people aren't content creators. I fully recognize that I'm not the target market for this. One day the iPad and similar devices will replace the desktop computer for 90% of people. (When I say 'desktop' I mean general purpose computers running full desktop OSes, whether or not they are actual desktops or laptops).

For me the iPad is an expensive novelty. It would live in my living room table as a nice way to read email and news feeds in the morning while I drink my coffee. Then I'd go upstairs to my real computer. But most people aren't like me (or you, given that you are reading a technology blog right now, probably through an RSS reader). Most people use computers for content consumption and communication, not creation. And the iPad is 90% of what they want. Ten years from now 90% of computers will be something like an iPad. And the remaining 10% will be called workstations.

That said, for the target market I think the iPad will still be seen as too expensive and missing features. It will sell well but won't be the smashing success that the iPhone was. But that's fine... Apple's used to that. They will slowly and carefully add features, and lower the price, until they take over the world.

So what's missing for most people? I originally had a laundry list but after taking off things that don't really matter anymore in the 21st century (like CD drives), I came up with only three things:

  1. the iPad must sync to a real computer for software updates and other data like address books
  2. the iPad must sync to a real computer to get music
  3. the iPad can't print

The first one is easy to solve. Sync over the network. Every smart phone not made by Apple can get software updates over the web (my new employer does a great job of it). I expect Apple to enable this in the next year. Mobile Me already does most of the job.

The second one is a bit harder due to the massive amount of data involved. Most people have gigs of MP3s. I expect Apple to solve it by either creating the media server edition of the Time Capsule or else offering music streaming from the cloud... Or both, they've sure got the resources.

The third was is already 90% solved. The iPad SDK has render to PDF support, which is most of printing. Combined with better network printing to kill off the need for printer drivers, you'd have it.

So that would be it: a laptop replacement for 90% of people. The future is here (90% of it anyway) and it's a pad. Now if only they didn't hate the pencil so much.

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Posted April 20th, 2010

Tagged: review