I’ve recently been following the launch and initial reaction to the launch of the iPad from Apple, especially via Twitter, and as it’s so difficult to reduce a discussion to 140 character chunks I thought it would be sensible to jot my thoughts down in a more long winded way.
Firstly I have to say that I don’t own an iPhone or an iPod Touch (although I have ‘played’ with both), and I haven’t handled an iPad yet. I do have 2 older iPods, including a first generation Nano which I got less than a week after launch because it was so cool. That was in September 2005 and I still use it regularly. I don’t use iTunes because I find it horrible for doing what I want to do and Winamp does exactly what I need, simply and easily. I’m very tempted by an iPhone 3Gs, and at the moment I can’t justify spending that much money on a phone. I think Apples design is superb, and their control over hardware and software makes for a very slick user experience.
I hope that shows I’m not an Apple ‘hater’ or ‘fanboy’, and am fairly open minded.
Onto the iPad launch itself. The first thing that strikes me is the marketing and it is this, in my opinion, which is what opens the device up to the fierce criticism it has already received in some corners, even before it’s actually available. Apple, on the iPad website, states that the iPad is “the best way to experience the web” and that it’s a “magical and revolutionary device”. The former is a very aggressive line to take – if you make that kind of claim then your device needs to support it. All accounts so far, including comments from Adobe, state that the iPad does not support Flash. So, whats the big deal? The big deal is that Flash is a widespread internet technology, used in everything from media players (by the BBC), image libraries, marketing sites, and games on countless websites. Some of the most popular games on Facebook are Flash based, with Farmville alone having 18 million fans listed. Whatever you might think about Flash and its relative merits and drawbacks is irrelevant – like it or not Flash is an integral part of the web today.
Essentially, without Flash, chunks of the web cease to work. It might just be the odd video on the BBC website, or the main eye-catching ‘window display’ that greets you at nVidia.com that doesn’t work. Take away Flash and those 18 million Farmville fans will have to find something else to do with their time (whether that’s a good thing we leave for a separate discussion). The big question is remains that without Flash, are you delivering “the best way to experience the web”?
Of course, Apple have the opportunity to fix that, and it remains to be seen whether they will. It does seem unlikely given that Steve Jobs is known not to like Flash, and stranger things have happened. As it stands, using the iPad as a web browser will clearly not be the experience that Apple suggest.
The other main ‘marketing’ gripe I have is the so called ‘revolutionary’ nature of the device. I’m not entirely sure what about the iPad is revolutionary, and because it’s Apple saying it, people believe it. The overall concept of a tablet or slate has been around for many years, the interface is straight out of the iPhone stable, and Apple have simply mated the two together. In and of itself, there seems little the iPad can do that earlier products could do, albeit that the iPad probably has a slightly slicker interface. My 1 year old Samsung Netbook is ideal for web surfing, watching videos, playing music, and so on, despite what Steve Jobs might say. The iPad might do the whole tablet/slate thing better than before, and that’s better is not the same as revolutionary.
The multi-tasking issue is one people bring up, and whether it’s a big issue or not depends on how you would use the device. There are some applications which are ideal to be left running in the background, doing what they do unobtrusively without needing your input. You have to drive to the wedding of a long lost friend, and what to track the route on your iPad (there’s an app for that, probably), but little Johnny wants to watch Mighty Morphin Transformers or some such. On the iPad, you can’t do both. Contrived example perhaps and there are others that will apply to specific situations. This may not be a big deal for many people, and yet for others its the deciding factor. I know of at least one happy iPhone owner who has already said to me he won’t buy an iPad until it can multi-task. Hey, the Palm Pre can do it (as can my 2 year old Windows Mobile smartphone), so it’s not that big an ask.
The last ‘issue’ that I have read about concerns the DRM on the ePub files used for iBook downloads. As I understand it, the ePub format is not an Apple specific format, but the reports are that the DRM that Apple will use will only work on Apple devices. That means if I download a book from Apple, I can only read it on an Apple device. I would really like to find out if this is correct because this would be a key selling point for me. I read a lot. I love books, and I keep many old ones, some are quite tattered and torn now, but the stories remain the same. I don’t want to be forced, in 3, 4 or 5 years time when the (non-user replaceable) battery on my iPad finally gives up the ghost, to be forced to buy another Apple product to continue to use the content I have already paid for. I don’t have any huge issue with protecting files with DRM as long as that DRM allows me to access the material I have paid for on the device I choose – whether that be an iPad now, or a Windows 9 tablet in 5 years time (if there is one). As I say, it remains to be seen how this pans out, and until I know for sure I’ll be ‘approaching with caution’.
The bottom line is that different devices work for different people. Choice is great. For many people the iPad might well be a great new device, and a new way to experience media, the web and so on. For many people it will lack certain features that reduce it to ‘just another glossy paperweight’. Neither view makes the iPad rubbish, and neither makes it the best thing since sliced bread. People are talking about it being a ‘game changing device’ or ‘utter rubbish’. The reality, as it stands, is that neither is likely to be true, and if it were a device from anyone else but Apple, we wouldn’t be having the debate.
Personally I’d like to see a little less of the religious style rhetoric – it’s as bad as the “Windows v Linux v OSX” wars….