Geek Squad: iPad? iPass

For months on end, rumors of the fabled Apple tablet had pulsed through the waves of technological news and hearsay, and while no details were given, everyone knew it was coming. This all came to a head on January 27, when Steve Jobs took to the stage at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and debuted to an anxious audience what everyone was aware of but didn’t know what to expect: the iPad. After seeing what Apple has to offer in the iPad, I can’t help but find myself stuck in the latter camp. I just can’t say that the iPad is something I can ever see myself buying,  here’s why you shouldn’t either.

Before I go any further, I feel that I should go outright and say that my viewpoint is inherently biased against Apple and many of its products. I tend to look down on some of Apple’s philosophies and more so their questionable business practices, such as the drastic overpricing of hardware in comparison to the market standard. That doesn’t mean I can’t keep an open mind toward Apple’s new products and that’s just what I did as I watched the debut of the iPad.

Let’s start with the facts – or more specifically, with the technical details. A tablet-esque system, the iPad has a 9.7 inch backlit LCD display with capacitive touch properties and a resolution of 1024×768. It runs off a 1 gigahertz processor created by Apple themselves and uses iPhone OS 3.2 as its operating system, allowing the system to run most if not all the apps available for the iPhone. As far as connectivity goes, all iPads come with wi-fi and Bluetooth capabilities along with the standard Apple dock connector, while some models also come with 3G capabilities with the cost of a non-contract monthly data plan with AT&T. For these models, AT&T offers two different price points – $15 a month for a maximum of 250 megabytes of data transferred through its 3G network, or $30 a month for unlimited data. Lastly, different iPad models come with different storage sizes – either 16, 32, or 64 gigabytes of flash storage are available. In total, there will be 6 different models of the iPad, with storage size and 3G capabilities being the only differences between models. The least expensive model will run you $499, whereas the most expensive goes as high as $829. The iPad is expected to launch models lacking 3G in March and those models with the capabilities in April.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, we can dissect the iPad and look at it some of its flaws. What’s probably the biggest, in my eyes, is its which characterizes the entire feel of the iPad: its operating system. What Apple basically did was take the iPhone’s operating system, barely tweak it, and stick it on a machine whose hardware capabilities call for much more. iPhone OS works great for the iPhone because its interface is simple and easy to navigate to accommodate for the iPhone’s small screen. Jobs toted the iPad’s larger screen as one of its main advantages, but iPhone OS’s features simply don’t do it justice. As far as I know, the only addition Apple made to the iPad version of the OS is the ability to double-up pixels when running iPhone apps, allowing the apps to stretch to the iPad’s larger screen size but making them appear more pixilated.

The inclusion of iPhone OS 3.2 brings another huge problem to the iPad: the lack of multi-tasking. In other words, you can only run one single app at a time, meaning that opening a new app closes the old one. Want to listen to your iTunes music while surfing the internet or writing a document? Too bad. In his keynote, Jobs described the iPad’s processor as a ‘screamer’, however, with a core feature like multi-tasking missing from the picture, iPad owners will never get a chance to see just how loud it can scream. While the use of iPhone OS 3.2 means a high level of connectivity and compatibility between the iPad and Apple’s other products, it also comes off as a great deal of laziness on the part of Apple for not programming a new operating system for this machine that desperately needs it. A modified version of OS X would have been spectacular, but instead the iPad is left to underperform.

Oh, and did I mention the lack of Flash? Just like the iPhone, the iPad is incapable of playing content that requires Adobe Flash Player. And in this day and age, that’s a lot of content. For shame, Apple.

Looking at the hardware, the iPad is missing one key device and one that would have made the package all the more sweet. First, where on Earth are the USB ports? Nowhere to be found. This means that all interaction between the iPad and other devices has to be done either wirelessly or through the dock connector. The iPad can be connected to an external keyboard, but most keyboards nowadays connect via USB, forcing you to either buy the currently unpriced iPad keyboard dock or one of Apple’s wireless keyboards that communicates via Bluetooth, a $70 investment. The iPad also doesn’t come with a built-in camera, an aspect that puts it below the iPhone. You can connect your own external webcam, but that’s kind of tough with no USB ports. To combat this, Apple will offer a webcam connection kit… for a price, of course. It’s a bit sickening to see Apple exclude a piece of hardware as standard as a USB port and then reap the benefits of selling its own alternatives.

With the way it was presented, it seems that Steve Jobs intended for the iPad to be in direct competition with three different pieces of technology – tablets, e-book readers, and netbooks. But when you look at all the faults of the iPad, it’s tough to recommend it as a viable alternative for any one of those three.

Two of the biggest draws to owning a tablet are in its note-taking capabilities and its drawing capabilities. But with no software for either of these two, the iPad is useless as a conventional tablet. And even if such software was released in the future, the iPad’s capacitive touch screen means that styluses won’t work with the device, severely hindering the precision of such input.

The iPad seems to have the most chance in trumping e-book readers out of anything else, though that’s not saying much. I can see some e-book users flocking to the iPad for its color screen and other features, but true reading aficionados will stick to their e-book readers for two main reasons. The iPad’s LCD screen means that reading prolonged reading sessions will be much more tiring on your eyes than the natural-looking e-ink technology used in today’s e-book readers. If anything, iPad may snatch up some people who were on the fence about getting an e-book reader, but devices like the Kindle and Nook have an established niche community that aren’t likely to throw away their investment in favor of an iPad.

And as a netbook… well, there’s simply no comparison. The lack of an open operating system with multi-tasking capabilities severely hinders the potential for productivity on the iPad. Anything that can be done on an iPad can be done on a netbook – and for cheaper, too. If you’re allured by the features of the iPad, I suggest checking out the variety of tablet netbooks available. My current favorite is the Asus Eee PC T91MT. For roughly the same price as the cheapest iPad model (sometimes cheaper), you get a faster processor, a keyboard, a multi-touch touch screen with handwriting recognition, double the storage of the cheapest iPad model, a webcam, Windows 7 Home Premium, and more. When such a device exists at a similar or cheaper price point than the iPad, the choice is pretty clear.

Apple really could have changed the game with the iPad, but instead they took the safe route. For what it is, the iPad is overpriced, underperforming, and an unqualified competitor. Apple may rectify the iPad’s problems with future generations, but for now, I pass.

19 thoughts on “Geek Squad: iPad? iPass”

  1. I plan to buy 5 iPads for family and relatives. It will meet their needs quite well.

    By the way, it would take me a month to list all the thing the iPad can do, considering the 150,000 Apps and flurry of new Apps on the way. It takes me all of 1 minute to list what it can’t do. Not to mention the vast iPhone ecosystem that expands it’s functionality far beyond stock. By Christmas there will be just as many accessories for the iPad.

    I’m not sure why you feel boxed-in when iPhone users get along fine with out USB and SD card readers. (although both can be purchased on the open market for the iPhone). Whatever Apple leaves out simply opens the door for someone else to Market.

    Try to think outside the box and see what happens.

  2. “my viewpoint is inherently biased against Apple and many of its products.”

    Ok, so you go and blow any credibility that you might have had right there. Then you go and trot out the same old tired criticisms of the iPad. Waaaah no camera.. boooo no Flash.

    Yet another stupid blog post from another internet doofus who’s on his high horse because he’s thumbing his nose at another Apple product. Good. This means that for those of us that don’t want a netbook will have more available iPads to purchase. Since you’re drunk on the netbook kool-aid, go ahead and buy one.

    Really. WHO CARES?

  3. “Want to listen to your iTunes music while surfing the internet or writing a document? Too bad.”

    Your ignorance is amazing. You most certainly *can* do that on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. You can also have a timer or alarm running in the background. The apps that Apple supplies *are* multitasking. It’s just that other developers’ apps aren’t multitasking.

    And, really, if you have to explain what multitasking is, will the average user care about it? The iPad wasn’t designed for geek tweakers like you. It was designed for normal people.

  4. Out of the 150’000 apps available for the iPhone, most should transfer without any issues to the iPad. There are many note taking apps around. Check this site for a selection: http://smokingapples.com/iphone/app-store-iphone/notes-roundup-review/
    Pages can be used for note taking as well.

    Now for sketches: try http://brushesapp.com/ A New Yorker cover was made with the iPhone version. I assume the iPad optimized version of Brushes will be even more amazing.

  5. Think carefully about what kind of OS belongs behind a fingertip-driven interface.

    Look at your computer screen (it doesn’t matter what kind it is) and imagine touching all of those little interface elements, popup menus, file directory trees, and whatnot with your fingers and actually getting work done. Imagine all the different applications you use, too, and how they would — or wouldn’t — work with just your fingers.

    No, you can’t use a stylus. They get lost. You only get your fingers.

    Now, switch over to the iPhone OS and the 140,000 apps that are already designed for fingertip control. You can do everything from racing snowmobiles to building spreadsheets without using a hardware keyboard, mouse, or stylus.

    Makes sense, doesn’t it?

  6. Snap. I’m delighted to see so many replies in such little time and even more delighted that most of them appear to be highly intelligent and carefully thought-out. And to the couple of you who decided to just insult me… well, boo on you. Anyways, I’m trying to figure out a way to efficiently address everybody’s points without having to repeat myself, but it’s tough, so I’m just going to bounce around say whatever.

    First of all, it seems that my simplified example of multi-tasking didn’t work out too well since I forgot that Apple’s own apps have multi-tasking capabilities… but I’d like to think that my point still stands. Like many of you mentioned, there’s hundreds of thousands of apps available on the iPhone and, by extension, the iPad – all of which can’t run simultaneously to each other. Multi-tasking shouldn’t be something that people look at being reserved for ‘geek tweakers’, and I think any ‘normal person’ (whatever that’s supposed to mean) could see the benefit of having it in a system. Why NOT have it? Simplicity? Conservation of resources? Perhaps Apple doesn’t believe its userbase is smart enough to handle multiple applications at a time? I don’t know. Why couldn’t they have put in multi-tasking as an option that’s turned off by default? The OS would retain its simplicity for those ‘normal users’ and anyone who doesn’t feel like limiting themselves can take it a step further.

    Leland: I get where you’re coming from and yet I don’t. Styluses don’t simply ‘get lost’. I’ve had my Nintendo DS since its launch in 2004 and it still has its stylus safely tucked away in the back.

    I think that in an ideal world, the iPad would be running an operating system that’s a middle ground between OS X and iPhone OS. Something with OS X’s functionality and iPhone OS’s interface coupled with the ability to run apps. But Apple just slapped iPhone OS onto the iPad with a few minor adjustments and called it a day, and that really disappointed me. Apple could have utilized the force of the iPhone’s apps while still creating an experience unique to the iPad, but they didn’t.

    Sean: True, iPhone users get by just fine without those extra ports, but the iPad and the iPhone are two different pieces of technology. One could argue that such features were left out of the iPhone in the interest of portability, but that gets thrown out the window with the iPad. And if I’m going to spend upwards of $500 on a computing device, I’d rather Apple not conveniently leave out components so that other companies can market them for more money.

    Ralph: Those really are very impressive apps, especially that Brushes one (holy crap at that New Yorker cover). But don’t you think they could be even better with handwriting recognition? I know I’m not one of them, but there ARE people out there who prefer to take notes by hand over typing them, and none of those note-taking apps seem to offer that (unless I wasn’t looking close enough, do correct me if I’m wrong). And as impressive as some of the work created in that Brushes app may be, don’t you think that a stylus would improve the experience and feel more natural to an artist?

    As a closing note, I must say something that I neglected to mention in the article in the interest of saving space (that thing was running long in the first place anyways): I do think that the iPad has its merits as an entry-level device to be used to by those who aren’t very technologically savvy. Children, the elderly, what have you. But this is a college publication and my audience primarily consists of college students – people who I expect to know their way around technology more or less. That’s why when I look at the iPad and all the other devices out on the market (and those that will probably be put on the market in the future thanks to the iPad’s competition) within the same price range, I just don’t see why anyone in my target audience would possibly choose an iPad over something like a tablet netbook. Other than the hipster cred. But I’m not even going to get into that.

    Phew. I spent way too much time typing this.

  7. You’ve raised some good points but your bias obviously gets in the way with comments like “hipster cred”. I’ve yet to find this mytical person(s) going out spending money on Apple’s product just to be looked at as hip. Are we all back in highschool?

    The “tablet” form factor is one that is yet to be widely accepted in the consumer market since 2001 (besides niche). Apple do not release products just to target niche segments (geeks), they want to reach the general mass consumer (none geeks). Again something other venders were unable to do going back to 2001. How do you reach the gen consumer? By taking what most consumers do the most with their PCs today and offering

  8. Your bias obviously gets in the way with comments like “hipster cred”. I’ve yet to find this mytical person(s) going out spending money on Apple’s product just to be looked at as hip. Are we all back in highschool?

    The “tablet” form factor is one that is yet to be widely accepted in the consumer market since introduced in 2001 (except niche). Apple do not release products just to target niche segments (geeks), they want to reach the general mass consumer (none geeks). Again something other venders were unable to do going back to 2001. How do you reach the gen consumer? you reach them by taking what most consumers do the most with their PCs today (which is web serfing, information consumption, media, games and social) and making the whole experience more user friendly, intuitive and natural in this form factor. This has always been Apple’s phillosofy, taking what’s out there in this case the tablet pc and make it more appealing for the rest of us (none geeks). My mom who I plan to purchase one for will not be complaining about USB, or lack of flash support etc etc. This will be all she needs in a computer, minus the upkeep and headach that comes with a computer.

  9. Incorrect! You can listen to iTunes while doing other things, just like the iPhone. And any Bluetooth keyboard will work. Do some research man!

  10. All these people who are pro iPad, absolutely have no idea what a tablet is supposed to be and neither does Apple apparently. Imagine holding something that is almost 2lbs without having to prop it up on something? A la a laptop, or netbook or the tablets with a stand? Also for ebooks the iPad has that token high gloss screen which aside from leaving tons of fingerprints, make it terrible for taking out in the sun. Also LCD screens were never very easy on the eyes or meant to be looking at one thing for very long.
    The iPad also suffers from the lack of usb ports, because it limits what you can do at any given time, meaning that in order to transfer or sync anything, you need what? A COMPUTER! which seems to be the one thing Apple is trying to make people not need with this device. In fact you cant even use it right out of the box without setting it up by syncing with a computer first.
    alos this product lacks any type of real innovation. It is essentially an over sized iPod touch, with nothing new to offer, and Apple charges you handsomely for the pleasure. this device is not for serious computers users, just for children and the computer illiterate as a way to pass the time in the doctors office. Typing or doing any serious work on this is absolutely out of the question since you can neither print from this, or type on it effectively without buying a $70 keyboard.

    But hey, to all you Apple fans out there, keep paying for the pleasure to be told what you need and dont need. You will be the same ones making excused for uncle Steve when he keeps releasing non features as if it were a new product, as well as praising him when he decides to add in those usb ports you all claim you dont need now. And yes you all do think you’re a part of some club when you buy Apple. But I think I’ll keep my (virus free btw) windows machines..

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