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.