On the iPad and Tablet Computers
So, it has a silly name, but other than that, what is going on with Apple's proud new offering? The apple tablet has been a mythic object for years and years, with fanboys waiting with barely contained, or not contained, desperation. Apple was supposed to bring us a tablet that would change the world, like the iPhone before it.
Firstly, I don't doubt for a second that 1. the iPad will be successful or that 2. it will end up being a game changer. The more pertinent question is whether it deserves to be a success and whether that changed world will be a better one. The iPad at first glance is an enlarged iPod touch. The form factor and user interface has all the same glitz, shine and attention to detail that went into the iPhone, so it will likely be a pleasure to use. Still, the iPhone OS is a notoriously closed platform, and the question has to be, is that something we want on a tablet?
I don't actually oppose closed platforms on principle like some folks out there. I'm a huge fan of my iPhone, and part of why it's such a flawlessly executed interface is because the platform is closed. That said, I don't use my iPhone to accomplish work. I use it to check wikipedia for facts on the fly, call my parents, IM with my friends and play games while waiting for a flight. It's a pocket device and so a lack of certain features has never struck me as an issue. I'm trading off flexibility and some functionality for superior design, which is fine by me.
However, once I've got a tablet in my hands I'm starting to expect something a little more. A tablet doesn't have to be a fully functioning high powered laptop, but even Apple themselves are billing this as something you can work on. They've built a custom version of their iWork platform just for the iPad. I'm sure it's a beautiful experience, but anyone who works with word documents and spreadsheets and in general, has a job, demands a little more flexibility from their on the go computer. Primarily, anyone trying to do real work is going to want a device that multitasks, which the iPad does not.
Imagine the frustration of working on your important spreadsheet and not being able to smoothly navigate between it, your data loaded up on a word document, and the web? Instead you'll have to shut down one App in order to view the other. It's clunky, and it simply seems shortsighted for a tablet computer.
And what about Flash? Yea, maybe, in several years time Flash will be a thing of the past as HTML5 becomes dominate, but right now, Flash is a huge part of the web. I've seen a number of jokes across the web showing mockups of the iPad displaying popular websites with that little blue square plugin-missing icon where normally rich content would be displayed. It seems hard to argue that a device that doesn't support Flash could be the ultimate web browsing experience.
When I first heard about a potential Apple tablet, what I envisioned was a touchscreen optimized version of OS X. That's an operating system that features both fantastic usability and flexibility. Also it has flash and can multitask. A real winner in my book.
It is disappointing to me that Apple didn't deliver a device that would really be a useful netbook with the kind of excellent usability that we've come to expect from the Mac operating system. Instead we have a device that may be a Kindle-killer with it's low price point and new iBooks application, but is far from the powerful tablet computer a lot of tech geeks were hoping for.
Maybe I'll be proved wrong. Maybe I'll pick up this device and fall in love and accept all these downsides while in the thrall of all it's shiny top notch industrial design. As one of my favorite bloggers and celebrities, Stephen Fry, said:
There are many issues you could have with the iPad. No multitasking, still no Flash. No camera, no GPS. They all fall away the minute you use it. I cannot emphasise enough this point: “Hold your judgment until you’ve spent five minutes with it”. No YouTube film, no promotional video, no keynote address, no list of features can even hint at the extraordinary feeling you get from actually using and interacting with one of these magical objects.
- Stephen Fry
I'll give it a chance one of these days, when I can wander into a bright white Apple store and fuss around with it myself. On that day, I shall surely let you know if my opinion has changed.