It’s been a little more than a day since Apple launched it’s ill-named iPad (more on the name in just a moment). The reaction amongst the tech crowd has been pretty vitriolic. I won’t recount all the arguments, but it’s worth talking about some of them because I believe the iPad will be a huge success… eventually, but very soon.
First and foremost, let’s all keep in mind this is a 1st generation product. Yes, there are going to be flaws, and yes, there are going to be things that you’re not going to like about it. From a consumer point of view, yeah, there are things missing from the product that we’d all like to see like multi-tasking or a built-in camera. I can almost pretty much assure you that these features will eventually make their way into the iPad (e.g. third party apps, video recording, copy and paste for the iPhone)—hopefully by its second iteration.
However, let’s remember that Apple is a business. It’s out to make a profit. Microsoft for years has been trying to create a market for Tablet PCs. For the most part it remains highly niche. The biggest problem? They tried to shoehorn a desktop operating system, all the power-hungry components and a UI that was designed for a mouse and keyboard into a tablet. How many of you have picked up a Tablet PC thinking it was cool only to not be able to even “click” the Start button because the display didn’t recognize your finger? Apple is reinventing the tablet experience to be touch-driven. Hell, even ATMs can take a few lessons from Apple when it comes to a touch screen that “just works”.
Whether or not you care whether the iPad is just an over-sized iPod touch is irrelevant. Everybody’s expectations were just a little too high for this gadget, but they weren’t far off the mark for what I believe Apple is planning to do. This is just the first step.
Lack of a…
A decent name? Yeah, yeah, get all of your MaxiPad jokes out of the way. It’s a silly name, and it isn’t doing Apple any favors at the moment, but at some point the good folks at Apple’s marketing department felt that what they wanted to communicate with the product name outweighed a few weeks of iPad jokes. Again, by this time next year, I fully expect that when someone cracks an iPad joke, they’re going to be looked upon as incredibly lame. Just like how the Wii pee-pee jokes got old real fast.
Apple didn’t forget to include a camera. (Frankly, I don’t see why people want a back facing camera. It’s going to be rather silly for people to hold up a giant tablet to take a craptastic photo, but anyway…) When it comes to certain features, the main consideration Apple has above any other is profit. It may not cost them much, but an extra $5 bucks to throw into the cost of manufacturing does mean a lot when you’re building millions of them and when you’re trying to recoup your development costs. That being said, when the price of some other component drops enough, Apple will likely throw a front-facing camera back in. The same can be said about a lot of other features like GPS.
I fully expect a lot of other big gripes like multi-tasking to be rectified in iPhone OS 4.0 (as well as a name change Touch OS 4.0?). Currently, the iPhone OS does multi-task certain applications, but for the most part, it’s a single application world. I don’t think the big issue is battery life and performance as much as it is how do you manage your running apps. The name “process manager” alone induces a cringe. Back in the days when I had a PocketPC 2002, it literally pissed me off to find out that hitting the “X” didn’t actually close out an app, but rather, I would have to launch the freakin’ control panel and then a task manager to official turn off a memory and power-hungry app.
Apple has a history of not doing things unless it can do them really well. I don’t know how multi-tasking is going to be done exactly, but I have a few ideas about how they will handle multiple apps. Palm’s webOS does it in a pretty elegant way, but I suspect Apple will do probably involve the Home button and glowing icons somehow.
Maybe not for a few more years, but the whole 16 GB of storage thing is not going to be a huge issue. Both Apple and Google are abstracting away the file system for the cloud. How it will be done isn’t exactly clear, but I fully expect my music collection to be available streaming from somewhere up there. And if American ISPs ever get any real competition, I may have my movie collection up there too.
Finally as far as gripes are concerned, you can forget about the following because it ain’t going to happen: USB port, HDMI out, smaller bevel, widescreen. USB and HDMI will likely always be accessory only. The only two good reasons I can think of when it comes to a USB port is connecting a camera or an external hard drive. Both of these will eventually be solved with more ubiquitous use of wireless networking. You’ll pull your photos off your camera over Bluetooth, and you’ll pull your movies, music and files to your iPad over Wi-Fi. The bevel and widescreen do not bother me one bit. John Gruber points out that the bevel is there so you don’t touch the screen when you have to hold the device. Furthermore, a widescreen tablet is only really comfortable in landscape mode. After profit, Apple’s second biggest concern is design. Jony Ive doesn’t think having all these ports and connectors on the side of your iPad is very pretty.
The End of Adobe Flash
I agree with Steve when he says that netbooks are pretty much cheap laptops. Everything that you can do on a netbook, you’d rather do on a laptop except carry one around. The haters and I are quick to point out that netbooks do Adobe Flash. As an owner of a one Acer Aspire One netbook, I can tell you that Hulu sucks on a netbook. It sucks bad. Dropped frames all over the place, unresponsive UI, etc… There’s no doubt that the next generation of Intel Atom processors will likely remedy this, but it does say a lot about Adobe Flash when I can open up a 720P H.264 video in VLC on my same netbook and get a full 30 FPS. If products like the iPhone and iPad continue to dominate mobile browsing, video providers are going to be forced to stream their videos in HTML 5. (Mozilla, I’m looking at you to just bite the bullet and license H.264 for Firefox. Use some of that sweet Google search money.) That and I’m hoping Hulu releases an iPhone/iPad app soon!
Every One Will Have an iPad
The biggest complaint I’ve heard about the iPad is “What am I going to do with it?” And that was the big problem that everyone was concerned about before the iPad was announced. As cliché as it may sound, Apple is trying to create a “digital lifestyle” away from your desk. Any one notice the couch Mr. Jobs was sitting on while demoing the unit?
Apple’s target with the iPad is paper. No more newspapers, just open up the New York Times app. No more paper books, just open up the ePub version of The Bible. No more boxes of photographs, just open up the photos app. Everywhere that there is paper in your life, Apple wants you to use your iPad. It’s not just a replacement; it’s an enhancement. This paper is interactive; it’s connected; it plays videos; it plays games; it does a million things that app developers are going to come up with. I especially see the iPad being incredibly useful for students. Instead of carrying around 20 lbs worth of textbooks, this is the first real portable e-reader that makes sense from an educational point of view. I’m hoping iBooks 2.0 will let you record voice notes and annotate passages. This is/will definitely be the killer app in the education space.
At $499, it’s a little too expensive for a lot of people to jump on the bandwagon just yet and burn all their books, but it ain’t that much more expensive. I am frankly amazed that Apple released the iPad for that price. While I wasn’t expecting a $999 price point like most analysts, I was expecting something closer to the $799 or $699 range for an entry level model. Apple generally has a history of releasing products at a high price and gouging early-adopters for two reasons: 1) It wants to make a lot of money. 2) It wants to create a sense that this is a premium product. Usually, the last thing that Apple wants to do is create a sense that its products are a commodity.
For example, look at the netbook manufacturers. Their margins are not high at all. Apple probably makes the same amount of profit off selling one MacBook Pro as Asus does selling 10 Eee PCs. Which product would you rather make?
The iPad seems to be different. $499 says a few things about what Apple intends for this product though that are highly un-Apple-like. First, they want every one to have one. In a year’s time, I fully expect a $399 model. In two year’s time, I expect a $299 model. The iPod and the iPhone will all eventually be available for less than $199 and probably closer to $99. By this time next year, the price and features will make more than enough sense for people in the market for a netbook. More significantly at that price point, the iPad is priced just low enough for almost everyone to afford and for a lot of people to buy on impulse.
Where Are We Going
It’s hard to recognize revolution as you’re experiencing it, but looking back it becomes crystal clear. The long-term view for Apple is that computing is a commodity product. I know I said earlier that is the last thing that it wants for its products, but it’s inevitable. At some point, $2,000 MacBook Pros and $3,000 Mac Pros aren’t going to make sense for anybody. In ten years time, we’re all going to be editing high definition video on a machine we bought for $300 bucks. Apple knows this, and it’s only going to be so long before Google and Microsoft catch up in the software arena when it comes to tolerable software. In the meantime, Apple is going to try to build a business where its main goal is to connecting us to our media as seamlessly as possible.
The iPad is a big step in a new direction for Apple to get into content delivery. Right now, Apple makes its money from selling devices, but at some point, content may end up being just as important. The iBookstore, the App Store, the iTunes Store may be break-even now, but as bandwidth gets cheaper, storage becomes practically free and people give in to the idea that buying something digital is just as real as buying something tangible, that 30% cut of everything is going to end up being a lot of money. All this being said…
Apple is going to save the media industry so it can make even more money.