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Apple iPad: A well-priced compromise, but should you buy one?

Today I found myself following a now familiar pattern for Apple press events.  Full of anticipation at the start, perhaps even fear of how I might feel if the event ends up being a letdown.  Anticipation building further during the introduction and megadownloadfiguresfinancialshyperbole etc.  Product announcement YAY!  Features look great, I’m pretty sure I want one.  Price way better than expected, definitely want one NOW.  Presentation ends. The dust settles and reality starts to kick in; my 100% enthusiasm starts to get tempered.  Seriously if the iPad had been live in the online store immediately after the announcement I would now be waiting for UPS.  After a few hours of thinking it over here’s how I feel about the iPad…

Most importantly the price feels right, given that this is a limited functionality computer.  The iPad is not a fully-featured tablet computer, we are going to see devices from PC manufacturers this year which can do more.  What kind of more?  Multitasking for one thing (pun intended).  Desktop-class application choice for another (no Photoshop right now on the iPad or any other native OSX apps) and better connectivity options (no SD card slot or webcam on the iPad).  Given these limitations the entry price of $499 seems fair.

Although it has a thick screen surround, it looks great and is as super thin as we would expect.  The promised battery life of ten hours is extremely encouraging and suggests an efficient processor design, I wonder how that will be affected by full-on 3G usage…The downside of the energy efficiency is that the graphics did not look particularly impressive, but we need to give developers time over the coming months to learn and exploit the new hardware.

iBooks was nice but I can’t get too excited about ebook software.  While it will definitely grow in popularity it’s not going to take the world by storm in the same way as digital music.  We don’t hear about industry problems of people trying to illegally download books unlike the environment which preceded mass digital music adoption.  With digital music there was a mass market ready and waiting to be tapped by a legal download service, which is what iTunes did so effectively.  With ebooks the mass market needs to be educated and developed further for it to become a cash cow. Also the iPad’s glossy backlit screen may not be so comfortable to focus upon for extended periods compared to the Kindle’s e-ink screen, especially outdoors.  I expect however that most people will overlook this limitation, if they are even aware of it, and be drawn to the wider appeal of the iPad.

The old fashioned 4:3 screen aspect is a peculiar choice given that one of today’s demos was a movie which is best viewed in 16:9 or 16:10 widescreen.  While a clear use-case of the iPad is as a media device, watching modern releases will almost always result in black bars at the top and bottom of the screen.

The lack of Flash support is simply stunning.  While Apple describes the iPad as the best way to experience the web, I’m not convinced.  The lack of Flash support on small screens is forgiveable, but on a media-centric large screen device it just seems like a glaring omission.  This means no Hulu on the iPad and many popular sites will have elements which will not work.

Wide on-screen keyboards are pretty difficult to type on because the middle keys are a stretch, so the keyboard dock with screen support makes sense.  I think I was the only person out there who CALLED THIS ONE! I like the idea of iWork on the iPad, but only with an external keyboard.  I do feel that once you get a hardware keyboard going you want a mouse as well so you don’t have to raise your arm every two seconds to manipulate the screen.  Unfortunately the iPad does not support mice, so get ready for some arm exercise if you’re sitting with the iPad mounted on a stand in front of you.

Bottom line, will the iPad be a popular device?  Probably yes, because I expect people in the market for a high end $300-400 ebook reader like a Kindle DX could be tempted to stretch to $499 for something offering useful internet, media and email functionality.  The price point will also win over some netbook shoppers.  However I think that Apple’s description of the iPad as being “magical and revolutionary” over-compensates hype in place of some of the device’s deficiencies.  Evolutionary sure, insofar as this device is upscaled from the existing iPhone software and hardware paradigm.  At a lower price point netbooks are able to do basic tasks that the iPad can’t; like making video calls, accepting memory cards and handling Flash.  Fortunately for the sales figures most people probably believe the hype and will be happy with a $499 device which can only run one application at once.  It’s in a way ironic that the media criticized PC manufacturers and Microsoft for shipping Windows 7 Starter on some low end netbooks, which is limited to only run three applications simultaneously, yet I’ve seen minimal comment on the iPad’s limitation of only being able to run one app.

The wider question is whether Main Street needs a secondary or tertiary internet device, when many people have already invested in a netbook or iPhone to supplement their everyday computer.  And while I said earlier I believe the entry price of $499 is fair, it’s certainly not an impulse buy.  The range extends to $829 for a 64GB model with 3G capability; AT&T unlimited data connectivity adds another $30 per month on top of that.  This takes the first year cost of an $829 iPad with unlimited data to around $1,189.  Fundamentally though, if you already have an iPhone, how likely are you really to buy an iPad?  I’d say it would be a tough sell because the iPhone already has the core away-from-home functionality in a more convenient size and weight.  Perhaps the basic $499 version might make sense to use at home if you love the iPhone OS, since you can bring your iPhone apps onto the iPad.

Am I going to buy one?  I’ve gone from 100% yes to 60% yes 50% over the course of the five nine hours since the announcement and I’m stabilizing, so I think it’s probable possible.  I wouldn’t need a lot of storage in a device like this so personally I’d go for the 16GB model with 3G and just pray for AT&T to improve its network.  Still three months to go until the 3G model is available though and I have a feeling a lot of tablets will be announced between now and then…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

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Jan 27, 2010 - Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Hardware, News, Software | , , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Good post – the fact is that Apple may have wanted to get something out at this stage, given that Tablets are now looking very fashionable, but further development looks inevitable.
    With the growth of Kindle and other similar e-books, they must have felt that it was high time their product was out there.

    Comment by Anon613-London | Jan 28, 2010 | Reply

  2. An oversized Ipod touch with some of the same limitations of the same? No thanks – I won’t be getting one. Your write up of the EnTourage eDGe clearly beats the wi-fi version of the iPad hands down, and if not for the lack of 3G on that, I’d pick one up. If this is Apple’s answer to the Kindle, they have a long way to go. How about trying color epaper next time?

    Comment by Jeff | Jan 28, 2010 | Reply

    • Color epaper (or color e-ink) is a great idea and is on the way…but keep an eye out also for Pixel Qi’s screens, which I think will blow away e-ink. Their screens are daylight/sunlight readable, really amazing. Not in full swing production yet, but hopefully coming this year. There’s an Acer netbook prototype out there.

      Comment by theONbutton | Jan 28, 2010 | Reply

  3. I’m going to have a play in the apple store and then feel smug about not buying something which is more hype than performance. Thanks for the review!

    Comment by Ben Langleben | Jan 29, 2010 | Reply

  4. I think it will be great innovation, and i can’t wait try apple ipad.

    Comment by Home theater system | Jan 30, 2010 | Reply


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