Modern Software Experience

2010-02-01

Apple iPad

Steve Jobs introduces a product page

Apple iPad

After months of rumours buzz which Apple pretends to hate, Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple iSlate iPad. Well, he appeared before the American press, held a speech and let them have a hands-on session afterwards. That’s it. Steve Jobs did not introduce the iPad, he merely announced it.

All Steve Jobs really introduced is a product page on the Apple site. The entire press event was a dog and pony show for a product page. There is no product for you to buy yet. The iPad is not ready to ship. It may not even be in mass-production yet. Jobs says the simplest model should be available in March. production-ready. Right now, the commercial truth is the iPad does not exist. That is let-down number one.

product page

A link to the product page that Jobs introduced during the Apple Special Event (I am not making this up, that really is how Apple billed the introduction of this product page) is below. It offers a movie of that Special Event and an glowing infomercial about the iPad. It claims that iPad is our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device. It even claims that it is offered at an unbelievable price. That is a claim I fully agree with, just not in the way Apple would like me too.

mobile tactics

Steve Jobs started the product page show with the claim that Apple is now the largest mobile device company in the world. Never mind that his statement is misleading; it is not about number of devices sold, it is merely about total revenue. Never mind that Apple had to fudge definitions and include laptops sales and that it prompted Mark Squires, Nokia’s Head of Social Media to set the record straight with a true apples-to-apples comparison (A Fruit Confused?). It remains impressive that Apple got so many people to buy their overpriced iPhone - and that many buyers keep spending their money on apps to run on those on those iPhones.

Staging a Special Event to introduce a product page is just Apple overdramatic way of trying to fit into with the mobile market, where pre-announcing products months in advance has been de rigeur for years.

price

If you want all that this first model iPad has to offer it is going to cost you $ 829. That is indeed an unbelievable price - it is unbelievably high. Only if you settle for a configuration with a measly 16 GB and without 3G is it $ 499. These prices do not include AppleCare insure or a 3G data plan, which is a separate subscription.

Even worse, those prices are American prices only. Apple is one of those vendors that advertises its low American prices, but then charge you a lot more. Several days after the introduction of the product page, the European prices remain unannounced.

The only way for iPad prices to become as attractive as iPhone prices, is for mobile carriers to offer it for reduced price with a mobile subscription plan - but the iPad lacks full voice capabilities.

disappointment

After all the hype and anticipation, the iPad could hardly be anything but a disappointment, but the iPad announcement is a disappointment in its own right.

Even the most expensive iPad configuration still lacks features that the iPhone has. The iPad has no camera and no voice capabilities. Think of the iPhone as an iPad Mini with a camera and full voice capabilities.

Oh, and apparently the operating system is still so primitive that it does not support multitasking yet. Multitasking is likely to appear in iPhone OS 4, but the iPad runs iPhone OS 3.2.

the iPhone design blunders

There are the deliberate design blunders the iPad has in common with the iPhone; no replaceable battery and no SD Card slot.

A replaceable battery ensures the longevity of the device does not depend on the longevity of the battery.
Support for SD Cards would make it easy to make a backup, switch between a home and a work configuration or simply expand the storage capacity. The Apple iPhone lacks those features, the Apple iPad lacks them as well.

The lack of a stylus isn’t a blunder. The iPhone and iPad were designed to be operated with your fingers. No iPad application should need a stylus, and when you don’t have one, you can’t lose it either.

limited battery time

One very disappointing factor, that almost no one seems to have noticed is that the battery life is deplorable. Apple claims you get up to 10 hours of use or one month of standby time out of a fully charged battery. That stand-by time is great, but merely ten hours of use isn’t so great.
First of all, that up to 10 hours is the manufacturer’s claim, which traditionally means that you stand no chance of duplicating it.

The claimed battery time is about the same as for the iPhone 3GS or a Nokia E71. It is reasonable battery time for a phone, but the iPad isn’t a phone. The iPad is an e-book reader and an organiser. Amazon claims more than a week usage for its Kindle, and Palm claims more than five days of normal use for the Palm T|X it introduced in 2005.

I have a practical yardstick for the viability of a mobile device; it should easily last a long weekend of medium usage - the crux being that you do have to lug the charger along. The iPad specifications do not fill me with confidence that the iPad is up to that challenge.

limited connectivity

The iPad does not only lack a camera and the ability to store pictures on an SD Card, it does not even allow you to connect your camera to an USB port. The iPad does not have a single USB port.

It is hard to overstate the importance of USB ports. It would not just be great for connecting your camera to the iPad or your iPad to your desktop, an USB port would also mitigate the iPad’s limited battery life, as it could be used to recharge it in any modern office.

The iPad has very limited connectivity. It does not have an USB port, it does not have an EtherNet port, it does not have FireWire port, not even a lowly serial port. The iPad supports Wi-Fi, but does not support Bluetooth or any of IrDA InfraRed interfaces.

Apart from the 3G connectivity, which requires additional payments, the iPad supports nothing but Wi-Fi. There is a recharging dock that connects to your desktop, but it is not included in the box, it is an optional extra. Apple has not announced a price yet, but the iPad Dock is likely to bring the American price of an iPad up to roughly thousand dollars.

If the iPad Dock does not break the bank yet, the iPad Camera Connection Kit will. That Apple dares to offer this kit and highlight what a green company they are at the same time is just wrong. The iPad Camera Connection Kit is really a completely superfluous product. Apple artificially created a need when it decided to leave USB ports of the iPad.

do not buy

The ridiculously high price, the irreplaceable battery, the lack of a camera, the lack of an SD Cart slot, the limited battery time and the lack of USB connector are all valid complaints about the iPad.
The iPad successors, let’s call these the iPad 2 and iPad 3 for now, are likely to address some of these complaints, and that sure is a powerful reason to not buy the first iPad model, but wait for these successors instead.

no MacOS

However, the biggest disappointment of all is something that cannot be fixed by the iPad 2 or 3 adding or improving a feature; the biggest disappointment is that the iPad isn’t a Mac.

The iPad looks nice, but it does not run Macintosh applications, it runs iPhone apps. The iPad isn’t a MacOS tablet, but an iPhone table. It isn’t MacSlate, but an iPhone XL. Well, an iPod Touch XL to be more precise, but future models are likely to live up the iPhone moniker.

Even if you are not interested running iPhone apps on a bigger screen, but in running MacOS applications instead, the iPad isn’t a complete disappointment. The iPad shows that Apple has the technology to make a simple tablet. Apple has not managed to cram a desktop computer into it that form factor yet, but the realisation of that idea does seem a bit closer now.

the real introduction

Apple did not only introduce the product page for the iPad, it also introduced Apple iBooks, Apple’s e-book store, which offers content from major publishing houses. Apple now has three digital stores: the iTunes stores, the Apps store and the iBooks store.

The iBooks store completes the picture of the iPad as a Kindle competitor.

iPad versus Kindle

You can compare the Apple iPad and Amazon Kindle on price and features. The Kindle offers better battery life, and the battery is replaceable, but the iPad has a colour screen and can run iPhone apps, and so on. Comparison of the Apple iPad to the Amazon Kindle makes little sense unless you are seriously considering buying an e-reader soon, which probably implies that you intend to spend a lot on books and magazines as well - and it would be unwise to buy your e-books in the Amazon store.

The problem is not that the Kindle is only works with the Amazon store. The iBooks apps only works with the iBooks store. These are serious limitations, but Amazon already has an Kindle application for the iPhone and when Amazon introduces an application development kit for the Kindle, Apple might follow with a iBooks app for the Kindle.

The problem is that when you buy from the Amazon store, you get books in Amazon’s proprietary AZW book format, whereas when you buy from the iBooks store, you get books in the open industry standard EPUB format. You can buy EPUB books elsewhere, you can read EPUB books on other devices.
That freedom, much more than hardware features or price, is what makes the Apple iPad a better e-book reader than the Amazon Kindle.

iPad versus netbooks

The iPad isn’t a netbook. A netbook is a minimalist, cheap laptop. The iPad is not cheap and it lacks a keyboard. Comparison of the iPad and netbooks boil down to one issue; you either want that keyboard or you don’t care for it. Apple sells an optional iPad Keyboard Dock, but that isn’t a foldable keyboard designed for carrying along.

A netbook easily beats the iPad on general features and price, but there is one topic that merits special mention.

The Apple iPad includes Safari, Apple’s web browser, which supports all major web standards, including upcoming ones such as HTML5. Apple gets criticised a lot for not supporting Adobe Flash on the iPhone, but Adobe Flash isn’t a web standard, so web browsers do not need to support it. Getting Flash support on the iPad isn’t Apple responsibility, it’s Adobe’s responsibility.
Still, many websites do rely on Flash and the iPad currently doesn’t support it, so if you want Flash support, a generic netbook is a better choice than the Apple iPad.

YouTube, perhaps the most Flash site of all, has stopped relying on Flash. YouTube now additionally supports the H.264 standard. The iPad includes with a YouTube application, just like the iPhone does, but it may not be needed much longer.

conclusion

The iPad is definitely overpriced and severely lacking in features. The lack of multitasking capabilities will probably be addressed with an upgrade to iPhone OS 4.0, but the hardware limitations are serious.

That the battery isn’t replaceable and Apple still refuses to include an SD Card slot, but prefers to bleed your bank account for a model with more RAM instead, has not stopped the iPhone from being a success. However, the iPad limitations are worse and you are not likely to find a subsidised iPad as part of mobile subscription plan.

The iPad lacks a camera, lacks voice capabilities, and does not even include an USB port. No USB port, not even an Micro-B one. Apple prefers to bleed its customers by charging for an otherwise unnecessary dock and camera connection kit. Apple is likely to address some of these complaints with future models.

All the iPad has to recommend it is the large screen, and Apple has gone out of its way to make sure it really is the only thing by leaving out everything else you’d want from a slate computer. The Funny or Die: Apple iPod Commercial sums it up very well: the iPad is three times larger.

The lack of Adobe Flash support and its many other shortcomings make practically every netbook seem preferable to this first model iPad, but the overriding truth is that netbooks and slate computers are two different categories.

The support for the standard EPUB format makes the iPad preferable to the one-trick Amazon Kindle which only invites you to invest your money in its proprietary book format.
Healthy competition between Apple and Amazon could encourage both to create new iPad and Kindle models that are considerably more attractive than today’s models.

The iPad Mini lacks the large screen, but does include a camera and full voice capabilities instead. The iPad is an interesting product, but unless you really want to run supersized iPhone apps, consider that the iPhone 3GS fits in your pocket.

updates

2010-03-13 battery replacement

Apple replaces iPhone batteries for a service fee, but does not replace iPad batteries. Instead, Apple replaces the entire iPad (most likely with a refurbished one) for a service fee.

2010-05-10 price gouging

Apple did not release the iPad in April, as it originally announced. In fact, it was only in May that Apple finally announced international prices.
The German Apple site now lists the price of the 64 GB Apple iPad Wi-Fi + 3G as € 814. That is not only without any USB slot, without voice capabilities, without built-in camera, without SD Card slot and without a 3G subscription plan, that is also without any dock, and without AppleCare. By the way, € 814 is about $ 1042, so that is more than 25 % more than the already greedy American price of $ 829. An unbelievable price indeed!

2010-07-23 iPad finally available

The Apple iPad is finally available from the Apple site and authorised dealers starting today - more than four months after the product page announcement.

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