The Apple iPad has finally been announced. In addition to revolutionising the print media, the device looks to also revolutionise the netbook industry. Possibly by destroying it.
But does it live up to the hype? See below for the pros and cons of the ground-breaking new device:
There are some really great things about the iPad that show that this device has the potential to be a real game changer in the mobile world.
Small Form Factor
The iPad seems to fit the same niche that netbooks currently fill. People buy netbooks because the need something cheap and tiny to browse the internet and write the occasional email.
This is all possible with the iPad (with Apple restrictions of course see below) which has arrived with a netbook price point and flexible 3g capability included.
Those sitting on the fence, pondering whether they really need a physical keyboard for their interactions will snap the iPad up.
Great eBook Integration
From what I can tell, print media (the artist formerly known as) will feature heavily in the iPad's media line-up. Reading online newspapers, magazines and books looks like it could be quite fun on the device as the screen is big enough to not induce the botox-requiring squinting common during iPhone use.
If they get a great media library together (which they undoubtedly already have) and a seamless way of purchasing books (which they do already have) then this feature could be a real killer.
Unfortunately I ran out of pros pretty quickly. If you know how an iPhone works then you pretty much know how the iPad works. This is a problem however, because restrictions that were partially tolerable on the iPhone are now maddening on the scaled up iPad.
What? This device is at least twice the size of an Apple Newton and is being released 13 years later. The Newton may not have had multi-tasking back in '97 but now, living in 2010, there is no excuse.
People were up in arms when Microsoft restricted the number of running apps in the netbook edition of Windows 7 yet Apple is apparently going to get away with only allowing a single third-party app to run at once. What a shame.
It seems Apple didn't get the memo about Augmented Reality exploding this year. I was hoping for some sort of camera to mesh with the recent relaxations of the rules around accessing the camera buffer in the latest iPhone SDK.
Augmented reality can only get bigger and become more relevant. By leaving out a camera in this first iteration of the iPad Apple has basically opened the door for Android to make its move. Google has already released Google Googles, what's next?
Even without bringing AR into the mix, the absence of a camera is a real downer as far as I am concerned.
No Flash Support
This is another biggie. Netbooks run flash fine. The iPad could run flash perfectly well I am sure. And yet it doesn't because Apple doesn't want people to make flash apps and take their money.
This is a perfect example of greed stifling innovation yet again. Apple loves to take people close to 'the future' (And by 'the future' I am talking about the totally fluid tablet UIs seen in films like Avatar) but no closer. Money will always trump innovation for them which is fine as that is how they want to roll. I guess we will have to see what Android can produce over the next year.
Again, the lack of this important feature has opened the door for someone to produce a sexy Android based tablet to compete directly with the iPad. A glance at the news from CES earlier this year shows that there are at least 30 Android tablets on the way.
You Are Locked In Tightly
At last we come to the fundamental problem with the iPad, and in fact all of Apple's products. Lock-In.
You are now locked into an ecosystem where you don't actually own anything any more. Everything can be revoked, all submissions must be filtered and controlled. Updates will revert any changes you have made but the only way to really open your device will be to 'break' it.
I am possibly an extreme case. Unlike a lot of people, I am a developer. I love writing software and I love the feeling I am somehow helping transport humanity into the shiny realm of science fiction. I get a real buzz out of that.
Unfortunately, developers have a bit of a love hate relationship with the iPhone and will again with the iPad. I can't shake the feeling that Apple actually doesn't like us developers all that much and sort of wishes we would go away and stop mucking around in their pristine SDK. But that would of course drastically reduce their cash flow so I that is why that idea was shut down in the board meeting.
The web is a perfect example of how rampant flexibility and mashability has allowed innovation to thrive. The iPads and the iPhones seem to be the antithesis of this. By filtering every submission to the App Store, Apple puts arbitrary limits on our creativity. We cannot make apps that would improve the native apps. For a long time we could not legally access the camera for Augmented Reality. And we cannot make apps that may contain adult content. Of course all of these restrictions seem completely arbitrary and depend solely on how the app reviewer feels that day.
By preventing background services, Apple prevents developers from creating an entire class of new applications for consumers. All of these restrictions hurt consumers in the end even if they don't realise it now.
The iPad represents a new generation of lock in, of dongles and adapters to simply allow your device to talk to another. It's a shame but that is the way it is and that is the way it will be while the competition are still trying to get their game together.
I can understand why Apple acts the way they do. But it doesn't mean that I like it. Hopefully next year we are all writing about how an unrestricted Android tablet has really revolutionised the world.
The Newton did have multi-tasking! It also had DRM free 'beaming' but oh well.