Monday, April 12, 2010

iPad Impressions

Here’s a thought experiment.  Assume that the iPad was introduced in 2007 (not 2010).  And assume that the iPhone was introduced in 2010 (not 2007).  

The revised scenario…

2007:  Apple announces the iPad!  Brilliant hi-res color display, Internet, email, iPod features, beautifully displayed movies/videos/photos, touch display, game platform, and thousands of third-party applications.  Weighs just 1.5 pounds, and measures 7.5 by 9.5 inches – fits easily in your briefcase.

Three years later…

2010: Apple announces the iPhone!  Brilliant hi-res color display, Internet, email, iPod features, beautifully displayed movies/videos/photos, touch display, game platform, and thousands of third-party applications.  Weighs just 5 ounces, and measures 2.5 by 4.5 inches – fits easily in your pocket.

And, by the way, it has a telephone.  And a camera.

The iPhone.  Does almost everything the iPad does, does some things the iPad doesn’t do, and is really, really small.  We've taken the iPad functionality, augmented it, and shrunk it into an unbelievably small package.

So apropos of the iPad:  Is bigger better?  Or is bigger simply …bigger?

Here’s my take:

First off, I couldn’t wait to receive it.  I counted down the days after being apprised by Apple that the iPad would be shipped for arrival Saturday, April 3, at our home.  The UPS tracking info, which I checked every day, showed the origin scan in Shenzhen, China, on Tuesday, March 30; Hong Kong on Friday; Anchorage on Thursday (amazing how it arrived the day before it left); Louisville on Friday; Newark 6:55am Saturday; and finally, delivery to my New York City apartment a few hours later.  A logistics triumph.

The iPad is the essence of elegance, in the best Apple tradition.  Incomparable industrial design. It executes its functions beautifully.  The hardware-software interface is seamless. Looking at it, touching it, using it – they’re all pleasures.

I’ve now had it for ten days.  It does everything as advertised.  It’s a barrel of fun to play with.  But it turns out that my main use for it after a week and a half is… to demo it to others.  And I must say, the iPad gives good demo.

But I’m hard pressed to come up with a need for me that it fulfills.  Its utility lies somewhere in that zone between the smart phone and the computer.  When at home/office, I use the computer.  When on the go, it’s the iPhone, always there, hidden unobtrusively in a pocket.  I’ve also been schlepping around the iPad, but it’s a far sight less convenient to carry.

My guess is that the iPad will eventually create its own need, emulating the path that the personal computer followed.  In the late 1970s, when I was a Wall St. technology analyst, I occupied part of my time as a self-anointed PC evangelist.  I tried to convince institutional investors that the PC would graduate from its then role of glorified hobbyist tool and game platform to something much bigger and more important.  But my argument was pooh-poohed, that is, until the first mainstream business application was introduced in 1979 with a capability that could not then be performed on a mainframe or minicomputer --the VisiCalc spreadsheet.  The floodgates opened.  PC sales took off.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Perhaps Apple or third parties will develop such a killer app for the iPad.  An app that smart phones or laptop computers can’t do.  An app that will make this new form factor a megahit, a category creator. Some maintain that just having a larger screen for reading books and periodicals will suffice, along with offering a better movie/video/photo experience. And clearly, that could be a huge market. 

BTW, the iBooks reader app is pretty impressive.  It blows away the Kindle’s lousy contrast black-on-gray display with a brilliant high-contrast and large color display.  And all the other reading functions are superior – page-turning, search, navigation, graphics -- and deftly implemented.  But in the last week, having read one book on the iPad and one in the old-fashioned tree-based implementation, the latter wins.   A conventional book is easier to hold and is lighter.  It’s a 500-year-old invention that still has legs. Of course, I cannot speak for the entire target audience.  After all, septuagenarians are probably not really in the marketer’s crosshairs. 

Meanwhile, carloads of new iPad-specific apps are being made available daily, and the 150,000-plus existing iPhone apps can be accessed by the iPad, though most of the latter are not iPad-optimized. 

Is there a killer app in the crowd?  TBD.

Meanwhile, want an iPad demo? 


  1. I agree with your comments but am even more negative about the Ipad. The Ipad is basically the adult equivalent of the car back seat DVD player that parents use to pacify their kids. It does nothing more than a run of mill laptop does. And it doesn't do a whole of things that any laptop can do. And it depends on AT&T, the fastest none existent 3G network in the world. But it sure is pretty and as you correctly point out gives insanely great demos. Of course it is going to change the way we compute.

    As usual the normal pundits are falling all over them selves proclaiming that once again Steve is leading us out of the wilderness. But I think the Ipad is likely Steve's next Next.

    Having been deeply involved in the first generation of tablet computers (Grid, GO, Compaq, Apple Newton, etc.) you could say that I am somewhat jaded about the concept. But it is not so much jaded as understanding what people really do with computers including tablet readers! With the exception of being pretty, the Ipad doesn't do much of anything that a machine that is going to change the way we compute needs to do.

    I do disagree with your assessment of the Kindle. Having had a Kindle for nearly a year I find it really useful. I read the NYTs on it daily. But I read the WSJ the "real" way, on paper and will always do so. Overall Epaper and Kindle is the best our industry has done to date in terms of replacing paper and books. Is it perfect? Not yet but it is a heck of a lot closer to something that I can carry and use daily than the Ipad is.


  2. I’ve never quite bought the idea the iPad will replace the PC, but I’m looking forward to getting one (now waiting for a patch or two first) so I can sit on the couch and read magazines or newspapers, look up things on the internet, etc. It may be the expense will keep this limited usage from creating a big market for the iPad, but I think it will be a nice addition for those who can afford the indulgence. And I wouldn’t bet against Steve Jobs.

    Interesting you feel what you now feel about the Kindle vs. real books. After an intense romance with the Kindle, I’ve come to the same conclusion, but I think an important part of my feelings comes from the poor design of the Kindle, which is the clunkiest piece of hardware I can remember. Maybe it’s just mine, but I can’t look back at the cover w/o losing my place - getting back to it by searching is often futile without page numbers - and a Kindle-user loses all the photographs, including the author’s photo, that are such important additions to at least some books. I’m hoping the iPad will solve this, but haven’t seen any comments to that effect.

  3. Great post! I'm eager to receive my 3G iPad (due to arrive in late April). From all that I've read, I think it will meet my needs for these reasons: I'm finding that most apps are too inconvenient for me to use due to my iPhone's small screen, and my MacBook Air is heavier and bulkier than what I find I am primarily using it for -- e-mail and the internet. But the most important driver for me is that I want a better e-reader than the Kindle2 I have now, for all the reasons that Tim Childs wrote in his comments, and more: I'm hoping to be able to read newspapers and magazines as well as books on the device -- imagine, eventually I may be able to have nearly all my reading material on one device!! That would be marvelous!
    I think the iPad will be a BIG hit for people like me, and also will open up the market for people who would not otherwise use a laptop or an iPhone for the aforementioned reasons. And I love the thought that I can carry it around the house with me, and simply throw it in my large purse/briefcase when I go on a trip.

  4. I am presently trying to resist device-creep. And so to satisfy my need for the latest, hottest gizmo, I bought one for my son, who has a bazillion ways he plans to use it. I've read lots of reviewers who share Vern's POV and while Mossberg is entranced, David Pogue doesn't seem to have made up his mind. As usual the market ignores the pundits and they're selling briskly.

    I'm guessing, with Ben, that apps will emerge that make the iPad even more compelling - but it's hard to imagine another Visicalc or Lotus 123 - both of which filled a pent-up demand that most of us didn't know existed.

    I watch Joe Scarborough on my iPhone, but like most of the apps I use I'd love them more on a larger screen. My Kindle is useful - especially since I've run out of book shelves - and I love not killing trees.

    The hemming and hawing about this device is because while it looks familiar it really is 'something completely different' - with enough entertainments to divert people till they find their best uses for it.
    Part of the befuddlement is because the thing really doesn't replace anything - it's the first entry in a new category - which hasn't yet been named.

    Maybe :)

  5. This semester, I was teaching a graduate course at the School of Visual Arts in NYC exploring the history and future of the photographic book. At the beginning of the semester, we discussed (as everyone was) the impending arrival of the iPad. Only one or two of the students voiced an interest in the device, as they were all committed to the look and feel of a physical book. Last night I brought my iPad into class, as we were exploring rich-media digital alternatives to the "dead-tree" publishing world. Even though it is clearly not a production device, by the end of last night's class, there was nearly universal recognition that this was the format for the future (once the HTML 5 vs. Flash issue gets worked through), and that they need to understand and embrace this profound change --especially since it will be the pressure of their creative work hat will push Apple and the rest of the industry to continually adapt the platform to the needs of artists.

    By the way, the iPad comes with a desktop image that was made by the great California photographer Richard Misrach --even though he is not credited-- and it is a beauty.

  6. To the most stylish guy I know...Your supposed breach????WTF!!!!,thrilled to know you moved on to more gracious surroundings...and took the time to make a photo for the curious reader,
    c'est moi,
    Margaret Evangeline...

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