A couple of days ago, Apple finally revealed the tablet computer that they've been rumored to be making for a long time. It's the iPad.
My first thought upon seeing it was, "That's weird. It's square!" iPhones and iPod Touches have a much more widescreen aspect ratio to them, so this struck me as a bit odd. I was also very dissapointed to see that it could still only display four application icons per row. Then when they demo'd running existing iPhone apps on it, it looked very poorly done and very un-Apple-like. I was also dissapointed that the low end model only has 16GB. I was expecting something more along the lines of 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. It also 'only' has a 1GHz processor. As you can see, my first impression was a bit negative.
But I'm still going to get one.
Why? Because what we saw on Wednesday, was only the beginning. What we saw, I'm convinced, is an incomplete version of the iPad software. It won't be released for 60 days (around the end of March). In those 60 days, no doubt they'll iron out all these problems. I've been a member of their iPhone developer program since the day it opened 18 months ago, so I've seen Apple go through the evolution of the iPhone OS before. When a major new version of the OS comes out, things are a bit bumpy for a while, but Apple always straightens these things out. The iPad version of the iPhone OS will be no different. I expect that 60 days from now, Apple will release a greatly updated version of the iPhone OS - 4.0 - and this will be the OS that the final shipping iPad runs, as well as the OS on which the next iPhone will be based. I think we also now know what the next iPhone will look like. It will look just like a smaller iPad, though likely with a more widescreen display.
A lot of people are complaining that the iPad is missing a lot of features such as multitasking, a camera, etc. I don't think these things matter too much, though. The iPad is designed to be the computer for the computer-phobic. It's very simple. You run one application at a time. A lot of people just can't wrap their brain around the idea of running more than one application at a time. Because of this, multitasking really doesn't matter. Also, the lack of a camera, I don't feel is a big issue. Are you really going to carry this big tablet everywhere and take photos of things? No. Will you carry a small cellphone (the iPhone) around with you at all times and take pictures of things - yes. That's why the iPhone has a camera and the iPad doesn't. A camera isn't of much use on a device such as this.
What the iPad is good for, is a lot of basic computing tasks around the house. For the last couple of years, since I bought my first Macbook (and now Macbook Pro), I've found myself using my desktop computer less and less. It still has its uses, but for most things, a laptop can do the trick. I find myself going more and more to the Macbook to do quick things like look up something on the web or check email. The problem with the Macbook is that it's battery isn't designed to be 'on' for weeks at a time. I have to frequently be turning it on, waiting for it to boot up, doing some quick thing, and then turning it off. But then, if I want do do something ELSE, I have to turn it back on and repeat that whole time consuming process. An iPad on the other hand, is always on. You pick it up, hit a button and boom, you have the web, you have your email, etc. It's great for quick little computing tasks around the house.
Ever since I got my iPhone, I almost never check my mail on the Macbook or MacPro. It's so much easier to just grab it off my belt, fire off a quick email, and put it back on the belt. The iPhone is great for email. The problem is, it's not so great for web browsing. Yes, it has a great web browser built in, but the screen is just too small to be of much use. I can see the iPad filling this niche nicely. It's big enough to easily read a web page, it comes on instantly and it doesn't have to be constantly put through a slow bootup, and shutdown process. I also don't particularly care that the iPhone and iPad don't support Flash or Silverlight in their browsers. In fact, I'm glad they don't. I've always felt that Flash and Silverlight are 'cheating' when it comes to making web sites. You can't make a website that works in HTML, so you just don't bother even trying. Essentially Flash is a way of running something that is NOT a website in a web browser. You are avoiding the problem by not even trying to fix it. Instead of doing this, you should put your effort into using websites as they were meant to be used, or campaigning to expand the capabilities of web browsers in a standard way.
Another problem I've had with the iPhone is reading books. There are a number of good ebook reading apps on the iPhone but the screen is just too small for me to spend much time reading on it. The iPad on the other hand is the perfect size for this. It's my Kindle killer. I've been interested in the Kindle for a while, but I didn't like Kindle's monochrome screen and the slow refresh of it's screen. It's good enough for simple, text based books, but once you start adding photos, graphics, line drawings etc to a book, it just doesn't do any of these things adequately. The lack of color is a big drawback here. The iPad has a big color screen and a MUCH faster (to put it mildly) refreshing screen. Problem solved. The iPad is going to launch the switch of books to digital media, just as the iPod did for music.
But what about the iPad vs. netbooks? I've had this very argument with a coworker of mine who owns a netbook. He scoffs at the idea of me paying a lot more for an iPad than he did for his netbook, which in most cases, has far superior technical specs. Yes, you can pay less money for a netbook and get a very powerful little machine, but I just can't see myself using one. They are thick, clunky, have tiny little keyboards, tiny little screens, and tiny little track pads. The iPad is far simpler. There is no clunky keyboard to get in the way - it appears when you need it and goes away the rest of the time. The lack of a physical keyboard also makes it much thinner and lighter. Netbooks also just run standard desktop Windows, shrunk down to fit on a small screen. This is not practical. While the UI conventions of Windows might be fine on a large desktop screen, they just get in the way on a small screen. Apple is smart enough to realize this and design their software appropriately so that there is nothing cluttering up the screen getting in your way. A lot of netbooks also still only run Windows XP - an operating system written 9 years ago, before anyone had even conceived of a netbook. It is old, inefficient, susceptible to virii and generally does not make good use of the hardware it runs on.
In the short term, I'm buying an iPad to be my 'color Kindle'. I'll use it to read books, browse the web, read emails and other simple tasks like that. However, I know that this is just the beginning. When the iPhone first came out, I instantly knew that it was going to be huge. The potential was there for SO many interesting ideas - many of which I couldn't even imagine at the time. The iPad is the same way. It's everything the iPhone can do but with the HUGE benefit of a much larger screen. This larger screen eliminates the last big thing holding back the iPhone. There is so much potential in what the iPad can do, I don't even know what will happen.
But I plan to go along for the ride.