Home > Technology > What is the iPad, really…?

What is the iPad, really…?

Let’s talk about the iPad.  From all the reviews and banter about the iPad, I already know that it sucks, and that it’s awesome.  This post is not to choose one or the other, but to let you decide for yourself where the device fits in to your world (if at all).

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in his keynote presentation, he focused on the iPad being a 3rd category device separate from a smartphone or a laptop.  There is no debate that smartphones and laptops have become the main source of how we access information today.  Is the iPad going to completely change the way we access information?  Is it going to make it faster, easier, more efficient, or allow us to become more productive in how we access information?  Probably not, but that is my opinion.

Those who have already reviewed the iPad have mainly focused on features (or lack thereof).  From experience in my field, I know that features come later, so I am not terribly concerned about the features (ie – the lack of flash support, or the initial lack of 3G support).  What I want to know is….is a 3rd class device in order, and if so, is this it?  Can we combine an iPod Touch and an iMac and call it an emerging technology?  Sure we can…but does it provide us with any value, or is the iPad just another gadget?

Steve Jobs is brilliant, there is no question about it.  He has a clear vision of where he wants his company to be, and has done a great job getting them where they need to be.  Apple innovates, and is an unprecedented leader in the industry.  Like any new Apple product, the iPad has gotten more press than any new product probably deserves.  I think the iPad might be the true test that determines whether a product is good because it’s an Apple product, or if it’s good because…well, it’s just good!

I just want people to think, and determine for themselves whether or not the iPad is really going to be that 3rd category device that society needs, and what exactly this means.  To me, when I heard “3rd category device”, I was excited.  I was thinking…”wow, I can’t wait to see what this is.  Probably something I couldn’t even fathom, like a 4th dimension”.  Maybe I misinterpreted and had high hopes, or maybe Jobs just has a simpler definition of what exactly a “3rd category device” is.  Maybe it’s just a new marketing buzz word created by Apple, but I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

Let me take you to the KeyNote presentation, where Jobs explains the 3rd category device.  He points out that we use smartphones and laptops to browse the web, email, share photos, for video, music, games, and for reading eBooks.  He does recognize that in order for the iPad to be a 3rd category device, it must do these things better.  He then sets the stage for product placement by a dig on the netbook.  He says that when you hear these things, you probably think of a netbook.  “The problem is…netbooks aren’t better at anything!”.  Well, is that true?  Maybe it is (?).  Sure, netbooks are generally PC’s, and Apple does not make them.  But let’s be honest.  From the consumers perspective, they’re great.  They’re cheap, and realistically, they do all these things.  In some cases, it’s easier to do these things on a netbook than it is from a traditional desktop.

When paying $500+ for a gadget, the consumer probably shouldn’t be told exactly what they should be using it for.  I would argue that the netbook actually gives the advanced IT user more functionality than the iPad, in a sense that you have more flexibility to customize the device to focus on exactly what it is you want it to do with it.  If a netbook comes with Windows 7 Basic and all you are looking for is a cheap interface/control for your home media server…throw a Linux distro on the netbook and call it a day.  In a realistic world, one does not buy a device for both gaming, and for reading eBooks.  Sure, it’s nice to have the functionality if you want it, but let’s not have a device that is just “ok” in all of these categories.  A jack of all trades, but a master of none.  To me, that doesn’t spark much interest.

Back to the keynote presentation….What does Jobs mean when he says the iPad is “better” at all these things it is designed for?  Does he mean that the iPad can do more things…or does he mean that it will be easier to do these things with a new touch interface?  Browsing the web, email, photo sharing, video, music, gaming, eBooks….Do we really struggle with any of these things to a point where we need a new category of devices to replace the existing functionality of our existing devices?  I just don’t think so.  Not yet anyway.  There are so many applications for the PC and Mac that give us the flexibility we need to perform the tasks we want, how we want.

I have an iPhone, and I love it (moslty).  My only gripe is that I spend so much time trying to get it to perform basic functions that my PC or Mac can do with the built in OS.  Things like remote desktop, network troubleshooting, checking sports scores, email, writing music, or shopping.  To be honest, it’s not great at any of those things.  I have to rely on the development community to provide me with most of the functionality I want, and it’s a shame.  Shouldn’t the vendor be providing at least 50% of the functionality you are looking for in a new device, and not delegating that responsibility to the user community?  How many of you guys have spent the $.99 – $9.99 on an iPhone app, and deleted it immediately after finding that it’s not what you were hoping?  Is that what you want to get used to with the iPad?

For some people out there, it’s a great investment.  It’s not terribly expensive, and it provides some exciting functionality that you’ve been begging for since you recognized the limitations of your iPhone.  I just can’t see myself submitting to a device like this to the point where when it breaks, I just buy another one, knowing that it will cost more to repair than it will do just buy a new one.

Did I mention that I don’t have an iPad?  I wanted one before I wrote this post, and now I want one even more.  I need to know the answer to all these questions, and to me, it’s worth the $500 bucks to find out first hand.  The only other thing I struggle with is where I will use it.  My favorite iPhone App is “RedLaser”.  I love pulling my iPhone out at a store before making a purchase, to see if I can get that item cheaper across the street.  I can’t see pulling my iPad out of my pocket to do the same thing, nor do I see myself pulling out my iPad for buying tickets on Stubhub over doing it with my laptop.

I think the limitations of the iPhone have already been recognized from an application perspective.  There are so many applications out there that do almost enough to satisfy your need, but not quite.  For those of you iPhone users who are not familiar with the ShapeWriter app, it is an application that lets you “draw” out the text in a “connect the dots” fashion, rather than pressing each key on the iPhone’s touch screen keyboard.  The Shapewriter app is an awesome technology for texting, but it does not integrate with the iPhones native messaging interface.  To send a text using this app, you need to launch the app, write your text, and press a button that opens your contacts, and it opens the iPhones native text app, which pre-fills your selected contact with a blank message.  You then have to select the message box, and click “Paste”, at which point the text is finally ready for sending.  To me, this is just enough work to be able to show off your cool app, but never actually use it.  The same applies to other 3rd party text apps, like “Dragon Dictation”, which lets you speak your text, but then have to do some manual entry to send it anyway.  It kind of defeats the main purpose of the app, although the effort is there and will likely only be enhanced.

I would love to hear some examples of where you guys are using your iPads, and what you are using them for.  The iPhone satisfies a mobility requirement that the desktop or even laptop/netbook do not.  For example, the iPhone has apps like Red Laser (mentioned above), and Shazam (an app for quickly identifying that song playing on the sound system at the mall that you want to download when you get home).  The iPad however…?  I’d love hear where it fits in to satisfy a need that an iPhone, desktop, laptop or netbook would not.

Surely, there is a need for the iPad.  I just don’t think we’re 100% there yet.  I want to predict that the iPad will not be the next “technology flop” that kids are researching 2 – 5 years from now for a homework assignment, but I just don’t know.

What I do want to know is…what happened to Microsoft Surface?  10 seconds of research answers the question.  They’re $12,500 – $15,000, and cost thousands of dollars per year to maintain.  For those not familiar with the Microsoft Surface, you’ve probably seen it being used on the news, on CNN, SNL, etc….  It has a big touch screen that lets you manipulate objects as if they were sitting in front of you on a table.  It looked too good to be true when it came out, and ended up being the case given the price is out of reach for the average/reasonable consumer.  It has been a few years since it emerged, but I haven’t seen anything like it since.  The Surface has the ability to identify objects that you place down on it.  For example, you can put your cell phone down on the surface, and it pulls up your contacts.  Put your digital camera down, and up come your pictures.  And that’s not even the half of it.  Check it out if you have some time, and let me know what you think is closer to that “3rd category device” (price aside).

That’s all for now.  I really look forward to hearing what you have to say about my first post.  Feel free to ask questions, or suggest any technology related topics for new posts, and I’ll be glad to provide my input.

  1. Morgan
    July 18, 2010 at 2:28 am

    One comment – I find it hard to believe that you have actually had to use a Netbook for anything remotely serious or as a primary device.

    I will concede I am an Apple guy thru and thru and I couldn’t be happier with my recently purchased troika of a MBpro, iPad, and iP4.

    But to my main point, I had to use [until I purchased with my own money Fusion and XP for my personal, 3+ year old MBpro] a Netbook as my work device for emails, internet, intranet, etc.

    It was an Acer one and it was the singular worst computing experience I ever had.

    Ever. X2 +3 compounded by a factor of 5.

    Useless. Infuriating. Worthless. Now don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want an iPad as my PRIMARY device but if I had to choose, I would in a HEART BEAT.

    Netbooks are an embarrassment to all the HW manufacturers making them and most especially to Microsoft.

    When you spend $300 bucks for a “computer” designed to replace your laptop / desktop – you get a steamy pile.

    My opinion. My thoughts. Whatever. Hold an iPad for 5 minutes and it would make you WANT to find ways to use PAST what it is designed for. I never under stand people [not necessarily you] who criticize something for what it doesn’t do versus evaluation it for what it does.

    Is the iPad technology jesus + valhalla – Nope. But why does it have to be? In my house, it gets used everyday by both my wife and I and on business or fun trips, it is the main unit.

    And we LOVE it. Find me a user who LOVES their Netbook. Really. One. I have met dozens of people who use them and they HATE them. Not live with them. Not tolerate them. HATE them. Of course, they are using them as their sole device – but that is what the Netbook claims to be. A $300 “computer”.

    No wonder everyone loathes them.



  2. July 18, 2010 at 3:27 am

    My mind is completely open when it comes to this topic. I wouldn’t go as far as calling netbooks an embarrassment though. From the economists perspective, it is a great and cheap alternative to a laptop, and performs all the same functions (albeit slower). I do agree however that the basic netbooks sold in places like Target and BJ’s Wholesale fall under the “steamy pile” category you mention in your comment.

    I think people generally know what they are getting when they buy a netbook. Kind of like buying a cheap MP3 player or digital camera. You know its functions are limited compared to the real deal, but are willing to sacrifice functionality and performance for price.

  3. February 8, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Great article as usual, thank you for writing so much informative content on a regular basis.

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