I can honestly say I simply don't get this one. For those that somehow have managed to avoid the hype machine, the iPad is pretty much a huge iPod Touch, about the size of a hardcover book and Apple-svelte. It's not a laptop, nor a game machine: it's a brand new category of...what? See, this is my issue: I don't understand what problem the iPad is trying to solve. The iPod solved the UI and synchronization issues that held MP3's from going mainstream. The iPhone made your phone a one-stop device, and finally launched smartphones from geekery. The iMacs took away the component aspect of computers and just made them easy to use appliances. And that's just Apple products; outside the walled garden of Apple-land, there are plenty of other solutions: the Flip video camera made camcorders a one button, all digital, $199 affair that made YouTube happen. Netbooks freed the shoulders of laptop luggers for a cheap, light device for travel and on the go computing. The list goes on...
So what problem is the iPad solving? It adds a rich e-book reader. Ok, but, unlike me, most people hate reading on the LCD screen; that's why the Kindle with it's e-ink, has been a tremendous success. Will the iPad magically remove the headaches people complain about from ebook onscreen reading? How about movie or TV watching? Sure, but remember: it's $500 for only 16GB of memory. For half that price, you can get a netbook that will play all the same content, with iTunes, with about 20x the amount of memory. Music? Uh...did I mention that it only has 16GB of memory for $500? Your average iPod has that amount, for a lot less, without apps and other content competing for the memory.
Ah, but it's all about the apps, they say. Ok, this I dig: I'm an iPhone user with about 100 apps; I get apps. So, the form factor of the iPad makes for some new killer apps. What are they? Well, Gizmodo's been doing some reviews, and here's a few:
- It's an amazing comic book reader. Marvel Comics released an iPad app where you can see the whole comic on screen! In actuality, it's a rebranded version of Comixology just for Marvel titles, but it's still a good one. I have several issues with this one. First, yes, having the whole page onscreen is nice. I like that experience so much, I subscribe to Marvel's digital comics, and read them on my netbook. Like the iPad, you can choose to read page by page, or panel by panel; most folks go panel by panel, as it adds a more dramatic feel. In fact, the panel is perfectly sized for...the iPhone. Not the iPad; the iPhone. And that's where I want this. Oh, and price? I pay $60 a year for access to Marvel's digital comics: all you can eat. The iPad? $1.99 an issue. That means I'd have to pay about 25x more to read it on the iPad?
- Watch movies from Netflix! Stream ABC TV shows! Um...yep, I can do that with my $199 netbook. And I can even watch content from Hulu, NBC, etc...which you can't on the iPad.
- You can play Scrabble, and, if you have an iPhone, you can use your iPhone as a letter tray! Ok, granted, that's a cute feature. One you just spent a minimum of $700 to use. That's one hell of a triple word score.
Oh, and about those apps? Check out this tidbit from Gizmodo's guide to setting up your iPad:
"One thing you'll learn about your iPad is that you run out of space a lot quicker than you think. iPad apps are a lot bigger than their iPhone counterparts, and they start adding up quick.Yes, you just spent $500 on a dedicated device for content consumption that you have to start rationing what content you can and can't enjoy. Well done. Contrast that with a $199 netbook with a 320GB hard drive that runs Flash, has a video camera, and runs Apple's iTunes, as well as Amazon's Kindle Reader or Video On Demand. Or how about a $300 iPhone with twice the memory of the basic iPad that can fill up with apps, movies, tv, and music without flinching, all while being a phone, video camera, and digital camera?
The easiest thing to cut back on, for now, is media. We recommend against automatically syncing anything for now, because a bunch of TV shows and podcasts that hardly make a dent on your laptop's hard drive could eat up your whole iPad."
I keep looking for the killer application of the iPad, but it's not clear to me yet. Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing put it best to me: it feels like the second coming of the CD-ROM: flashy, interactive, rich media content...but vapid. Please, don't get me wrong: I want the iPad to succeed, as I view it as one step closer to the future. But unlike the devices that came before it, the iPad seems to me to be an answer in search of a question. Let's hope the question gets asked soon.