(Want to comment on this? I cross-posted it on my blog to allow for comments)
So yesterday I tested my self control by waiting to find out about the Apple iPad. I did this by closing down Twitter, Facebook and Google Reader until Apple released the Keynote video online. It worked, except for in a moment of weakness I signed onto Facebook and saw that it was named the iPad.
That is the worst name ever.
But I remember a few years ago when Apple released the iPhone and everyone laughed at how dumb the name was. Fast forward to now, when millions of people have used the word iPhone multiple times a day, and we all think it’s the most obvious name because the Apple Reality Distortion Field has settled in. I imagine in a year or two this will be the case with the iPad - we’ll move away from feminine hygiene jokes and everyone will just want the device.
So I watched the SteveNote last night and took in all the demos of the software and then read a few blog posts, some positive, some negative. And I think most people writing about it are missing it. This is partially because, as with all new Apple products, the Tablet had been rumored to save mankind from itself and what Jobs announced yesterday unfortunately is simply Apple’s version of the next generation of computing. And there were a lot of rumors that were, as always, false which was disappointing to many people.
Here, for my future self and anyone else who may be interested, are my thoughts on some of the main features of the iPad.
Why Does this Exist? Apple has always been brave enough to tell people what they want, rather than responding to the masses’ requests and delivering some futile attempt to give everyone what they want. With the iPhone, Apple blew everyone out of the water because it wasn’t much like anything we expected. The iPhone, simply, was revolutionary. But the iPad is, on a hardware level, just a large iPod Touch. Not very revolutionary. The iPad exists therefore, to allow users to gain the potential that touch computing offers without the size limitations of an iPhone or iPod Touch. It won’t fit in your pocket, but it’s a lot easier to use while on the go than an iPhone is.
Software & OS I think a lot of people are let down by the software, whereas it is the thing that most excites me. When Apple released the iPhone no third-party software was allowed on it, and furthermore there was no “roadmap” of when it would be available. The iPad on the other hand, comes with 140,000-ish non-optimized apps and a roadmap for the development of iPad optimized apps. With the immediately available SDK and the iTunes store (whether you love it or hate it), the iPad on a software level is nothing but Potential. The demo of iWork didn’t seem that interesting yesterday because who thinks making documents is interesting; but I think the iPad will give us a sense of tactile creation again. By dragging and drawing and resizing with our fingers, designers can work in a more innate method. Hopefully Adobe (or some more nimble competitor) will come out with an Illustrator and Photoshop for the iPad that will remind us how poor mouse-based designing actually is.
In fact, the options seem incredible when you consider the size of the device. An iPhone is limited by its extremely small screen, but the nearly 10” tablet gives you some good working room. Imagine Architects being able to sketch plans or modify blueprints on the fly; contractors being able to pull up blueprints and double check everything on site. Imagine hospitals finally being able to access centralized medical records. Imagine using the iPad as a control device for the programs you use on your computer, or as a better remote for your home theater or Apple TV. Imagine a cable that plugs it into your DSLR letting you measure levels and exposure on a touchscreen, or previewing video that you are shooting. Imagine all the different uses that a large touch screen offers, and eventually they will probably be created for the iPad.
MultiTasking. This seems to be the most shocking of all revelations about the iPad - it doesn’t multi-task! But let us remember, it does multi-task, it just doesn’t let you run everything. When you are using an iPhone, and based on what I’m reading from people who played with it, the iPad works the same, there are multiple tasks happening in the background. Mail is running, Safari is always in the state you last used it (all browser windows remain open and in the order you opened them), and the iPod is ready to play music. So the iPad and iPhone DO multi-task, but only with the tasks that Apple thinks should always be running. This can be frustrating, but consider the alternative.
Since the release of the Nexus One, the Google designed Android phone, one of the comments many people have made is that multi-tasking is great, but you never know what programs are running. There is an app-switcher, but it only shows six recently used apps. For many users, even advanced, geeky users, the only way to quit out of all programs is to restart the phone. That’s a horrible user experience, because most people won’t correlate a slow phone with too many apps being open because there is nothing in the OS that lets them know too many apps are open. So a slow phone will be a fault with Android, and Google will take the fall. Apple does not want this to happen, so they are taking the totalitarian approach of only Apple approved tasks are able to run always.
The iPhone has Push notifications from a web server that are able to keep you up to date on the phone even if an app is closed, but it remains to be seen how an iPad will solve this issue. Personally in my use of an iPhone, the lack of multi-tasking has never been much of an issue, except in a few specific cases. Apps launch so quickly most of the time that it does not matter whether it had been opened or closed before I wanted to switch to it. But the one exception is music - it is annoying if I am playing music in an App that isn’t the iPod, and need to do something else on the phone. Say I’m listening to Pandora while on the road. If I need to check Google Maps I have to close Pandora and stop the music to do so. This doesn’t kill the usefulness of the device, but it does make me use Pandora less because it just isn’t as convenient.
The lack of multi-tasking does make sense right now for the iPad since it seems to be working on a slightly modified version of the iPhone OS. I have no clue how fundamental the lack of multi-tasking is to the OS, and I have no clue if Apple plans to modify the devices abilities. What I would love to see is a simple system of multi-tasking. Allow me to select the apps I want to be able to remain open in the Background. An easy way that I see to do this is if the “dock” on the iPad had permission to keep apps open. In other words, the four apps that are at the bottom of the dock are the ones that can remain open. I’ll always know which apps are running, and at any time I can rearrange to end the tasks and shift my preferences.
Lack of a Camera This surprised me. I can only hope it’s coming in future versions of the iPad. One on the front would be cool, but one on the back would be just as cool, if apps could be written that allowed for me to draw over live images or manipulate pictures taken on the device (as already exist for the iPhone). I’m sure Apple has a reason to not include a camera on the device - possibly for the same reasons they didn’t add a camera to the iPod touch? But hopefully future generations of the device will add one. If one is added, we won’t find out until they announce it.
The iPad is a really cool device. It looks closer to the “future” than anything else since the iPhone. The best part about it is that it exists - it’s not a prototype, it’s not a beta, it is a real, working, touchscreen computer with thousands of apps and the potential for thousands more. I don’t think I’ll buy one until the next generation at the least, but the $499 price point makes it tempting to buy now. The iPad, despite it’s crappy name, is to me, a device with a ton of potential.