Completely ignoring my Apple iToaster idea, bespectacled pencil Steve Jobs has finally laid waste to years of tablet speculation by bringing out the Apple iPad.
So big it takes up an entire wall.
Ignoring the name that sounds like the most technologically advanced sanitary towel, this new product from, soon to be religious cult, Apple no longer seem content with branding everything they create with a half-eaten fruit and feel the need to make everything look like an iPhone. The iPad is the latest in an explosion of new Tablet PCs – devices which blur the line between netbook and smartphone as they boast the convenience of the latter with the performance of the former. Apple, as expected, declined to unveil this at CES in front of their undoubtedly jealous rivals and staged yet another overhyped product launch in which Steve Jobs walked the huddled masses through the device.
The iPad is, of course, a touchscreen tablet computer that runs Apple’s 1GHz “A4” processor, the first device to do so and, indeed, the first time in recent years Apple have developed a processor rather than sliding between AMD and Intel like an overexcited horse on ice-skates. 1024×786 resolution screen means good video playback but not full HD (or 3D, they’ve missed a trick). It also comes with a choice of 16GB, 32GB or 64GB flash memory capacity and a battery claiming up to 10 hours of use time and more than a month in standby time. Now, I don’t know a lot about batteries, but that’s quite a discrepancy.
Under the hard stuff, we have the OS which appears to be simply a variation on the iPhone OS – similar icons and support for iPhone apps, upscaled to fit the larger screen, and a choice of buying it with or without 3G and needing a data plan. I suppose not including the same OS you would get on a computer presents this more as a leisure device, which is at odds with the unwritten apparent application of tablets which is to replace netbooks as a portable, work device (illustrated helpfully by Steve Jobs and some handy graphics involving a middleground and falling words at the keynote speech, the netbook was crushed by the mere name iPad).
One of the biggest problems I see with the iPad, is the lack of Flash support in-browser, which absolutely fucks the idea of this being used as either a leisure device OR a work device. Using it as a leisure device, in this age of the internet, means web browsing, and that’s made a whole lot harder when the platform that a big chunk of the web is built on isn’t supported. This will also affect is as a business device given that any company worth it’s bisto does publicity and presentations in big shiny flash videos. Sure, Apple were kind enough to offer us a scraping of flash in the stuff we do most (namely BBC iPlayer and YouTube) but this device absolutely needs Flash support or it’s going to have problems; other tablets support flash, within months (if not weeks) Adobe will release their mobile flash plugin and I’ll be able to view Flash content on my Palm Pre, but the iPhone won’t support this. Apple, stop being petty, get your shit together, let Adobe pass it’s mobile flash for the iPhone and please your obsessive, salavating hounds of fanboydom or……well nothing. Admitedly, nothing will happen to damage the sales of the iPhone, or even the iPad, without Flash because most don’t understand it. While people see and know the term “Flash Player” bandied around on the web, usually in those few seconds before it kicks in on a YouTube video, but few understand what it is or understand when you mention it doesn’t support it. Someone I know, on mentioning that there’s no Flash support, replied knowingly ‘Oh that’s ok, I always take photos in the day’. Typical.
Typing, of course, is handled by an onscreen keyboard and this, I feel, is where the iPad, and indeed the whole tablet concept, falls down. At the keynote speech Jobs demonstrated it by resting the device flat on his lap and typed facing straight down. This is one of the major flaws I see with tablets, in that, to do anything worthwhile involving typing you need to suffer excruciating neckstrain and it just isn’t worth it when you can have a netbook. Laptops were designed with hinges below the screen for a reason. It’s not all bad, however, because in a very Apple-like move, Jobs announced a keyboard that can dock with the tablet making it, that’s right children, a sodding computer. If I were to own one, I wager it’d spend a lot of time sitting docked (and plugged in) on my desk and be used as a second computer.
I actually feel that this device is pretty under-spec, it’s supposedly a work-on-the-go device with all the things you’d need, yet it runs a measly 1GHz processor. Apple fanboys will tear the tape away from their mouths (I got pissed off with the 3GS and started kidnapping them, is anyone complaining?) to tell me that a slower processor doesn’t matter in an Apple environment because it the OS runs faster and more efficiently. Excuse me while I wipe yet another cliché that Jobs tries to sell from my ears and call bullshit on that. Sure, Windows is bloated but I cannot allow you to say that, even if that were true of Apple, a 1GHz processor would run at a bearable speed, it just doesn’t gel.
Obviously the rumours of this device have been around since Duke Nukem Forever was in pre-production but, for the most part, these have been dashed. The toenails of rumour-man were getting so long that it’s good Apple have decided to clip them (I’m not sure what made me think of that metaphor, I must cut my toenails), but it’s a shame because some of the aforementioned rumours, which is now relegated to rank of “made up bullshit”, were quite intriguing and would’ve made the device really stand out, like if it had run Mac OSX (which of course they couldn’t do otherwise it would be a Mac and have the price to show that). Instead of introducing an entirely new looking device, the “big iPhone” look makes sense I guess but putting it on a larger and definitely not pocket-sized device confuses the idea of a phone handset. It’s hardly surprising that Apple wanted to spread this form factor as a brand having managed to do so with every other possible aspect (even with music, going so far as to create their own DRM a few years back), but I think they needed a new look to set out this device as the laptop-smartphone ‘middle ground’ they’re so fond of and not merely an extension on the latter. The screen is laced with a black edge bigger than Steve Jobs’ piggy bank, so the whole things feels like they’ve compromised a lot of screen real-estate for the purposes of the iPhone-look. I would’ve gone with a screen touching the very edges of the device, but that’s merely to feed my uber sci-fi technolust.
What advantages does this tablet have over every other tablet that were announced at CES last year. Apple’s unsubtle timing with the Creation event clearly generated enough hype to overshadow the devices announced in Vegas so that anyone contemplating a tablet will automatically think of Apple. To be honest, there’s nothing that would feasibly set this apart, I was privy a little while ago to some of the visuals of the OS that made it onto the final unveiling and they did make me salivate, but unless it’s in practise I can’t say anything. The eBook reader interface was what I liked the most, but it’s worth mentioning us Bulldogs won’t get native eBook support, and bear in mind that it lacks the e-Ink screen. Maybe it’s because I’m a tech writer, but if I was going to buy a tablet I’d feasibly look at my options and include the iPad as a contender, but not automatically assume it was best and blindly buy it.
Scarily though, fanboys wouldn’t be quite so discerning, and it doesn’t really matter what this device does because there’s already a market who would’ve bought it a month ago. Creator of Digg and co-host of Revision3 show Diggnation, Kevin Rose did a survey a few weeks ago essentially saying that if Jobs said we have a tablet and told you nothing else about spec, features or price but just said that you can order it now, would you buy now? Shockingly, around 30% of the people who took the poll essentially said “Yes, I trust Steve Jobs and would buy right away”. Apple’s hold on these obsessive Apple fanboys is so absolute that regardless of how tablet computers fare in the future, Apple will always have customers.
I like this device, I have to confess, but I think the target of tablet computers in general need changing, and will probably do so organically as these devices become commercially available. These devices are being touted as a replacement for netbooks, as a portable yet functional device, but they won’t work like that; a functional device needs a keyboard that you can use without breaking your neck. I think that these devices will become perfect gadgets, not for “on the go”, but for “around the house”. I can picture myself sitting down on a sofa in the morning with a coffee to read some news, read a book, check my email – but not work.
Though I lose any future Apple-bruising points for saying this, and risk being called an Apple-polisher, but I may actually buy this, or I may buy some other tablet if it’s got a better spec, but this is pretty good. It’s being sold in the US for $500, which equates to around £300ish in the UK, so it’s a relatively cheap device for Apple. However, for the reasons I mentioned above I’d only go for the WiFi one rather than shelling out for another data plan.
But I’m not using that fucking onscreen keyboard…
P.S. I apologise for the lateness of this post, I’ve been quite ill this week and had to wait for my thumping headache and nausea to subside momentarily so I could read the keynote coverage. Night.