It’s nearly impossible to visit a website today that offers news or user posting today without running across Apple’s new iPad. Mashable’s coverage shows Twitter mentions at truly obscene levels. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the impact the device has already had. I believe the praise, and the criticism, are well deserved.
I’m a serial early-adopter. I own most of the devices the iPad seeks to supplant. Here’s my early assessment of the iPad and it’s role in the market.
iPad the eBook
I’m a Kindle user. I had the first Kindle, and I have a Kindle 2. I’ve watched the Nook, the Skiff and the Que with great interest. I’m also an avid reader. I read several books a month, subscribe to multiple magazines. I read my news online, as I find the latency of newspaper bothersome and the format cumbersome. The Kindle has been a dream for book reading. I have a large library of new material available via the Kindle store anywhere there’s 3G coverage. The e-Ink display is quite easy on the eyes for multi-hour reading sessions, largely thanks to its reflexive nature (there is no backlight–as you see with the printed page).
It seems to me that the iPad may reverse this equation. The LED backlight supporting the IPS LCD display means the announced iBooks app renders books far more artfully than the Kindle, and in color. The ePub format offers native support for GIF, JPEG and PNG images. I’m concerned that the bright screen may ultimately fatigue the eyes over continuous hours of viewing. You don’t state at your phone or computer screen for as long or as intently as you do a book in most cases. Likewise, LCD screens aren’t all the readable in sunlight, and I see little support that the iPad screen is any different. The iBooks app has a much smaller library than the Kindle as well, although I find this mitigated to a large degree by the availability of a Kindle app for the iPhone. iPhone apps, of course, work on the iPad.
The Kindle clearly wins on battery life. Frequent travelers know that it’s often trying to get charge time while on the go.
Of course, books are not the only content available on the Kindle. You can get magazines and newspaper subscriptions as well. They are easy to purchase and are automatically delivered to the Kindle. Unfortunately, the magazine experience is poor on the Kindle. Glossy, 4 color printing really defines what it is to read a magazine. Rich photographs and illustrations mix sublimely with the copy. For content that isn’t time sensitive, like product reviews and deep analysis of current events, the magazine offers a superior experience to not only the Kindle, but indeed to the web.
Consider the newspaper instead. Color is less of an issue, but the power of a newspaper is not the quality of its printing. Here the format is the king. The large size of a newspaper makes it easy to scan a large, diverse body of information quickly, and then focus on content you want to review in depth with a couple of folds. The very linear orientation of the Kindle UI works against this model–it’s easiest to read something from start to finish. Scanning is painful thanks to e-Ink’s glacial refresh rate.
I see real potential for the iPad to revolutionize not only book publishing, but newspaper and magazine as well. The iPad addresses both limitations: the screen is in brilliant color, and the Touch UI makes scanning a breeze. Like the Kindle (and unlike computers) the iPad is a comfortable format for reading almost anywhere.
The New York Times app demoed today shows the promise here, but I think the app model is wrong. Apps are too hard to develop, and I’d rather buy newspapers and magazines along side my books. Apple needs to build an extensible format like ePub, but with greater support for interaction and rich media. Heck, it could be HTML in WebKit for all I care, just make it easy for old media companies to make beautiful content for the device, but give them the ability to serve video and interactive elements alongside it. People will pay for it in a way they will not pay for something seen in Safari.
iPad the Netbook/Mobile Internet Device
The computer and consumer electronics industries are focused on filling the gap that exists between the smartphone and the notebook computer. We’ve seen netbooks running Windows and Linux. We’ve seen netbooks oriented toward cloud computing with no local storage. We’ve seen tablets and Mobile Internet Devices. None have made the splash that the iPad did today.
Steve Jobs was very direct today that Apple believes the iPad is the right approach to a device and platform that fits that space. As a rabid capitalist, I believe there’s plenty of room in the market for multiple approaches, and that the competition is good for the competitors and consumers. The iPad does draw a strong philosophical line in the sand.
The iPad, like the iPhone, is geared toward simplicity and elegance over flexibility. The technologically savvy cry against the lack of Flash, multitasking or ports. In the netbook space, many people debate the merits of local vs. cloud based storage. On a netbook, you choose what your OS is, and you can install whatever apps from whatever source you please.
On the iPad, you don’t have to know what Flash, multitasking, ports, Operating Systems or cloud based storage is. You just use the device. There’s no visible file system. No obvious distinction is made between local and cloud storage. Apps only install via the App Store. This offers great protection from malware, but much less flexibility for developers.
The inclusion of iWork shows Apple is making the iPad a content creation platform, instead of a pure content consumption platform. I’ll be interested to see if Microsoft Office comes to the iPad, and how Mac/PC application devs approach this development.
iPad the future of computing
It’s clear that Apple sees the iPhone/iPad model as the future of computing, and is actively migrating their product family toward it. The iPod is evolving via the iPod Touch and the iPad pushes the iPhone model much farther into “computer” territory. I wonder if Apple sees PCs and Macs as HAM Radios in 20 years: tools for a specific, passionate niche.
With the iPhone and iPad, you touch information. There is less abstraction than we see with the keyboard and mouse, although Apple’s support of keyboard on the iPad shows they understand the efficiency of that device. I hope Apple is busily pushing this model toward the Mac and OS X. While touch-only is a poor model for displays on desktops and notebooks, the compromise offered via multi-touch trackpads and mice isn’t enough. Why can’t we use a mouse and direct touch?
Also, when does the iPad get a camera?