Yesterday was the day – the day that everyone has been waiting for for years, the day everyone just knew that Apple was going to unveil their entry into the tablet market. They didn’t dissapoint: Steve Jobs walked on stage an announced the Apple iPad, a 10-inch tablet that Apple claims is their “most advanced technology in an magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price.”
Watching the furor leading up to the event was remarkable – people have been crowing about the “upcoming Apple Tablet” for years, and even now searching Google images for “iPad” yields a number of the mockups and designs that have been posted on the Web for years while the rumbling built up to a fever pitch while fans and detractors alike started frothing at the opportunity to get their hands on or similarly detract senselessly any new product line that Apple introduced. They weren’t dissapointed either – watching the reaction from the people who simply expected far more than they ever should have (and subsequently blamed Apple for letting them down) and then watching the reaction from the people who otherwise hated Apple but warmed up to this particular product was an amazing thing to see.
You would have thought people were expecting Apple to unveil a cancer cure if you considered the hype beforehand, and it was natural that a lot of those people were let down. The typical Apple bashing began and the cracks at the name “iPad” are more than justified, but here’s the truth of the matter: the iPad is a solid product for what it is – a giant iPod Touch that stands as Apple’s first volley in to the tablet market.
There are tons of tablets out there – traditional laptops folded into single panel devices that are thick, generally bulky, and only applicable in certain situations (schools, doctors’ offices and hospitals, etc) that clearly consumers aren’t interested in. This trend of the “consumer tablet” has only recently surfaced, and considering what I saw at CES earlier this month, the market will be flooded with tablets of all shapes, sizes, and configurations by year’s end – not just the iPad.
The iPad looks like it could be an interesting netbook replacement: Apple made a point of showing off its media capabilities, a version of iWork that you’ll be able to load onto the iPad to do word processing and spreadsheet management, as well as gaming. Since the iPad is essentially a large iPod Touch (and let’s be clear about that – I don’t say that flippantly, it really is a large iPod Touch. If you love your iPod Touch, you’d love the iPad. If you hate the iPod Touch or iPhone for its limitations, you’ll find those same limitation in the iPad.) it’ll run a modified version of the iPhone OS, for which Apple released the SDK yesterday.
There’ll be tons of apps, no doubt, and tons of games, tons of eBooks, and I imagine that because of its color screen and interface that reading comics and documents on it will be fantastic. I see a lot of people comparing it instinctively to the Kindle or the Nook, which I think is a poor comparison: the iPad is a tablet, not an eReader, and the whole point of the consumer tablet market is that they’re more than just eReaders; they’re simply different classes of product, although all tablets will likely have some eBook reading functionality. One consumes the other, but they’re not the same. Speculation is flying about whether the iPad will put Amazon’s Kindle into its grave, and frankly, I highly doubt it. People who love e-ink displays will stick to the Kindle and the Nook, and people who don’t care about that can swing either way depending on what they really want in a product.
The price is right, with Wifi only models coming in at 16GB for $499, 32GB for $599, and 64GB for $699. Wifi and AT&T 3G will run you 16GB at $629, 32GB at $729, and 64GB at $829. Everyone was expecting a $1000 price point, and Apple beat that pretty well. The wifi version looks most attractive to me personally, but that’s because AT&T is horrible where I live, and I think most people’s experiences with the iPhone being tethered to AT&T may wave them off of the 3G models as well. (which also come with a 2 year contract, mind you, and even though Apple says they’ll be “unlocked,” the 3G radios will make them impossible to use with other GSM carriers like T-Mobile.)
That being said though, criticism of the iPad is more than justified. Since it’s a big iPod Touch (or iPhone, since you’ll be able to get it with AT&T 3G built in at a higher price point), you suffer all of the limitations that the iPhone OS has; meaning no multi-tasking, no background apps, no Flash support, and only apps that are supported by Apple’s walled-garden iTunes App Store.
The iPad also has no video out, no USB or expansion ports, no choice of carriers (it’s AT&T for 3G service or nothing), no camera, and no expandable memory or replaceable battery. The fine folks at PC Mag have an excellent roundup of things that are notably missing from the iPad.
The 30-pin dock connector we all know from our iPods and iPhones will be available though, and it’s likely the iPad isn’t designed to serve as a stand-alone device: it’s supposed to be at least somewhat tethered to a computer for updates, data syncs, and app installs. You’ll likely treat the iPad like an iPod Touch or an iPhone – you only hook it up to a computer as often as you need to based on the way you use it. A number of vendors have already come out with cases and peripherals for the iPad that use the 30-pin dock connector and the new iPhone SDK, although the product itself won’t ship for another 60 days at least.
In any event, the ridiculous furor over the iPad has finally started to dissipate, and the people who love Apple and hate Apple are settling back into their respective camps after another product announcement where they all tried to claim impartiality in their criticism or support. Even so, the iPad looks like it could be a strong product as long as the price stays right and the app support is there. There are some serious and notable weaknesses though, ones that Apple’s competitors in the tablet space are likely already scrambling to take full advantage of.
Regardless, hands-on impressions of the iPad confirm that it is what Apple is good at: a solid, attractive, easy-to-use, and powerful piece of consumer electronics. It will likely sell well, but if anything the most exciting thing about the iPad is that it sets the stage for even stronger products in the future. I’m more excited about what an iPad v2 or v3 could bring to the table than the iPad itself.
[ Apple :: iPad ]