iPad: The Unrealized Tablet Dream–What Apple Delivered and Failed to Bring

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Apple had unveiled the much hyped, oft-rumored tablet today in what is called the iPad, the elusive mobile slate tablet device that had captivated the interest of the tech community even before the launch of the iPhone. What we know are details of the slate and that a lot of tech-heads (via blogs and Twitter) seem disappointed by the announcement. We want to know if the iPad lives up to the hype and if this hybrid computing product born from a netbook father and has an iPhone as a mother really is a 10-inch worthy beauty, akin to a 6-foot tall supermodel, or a giant troll.

For Apple, unlike Microsoft, mobile computing isn’t about cramming all the power, technology, and can-do’s into one package, and for all the iDon’t that Apple is, the company has thoughtfully created a consumer product that is easy to use, has an appealing UI, and in the case of the iPad–priced affordably (we wish prices of notebooks and desktops from Cupertino would continue to inch downwards). On the other hand, Microsoft has demonstrated the power of a tablet, and in the infancy day of Tablet PC, tablet hardware ran full-blown Windows OS, had handwriting recognition, and can be a replacement to a laptop. The efficacy of the tablet concept, as presented by Microsoft, is still being debated; Bill Gates had once thought the Tablet PC could revolutionize computing and every laptop-toting user would end up with a tablet. Fast forward to 2010 and the tablet is used in vertical markets is a very niche product. But are the compromises made by Apple worth the overall package?

Handwriting: So long, farewell, adieu! It was nice knowing you.

While the Tablet PC from Microsoft features excellent inking capabilities and handwriting recognition and translation, Apple, with its capacitive touchscreens, seem to be doing away with inking. Whether that will be more streamlined or make simple tasks more clumsy is yet to be determined, but Apple seems hell-bent on eliminating traces of handwriting from its mobile products. Can a stylus–and in essence, handwriting–be supported via special styli for capacitive screens? Apple, meanwhile, seems hell-bent on not including inking support, for better or worse, and is tooting the pop-up keyboard is the convenient, easy to use feature. A keyboard may in fact be great, but for jotting a quick note or reminder, or jotting a quick map like you would do on a napkin–pen-enabled computing may alleviate some of that frustrations.

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A quick handwritten note or jotting an appointment quickly could be nice

Excecution: The big picture is in the details.

Apple’s included a great UI that’s consumer friendly, but the company has raised quite a few questions than they had issue answers by unveiling the product. Some of those questions that we have to ask include:

1. With Apple’s productivity suite called iWork–a Microsoft Office competitor for documents, spreadsheets, and presentations–will the iPad support Bluetooth and/or WiFi printing to make content creation and consumption seamless? It’d be nice to print out a webpage or a Page document from iWork without having to email the link and file to your home computer if you have network-connected printer.

iwork

2. Apple also introduced a marketplace for books called iBooks, which is similar to iTunes for music and videos and the App Store for apps, but how does the book consumption (read: reading) experience feel? iBooks is supposed to be a competitor to the Amazon ebook store for the Kindle, with prices slightly higher than the Kindle’s marketplace pricing. However, what’s troubling is that Apple has made no comment on how does one interact with the book beside the glitzy bookshelf and gestures to turn pages. The Kindle allows for highlighting of text, bookmarking, and annotation of texts and passages. Can the iPad and iBooks purchases offer these features?

ibooks

3. How will Apple and developers handle the fragmenting marketplace? iWork shows some nice pop-up palettes that appear when you need to call up special features–like iPhotos to search for photos to insert into a Keynote presentation on the iPad. Although Apple hasn’t announced if iWork will make its way to the smaller-screened iPhone, it begs the question if the UI and user experience would differ.

Apple has usually dodged the small details for a better user experience (no true file system, no USB file transfers, no multitasking, etc on the iPhone) but those tactics may not work with a device that is inching into the computing category. The iPad will still yet be another device. Create a beautiful document with iWork–how do you print this? You’d need to send it to your home computer via email? That doesn’t sound like an easy, elegant solution.

Stubborn Over Flash

With Google having trialed announced HTML5 video streaming on some YouTube videos and Flash noticeably absent on the iPad, we’re wondering if this was pre-planned to preempt an Adobe presence on the tablet. Additionally, some multimedia content from The New York Times played nicely on the iPad, signaling Apple has been working with content publishers to get them up to speed on HTML5 standard for multimedia content for viewing on the tablet.

Where’s the Multitasking

Apple has made no mention of multitasking and there was no mention of push notifications, like the workaround that was enabled for the iPhone. With a larger tablet, the ability to browse a webpage and run an IM app on the side may be a feature that users will long for, especially with larger screen real estate.

AT&T Shows Its Weak Side: iPad pricing

AT&T is probably trying to hang onto its relationship with Apple for as long as it can, showing its submissive side. The carrier agreed to let the 3G-enabled version of the iPad (which costs $130 more for the 3G radio than the WiFi-only models) utilize its 3G mobile broadband nework for a mere $30 per month for unlimited data sans any long-term contract. However, with a larger screen to easily consume more webpages, absorb more movie and tunes, and waste away on YouTube for all your pocketnow.com video fascinations, can AT&T’s network handle this huge increase in traffic that is yet to come? The network can barely handle iPhone traffic as is.

Conclusions

Is the iPad the perfect, beautiful child of a netbook and an iPhone? The pricing sure sounds right and the UI is gorgeous, but Apple’s made more compromises with the platform. These compromises don’t look jarring with the iPhone–the device’s smaller screen and the need to balance battery life and power could forgive the small details that Apple overlooked and we can turn a blind eye, but the iPad’s more “capable” custom Apple A4 chip at 1 GHz of power along with a larger screen and advertised 10-hour battery life will make it hard to forgive the lack of flash when web surfing is a central feature, the omission of wireless printing when content creation on iWork should be a touch-optimized experience, and the lack of multitasking when a small IM window can pop up. Will you accept the compromises?

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Additional details on the iPad can be found on Apple’s dedicated webpage.

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About The Author
Chuong Nguyen