Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Macbook Air, Mark II....er, the iPad

OK, disclaimer: I have not seen this in person, I have not held one, I have not used one in any sort of fashion. This is a first impression from the specifications and cost factor only, and I am going to try to not be influenced by Apple media hype or naysayer responses.

So, like everyone else in the gadget-sphere, I was watching the various feeds this morning (ironically on an Android phone) when the Jobster was out in front of the cameras, fondling the latest Apple fetish device: the unfortunately named iPad. (The NYTime's "leaked" device name of iSlate was so much cooler.) When The Steve was finished, I was immediately struck by two impressions:

  • This is exactly what we all thought it was going to be...
  • This is nothing like what we all thought it was going to be...
Ultimately, the iPad is on a slider somewhere between an iPhone and a Macbook Air, with some of the capabilities of both, and a lot missing from each.

The Good

This is, like all Apple products, a pretty device. It's a perfect size for slipping into a brief case or leave on the kitchen table, and it looks as though it rests comfortably in your hand/lap when browsing the web. The optional 3G radio will increase its usability in the field (well, except for the whole AT&T thing again), allowing me to get Wired Online wherever I'd happen to be sitting.

It also seems to be fast - the live demos and marketing spiels showed this thing zipping through files, photos and film (you like my alliteration techniques, don't'cha?) like a device should behave. Time will tell if it bogs down as you start to fill it up with apps and images, but we'll give the speed points to it now.

The user interface experience has that Apple magic to it: the company has more than learned a few lessons from the iPhone, iPod Touch and the new Macbook multitouch trackpads. All of the gestures and motions look completely intuitive, now that we've been trained by 3 years of iPhoneage.

The always-on nowness of it is perfect... being able to pick it to check movie times and order tickets as you're dashing out the door is excellent.

The Bad

There was a lot of build up to the iPad in the days leading up to this morning's announcement, some of it was justified (Apple getting into the tablet business), but some of it was misleading. The Apple invite ads (like the one to the right here) don't actually say what the device is about, but they imply a lot.

People and analysts have been reading into these Apple invitations for a long time, and for the most part the invitations have given a clear indication as to what was coming - so it was inevitable that the same logic would be applied to this multi-hued beauty above. The unspoken message is: We hear you artists, thanks for being our champions through the years, here's something for you now...

...except, of course, that's not what the iPad was about. There's no stylus for drawing, no iPaint specifically designed for the iPad (at least none that I've read about), no iMovie for the iPad...nothing specific to the creative artist at all. The iPad is designed for the consumer of art, not the creator of art. You can flip through photos, view the web, watch videos and listen to music. Yet, bizarrely, it lacks the simple inclusion of a $10 pen stylus and enhanced iPaint applications would have gone a long way to making the invitation fit the device - not to mention cemented "Apple" with "Creative Freedom" in the minds of the digerati for another generation.

Instead what we are left with is either a large iPhone, or a keyboardless Macbook Air - and strangely, it has left out some of the best features of both. What it borrowed from the iPhone (overall looks, applications, slick UIX), it left out in functionality: no voice or communications at all? A simple webcam and a relationship with Skype would have been all people wanted.

And from the Macbook Air? It's got the thin and light thing going on, plus the integration with all your Apple products at home - but doesn't have a keyboard, seems significantly more fragile, and 64G (the maximum memory) would get chewed up by even the most casual business user in about a day.

The other thing it doesn't have from the Macbook Air? It's operating system. The iPad is based off the same OS X derivation that the iPhone is based off of - which means: no multitasking. How's that supposed to work if this is a slip-in replacement for a Macbook Air?

How about reading a book? The new iPad bookstore looks sweet. Yes, it does, but people are forgetting the main purpose behind eInk: eyestrain. eInk, as I've written about before, is all about mimicking paper reflectivity. It doesn't generate eyestrain. Staring at a screen (even a pretty OLED screen) does. OLED is awesome for magazines, less so for Moby Dick.

But, let's swallow that one and say I'm wrong. Let's say that the iPad is perfect for reading Moby Dick, then what Apple is telling us is that you now need three products:
  • iPhone - for communications
  • MacBook Air or MacBook for laptop functionality
  • iPad for media consumption
Now my briefcase has less room when I travel then when I started?

Middle Ground?

Ok, so maybe the iPad is for the home. It's meant to be shared by families and friends as a kitchen or family room utility object for reading newspapers and magazine, controlling your home iTunes center, or ordering takeout food. That would be fine at CrunchPad prices, but what we have instead is this:

Wifi only models:

  • 16 GB - $499
  • 32 GB - $599
  • 64 GB - $699

3G plus WiFi models:

  • 16 GB - $629
  • 32 GB - $729
  • 64 GB - $829
And, since it's AT&T, you're looking at additional pricing. Apparently up to 250 MB for $14.99, or unlimited data for $29.99. Free use of AT&T hotspots.

So...how is all of that middle ground? Is the average family going to spend another $500-$800 on a device that allows you to consume media (as a single viewer consumer...well, two if you snuggle), surf the web (like that laptop you already own), or just "leave lying around" ready to order Fandango tickets?

I'll stick by my previous prediction: It will sell to the faithful, but not be a major hit for Apple or an influencer for a "new category" of devices. (Unless that category is Tablet Computer That Can't Quite Do Everything A Computer Can.)

Maybe I'll change my mind when I get one in my hands...but I kinda doubt it...

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