Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The iPad has landed - with a thud

Yep, I dedicated my morning to watching the Big Announcement from the comfort of my easy chair, resting an aging MacBook on my lap and nestling external speakers on either side of my legs. On one side of the screen: CrunchGear's often cringe-inducing live coverage. On the other side, NYT's live blog coverage, requiring occasional refreshes for updates. In the middle, Twitter coverage generally dedicated to either mocking the lameness of CrunchGear's John Biggs and Meghan Asha's repartee or demanding with increasing intensity: how much will the iPad cost?

There's much to like about this thing. I dig the flash memory (flashing back to memories of several crashed hard drives), the potential for immersive, interactive media, and the sheer audacity represented by a device meant to create an entirely new category of tech toy/tool. But some stuff just doesn't make any sense - starting with the price. $499 (and way up) is a couple hundred above my pricepoint for a something I'm not sure I actually need. Beyond that, I've got a few gripes:

Practicality issues: I'm trying to visualize how I'd integrate this device into my life. I regularly hear that the device is meant to be placed on your coffee table and passed from family member to family member. Well, we don't have a coffee table. OK, you can attach a separate tactile responsive keyboard to the device for, say, writing on a plane without mashing your fingers against the glass. This seems oddly regressive from the perspective of the laptop I'm using right now. More importantly, how rugged can the iPad be? I visualize a thriving market for third-party iPad protectors, which is a shame. Apple products shouldn't require ugly covers to guard their screens.

Software hassles: The iPad lacks multitasking ability. In other words, with a few exceptions, you only run one application at a time. How does that compute for you? How often do you find yourself watching a YouTube video, checking your email, and maybe checking a website simultaneously? OK. Maybe not all that frequently. But when you can't multitask, you really wish you could.

Missed Opportunities: The one potential selling point of the iPad (for me) would be a two-way videochat option that works anywhere. Talking with a pal via live video, on a large enough screen to see the subtleties of emotion, would be cool - especially if you could collaborate on documents on another part of the screen - working together in different locations on the same thing. But this version skipped the chance by failing to include videocamera features.

Name regrets: iPad represents one of the dumbest branding choices Apple could have made. Only someone caught up in the Jobs Reality Distortion Field would recommend a name that inspires images of sanitary napkins (tackiest tweet I saw this morning: "Waiting until Apple releases a bigger version of the iPad: the MaxiPad"). My vote? Ditch the i-prefix, call it the "Tab" (after dealing with the owners of the seventies-era diet drink). Oh well, no one ever confused me for a professional brand consultant.

Oh, and one more thing...

No phone: Douglas Rushkoff writes, "The iPad - contrary to the way most people thought about it - is not a tablet computer running the Apple operating system. It’s more like a very big iPhone, running the iPhone operating system." OK. Fair enough. I love my iPhone. And bigger is better, right? Except, this "Maxi" Phone ... doesn't even have a phone! Sure, there's always a work-around (especially for those folks developing an appreciation for Google Voice). It'd certainly require VoIP and a wireless headset (can you imagine crooking a tablet to your head?) but the resulting blur of communication modes might be worth the price. Still, really: No phone?

So after about 11:30 PST, the announcement wrapped up with Steve Jobs waxing eloquently about how Apple stands on "the intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts." As a participant/observer of both domains, I have absolutely no idea how Jobs relates that grand vision with this underwhelming product.

Would I play with the iPad? Yep. Could I fall in love with the product? Maybe. Will I buy it? Probably not anytime soon. Now the wait begins... for version 2.0.

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