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Summary:

It has been a long time (if ever) that a new product has generated such hype after its announcement as the iPad from Apple. Who really needs one of these new iPads? My answer may surprise many — no one.

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It has been a long time (if ever) that a new product has generated such hype prior to and such analysis after its announcement as the iPad from Apple. You can’t escape the pundits doling out thoughts and impressions of the iPad, even on late night TV. Steve Jobs has done what he no doubt wanted to do, and created a product category that has lots of tongues wagging. But looking past all the hysteria and hype, who really needs one of these new iPads? My answer may surprise many — no one.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like the iPad. I can see one in my future, but then my hobby is buying gadgets I don’t really need. But it’s cool, and based on the wide range of mobile devices I have used over the years I can see it will be useful for my needs. But then I am not a typical user, and the fact is that the iPad doesn’t serve any single purpose that makes it a gadget that people need. Not want, but actually need.

There is already a big conversation all over the web with folks making the observation that the iPad won’t replace an existing device. It won’t knock the notebook or netbook out of the gear bag, it doesn’t offer any special function to kick the e-book reader to the curb, and it won’t replace a smartphone. These observations are spot on, the iPad doesn’t offer anything that makes it a must-have gadget, and that’s the issue that confronts Apple in driving the adoption of it for most people.

Steve Jobs positioned the iPad between a smartphone and a notebook, and that is an accurate assessment. It is not a device that will make it easy to create a lot of content of any kind, the notebook is better at that task. It does make content easier to consume than most smartphones, but that requires the user to have it with them when they need to consume said content. As many are now saying, they don’t see themselves carrying the bigger iPad with them all the time.

So if the iPad is not a gadget that people really need, who will benefit from having one? Just about everyone, if the truth be told. I base that on my own experience garnered having used many web tablets over the years. It’s not a benefit that is easily realized until you actually use one. Then the light bulb goes on.

Here’s a typical user scenario that fits the iPad perfectly: sitting in a chair at home, and you decide to check your email quickly. Where you previously would grab the smartphone on the table to do so, you now grab the iPad that is sitting there. In seconds, you’re able to process quite a bit of email, and as often happens that leads you to do other things. You click a link in an email, or you pop open the web browser to check on something that was referenced in an email. The enhanced web browsing experience, far better than on a small screen smartphone, leads to an extended session. This session can be either productive or entertaining, either way it’s an enjoyable one.

This is one of the big benefits that a good web tablet brings to the table (or hands). What I discovered is that I am able to do more — a heck of a lot more — with a tablet than with a smartphone. Sure my smartphone is still in my pocket, the web tablet doesn’t replace it. But it augments it beautifully, and this is where the iPad fits into the picture.

A lot of comparison is already happening since the announcement of the iPad. Many are comparing the iPad to other devices on a task by task basis, and the iPad won’t fare well with these. A slate without a keyboard will not do everything a notebook can do, nor as easily. The iPad will be a good e-book reader based on my own experience, but it may not be as good a reader as a dedicated device like the Kindle.

The key to realizing the benefits of a web tablet like the iPad lies in the sum of its offerings, not the individual capabilities. It won’t be as good a reader as the Kindle, but it will still be a good one for many. The lack of e-Ink technology is a deal breaker for some, but for me it’s a non-issue. The addition of a backlit screen that can be read in poor lighting conditions is actually a benefit over e-Ink-based readers for me.

I think that Apple has a big job ahead of them to convince the masses that the iPad can be a good addition to a gear collection. It’s only natural that prospective buyers do a comparison of the iPad with other devices as I’ve indicated, and that will make it a hard sell for some. But I do agree with Steve Jobs in one respect, once you experience the benefits of a web tablet like the iPad, you begin to see the value. And I firmly believe the value is great enough to convince millions of the worth of the iPad. It will just take some time.

I don’t want to give the impression that I think the iPad is without some serious faults. The lack of Flash in the browser is huge, and will be a total deal-breaker for many. A lot of the web is driven by Flash, not just embedded YouTube as we commonly think of when we ponder the lack of Flash. This alone can have a direct impact in the user experience of the iPad on the web, and the user experience is everything to a device like this. It’s easy to understand why the folks at Adobe are unhappy with Apple and its persistent refusal to play with Flash.

That leads me to the other fault I see with the iPad. Apple has been quick to point out how good the iPad is as an e-book reader, and from what I’ve seen it is solid enough. It’s also good to see that Apple has embraced the ePUB format for iPad content, as that is becoming the standard in the e-book world. The problem is with the DRM that Apple will no doubt use for e-book content sold through the iBookstore. Just because that content is in ePUB format, doesn’t mean that it can be used on other reader devices. Adobe is quick to point out that iPad content will not work on any other devices:

“It looks like Apple is continuing to impose restrictions on their devices that limit both content publishers and consumers. Unlike many other ebook readers using the ePub file format, consumers will not be able to access ePub content with Apple’s DRM technology on devices made by other manufacturers.”

How the lack of Flash will impact the user experience with the iPad is something that will have to be seen first-hand to fully judge. I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve had a chance to play with one myself. I do see it as a major potential stumbling block for mainstream adoption of the iPad. That’s particularly annoying as it is something Apple could easily address.

  1. James, your article is based around the premise that the iPad is better than a smartphone and is therefore useful. I’d argue that as it’s only really a smartphone with a bigger screen it’s just as useful and just as useless. I’d also argue that the picture you present is of a world where you have to choose between smartphones and iPads – ignoring the fact that there are much more capable and much more useful devices that are available at lower prices.

    You also assume that there’s a straight forward divide between “content consumption” and “content creation”. I’d think that this response blurs that line and I can assure you that I’d have given up typing by now if the only keyboard at my disposal was a soft-keyboard. Checking and responding to emails is another example of a task that bridges content creation and consumption but I think this device would be good at reading emails and terrible at responsing to them. Of course I could spend a whole lot of money on an add-on keyboard but that would be silly wouldn’t it.

    I don’t even think this would be a particularly good content consumption device. As you point out there’s no Flash so the internet experience will be mediocre at best (despite Steve Jobs claiming that it’s unbeatable ::rollseyes::) and the inability to view non-iTunes content without re-encoding on such a big screen is like a sad joke.

    At the end of the day, if you’re sitting in your chair and want to do any of the things you listed you’d be much better off reaching for a netbook or a normal laptop rather than an iPad OR a smartphone. That’s the reason why this product is worthless and why I couldn’t recommend it to anyone.

    1. I should add that this makes HP’s slate seem much more useful and I’m not in the least bit interested in buying one of those (it would be an impulse buy similar to the type of purchase you describe). Apple have managed to stuff a gimped implementation of a gimped OS into the same form factor (if HP’s had been announced next week everyone would be claiming that they copied Apple) but their version will be half as useful or capable as HP’s. I mean, it’s one thing to complain about running a desktop OS on this sort of thing but magnifying iPhone apps to 1024×768 is just ridiculous.

  2. I can tell you what the problem with the iPad is:

    Usually, every new Apple product delivers something new, something unique. The iPhone was old technology with a new user interface. The MacBooks are just laptops, but in an Aluminium case with a stunning trackpad. Every Apple product usually brings something new to the table.

    The iPad doesn’t. Not one single thing. We’ve seen slate PCs of the exact same shape before and we’ve seen mobile internet devices running Windows CE or Android long before. So nothing new here.

    Well, if the iPad doesn’t bring anything new, it must at least be better, right? No, not at all. When you look at the devices that have been available before, you’ll discover that there’s lots of them that are better than the iPad in almost every area. Look at the Archos 9 PCTablet: It mustitasks, it lets you take handwritten notes, it lets you enjoy the real internet, it supports every type of news or book reader application. Besides the battery life, there’s really almost no drawbacks, but lots of advantages. And when you go on long trips, nothing stops you from carrying another battery.

    And that’s just one example.

    They declared this thing “magical” and “revolutionary”. Truth is, it can’t even beat the stuff that’s already been available for years. That’s not magic, that’s disappointing.

    By the way, look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJWBRGcZitg

    Add a digitizer to this, install OneNote, and you have what a tablet really should be. Almost the Microsoft Courier, which would really be the ultimate tablet device.

    The iPad is just disappointing and it’s one of very few Apple products that bring absolutely nothing new to the table and can’t even beat products that have been existing for years.

    1. I was listening to the keynote while browsing your comment and when I watch the incredible details like double-click on a photo in keynote and resize & move it masked within a frame, I have to shake my head at you for not getting it. To take a list of features “it does mail, it surfs the web” and compare it to other devices which claim the same features, misses entirely the myriad details where Apple and nearly only Apple gets it right way down inside. Surfing the web on every other mobile device is miserable. Using a netbook to type is miserable. Getting an address change from your PC to your phone or vice-versa is usually miserable. Finding a book you are looking for with a kindle is miserable. Just because other devices can do things, doesn’t mean they do things in a way that you would want to do it. What makes it “magical” is the level of design detail in the UI that gets the device out of the way to let you do whatever it is you need. That they’ve created a platform where most 3rd party developers don’t get it wrong either is miraculous!

  3. I’m actually wondering if the Ipad could be used as an Ipod Touch replacement. I currently have a (Nokia) phone, Ipod touch, kindle and a laptop. I don’t think the ipad could replace my laptop (except I do a lot of reading on the laptop, so I suppose that could help), but I don’t really need to carry the ipod touch in a back pocket and I wouldn’t mind a larger screen for games and other apps.

    I do like my kindle to read longer documents on, but I understand that the kindle’s screen is easier to read on for long term than the backlit ipad.

    So it is a bit of a quandary. I do think I’ll wait until v2 comes out and I see more thorough reviews. I just got an ipod touch in October, so I can wait for such things.

  4. Where is the market for the iPad? Here is one answer. The Kindle killer. The various ebook reader products now have to contend with the iPad as a competitor. While it is more expensive,the iPad is a big step up in functionality over any other product in that category. Anyone even thinking about buying an ebook reader has to consider an iPad as an option.

    1. Agreed!

      Also I could see my retired mother using this instead of a mouse and keyboard of an old Mac.

      She could do a little of everything as a single task. The computers ability to multitask overwhelms her. An iPad would address most of her issues with the mouse/keyboard.

      I also find myself moving more to singletasking rather than multitasking. Sure I have multiple apps open, but they are full screen and I go to another app also full screen. This does have serious advantages on productivity.

    2. Actually, the iPad will support running the Kindle, B&N, Kobo and other readers on day one. That means the content from those stores can be read on the iPad.

      That’s not the case the other way around. iPad books will not read on other readers due to DRM.

      1. I’m surprised those apps aren’t being flagged and removed from the app store for duplicating a core function of the iPad.

    3. Agreed: it is, for sure, a Kindle killer. The price point is excellent; it has way more capabilities, speed, and, yes, color than Amazon’s device.

      It is also an excellent Net book alternative for many people in that target audience.

      It will kill Win 7-based tablets– not that that is a big market, by any means– because Win 7 is weak re “multitouch”.

      I’d like to see a family pack– buy three; get 4.

      1. Juergen – Understood and maybe some individuals have a higher tolerance than others, but I personally have tried adjusting color and brightness to compensate (up to a point where I can still see what I’m reading) but my eyes always tire. And I’ve also read several complete books on my iphone, of course at a slower, more uncomfortable pace because of this. I know I can’t be the only one because there’s a pretty big market for kindle and its clones using eink so in my case and for many others LCD screens are more or less useless as an ereader is my point. I doubt any eye doctor is going to say reading on an lcd after you’ve spent your whole day staring at a computer screen is a good idea but more power to you if it works for you.

      2. The price point is excellent? At $200 more than a Kindle 2?

    4. How is this a kindle killer? Have you ever tried to read a novel on a backlit screen. You’ll go blind or a least have to put it down after a while because of eye strain caused by the glare. How is everyone missing that simple fact… You can probably get away with reading a few magazine/newspaper articles but to use this as a primary ebook reader would be kind of dumb, unless your long term goal is nearsightedness.

      1. Tom – allow me to give you my input. I have read 19 books so far on my iPod. That’s full-size books, 400-700 pages each in paper editions. “The Guns of August” has 577 pages in the paperback edition, 1,890 on my iPod. Whether I use Barnes & Noble’s app, Kindle app, eReader or Stanza, they all let me choose the color scheme and font size. With the app set for a light (white or yellow) font on a dark background there is no glare, especially with the screen brightness at a medium setting. I have heard your argument before, and I too was apprehensive at first. My eyes do not tire, and I vastly prefer reading on my iPod. I am 75 years old and wear bi-focals.

  5. I think the reaction to the iPad is a combination of what is typical in a new form factor release and what is typical of an Apple product release, all rolled into one. Except that it’s actually cheaper than usual in both contexts.

    If the iPhone OS 2.0 had been revealed to the public with no apps, it would hardly have generated any excitement at all except from developers and hackers.

    The iPad is a good product, IMO. Specifically, I think it offers a unique device that is always on, can be continuously networked, and reasonably usable despite being a slab of plastic and glass. It has the best mobile data option ever available. Every practical purpose Google put behind its Chrome OS, the iPad is capable of in a different way.

    The fact is that, those of us who have sunk money into iPhone apps, we can take those apps with us to any *or* all of three devices — iPhone, Touch, and iPad — which exist at every price point from $200 to $1000.

    I don’t see the iPad as a tertiary device, but rather as a second, mobile, always networked device. It’s what the Internet Tablet and similar devices have wanted to do, but couldn’t. This is not an existing market of any appreciable size, but it’s not for want of companies trying.

    As far as the Tablet PC goes, the problem is that MS keeps simultaneously making its tablet OS fully compatible with its desktop OS, and relying on 3rd party software developers to write new functions for tablets. But it’s pretty obvious that 3rd party developers have no incentive to develop exclusively for the tablet PC or a multitouch screen, as long as it represents such a small proportion of the PCs that can run their software. I haven’t seen a single imaginative use of multitouch on a Windows OS at all. Not a single one.

    MS is still in a stronger position from the standpoint of pen input, but it had better hurry up and do something with that Courier.

    1. That’s not entirely true about not having seen a single imaginative use of multitouch on Windows — BumpTop with multitouch is very cool. If BumpTop’s developer keeps this up, he’s in danger of being hired by Apple or becoming a successful iPad developer.

      1. i’d disagree on the bumptop app. its cool but barely usuable and usually just drags your computer down more than makes it productive.

        i’ve used bumptop on my dell xt w/win7 and uninstalled it the same day due to how much resources it took to run. then again i don’t use my desktop on a tablet, i prefer pinning my apps to the win7 taskbar.

        i do wish we’d see better uses of multitouch in windows like for browsing and alt+tab replacement (ie like os x snow leopards 3 and 4 finger gestures).

        oh yea, MAKE THE TOUCHPADS BIGGER ON WINDOWS LAPTOPS TOO! WTF IS UP WITH THAT!

  6. Who really needs an iPod touch? The answer there is also no one. I do know one group of people who will buy the iPad in droves: iPod Touch owners. Folks want the iPad to be better than anything that has existed in the universe, rather than what it is intended to be: a device that fits in the gap between my laptop and my iPod.

    1. I disagree. Ipod Touch owners are people who aren’t interested in an expensive phone but want a PMP with a few extra functions. They won’t switch to the iPad as you suggest because it’s too large and cumbersome.
      You suggest that iPod Touch owners are looking for something to fit between their iPod and a laptop whereas I think they own an iPod Touch because it’s an iPod. These people aren’t looking for something in between.

      1. Hmm… you lost me here: “You suggest that iPod Touch owners are looking for something to fit between their iPod and a laptop whereas I think they own an iPod Touch because it’s an iPod.”

        If iPod Touch owners bought a Touch because it’s an iPod, then they’d just buy iPods, wouldn’t they? ;) Joking aside, the app store sales numbers and Wi-Fi web usage statistics for Touch owners indicate that Touch owners don’t just want an iPod, i.e.: those “few extra functions” you mention are used pretty heaviliy and are therefore greatly desired. Thoughts?

      2. Sorry, I wasn’t clear. I think iPod Touch users want a Touch because it’s the current iPod. That includes everything it has to offer (my “few other features” comment wasn’t meant to sound dismissive) but it’s still primarily an iPod. The old iPod isn’t cool any more so people buy the Touch and once they have it I’m sure they appreciate the features it has to offer. The main thing though is portability and that’s what the iPad lacks. I don’t think most people would be prepared to carry something like the iPad around like they do the iPod, especially when the only new feature it offers is a larger screen.

      3. That better explains what you meant, but I still disagree. (And we can agree to disagree ;) ) But again, you’re saying the iPod Touch is primary an iPod. Statistics say otherwise.

        I do partially agree with you on the portability factor. I suspect iPads will be used in non-mobile settings at least as much, if not more, than mobile settings, i.e.: around the house.

      4. This owner has an iPod touch to use as a PDA primarily. Keep notes, manage email, have a calendar, manage my life and many other things – and have in my shirt pocket! OK, I have my music on it, but that would neatly fit onto a Shuffle. I do have several hundred photos and some home-made videos. As to the iPad? It’s an iPod on steroids, too big for my pockets.

      5. No worries Kevin :)

    2. Are you an Ipod Touch owner? If not don’t presume to say what we Touch owners will do or want. I see this device as the next generation Touch and I am pleased with it. I do think it has been over hyped, hence the negative responses of many who had been led to expect too much. I find the Touch too small and restricting for good web browsing and was hoping for a larger screen replacement.
      I find this size ideal for actually watching movies and browsing.
      I have a touch and will use it for music and occasions when I want a device I can put in my pocket but I also am getting this Ipad when I want to have a more complete video/web experience and for ebook reading also. It could have had more but then it would have cost more. I think it’s just great as it is.

  7. Great article, James. To be honest, I could take or leave the question in the headline. I’d never even try to answer the question of who NEEDS anything. You say nobody needs it, for an alternate view see this: http://tinyurl.com/ybqydev

    Setting aside that question, however, your article is spot on. Most of what I expected from the iPad came to pass yesterday (my imagination didn’t run as wild as others), but there were a few twists. The new interface elements exemplified in the rewritten apps and, especially, iWork, make it clear to me this is not just a “big iPod touch”. In fact, I see iWork as Apple’s way of saying to developers “this is the serious kind of stuff you can do, so get on it”.

    As for disappointments, I really only have two. 1) I’m shocked there’s no multi-tasking on the thing. I mean really, really, surprised. WIll this be iPhone OS 4.0? I don’t know. I have no big problem with it not on the iPhone, but for the iPad it’s more detrimental. 2) The lack of Flash. I’m not a big fan of Flash, and in fact I’m glad it’s not on the iPhone. But the iPad is different. If I’m shopping for a car, or a motorcycle (or any of a dozen other things), how many of those sites are interactive Flash? A lot. On an iPhone, such a site wouldn’t work for sh!t on its screen anyway, but on the iPad it would. As you said, Flash is not just about embedded video.

  8. While I love the concept of a tablet like this, I need a real, multitasking OS that handles real MS Office and my futures trading software. I suspect a lot of people are looking for this to replace their netbook/laptop, NOT their smartphone, and most of those people will have Windows-type needs. Answer: upcoming HP tablet, maybe the x200, certainly the Viliv X70, and probably 30-40 other products coming up in the coming months, now that the iPad is out.

    I’ll put up with no multitasking on a smartphone, NOT on a tablet. Again, a tablet is a miniaturized laptop, not a souped-up smartphone. It will never replace a smartphone, but it should be an awesome replacement for a laptop. You whip it out, a few seconds from multi-day standby and you are online.

    Flash: meh. Everything Flash will be re-written in HTML5, mostly because Flash SUCKS, but also because they want their content to work on iPhones/iPads, and work properly on Macs. And good riddance.

    Finally: is there a webcam and microphone? No? Really? Eff you, Apple. That’s just dumb.

    1. There is a microphone. And there’s evidence in the SDK that at some point a camera will most likely appear on the thing.

  9. Thinking about competition, the only major differentiator between the iPad, and a tablet, is cost, cool factor, and instant on. Once tablets get close on all of those factors, then the iPad loses its differentiators

    1. Uh, how about the ability to download 140k apps seamlessly and the iTunes store?

  10. 1. If this is a big iPhone – where are the phone capabilities?
    2. If this is a mini netbook – where is the webcam / skype video?
    3. If this is a mobile device – how come its so heavy?
    4. If this is an on the go device – how come there is no GSP?
    5. If this is a robust device – how come there is no multitasking?
    6. If this is a web device – how come there is no Flash?

    6 reasons why this is something that will take iApple down.
    Tal

    1. I believe it does include GPS but I could be wrong.

    2. How is 1.5lbs heavy?

    3. I agree with Tal. It really doesn’t do anything that an iPod touch already does. Unless they phase out the iPod touch, this thing wont sell…

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