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Summary:

There’s a backlash in the tech community against Apple’s iPad. Perhaps because the geeks and tech-heads are disappointed the iPad didn’t meet their every expectation. I wonder though if it isn’t just the result of a lack of imagination. Techies moan endlessly about the iPad’s lack […]

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There’s a backlash in the tech community against Apple’s iPad. Perhaps because the geeks and tech-heads are disappointed the iPad didn’t meet their every expectation. I wonder though if it isn’t just the result of a lack of imagination.

Techies moan endlessly about the iPad’s lack of a physical keyboard and how “no one can do real work on that.” I have to wonder what they mean when they say “real work?” Are they suggesting, for example, all computer users regularly commit themselves to Jessica Fletcher-esque writing marathons? Do the vast majority of us really write 10,000 word screeds every week? Of course not. Most everyday computing consists of a few minutes of light email and web surfing. If a 10,000 word essay is the goal, the iPad might not be the ideal platform (though I suspect we’ll see plenty of people doing very lengthy prose with the optional keyboard). However – not being ideal out-of-the-box for essay writing doesn’t invalidate the utility of the iPad. There are a great many other complaints about the iPad, and they all end this same way.

To those techies fond of finding fault with the iPad, I say this; the iPad is not for you. Instead, the iPad is designed for everyone else in the world, the colossal majority of non-techy folk who simply don’t care about cameras, physical keyboards or “closed” operating systems.

Imagine this scenario;

Meet Carol, a busy wife and mother. She just saw her eldest two kids off to bed and the baby is (finally!) asleep in her arms. This is a rare moment of blissful peace and quiet. Carol settles on the couch, baby in arms, and watches those episodes of Modern Family that have been sitting on the Tivo for three weeks. She giggles as Manny and Gloria bully Jay, and then suddenly remembers she must e-mail Mom about the kids’ soccer game this weekend.

A geek would put the baby aside, deploy the dedicated laptop table and boot-up their 17” unibody MacBook Pro. Carol is no geek. She has precisely zero passion for, or interest in, computers. And she definitely doesn’t have the free arm for laptop-deployment strategies.

Here, the iPad shines. Carol checks the baby is comfortable (yep, still sleeping!) and then with a single button-press the iPad is ready to go. She composes a new e-mail to Mom, pausing for a moment to chuckle at the TV (Cameron is flaming). While it’s on her mind, she adds a note to the family’s shared calendar.

The commercials are on, and while she’d normally skip through them, she takes advantage of those three minutes to follow the link cousin Linda sent a few days ago. It’s a photo gallery of her summer vacation. The iPad’s form factor makes it the ideal tool for this, it’s like she’s holding each photo in her hand. There’s even a short video, too, which reminds Carol she really should use her own camera more often…

The commercials are finished. Carol is done with her ‘computer’. At this point a geek would continue surfing (probably checking RSS feeds or leaving withering comments at the end of another infuriating diatribe from Liam “Doesn’t know what he’s talking about” Cassidy) …but not Carol. She switches it off, tosses it onto the nearest chair and forgets about it.

Carol, by the way, is exactly like all the other non-techy people in the world who could benefit enormously from the ease and simplicity baked into the iPad. The “computer as an appliance” solution is, for non-geeks everywhere, a welcome respite from the inherent complexities of more conventional computers.

Careless and Lazy

Tech-heads argue, “We do all those things with our laptops and smartphones already, so the iPad has no utility and is stupid, dumb and pointless and bah! to Apple and their overpriced toys!” Well, maybe so, but a smartphone is often too small and fiddly (particularly for those of us who are getting a bit long in the tooth), while a laptop is almost always overkill for common light tasks. (I haven’t forgotten the netbook; it remains, in my opinion, an exercise in compromise and frustration for anyone but the most patient geek or undemanding road-warrior.)

This backlash often accompanies new appliances. Consider the humble Microwave Oven; when it first appeared it was expensive and, for a great many people, seemingly-pointless; “But, we already have a real oven. Can a microwave oven brown? Can it roast? Can it grill? Can it warm plates and roast a turkey and heat my coffee at the same time? It can’t do even half the things my real oven does. It’s overpriced and unnecessary and I don’t need one. And no one else will, either.”

If you ask me, that’s a pretty careless – even lazy – conclusion. Yet, it’s precisely the same argument I’ve seen repeated in comments and articles all over the web.

Of course, the microwave oven isn’t criticized today because its utility has been proven. Indoor plumbing, gas central heating, automobiles and even the personal computer all were criticized for being unnecessary and, as the tired old phrase goes, ‘a solution in search of a problem’. Nor has the microwave oven replaced conventional ovens. In fact, most of us have both appliances in the same room of the house. Having one does not automatically relegate the other into obsolescence. They each have their place, and they each offer their own utility and value in a modern home.

And so it will be with the iPad. Only, you won’t be able to pop corn in it.

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  1. So how is it Carol is able to use the iPad with the baby in her arms but not a laptop?

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    1. Why would Carol watch a movie stored on Tivo on the iPad or the MacBook?
      Can’t she afford a TV. Do people actually watch TV and movies on laptops? (just because they can?) In the real world away from geek-land we watch TV on the TV. How silly is that!

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    2. As a mother who has had babies asleep numerous time in my arms, I became very adept holding a paperback book in the hand wrapped around the baby. I would turn pages with the free hand and put the book down when needing to deal with the baby or another child.

      I could do this with a heavier hardback book but it was definitely more awkward, if the book was much heavier or more bulky then it could not be done with one hand.

      So could I see an iPad being used in the same situation? Yes. A laptop or even a lighter netbook? No.

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    3. @eagle61

      no you idiot. Carol is watching her tivo on the tv. Then, while the adverts are playing on the tv, she uses the ipad for the internet

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    4. @ben
      Sorry for being an idiot but we don’t have this Tivo crap in the UK. Does it run on Windows or OSX?

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    5. @eagle61 – the TiVo is a DVR set-top box for the TV, ala the Sky+ box in the UK

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    6. Can you hold a laptop with one hand?? Extend at arms length?

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    7. Tivo is a TV set top box. It doesn’t work with a Mac or a PC.

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    8. A Laptop you have to open (perhaps wait for it to boot up, then enter a password). You have to use a trackpad to launch a browser or mail application. iPad is much more finger friendly — it’s actually designed for use with one hand.It would require much fewer steps to access email on iPad, plus it is much more likely to be within reach of the typical busy mom (on the kitchen counter or coffee table).

      The author of this article is spot on — laptops are overkill for most common, light tasks.

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  2. Well said Liam. Well said.

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  3. There’s also a few other things I’m not so comfortable with here… You could get a laptop at a MUCH cheaper price than an iPad and, given that you could use a laptop in any situation that you could use an iPad for (while the same cannot be said of using an iPad for everything we would use a laptop for), it seems ridiculous to even consider buying an iPad. How is a laptop “overkill”? The features of a laptop needn’t be used at the same time or to their fullest extent, but they’re there for when you MAY need them.
    I also doubt anyone that isn’t a “geek” would fork out for a gadget such as the iPad… surely a normal person would just spend the least they could for the basics they need it for?

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    1. Of all the things you could argue agains the iPad on, price is probably the most ridiculous.

      To say that you could get a laptop at a “MUCH” cheaper price than an iPad is sensationalist at best. As if a sub-$500 laptop is even remotely similar in terms of quality.

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    2. Sure, a normal person would spend the least they could for the basics they need. And for most normal people, the ‘basics’ are web, email, reading, entertainment, maybe photos. For all of these, the iPad may well be a better basic solution than a $500 laptop.

      Your argument that “The features of a laptop needn’t be used at the same time or to their fullest extent, but they’re there for when you MAY need them” can be extended. My desktop or 27″ iMac does more than I would use a laptop for, so why don’t I just drag it around in a road case for times when I need the extra capabilities?

      This is where Liam’s microwave comment is spot on. The six-burner dual-oven range does not trump the microwave because they’re two very different products.

      The iPad likewise will succeed to the extent that people understand it is its own product – neither a smartphone nor a laptop. I may already own both the latter, so my buying decision is not whether $500 is better spent on an iPad versus a laptop; I’ll need to decide if the iPad on its own merits offers something that is worth $500 to me. Given my interest in blogging and hyper-local journalism, the iPad may be exactly the tool I’ve been looking for.

      There’s an addage in the photography community that the best camera in the world is the one you have with you. My iPhone is always with me but it’s not the best device for manipulating content. If the iPad is indispensible and convenient enough that it’s always with me, then it is a better device than either a laptop or netbook that I may sometimes choose to leave at home.

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    3. @Josh Pigford
      “To say that you could get a laptop at a “MUCH” cheaper price than an iPad is sensationalist at best.”

      No, it is simply true. Don’t know about you over there but here in Italy in brick and mortar stores, with offers and rebates, you ca find netbooks starting from a bit more than 150€; 15.4″ notebooks from a little less than 300€. (Don’t expect the iPad to be priced ay less than 499€ down here).
      That’s a MUCH cheaper price.

      Then the argument doesn’t hold water and the comparision is stretched, ok, but that’s another story.
      And don’t get mad about that, because when those people will “get” the tablet form factor, they’ll simply start posting that you can get a MUCH cheaper Android tablet with a lot more ports ;^D

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    4. @Hmmm… Did you even read the article. If so, your comprehension of the English language is sadly lacking as Liam’s points EXACTLY cover your arguments. Go back and read it again. IT’S NOT A COMPUTER SUBSTITUTE! Jeez…

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    5. @sky
      I am with you on this, the iPad is meant to compliment both a laptop/desktop and a smartphone not replace them. people just cannot seem to grasp the concept.

      Personally I am looking forward to it for school most of all. It is so hard to understand why people cannot grasp the concept of “compliment over replacement.”

      Alex~

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  4. Well said, Liam.

    The iPad looks like it’s going to appeal to a hugely wide audience. I’ll take light weight and portability for presentations thank you, while my elder sister will happily chop in her MacBook for one, as the spec matches her daily usage almost exactly – she doesn’t need or want the added computing power of a full-on laptop.

    As for the software keyboard, the naysayers said that about the iPhone – yet it’s the first mob I can be bothered to text on. So there!

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  5. Nice analogy! To me the one great thing the iPad does is changing the way you’ll experience websites. You can now hold a web page in your hand. I didn’t understand why you would need a touch screen until after using an iPhone I absentmindedly tried to tap on my macbook screen. As with everything Apple does the iPad makes doing stuff more intuitive. It simply seems to be how you want to surf, by touching navigation elements with your fingers.
    I can’t wait to try one out. But that’s just me, I wanted to get a microwave oven the minute I saw one in use.

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    1. I can’t wait to try the iWork apps. Laying out presentations and one-sheets on a virtual light table sems so much more appealing than via the old keyboard+mouse. Wacom built a business on this, and their Cyntiq 12″ Pen Display by itself costs about $1000. With the right applications, the iPad is looking like a relative bargain.

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    2. Good point that most aren’t getting.
      a) having the web page in your hand is cool
      b) and this is a HUGE plus for me — I’m sick of using a “mouse” when not at a desk. I find the laptop mouse and trackpads too slow — this eliminates that — it’s on desk, or on my lap and I just touch and go.
      Voila.
      c) as mentioned — the stove/microwave analogy sums it up perfectly.

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  6. Liam, I totally echo your sentiments. As a self-confessed member of the geekerati, the iPad was initially a very disappointing anti-climax. However, after sleeping on it and chewing it over for a while, it started to dawn on me just how significant this device really is.

    I know the typical example is the Luddite Mom, but my dear mother actually TRIES to better understand the family PC – she’s taking a course in Office and it’s quite saddening to see how she struggles every single day to cope with the inherent complexities of the applications and operating system that I barely give a second thought to.

    All she uses the computer for is surfing, email, occasional IM and writing the odd letter in Word. She doesn’t use a web-cam, probably wouldn’t understand the concept of a “closed” operating system even if I explained it to her and is far less capable of (digital) multi-tasking than the PC is. So is a laptop overkill? Well, yes – because she has to learn, understand and memorise skills and routines that are far more taxing that should be required for the fundamentally simple tasks she wishes to execute.

    Would she fork out for an iPad? I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting 500 bucks that she’s going to love it.

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    1. “Would she fork out for an iPad? I don’t know for sure, but I’m betting 500 bucks that she’s going to love it.”

      You’re wonderful =]:

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  7. It’s good to see that some in the tech community are understanding what the iPad is for. It’s a consumption device, on a scale that works for all of the media we use today.

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  8. Overall I agree with your assessment here that the ipad is a niche device. Unfortunately I was disappointed by the ipad because it has no place in my typical computer usage.

    I bought a netbook a month ago and everything people say the ipad is for a netbook does just as well. Sure maybe without the touch screen it is not as “fun”, but then again I use laptops mainly for work so I need a keyboard. It is interesting to see that for almost $200 less you can get a netbook with better battery life than an ipad, larger screen, full functioning OS, more storage etc. and weighing only a little more than a pound more.

    Only time will tell how the ipad and the other tablets coming out this year compete with netbooks when it comes to sales and adoption.

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    1. This is a good point. I’m on my computer in my home office, then into the car, then on a computer all day at work. The only scenario (currently) I can imagine enjoying the iPad is if it’s right near me in the family room and I want to check email without running to the home office. I don’t use my iphone for email because there’s just too much of it. I also can imagine it by the bedside table….either reading a real book, or an ebook.

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  9. Techies seem to have missed that the iPad’s primary and powerful characteristic is sheer intuitive fun. That generally sells in large numbers.

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    1. Full ACK. Very good & important point!!
      People don’t want to have hassle with installing stuff and keeping virus definitions uptodate etc etc.
      They just wanna USE the device – and have FUN.

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  10. I wouldn’t say there is exactly a ‘backlash’ against the device. I would term it a ‘luke-warm curiosity’. I think a lot of geeks will end up getting this device, especially with all the amazing 3rd party apps we will see.

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    1. @Shannon:
      “I think a lot of geeks will end up getting this device, especially with all the amazing 3rd party apps we will see”

      Actually, I can see geeks getting it for a different reason. I’m predicting that this will be the first Apple device being bought SPECIFICALLY to have Linux installed on it. A 1 Ghz dual core ARM processor should be fine for Linux and this would be a nice little Linux system for people who go for that.

      Of course, I expect that it will sell millions of units and the ‘buy it to install Linux’ will only be a very tiny number, but I think it will happen enough to get some notice.

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    2. @joe anonymous

      are you serious? linux? why? why would you buy an ipad and put linux on it?

      Im not saying its not possible (despite having read, seen, or heard nothing about the possibilities/desires/demand for it) but why?

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    3. I’m not saying that _I_ would put Linux on an iPad, but I believe it will be attractive to people who like that sort of thing. Heck, there were people who put Linux on an iPod, for pete’s sake.

      From a purely hardware perspective, it’s a nice device. There’s quiet a bit of computing power and features in a relatively small, inexpensive, high quality device.

      As I said – it won’t be millions, but I expect the Linux community will find it to be a nice device.

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