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Justifying the iPad: The Single Discordant Note in Steve’s Presentation

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I watched, along with my fellow writers and everyone else in the tech community (and beyond) as Steve Jobs unveiled the Apple iPad. And what he revealed was a very beautiful thing, with an aesthetically gorgeous design and a seemingly amazing user interface. But is it precious?

By that I mean, in the true sense of the term, will the iPad be an intensely attractive thing that is briefly coveted and then forgotten? Right now, the general sense from the tech press is that Jobs has done good, and that very few will be able to avoid picking one of these up when they become available in the next two or three months. But will that enthusiasm transfer to the general public?

I’m not the only one who isn’t so sure about that, judging by Steve Jobs’ performance at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts today. Sure, he showed off the iPad’s capabilities with the showmanship of the veteran salesman that he is, but he also framed the presentation in a way that struck me as odd. It almost seemed more like a stockholder speech than the unveiling of an exciting new device to an eager public.

First, he established where the product was needed. He visually created a new category in which the iPad fit, which is something many bloggers and tech writers had been wondering about. It makes sense to address it once, and after having discussed the success of your existing platforms. The connection is understood, and once you demo the device, people will see why they need or want this device. Problem solved.

But not in the eyes of Jobs, apparently. The end of his presentation today was essentially a drawn-out justification of why Apple’s iPad is, in fact, a viable platform, and not just an ultra-niche device that most consumers could easily do without. “Do we have what it takes to establish a third category of products?” That’s what Steve Jobs asked rhetorically at the close of his presentation, but was it a rhetorical question, or is Apple actually unsure?

Let’s make one thing clear: I want an iPad. I want everyone to want one so that we can use them creatively together. But I also wanted a Sony Reader and a Kindle. I want a chumby. I want all kinds of things that ordinary people would never dream of wanting. The iPad, if I try to look at it dispassionately, is essentially a media player that’s too large to carry around comfortably in your pocket, too small to be preferable for movie viewing to your TV, and could even represent a significant recurring money drain if you get 3G service. It’s an e-reader, yes, but by and large, people aren’t yet really lining up to get at those.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that if anyone can make this kind of product commercially viable, it’s Apple. All I’m saying is that if even Steve Jobs has to seemingly go out of his way to justify its existence, then how can I possibly avoid doing the same?

69 Responses to “Justifying the iPad: The Single Discordant Note in Steve’s Presentation”

  1. People who think this is ‘an oversized iPod Touch’ are missing the point.
    You have to think of it as a platform for the apps, much like the iPhone is.

    Having a larger screen doesn’t just let you play iPod Touch games in twice the size, imagine the apps that are possible that just are not feasible in the iPod Touch? Writing recognition, larger databases, all kinds of apps that just won’t work on a smaller device. THAT is where the real power of the device lies, in the app store.

    I think the ebook reader is nice, I think the way it handles media like photos and movies is nice (I think it’s pointless to have music), but those are icing on top of the real meat of the device, the app store.

    I think it’s every bit what I hoped it would be, and people who think otherwise were either expecting something totally unrealistic for the insanely low price point that it manages, or had determined they were gonna hate it beforehand because of Apple.

    My only complaint: No front-facing camera (which would expand options a lot, especially for like Skype)

  2. chipwinter

    I have to agree with the first poster, Stu.
    The three people at Starbucks had Macbook Pros, so they weren’t probably doing any real work. For that you’d need a PC.
    Nice observation Stu.

  3. It’s the apps that will be written for it that will define it as the “third device”. They will combine iPhone shorthand and economy of action with a full-sized display area to redefine how the user interacts with the data. This isn’t meant to collect and manipulate data, the way a laptop or desktop does: it’s meant to manage and report it, the way an iPod does. Look closely at the changes they made to the iWork suite. This is a post-desktop computer, closer to a general purpose computing *appliance* than has ever been built, and all it takes to make it a completely different appliance is a new app. Future software on every computer you know is going to be influenced by what they’ve done here.

  4. I think there are a few delusional people around here if they think Apple will allow “Flash” on the iPhone or iPad. Apple has been pushing HTML5 for quite a while and it now looks like there is movement on that front with Google/Youtube/Vimeo etc… now trialing HTML5. I think Apple is quietly waiting for Adobe to go the way of the dinosaur (which is happening financially) and for HTML5 to take over.

  5. Lack of a camera == iPad 2.0 == more revenue in a year. There were plenty of features lacking in iPhone 1.0 (and there still are some today – flash, multitasking etc.) eg. GPS which were introduced in later hardware revs. which equalled more revenue for Apple.

    That said the iPhone is in a device class that people find invaluable. People rank their cell phone as one of their top 3 vital devices. The iPad isn’t even close to being in such a category. It’s a niche device in it’s current ecosystem. Don’t get me wrong, I was hoping for the Jesus tablet but what we got was a far cry from it. Do I really need a watered down iWork platform? No. Do I need an ebook reader? No. Do I need another platform for my iphone apps? No. Can I take it to the gym and listen to my itunes collection with it? No. I have an iPhone for that. Do I want to watch movies on it? No I have a big screen home theater and an iPhone that fits in my pocket for that. Do I need to browse iPhoto on it? No I have a MacBook and iMac for that.

    Apple ‘defined’ a ‘new’ class of device but the device they created to fill it is filled with applications that support use cases better suited for the platform categories above and below it. I only saw two applications which I thought were tailored to this new device class, the e-book reader and the paint program and both of those cater to very niche markets.

  6. “but was it a rhetorical question, or is Apple actually unsure?”

    It was rhetorical. If Apple was unsure, it wouldn’t have announced the thing.

    This ain’t no Macworld announcement. Those days are gone. This was a special event with specific press invited and, yes, Jobs didn’t think they’d figure out some things for themselves (such as having 75M users who already know how to use the device) so he spelled it out for them. I agree with Jobs.

  7. Given the right apps this would be awesome in a lab (right from an engineering lab up to a bio lab). I don’t mean for modelling, data acquisition or anything like that but for reading papers, looking a lightweight spread sheets glancing through results that have already been exported to a nice png/pdf form.

    I know while labVIEW is cranking away on my windows machine in the lab I’d love something like this with me to do something else on, quite often I can’t be bothered to take my macbook to the lab with me, the iPad would fit in the inner sleeve of my lab book (and I always take that with me)

    I hope the chaps who make the papers app make something for this

  8. Oh yeah, I can also only assume that multitasking (which this new CPU would be great for) is coming in OS 4. Which should be coming pretty soon anyway.

    Flash is another issue. Apple has been mum about it, I wonder if they are working on optimizing it behind the scenes so it is not such a battery hog. Because if they weren’t, then they would just come out and say ‘no flash, and this is why it sucks.’ Instead it continues to be an elephant in the room, which is why I think something is coming.

    If so, then both multi-tasking AND Flash will come in OS 4 later this year.

  9. This thing is the future of general home computing IMO- maybe not now, but within the next few years for sure. Smaller footprint both physically and components-wise, but in a good way. Who wants to go to the office to boot up a regular desktop computer (or even a notebook), when you can just pass this thing around? I don’t know why people were thinking $1000 (unless it had full Mac OSX), $500 is a no brainer using the iPhone touch UI. Command prompt -> GUI -> TUI (touch UI.)

    Every 3 or 4 years my mom asks for my help to buy her a computer, which she promptly barely uses. I am going to recommend an iPad with 3G subscription, and I guarantee she will really use this thing- quite possibly even daily.

    The only thing that came to mind that was missing vs. a full computer was ability to download photos from a camera. Lo and behold, I find out that there is a cable adapter coming to do just that!

    If you already have an iPhone and say a MBP, then yeah this is redundant. But not everyone has those other items. And redundancy becomes less important when you think long run, when possibly a notebook computer will become the redundant item.

  10. I agree with the above, this is perfect for my wife (and for me to borrow around the house when I don’t want to pull out my laptop). She just does email, web browsing and music: all things this should excel at.

    Add to that the fact that it’s cheap (at least a lot cheaper than a new MacBook), has a really easy UI and has a battery that lasts a LONG time and it’s certain we’ll be getting one of these eventually.

    Oh yeah, and she also likes to read the newspaper. If our local rag writes an “app for that”, we can do away with the dead-trees edition.

  11. Newstech

    It’s a tool, like a hammer. I think they’ll sell a lot of these, for a lot of different reasons. Those who already have an iPhone and a laptop may not have enough of a need in-between. But what about those households with a desktop and a modest need for mobility, like browsing in the living room? In fact, I’m already thinking about sitting on the couch and grabbing control of the desktop via VNC. I think we will see many, many textbooks available, and given how many $100 books are out there now, it wouldn’t take many at what might be a 50% savings off list to cost-justify the device. An avid reader might even manage that. I think Apple threw us a curve. Everybody was fixated on the $1,000 Jesus tablet. $500 requires some rethinking. (However, Dave, I agree that lack of Flash and multitasking is painful.)

  12. It struck me almost immediately – as did my father and my co-worker – this device is perfect for our wives. In our circumstances at least, we have wives who enjoy reading, facebook, and web browsing, and little more. This iPad is an absolutely perfect fir for their needs.
    I won’t go so far as to say it’s ideal for wives in general of course (that’s potentially sexist and short sighted), but it would probably fit well with my grandparents, and even my kids.

    • Great point. My grandparents are now set up with a netbook, and it’s confusing and overbearing for them. A much simpler, streamlined device, will be much more in their wheelhouse. Videoconferencing will be an important part of any new release before I think about getting one for them.

    • LE Studios

      I’m buying one. I see a dedicated book reader, web browser and email that I can use all over without touting a big MacBook. People forget the #1 use of computer is to surf the web and #2 is checking email. Now if I can buy and download books and textbook for college courses on this without stepping foot in a crowded bookstore then I’m real good. I’m really shocked that people who spent close to this amount on a iPod Touch would actually be complaining. This obvious does more than a iPod Touch and you have a large LED IPS screen plus you have a buy option of integrated 3G that AT&T announced that they will have Unlimited Data Plan for $30 a month with no contract! This better than a NetBook and a lot cheaper than a MacBook. I got over 200 Apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch plus I can use it ALL with this? iPad. This can work for me. For those who argue please don’t buy it if you not that creative or good at multitasking. I seen all Star Trek TV Series and I wished that we have the technology that they portrayed as the future like right and we do. Just a lot of people to dumb to realize it that Apple made it work for us and we are already there.

  13. B Hanson

    iPad is different because you can create content. Creating visual material requires accuracy. Only a stylus can offer that as the area under your finger is hidden once you touch a screen. I am disappointed that PDF is not the default format for the e-reading part too. It just feels like too much proprietary control. We’ve already got closed Apple approved only apps.
    I hope it doesn’t have a shiny (reflective) screen too. I love my Macs, but call me underwhelmed sorry.
    I agree the mid category is not established yet. Can you see people holding this thing all day, for any purpose? Of course next weeks fashion will be 10″ pockets in your pants.

  14. Could have been great if they had developed a separate OS for it. No multitasking? I mean, come on. My Droid can do that. Give me an iPad that’s more visually streamlined, has a better battery life, handwriting recognition, and an OS revamped for some serious multitasking and I’ll be all over it.

  15. Erkenntnis

    This thing is the ultimate All-In-One Mobile Entertainment Device. Its strengths:

    1) iBooks (and hopefully soon, newspaper subscriptions and magazines as well)
    2) Games
    3) Movies and TV Shows
    4) Social Networking (with the apps)

    For a power user like me, I don’t see Safari, Mail, or iWork as a big draw. This is clearly not a device made to do serious work. It cannot be someone’s independent portable workstation because it requires syncing with a Mac. I don’t think power users are going to be impressed with this. I am impressed by the looks of the built-in eReader, but I still want to know how good it would be for annotations, highlighting, etc, before I decided on how good it really was.

    In the end, I’d still prioritize getting an iPhone over the iPad. I’m more concerned with getting stuff done than having a mobile entertainment device.

    On the other hand, for someone who just needs a beautiful and dead simple device that just works, doesn’t care about power user stuff, and cares about consuming media in all of its forms, this could be a seriously attractive option. I might get it just for the eReader alone, depending on how powerful it is.

  16. total waste, i figured it would be a replacement for laptop and desktop. but apple wont do that bc sales of other products would drop. i still like my ipod touch.

  17. I have the comments now and i have to say. It seems that you are forgeting that the majority of people use their computers for web browsing. Seriously, this will be the best thing for web browsing.
    I can see already, vendors selling a hardware to hold your iPad up so they can leave it on a slideshow so all their friends can see the photos on the living room!! D:

  18. A device like this is made for a person like me. That is a device that I can leave around the house mostly, instantly taking it off standby on a whim, googling a query, writing a note or document, check email, with no mouse or keyboard, and when you are interrupted or finished instantly put it on standby. Quick and simple. A netbook or laptop does not do this with all the complexity and maintenance that a full OS brings. I already have a desktop for that. No and iPod TOuch does not do this, main reason is screen size.

    So there is a market for this, how big it is I don’t know.

    • you can never do two ‘things’ at once physically. on a laptop you can have two applications ‘open’ at the same time, but never can you simultaneous type in both. when pandora or internet radio is your biggest reason for wanting ‘multi-tasking’ you’re not asking for multi-tasking. if apps open & close quick enough and implement auto-save the need for multiple apps to be open at the same time ceases to be a major drawback.

    • That’s just not the case. If you can’t multi-task, you can’t get Skype chat notifications if Skype is not in the forground. You can’t read one thing while another big thing downloads… you can’t .. I am sure you can think of many more…..

  19. I agree; he did over-present it as a third device, but hey, so what. The best thing about this device is that it is not a laptop and not an iPhone. By not being a laptop, you don’t have to lug a noisy, heavy, expensive, power hungry device around that takes an age to boot up, needs a separate mouse to make the user interface “useful”, and by being a laptop is overcomplex if you only need something for everyday emailing, browsing, photos, videos, music. An iPhone is still too small for everyday emailing and browsing, even videos. And the iPad looks like it will have decent document editing and viewing via iWorks. At less than $900, it’s a bargain if you don’t need all the capability of a laptop, but want the functionality of a well-engineered device that will do 90% of your everyday laptop stuff.

  20. The reason Steve Jobs spoke as he did was for “journalists” like you. I have been looking for a viable table for a while (5, or 6 months) then i heard Apple was coming with one. Darn, i have an iPhone, a bigger iPhone is exactly what i want. Everytime i show a friend what my iPhone is capable of, they are amazed. And with this price, the iPad will be a sucess! I wish it came with a camera as well, but heck, i have the iPhone and it will work fine!
    You are forgetting students, they will be able to use this baby in class to write and to read their books.
    Besides, the kindle is ugly!

    • “Darn, i have an iPhone, a bigger iPhone is exactly what i want.”

      Of course, this is a bigger iPod touch. No making phone calls.

      “You are forgetting students, they will be able to use this baby in class to write and to read their books.”

      We’ll see how well the keyboard works. Yes, the iPhone’s keyboard is good in a pinch.

  21. I really, REALLY wanted an iPod Touch and an iPhone. I have both now, love them to bits. Never had a MacBook until recently but now I think it’s the bees knees. BUT… I just don’t NEED an oversized iPhone/iTouch or an even smaller notebook. Who does? Unless it is for some obscene purpose, like bricking it into your lavatory wall, it is a useless plaything because whatever you’re using it for: there’s something either more powerful, larger or something even more mobile available. Best scenario: use it as your car-PC or something.

  22. Nice article. Everyone wants something when its new. The anxious will purchase, and either be pleased or dissatisfied. The wary will wait for reviews. And then some might not even give it a look. Its not like this hasn’t been done before.

    @Shabazinator on twitter

  23. To a certain extent, Apple have now created a situation where things will sell *because* they are Apple. It’s the label thing that’ll make it successful, even if, after a while, users discover that the iPad isn’t up to much. Now, I doubt that’ll happen – people will make it work. Again, because it’s Apple. People will want to be seen with one. I was in Starbucks earlier today, with 3 people on MBPs. I’m not even certain they were doing anything useful there; they just wanted to *feel part of it*.

    And that’s what they’ll get with the iPad – just feeling part of it.