Blog Post

The iPad May Change Computing, Just Not Your Life

The first time you walk into an Apple Store and pick up an iPad, you’ll understand the hype: Apple has managed to create a beautiful, thoughtfully designed, compelling product in a space where mediocrity was, until now, status quo. But odds are you probably won’t buy one — at least not yet. And that’s OK.

For despite the high level of anticipation for and proclamations associated with the launch of the Apple device, the fact remains that outside of a few select vertical uses (like medicine), tablets are constrained by their own form factor, stuck in the nether realm between productivity and portability. Standing onstage during the device’s unveiling, Steve Jobs himself posed a question that acutely underscores the tablet dilemma: Is there room for a third category of product that sits between your two most essential devices, the laptop and phone? As much as I’m looking forward to the iPad, I’m still not sure there is.

To date, no one’s been able to scale tablets as a core personal computing product, though it’s certainly not for lack of effort. Just about every player in the electronics world has given tablets a go, from Nokia with its Maemo-based N-series Internet communicators to Dell with its Android-based mini-slates to all manner of Windows-based convertible and slate tablet PCs. But the problem with all of them — and the iPad may also be included — isn’t that they’ve been unable to offer fundamentally differentiated experiences from the devices we already own and carry.

Think back to the iPod — before it existed, there wasn’t such a thing as taking your entire music (and eventually, video) library with you wherever you went. But the concept proved to be so elemental that it transcended the iPod as a device, and became a staple in nearly every product Apple makes, from iTunes on the Mac to the iPhone. In his iPad launch presentation, Jobs seemed pretty clear about the fact that the iPad won’t replace your phone or laptop (at least not any time soon), and yet Apple has still been deficient in demonstrating more than scaled-up iPhone experiences (like browsing, light email, and gaming) or scaled-down desktop experiences (like iWork).

Of course, it would be a failure of imagination to assume there won’t eventually be something built on the iPad platform that simply couldn’t be hosted on a phone or laptop. But so far Apple hasn’t shown it to us, which may be why so many are still lukewarm on the device’s prospects. This also might be why iBooks was January’s dark horse announcement — it was the only app Apple showed off that seems to call out for the iPad by name. But long-form reading is still arguably better suited to devices like the Kindle and Nook, which benefit from E Ink displays, while shorter-form media (namely periodicals) went all but ignored by Apple, which punted to publication-specific apps like the New York Times reader. Had Apple attempted to create a new, ubiquitous, standard format for magazines and newspapers, and leveraged its sales infrastructure for subscription content, the iPad might have been hailed as the iPod of publishing.

There’s no question Apple has (re)defined the tablet dialog and raised the bar for the space moving forward. For browsing the web, the iPad experience is second to none; the product itself almost seems to melt away, leaving the user to feel as though they’re literally reaching in and touching the content. And by the time the iPad’s price drops in a year or two, Apple may be able to parlay a groundbreaking product into a market leadership position. But in the mean time, the countdown to launch has begun and Cupertino’s set its sights on building yet another market, we’ll have to see just how many people are ready to put their money where Apple’s tablet is.

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Ryan Block is the co-founder of gdgt and the former editor in chief of Engadget. Disclosure: gdgt is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

144 Responses to “The iPad May Change Computing, Just Not Your Life”

  1. Medocrity? Are you seriously that much of a Apple fanboy that you overlook the fact that HP had out touchpad (laptops) that surpassed the specs of the iPad by 50% or more, have all the functionality the iPad lacks, all for roughly the same price…8 years ago. Do your god damned research, fanboy piece of shit.

  2. Personally I HATE apple and their desire to control every aspect of their devices and severely limiting the functionality of an incredible piece of hardware. However,I try to look at products like this from an unbiased standpoint.
    I’ve owned/sold/traded 5 iPhones and 2 iPod touches in the past few months and now have settled on a combo of a Nexus One and a 64GB iPod touch that is jailbroken.
    With the hardware specs that the ipad has,I can only imagine that once jailbroken the tablet will be wont take long before multi tasking is a reality and I can only guess it’ll perform flawlessly. I’ve used multi tasking apps on a 3g, 3gs, ipt 1g and ipt 3g without any issues..the thought of having a 1ghz processor behind the screen is very appealing to me.
    I can imagine these becoming a bit hit around college campuses for internet surfing,note taking,etc..and could almost eliminate the need to carry a laptop with a full featured OS when you can have a great, simplistic, user friendly mobile experience with many powerful apps to increase functionality with the ipad.
    I will be getting one or two on April 3rd and hope for some good hacker support :)

    1. make a touch capacitive pen or buy a pogo like stylus for your ipad = fantastic art painting device, music device that can be custom designed to your needs, note taking device, apps to learn caligraphy, etc…

    2. jailbreak it and use app switcher = multitasking or wait a couple months for os improvement push?

    3. No built in camera = stop complaining and build a small attachable 5MP camera, or wait for next years model which will most likely include? Have some business sense lol, build everything into the device and sell 5mil devices, or skip a couple important features sell 5 mil devices, and next year sell 5 mil more? I exagerate but you get the picture…

    4. Ever stand around with your laptop open, holding it up for prolonged periods to show people your funny and/or amazing youtube videos, or to read an interesting document etc..? Well maybe you do, I don’t it’s lame. Ipod and Iphone yes you can! but to be honest it small a screen lol.

    5. Having an ipod touch that is large enough to enjoy surfing the internets and a screen keyboard large enough for my large masculine fingers = priceless!

    It’s somewhat retarded and easy to see what the ipad can’t do for you, and another to appreciate the amazing tool the ipad is and what you can make it do for you.

    For the non-creative programming types out their, instead of complaining about how the ipad sux, take some time and write some drivers and put a spiffy linux os 3d desktop or windows on the ipad. If not wait for the johnny lee’s to make something amazing out of the device =)


  3. Misleading title is misleading. This article does not explain why the iPad will change computing at all, and is generally just filled with filler fluff about nothing in particular.

  4. Apple never comes out with any new tech. The iPad is another in a long line of old tech, hyped by Apple’s Marketing campaign. HTC had a tablet that had better specs and more features 7 years ago. Generic comment? Yes. Someone always says this with each new product launch. It’s true. Branding is eeeeverything.

  5. Ryan wasn’t it you that said on your podcast that iPhone would need to have a physical keyboard to really take off? (as I recall?). Now like so many times before, Apple’s bold decision to leave off the physical keyboard and concentrate on making a really good soft keyboard has giving others like Blackberry, Google and HTC the confident to also do the same.

    Now with phones like the Nexus One and HTC HD2 in the market, we hardly hear the same criticism anymore about a lack of physical keyboard. Maybe there were a lesson to learn there (and maybe a small compromise). The iPhone’s keyboard is a major step up from my last phone which really sold well btw (Moto RAZR).

    Point being – Apple knows how to market to consumers, they’ve been doing it with success for decades. They knew all the limitations of the “Tablet PC” and its form factor, and the mistakes others (cough Microsoft) have made the last decade trying to cator to geeks. Bill Gates vision was to have it become the only PC we carry and have on our desk. That failed miserably.

    Apple has decided instead to position the iPad as not some PC replacement as the failed Tablets before it, but as a simple and delighfull to use appliance/gadget device. Something to pick up and use withing seconds (instant on/off) without the clunkiness or maintenance of running full Windows. The genius of it as you pointed out is, you don’t think about how the thing works, you just know it does. It will bring you your newspaper subscription in the morning, and your magazine subscription when you want a break in the afternoon, and your eBooks in bed at night. Your App Store will be waiting for you to turn this device into anything you want. Want to take a quick lesson on how to play the piano? load an App. Need a dedicated Slingbox like device for the home? Load an App. An early learning device for the little ones? Load an App. A bedtime storybook with pictures that comes to life with a simple touch? Load an App or eBook! A DIY device? Load an App! The possibilities are endless what you can do with such a device (with a much larger screen).

    So while some continue to rack their ‘geeky brains’ trying to place this device in a box, and comparing it to all the other failed “Tablet PCs” before it – the consumers will once again demonstrate its usefulness, just like they did with the iPhone with its touch screen and lack of a physical keyboard.

  6. Verndale

    The iPad may not solve a problem but it could provide “convenience.” Will it be more convenient than a laptop? Just as the iPod was more convenient than the portable CD player.


    “Had Apple attempted to create a new, ubiquitous, standard format for magazines and newspapers, and leveraged its sales infrastructure for subscription content, the iPad might have been hailed as the iPod of publishing.”

    You don’t think the iPad will be the iPod of publishing? I beg to differ…In order for publishers to succeed in this domain, and eventually win back their eroding readership, they’ll have to engage in a paradigm shift of their own.

  7. Talk about trying to create a market where none existed, the ipad is going to fall flat, no one os going to 600 plus for what is essential a large ipad. I understand that you need to convince everyone that this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but it’s really just a case of the emperors new clothes. Beside when compared to Microsoft’s courier, the ipad fall very much short.stop trying to drum up hype for what is essentially a useless gadget.

  8. Yikes. There is nothing scarrier than a tech reporter who is completely out of touch with the technology s/he is reporting on. The iPod wasn’t a technical innovation it was a marketing revolution. The iPhone didn’t invent Internet protability, it refined it. The ipad isn’t about productivity, it’s about media consumption!

  9. “…Is there room for a third category of product that sits between your two most essential devices, the laptop and phone? As much as I’m looking forward to the iPad, I’m still not sure there is…”

    Mr. Block — your own lack of imagination is harshing my groove.

    It was only three years ago that people couldn’t imagine a cellphone without buttons. Even after the success of the iPhone and Apple’s many other hit products that changed the face of communications, you can’t accept that Apple’s brilliant design and engineering teams have thought all this through? Apple’s product development process is rigorous. The company doesn’t enter new markets without a well-conceived plan and doesn’t invent new products without a good idea of precisely how they will be used.

    You can take it on faith that thousands of equally brilliant software engineers from Apple and many other companies already are hard at work preparing those next jaw-dropping products that will drive adoption of this new breed of hardware, software Apps and services. The iPad is destined to become an essential “information and entertainment appliance” — you’re just too myopic and timid to imagine it all.

    In fact, I predict that Google and Microsoft soon will copy the hardware and software concepts and bring out more me too products with 9.7 inch screens and custom touchscreen interfaces. Those cheap little netbooks running crippled versions of Windows 7 (I mean 6.5 Vista) all seem so cheesy just now.

    So, chill, Mr. Block, and have a drink. And do go ahead and pick up an iPad next month. Join the next computing revolution. Everything will be all right.

  10. hardmanb

    People who don’t get it….

    Have not tried to teach how to email on a PC to your grandmother or Aunt.

    Have not tried to teach a basic computer literacy course at a Senior Citizen Center to people who just want to use email and get/send photos.

    Are not a senior citizen with degraded vision who love to read, but need “Big Print” editions.

  11. Oliver Barrett IV

    I will be getting my iPad 64GB shortly and am sure it will be quite portable. I have taken the additional step in ordering my tailor to alter the pockets in my clothing accordingly to properly accommodate my new iPad. Portable Indeed. :-P

  12. MGriscom

    Why are the authors so thoroughly fooled at Apple’s claim to be innovative?

    The iPad is derivative, not innovative. The combination is new, I guess: the touch pad (done by many vendors), the lack of a keyboard (ditto), single threading (surprising to bring this back in the 21st century, but it’s been done), wireless (been done)

    … and for less money, you can get something that’s much more capable e.g. a Windows 7 netbook.

    Apple is brilliant at marketing, buy why are people so stubbornly fooled?

    • Call it derivative if you must. All products are derivative to one degree or another. Nevertheless, Apple seems to consistently exercise better judgement than the competition when choosing which ideas are worth developing, and how they are combined. Their products are refined to a greater degree–and are not just a bunch of random features hastily slapped together by committee.

      I’m not disputing that effective marketing can’t play a part in the success of a mediocre product (Windows is proof of that). But marketing can only go so far. In Apple’s case, the products generally stand on their merits. Apple’s overwhelming user satisfaction figures are testimony to this. Apple’s customer loyalty is the envy of the industry and there is no way you can pin that on Steve Jobs’ charisma or a flashy ad campaign.

      I won’t argue the relative merits of an iPad versus a netbook. If the iPad is not for you, so be it. Frankly it isn’t a good fit for me either. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad product for everyone. You don’t buy a family sedan if you really need a pickup truck, and vice versa. Both have their uses.

      • mgriscom

        Brett, I disagree that Apple products stand on their merits alone, although I do agree that for those who don’t want choices and do need to buy something pretty to feel special about themselves do find happiness with an Apple hardware product.

        You see those Mormon temples, right? … the ones with a high, high pedestal with the angel Moroni on top? They’re a lot like Apple stores. With Apple, people aren’t buying functionality, they’re buying a brand, an identity. If they just wanted functionality, they could save money and get more choices and more power by going elsewhere.

  13. The iPad is not a netbook killer. The iPad does less things than a netbook: can’t run two or more programs at a time, can’t run much of the videos or animations in websites, since most of those run on Flash, which the iPad can’t run. The iPad cost more than a netbook. For non-techies, those are really big reasons for passing on the iPad.

  14. Ryan,

    You hate everything Apple and always make a point to predict their downfall both on GDGT and now here. In fact, I stopped listening to GDGT because of constant Apple bashing.

    The iPad is not for you and other professional technologists. It’s for everybody else who don’t give a damn about flash or the “history” of tablet computers.

    Most will download the App they like and will be very happy with it. Developers like myself who focus on UX will be heaven.

  15. This is a less than compelling case, to put it mildly. The other tablet form factors are very poorly designed from a usability POV and that is Apple’s strong point. Then there are the Apps designed from the ground up for a touch interface- nobody had those either. Then there is the ubiquitous connectivity. That’s new too. Then there’s iTunes…etc.

    BTW, the headline is incredibly misleading. And there is an inherent conflict of interest here- it is not in Engadget’s best interest for one device to replace all the ridiculous techy junk they make their living writing about. That’s what iPad (and iPhone and Android) are doing.

  16. It will be the battery issue that will keep this from taking off. Now you will need to not only keep it well backed up, but you will need to make sure that there is nothing on it that you will mind an Apple tech from seeing when you return it for dead battery.

    Think about it, they have made this a corporate security nightmare. if the battery dies and can not be revived (and we all know that happens to devices that we use often) then you have to give the sealed device back to Apple and for a mere $99 they will give you another one – but not your original one.

    Thus all your DRM protected books/movies/music will need to be reinstalled and possibly repaid for. All your files will be open for Apple to see.

    Thus Apple makes the device unusually hard for corporate users – their biggest market.

    • Eric,

      If the battery dies you plug it in. Get your data off and pay Apple $99 for a new battery. All of your stuff is on your computer. If you don’t have a computer I am sure they will swap the data for you. I have done this with 3 upgrade of my iphone without any trouble. In a corporate environment they would do the same. The corporate market is not the largest or Apple’s target. The consumer market is far larger and less concerned about security.

    • Guess you’ve never used an iPod or iPhone before, which just like the iPad, work when you plug it in, even with a dead battery.

      I can conclude you’re speaking from ignorance.

  17. Winston Walker

    I’m in agreement with WinTech. I’m really excited to read magazines, periodicals and comics with this devices. I’m totally happy with reading a pdf version of your mag, until such time as you bring out a fancy, schmancy Ipad version. I just want to be able to read the mag, and not receive a paper copy, which i’m eventually going to toss in the trash.

  18. Bob Morris

    Steve802 … Exactly. We are in the midst of moving to the next era of computing which will open computing up to the masses and I agree that PCs and mainframes will still be with us. Devices like the iPad, new ereaders and tablets that are entering the market are the forebears of what is to come. These changes take years but have profound impacts. And most people won’t know it is happening but will crave and purchase these new devices.

  19. WinTech

    After nearly two decades in technology – and after witnessing the evolution of the Internet and all of the products created to enhance and improve the experience of the user – one thing is very clear to me; you cannot underestimate Steve Jobs’ ability to predict (read: create) future technogies.

    Speaking only for myself, I read the day’s tech news on my iPhone every evening and often during the day. My hope for my iPad (3G, can’t wait) is to completely replace the magazines I read in print. Are you listening Macworld? If you are…I want the ability to download your magazine, save it, and search the content (ALL of the content) for things I want to refer back to.

    I realize that this is a little off topic, but I am not alone. Tech Publishers, ask your subscribers and start the slow and steady migration away from print.

  20. Steve802

    A lot of tech people don’t get it. A whole industry, the IBM based PC industry, for one, doesn’t get it. Nor does the IBM based mainframe industry. Nor, for the most pard, do web designers, news paper designers, etc. (Sometimes I wonder if the only people who get it are teenagers and cartoonists :) … though textbook companies aren’t far behind …)

    But that’s ok. The PC won’t go away. The mainframe won’t go away. They, like Fortran and C++, have their place.

    The iPad, and the ecosystem it will inhabit, will be computing’s third stream.

  21. The ipad is not aimed at anyone reading this column or even this website. I look at the adoption of the iphone. I see non techie people using it all the time. I look to my own parents in the their sixties that use computers everyday. They don’t need the functionality of the macbooks they have now. They email, facebook, surf the web, write letters, and upload photos to flickr with no editing and in low quantities. All of these could be handled by the ipad without any problems, well except the stupid videos they forward me all the time. I can live without those anyway.

    The initial adopters will be frustrated with the lack of flash. If there are enough early users the video standards will change and I will get the stupid videos back in a compatible format.

    This is not another G4 Cube but it will take at least a year before it should really be judged. iPhone apps will be nice but the ipad apps will determine the success. All it takes is a killer app or two to make a this take off, in the meantime people can use the 100K+ iphone apps that are already available.

    Nice article but I think you are looking at this from a techie perspective and not from the real market perspective.

    Hi Veronica

  22. You guys need to get more of a consumer point of view – this is perfect replacement device for home and office where portability is desired – now I don’t have to buy my wife an expensive laptop to replace her aging iBook – we can get two ipads and use my MacBook pro for all the base computer requirements while the ipad can be our surfing, email, gaming, ebook, and the grand kids can use educational apps or entertainment type apps when they are over.

    Really I’m eating for apps to go the other way – put them on the computer – I sick of big time costly cumbersome do everything programs that I really only use small parts of frequently for scaled back focused low cost apps – why buy Photoshop when Elements gives most consumers all the feature they want.

  23. Chris K

    I envision I’ll be using the Ipad 95% of the time.

    My desktop will become more like a mainframe.

    I mean how about an app to control your Mac. Run a video encode or something. Or offload spreadsheet calculations to your desktop.

    I also envision not having to get a smartphone. Having an iPad at home, in the car, on the plane and at work would be enough.

    But time will tell. Can’t wait to dive in 2 weeks and see what this thing is made of.

    • I like this idea…it’s Saturday morning and I’ve picked up my iPhone to read the latest news; would be handier to have an iPad beside me to make that browsing all the much easier…and if I use my MBP later it will simply be to browse, email and write-up…I’m already considering selling it and using the proceeds to buy an iPad and a mac-mini (as my, as you named it, ‘mainframe’, or even ‘hub’)…it will feel far more efficient that way.

  24. The emergence of the everywhere IPAD to consume computer stuff, is the same kind of event as the start of consume hamburgers.

    The IPAd is a MacDonald moment, a revolution of convenience. MacDonald did not create the hamburger. It just established a new convenience for getting one.

    But MacDonald’s trick was to suddenly make a hamburger an “available everywhere” experience.

    This is what the IPAD does for computer content. It makes the computer content always at hand, an everywhere experience. Toss an Ipod anywhere, and where it lands, you got a great hamburger, a satisfying access to the internet, etc.

    The market power of creating a new convenience for accessing anything people already want, is the Mount Everest of marketing.

    The IPAD is the new fast food experience. Any where you plop it, you got it.

    The IPAd will become a permanent fixture in world’s everyday existence.