PotD – 01/27/10

Tech Lust

Two big events today – Apple’s announcement of the new, ahem, iPad, and President Obama’s first State of the Union. Though the latter is far more important in terms of effect on people’s lives, I wasn’t actually around for it, so I’m going to focus on the iPad instead.

Just a few thoughts:

  • This thing is designed with the K-12 education sector in mind. Think about it – have a library of books on it, you can write documents and presentations on it, do simple calculations…all in a package that’s intuitive, in which you drag things around with your fingers (kids seem to like to touch and feel the things they’re learning). Winner
  • This blows up the old modes of thinking about Operating Systems. It completely abstracts the user from the inner workings of the OS. As a friend noted, this is as big as a shift as the jump from the command prompt to Graphical User Interfaces (GUI). I suppose one could say the iPod and the iPhone did this first, but those were in different market segments, so they weren’t really challenging that paradigm – just saying it didn’t apply to portable devices. Winner
  • That being said, I’m not sure this is as big of a challenge to netbooks as would be needed to kill them off. Besides the obvious Mac vs. PC issues, as well as the difference in price (at $499, that’s basically the high end of a netbook these days), it only appeals to one of the two types of netbook users. The first type is those who use their netbook primarily for web browsing and checking email. Maybe this is done in front of the TV or while traveling. On the other hand, as I sit in my graduate classes, I see a 40/40/20 split between netbooks, macbooks (and pros), and gigantic Windows laptops (they’re always gigantic, if they’re not netbooks, though this may be a consequence of a direct comparison to their little brothers). All of these people are furiously taking notes on their machines.

    The iPad simply wouldn’t fill their needs, at least not until software catches up. Sure, you can plug in your iPad to the keyboard dock, but you don’t get the same mobility that you do with a netbook. Moreover, I think writing a paper on one of those might be a bit of a challenge.

    So it is geared more toward the casual web browser/email checker. And man, that thing is beautiful for it. I can no longer sit and watch a movie and do nothing else at home because I’m constantly looking at my iPhone or laptop. The iPad would be so much more enjoyable to use than either because of form factor. NEUTRAL

  • I love the eReader functionality. First, it’s using an open format, meaning a) no new format to deal with and b) the possibility of standardization, so what you see on one device will be the same on other. Great. I just hope it also means that you can load other eBooks, much like you can load non-iTunes music and movies on an iPod.

    I also love the appearance, and despite some of what I’ve been reading, I think the page turning animations are great and make it more book like. I also think the tone of the page and text seems just about the right contrast, and the store looks much better than Amazon’s (though I wish it had Amazon’s review base). Did I see in some of the pictures that books are going to be $4.99? That’s kind of hard to believe, but I’d love it. What cracks me up though – since the iPad runs any iPhone app, you could theoretically have both Apple’s iBook app and Amazon’s Kindle app on there at the same time.

    Some things that we need some more information on, though, and I think these are particularly important in ensuring these are usable in the higher education realm: can you highlight? Can you cut and paste text? How about notes? I think to be useful, it needs to be just like Preview on OSX: cut and paste swaths of text, highlight, underline, take notes. I doubt much of this functionality is there (reportedly it’s in the Kindle, but I’ve seen some disgruntlement on that front).
    WINNER, but that could change.

  • Background wallpapers on the application screens – about damn time. This better migrate to the iPhone!WINNER
  • I don’t know how I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the name. Really, iPad? That was about the worst of the possible names (I personally liked Canvas or MacTablet). Were there no women involved in the name selection process? Or no guys who’d ever seen a feminine hygiene product commercial? Twitter and Facebook are lighting up with jokes about it (now with wings!), as well they should.

    But wait – people thought the iPod was a dumbass name as well. And, more recently, the gaming community was aghast at the Wii’s name, especially since the codename up to that point had been the much more awesome Nintendo Revolution. But you know what? now everyone just calls it the Wii and the iPod. Sometimes the former prompts sophomoric jokes, but most of the time it doesn’t. I think the same will happen here.LOSER – but that will change.

  • Software: That New York Times app was the killer one for me. Can they just license it to other newspapers please? I really would love to see the local paper in this kind of format and only in part because they have no online presence – they’re crusty old luddites over there. I still like the feel of newspapers, of sitting down on a Sunday morning with a paper over a luxuriously lazy breakfast. I don’t do that anymore, because I don’t like the newsprint, or the cleanup, or paying the damn bill. But integrated into the chunk of my funds that already goes to Apple, in a format that allows me to dig deep into articles, displays high resolution images and videos and (hopefully) interactive graphics – an amazing re-imagining of newspapers’ halcyon days.

    MLB shows that they know how to leverage new technology. The NBA has a very minimal app, minus any interesting stats. Where the hell is the NFL or NHL? Again, they need to license some of MLB’s technology, because that app was amazing.

    Finally, that Brushes app isn’t really my thing, but I see it’s potential more for touching up documents or taking notes. People can’t exactly write with their fingertips, but they can draw, and a good chunk of notetaking is drawing tables, charts, pictures, arrows, etc. When the inevitable notetaking apps appear, they better include some kind of hand touchup feature, and they should base it on Brushes.

  • This is already far longer than I wanted it to be, so the next few items will be as brief as I can be. First, some additional things we need to know, in addition to the highlighting issues above: Can we sync an iPhone or iPod to this thing (like through the dock connector to USB cord? In other words, can the average person completely ditch their computer and have just this? Because it would be wonderful to start an eBook on here, move it to the iPhone and have it open in the same spot (assuming the eReader app is integrated into the iPhone/iTouch) while you’re out and don’t have the means to carry the iPad, and then have it open back up to the place you left off on the iPhone. True portability, in other words. This might require Wifi syncing.

    Are we going to see an HDMI out dock? What about notifications? Will we ever see some kind of status screen, perhaps on the welcome screen or in some app that will stay on when plugged in? Can iBook show videos or any interactive charts?

Final thoughts. This is, in my view, a very solid product (though it doesn’t actually fill a glaring hole for me, so I won’t be picking it up). It has a really great price point, and I do see it as a first step toward a new computing workflow. Furthermore, it’s far better than any of the Windows competitors or eReaders in numerous areas. Expect to see some copycats in a couple years. Hopefully they’ll be better than the Zune.

And it’s not too late to think about v2.0. Remember, the original iPhone had about 8 apps. It was simply a phone with a great web browser, media player, and hardware. It was only through subsequent updates, mostly software, that it transformed into the juggernaut it now is. I see the iPad in the same way. There probably won’t be too many hardware changes (maybe a camera or two, a faster processor, way in the future some tactile feedback). But software changes – almost limitless. Assuming a better processor – not that this one isn’t a screamer – multitasking will be a must. Improvements in user interface. Some of the note taking issues I mentioned above. Magazine integration into the eReader. And so on. And I think that that’s when it will match the iPhone in market share. Like the iPhone, market share in a market segment they created.

I Can’t Hardly Wait.

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