I should probably start this piece by laying my cards on the table right away. I am a self-certified, unashamed Apple fanboy. One who will make no apologies for being so. I have bricked up all of the windows on my house in an effort to rid myself completely of the dirty “W” word, I have more of those cute Apple stickers than I now have non-Apple items to falsely re-brand, and when Steve Jobs speaks, I listen. Two of those three things are ridiculous exaggerations.
Like many of my fellow Apple-ites however, I spent around an hour and a half of 27th January 2010 rolling my face across F5, refreshing every live blog I could find. From the moment Jobs took to the Yerba Buena stage in San Francisco, with his high waistline and scruffy trainers, I hung onto his every word. Words that should have been sugar coated and dripping with tablet computer flavored honey. To my horror, the more Steve spoke, the more bitter his words began to taste. I was actually disappointed. Unfortunately, that is no exaggeration.
Things have changed since though. I have had time to reflect. The internet has had time to reflect. In America at least, the iPad is now available to pre-order, and if early estimates and surveys are to be believed, America is responding in good numbers. Pre-orders will launch to those of us here in the UK soon, but before they do, I’ve got some big decisions to make.
Do I need an iPad? Do I want an iPad?
To appreciate the iPad for what it does, or at least claims to do, it might be wise to completely forget the waves of pre-launch hysteria or expectation. To many, the iPad should have been bundled with full Mac OSX support. It should have been the new one stop solution for mobile computing, a device to make us all forget about laptops and netbooks. It should have been the future and it should have been called the iTablet or iSlate; as opposed to something that sounds like a packet of tampons.
The iPad is what it is; the third pillar of an Apple that very much sees itself as a mobile devices company. Steve doesn’t want the iPad to replace your laptop and he certainly doesn’t want the iPad to cannibalise Apple’s own hugely successful range of Macbooks. The iPad is built to fill the void between your iPhone and your Macbook Pro, taking shots across the netbook and e-reader markets in the process. That is it’s role and it’s reason to exist.
You could be forgiven for asking why we need a third pillar and where this apparent void actually is. It’s a question I’ve asked myself numerous times since late January, particularly during the presentation itself, when I hopelessly waited for Jobs to pull out the killer feature and the reason to need an iPad. It’s a device that takes several technologies and places them into a single unit, often with compromise. It’s an e-reader without the popular e-ink technology, an iPhone without the phone, a games console without any buttons, an iPod Touch with weight issues and a web browser that supports neither Flash nor multi-tasking. At a basic level, it’s hard to see what the iPad does that cannot already be achieved on an iPhone or Macbook.
Today though, I think I may have found my answer. It came not from an Apple press release or respected technology journalist, but from a humble post on a forum.
“Can you picture yourself using it?”
The question was as simple as that. I found myself coming up with an answer with just as much ease. Yes. Absolutely yes.
My current set up at home consists of a Mac Mini running as a HTPC (Home Theatre PC) whilst connected to my 42” HDTV, and as a result I have the pleasure of doing the majority of my web browsing from the comfort of my sofa, a feature which the iPad has largely taken plaudits for. Even taking this into account, I recently took afew moments to think about just how much I use my iPhone even when I am already browsing the internet at home. I am not sure whether it’s through force of habit or because the iPhone is genuinely such a convenient and pleasurable way to access my emails and internet, but even whilst sitting in front of my main computer at home, the iPhone never leaves my side. It is always within arm’s length, constantly being referred to for emails and specialist apps.
I constantly find myself using my iPhone for any number of purposes and reasons around the home, despite the presence of a more traditional computer at my disposal. Place that usability into such a nice new form factor and blow up the screen to just shy of ten inches, and the iPad should be well positioned to replace the iPhone as a secondary web browser and email device. Featuring a gorgeous looking screen, plenty of tailor made calendar, email and photo apps at your disposal and taking a lighter and thinner form than any netbook, the iPad could become the perfect sofa, bedside or kitchen companion for the casual web, email and e-reader user; something which I increasingly find myself becoming.
Assuming my Mac Mini remains seated under my TV as a HTPC, there are also going to be plenty of times when my telly addict fiancee will need to satisfy her needs, presumably with the Wedding channel or some other rubbish. If I can score brownie points by staying on the sofa and not buggering off upstairs into a darkened room, using the iPad to post my ramblings to Tap while still “spending time” with her, than the iPad will just about pay for itself. She can even use it to check Facebook during the commercials, if she can successfully snatch it from my kung-fu like grip.
Outside of the home, I can also envisage myself using the iPad while on the go. I have contemplated buying a laptop or netbook for some time, as the idea of added computing power on the road is something that interests me. However, for all of the iPhones charms, it is not without limitations and much of the extra power of a Macbook would probably be wasted on my rather limited mobile computing requirements. While I certainly don’t expect to be able to pen a novel on the iPad, for short-to-medium length blog posts and note taking it could be a worthy accompaniment to my mobile life. I’m sure the keyboard will take some getting used to of course, but so did the iPhones. I wasn’t able to type as many words per minute on a physical QWERTY as I can now when I acquired my first PC aged around 12 years old, either. I am prepared to learn and prepared to adapt to an on-screen keyboard that I am almost certain is going to be better than that of the iPhone, at the very least.
I can see myself using the iPad at home and I can see myself using the iPad on the road, ticking both boxes of the question posed earlier. The lack of a camera doesn’t bother me, as I will always have my iPhone for impromptu pictures and I have never before taken part in a video call. The lack of Flash doesn’t bother me, as the websites I use the most barely use Flash themselves, and only to minimal use when they do. I also remain convinced that multi-tasking is coming in the form of a software update with OS 4.0, so it’s exclusion as of writing is an issue I am willing to forgive in the short term.
So what is holding me back?
For all the justification I can apply to the iPad, it still doesn’t jump out at me as a must own product. Highly desirable it may be, but for me the iPad still lacks that killer feature which would make a discussion like this one irrelevant.
The lack of information from Apple regarding UK pricing is also becoming increasingly annoying. In my head I have a mental barrier regarding how much I am willing to pay for each different model and a straight conversion from dollars to pounds places almost all of them below my targets, but unfortunately exchange rates often count for little on these shores. Until Apple confirm a pricing structure for both the 3G and WiFi models, my purchasing decision remains in limbo.
I also hold reservations regarding being an early adopter. Although the iPad will be far from my first Apple product, it may potentially be the first that I have bought at launch, and Apple do not have a great reputation when it comes to first generation hardware. Having said that, Apple now have close to 4 years of experience with this UI on iPhone, so perhaps it would be short sighted to expect the same teething problems that have marred some of their previous hardware launches in the past.
Perhaps the best solution here would simply to point you to Stephen Fry’s excellent (and very much hands-on) report on the iPad. If it’s good enough for Stephen Fry…
All this said however, this is only the start of my iPad adventure. Part One may very well be an attempt to justify the iPad for what it does right or on the basis of potential, but the crucial stage will be Part Two; actually pre-ordering one. Whether I take the plunge or not, I’ll be explaining my reasons for my decision when the time comes.
Do I need an iPad? Probably not. Do I want an iPad? Of course I do. Don’t be surprised to see Part Three: The Review some time in May.