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Apple Disappoints All

by on Jan.29, 2010, under technology, thoughts

Well, I wasn’t sure I was going to make a blog post about this, but I feel I have to. As I’m sure you’re well aware, Apple announced on Wednesday a new product that they guaranteed would once again revolutionize computing. It was the product people have been waiting for Apple to make, and Apple finally delivered. What is this “magical” product? It’s none other than Apple’s new tablet computer: the iPad.

But… if you’ve seen any of the press about the iPad, you might be confused by what I just wrote. Almost every tech blog I know is bashing the iPad for being an all-around crappy product. Considering myself a technology enthusiast, I can only say this: I agree. Apple had the potential to dip into a market that no one’s really gotten quite right, and create a booming industry for themselves, like they did with the iPod. It seems, however, that they’ve ruined their chance to do that. So, where did Apple go wrong? I’ll start with the obvious and most-touted answer, and I’ll try to work down to some more original points, but pretty much everything’s been covered already. However, if you do really like the iPad, keep reading to the end of the article, and I’ll try to point out what Apple has done right.

1. The Name

Perhaps you’ll say this is a crappy excuse to dislike a product, and I’ll agree with you on that at least partially. But, if you’re going to give a product a crappy name, you better have one darn good product. It’s more the fact that the product itself is so bad that makes the name that much worse, but Apple could still have better chosen the name for their tablet. Seriously… the iPad? The Internet filled with tampon jokes as soon as the name was announced. Earlier today, “iTampon” was a more popular topic on twitter than iPad was. But… the name is something we can easily get over, and the jokes will only last so long. Eventually, we’ll get used to the name, and get annoyed by people who still make fun of it.

2. It’s Nothing New

For this, we really need to delve a bit deeper into what the iPad actually is, to the consumer. The only way to answer the question “What, in essence, is the iPad?” is by saying “It’s basically a giant iPod Touch”. Before I get bashed for touting this inaccurate description, let me clarify: I realize it is not, exactly, a giant iPod Touch. It can now read books, and do some word processing and spreadsheets. It also has a built-in 3G modem (for data only). But, it’s designed to run iPhone/iPod Touch applications. We’ve seen the iPod Touch. Everyone was expecting something completely innovative, that built on the iPod Touch platform instead of just slightly expanding it, but Apple failed to deliver.

3. No Multitasking

Whether you think so or not… this is a huge deal. If multitasking weren’t important in computing, we wouldn’t see the rise of dual-, quad-, and ocho-core processors. I understand that multitasking can be a downside in mobile applications where battery life is important, but it seems like basic functionality that needs to be present in a device with a screen size larger than 5-6″. Want to leave chat open in the background, waiting for an IM, while you browse the Internet? You can’t. Want to quickly switch between checking your e-mail and word processing? You can’t. Multitasking is definitely something we take for granted on computers today, and it’s a huge mistake to leave it out of a device that is trying to revolutionize a market.

4. Built-in Battery

Apple, Apple, Apple… I was disappointed when they locked the battery into the iPhone, but most people can deal with that. Personally, I was quite upset when they decided they would do the same thing with their laptops. But now they’re trying to push ANOTHER mobile device that lacks a user-replaceable battery? Batteries on mobile devices die. Quickly. A lot of the time, this is due to poor charging habits on the part of consumers, but you can’t just ignore the fact that it happens. But… when your iPad battery eventually kicks the bucket, you won’t be able to just pick another one up and pop it in. No… now you have to deal with Apple doing that for you, and hope they still support the device in 10 years when you suddenly decide you want to use it again.

5. No e-ink

I understand why Apple didn’t include an e-ink screen, and with what they’re going for, I think it’s good that they didn’t. However… one thing they’re pushing in the iPad is the fact that it readseBooks. Anyone who has used a Kindle or similar eBook reader will tell you that an e-ink screen is the only way to read an eBook. A backlit LCD, like the one the iPad has, causes eye strain, poor visibility, etc. Nowadays, you will either have an eBook reader, or a multimedia device with an LCD. Trying to turn a device with an LCD into an eBook reader, when eBook readers have already had time to mature and become popular, was a bad idea.

6. DRM

Again, I’m disappointed in Apple, but again I’m not surprised. DRM, digital rights management, is a huge issue, especially with a device like the iPad that Apple want’s to be the “next big thing”. When Apple finally got rid of DRM in iTunes, the news was huge. No more restrictions on music you’ve paid for. If you buy something, it’s yours. That’s the way the digital world should work. However, Apple reintroduced the idea of DRM with Apps for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Well, the same DRM exists in the iPad. If Apple suddenly decides they don’t like an application, they can delete it from your iPad without even giving you notice, even if you’ve paid for it! Basically, the idea that a computer manufacturer can decide what applications you can and cannot run on your computer is ludicrous. It’s akin to Toshiba only allowing you to run Windows, and only allowing you to use Microsoft Office, because they have a special deal with Microsoft. If this happened, people would be outraged! But, for some reason, everyone seems passive about Apple doing the same thing.

7. No Physical Keyboard

I don’t care who you are, typing on a touchscreen keyboard is NOT the same as typing on a real, physical keyboard. When I type, I always rest my fingers on the keys, so I know where they are without having to look. This is impossible with a touchscreen keyboard. In fact, I find it hard to believe anyone would be able to efficiently type with both hands on the iPad: the basic idea of typing with two hands requires the iPad to be set down somewhere, and a rest of the wrists. Apple appears to envision people doing word processing on the iPad, but I can’t imagine myself typing a paper with one finger.

8. No USB Ports*

*Without a special adapter. This has been an argument against Apple in the past with their display port. Want to take video out from your laptop? You’ll need to buy a $40 adapter that only Apple sells. Want a USB port on your iPad? You’ll need to buy an adapter that only Apple sells. As USB devices become more and more ambiguous, USB ports become more and more important. The fact that a handheld computer with a screen as big as the iPad would lack a USB is ridiculous. Transferring files between computers with a thumb drive is so easy, and would be important to do word processing. Additionally, goofy USB peripherals are everywhere, and you never know what USB things you’ll run into.

9. A New Processor

This may seem like a bonus to some. Apple has invented their own processor which is supposed to be low-powered, and run fast. In fact, reports from people who have actually used the iPad say exactly this: it’s a fast device. First, I’ll note that of course it’s fast… you can only do one thing at a time. But, my real reason for this being a negative is much more geeky: we have enough processor architectures already! ARM has done an excellent job at creating processors that use very little power, and operate with extreme speed. The best part is, we know how to use an ARM processor. However, we know nothing about Apple’s new processor. This means that if you do want to use the device how you want by, say… putting Linux on it… you’ll need to wait for someone to figure out how Apple’s processor works, and then wait for someone to be able to compile code for it. Needless to say, that could take quite a while.Woops! Turns out I was wrong on this. The A4 is actually based on the ARMarchitecture. So, I’ll use a different, and slightly weaker argument.

9. No Flash

OK, so you’ve heard this argument before, but it’s worth repeating. The iPad does NOT, and probably WILL NOT have Adobe Flash. A large part of the web is based around the Flash platform, whether you like it or not. It really has become a de-facto standard. The counterargument of this point is that HTML5 and Javascript will make Flash obsolete in 2-3 years. First of all, I’ll be surprised if HTML5 video is completely standard in 2-3 years. Secondly, the problem with HTML5 video is that no one video format is supported by every HTML5-capable browser (http://diveintohtml5.org/video.html). Until this gets fixed, we’re stuck with using another solution, like Flash. Finally, there could be problems with HOW this gets fixed, and I hope the standard becomes OGV, but I doubt that’ll happen. However, which format should be standard is an argument for another post…

The Good/The Smart: A New Market

Since I’ve got nine solid items on why the iPad is a terrible device, and you shouldn’t buy it, I suppose I should give Apple one thing: they’re ingenious. Apple has created a new market. The iPad clearly isn’t intended to replace your iPhone or iPod Touch, and it’s clearly not intended to replace your laptop. It exists in a delicate balance between the two devices: enough difference to make you want it even though you have an iPhone, but underpowered enough to make you keep your laptop. The problem is, I’m not really sure if there’s a need for this market. Sure, Apple will try to convince you that you need the iPad, but I don’t see the market existing. What am I going to do with a device that’s too big to carry around with me everywhere, but not powerful enough to replace my laptop? If I’m going to be carrying a bag around anyway… I might as well just bring my laptop.

Or, better yet, I’ll buy a netbook instead of an iPad. I can do whatever I want with it, and it’s more portable and has a longer battery life than my laptop. Even better… I’ll get one of these.

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