Apple, Cut That Cord

As I think back to opening up my new iPad, two things stand out. First, the product packaging is delightfully minimal. It does not even contain media with the iTunes software, instead explaining that the first step is to download iTunes.

Second, a new iPad does not work at all until syncing it with a PC (Mac or Windows) via the included USB cable. I find this surprising because, in so many other ways, the iPad is a great device for someone who wants access to basic computing capabilities (web, email, casual games) without caring about the complexity of a PC. Yet such a user must already have a computer, with all its (potentially very-un-Apple) complexity, to use an iPad. The polished experience is potentially debased by being plugged in to a $200 closeout PC, just to get it running.

The need for iTunes seems quite justifiable in smaller Apple iDevices; but for the iPad, I can’t help but notice its specs are ample to be self-contained.

Even for those of us who will sync to a PC, why the cord? The iPad has WiFi and Bluetooth, as do most PCs nowadays. Plugging in that wire to sync seems utterly antiquated. Apple could could scrap that many-pinned proprietary port, and replace with a much simpler power plug, which would also free it from the pitiful rate of charge provided by USB. An iPad could have a MagSafe charger, and charge up more safely and in 1/2 the time.

Apple, cut that cord!

My iPad is (unfortunately, mostly) a toy

Some pundits have declared the iPad a “toy”, or suited only for content consumption. I disagreed with the latter a few days ago, and I think it will have some very interesting business uses. If I come up with a sufficiently novel one, Oasis Digital might implement it.

But sadly I must mostly agree, for at least my personal use of iPad v1, with the “toy” assessment. Here’s why.

I like to hand this iPad (I wrote the first draft of this post on it) to other people to try out, to my kids to play with, to sit it out as a novelty for guests, etc. But if I set it up as a personal tool, with my email, calendar, Twitter, Facebook, other accounts, work related files, etc., then I’d be handing access to all that personal and business information to everyone I offer the iPad to. Clearing out and re-entering my accounts from a whole pile of apps (and Safari, and Mail, and ???) is tedious and error-prone. My personal accounts include occasional bits of my (and our customers’) proprietary information, so leaving them present for guests is clearly unacceptable. Thus, for now this iPad can be only a toy to me. I occasionally set up email, then remove it; set up Twitter, then remove it, etc. I type some notes, then email them to myself, and remove them.

The key missing feature of the iPad, for me, isn’t a camera, a USB port, or an SD slot – it is the lack of a user account/profile capability. My Ubuntu netbook, at half the cost, has this capability in the box.

This isn’t much of an issue with an iPhone, which by nature of being a phone, is inherently almost always a personal (not shared / guest) device.

This isn’t much of an issue with an iPod Touch, at least for me, because I already use it as a guest/toy only anyway.

I suspect that Apple won’t add an account/profile mechanism anytime soon; it is easier to therefore ignore a mixed personal / guest use case like mine. If Oasis Digital ends up with a line of iPad software, we’ll work around the problem by buying more iPads.

But in the meantime, I like the share the one I have – so I must configure it primarily as a toy.

iPad: Not Only for Content Consumption

Like 300,000 other people, I have a shiny new iPad in hand. Here is my very short review:

Apple is going to sell a huge pile of these things.

Expanding on that…

Lots of other companies are going to sell an enormous pile of apps for the iPad. From the point of view of a maker of software, this is a very appealing market. As with the iPhone before it though, my main concern is that it is such an appealing market, that is might actually have an unfavorable ratio of developers to customers.

Other hardware and software makers are either in panic mode, or they should be and will suffer if they aren’t.

The device and its software are remarkably polished and ready for wide use, primarily for content consumption. There are many commentaries out there about the iPad as a device only for consumption, citing the lack of a keyboard and camera among other factors. While the lack of a camera in iPad v1 is a bit annoying, I expect that to be fixed in the next version (2011?). Regarding the keyboard, I am also a fan of physical keyboards, but I was able to write the first draft of this post on an iPad without much difficulty. It is clearly unsuitable for writing many pages of text or extensive editing, but quite sufficient for blog posts, tweets, organizing and naming photographs, short emails, and many other minor-data-entry tasks done every day.

On the other hand, I generally agree with the many comments out there about open vs. closed systems, and I am a fan mostly of the former. We are in a situation right now where is one particular closed system has a great lead on the open alternatives, a situation I expect to continue for a few years but not much longer. The hardware design needed to make the iPad work is currently an area where Apple is well ahead of its competition; but they will catch up. Android devices with a similar form factor, battery life, and somewhat-as-polished user experience will appear.

The biggest surprise so far is Pages – it works much better than I expected (which was admittedly a low bar). A related annoyance is that Pages documents don’t automatically sync in iTunes; rather iTunes provides a GUI by which I can manually copy Pages files back and forth.

The second biggest surprise is my impression of the size of the iPad. I had expected it to feel a bit too small; instead, I think it’s actually a bit too large. I wouldn’t be surprised to see v2 feature a screen 1/2 inch smaller, and overall size 1 inch smaller.

As I expected, for me an iPad is an adjunct to my real computers. My work involves extensive use of multitasking, keyboard, pixel-accurate mouse positioning, large hierarchical collections of files, and all the other things that modern “real” computers are well suited for. I don’t see this as problem for the iPad though; for it to succeed, it is not necessary for grown-up computers to fail. It doesn’t even need netbooks to fail.

Lastly, it has been observed that iPad use requires a knees-up sitting position, and I can confirm this is true. There isn’t a good way to rest an iPad and have both hands free to use it, while tilting it to a reasonable viewing angle, other than with one’s knees up.

iPad: Yet Another Opinion

Here are my initial, general thoughts about the much-hyped iPad. Clearly the world doesn’t need another blog post about this, but it sets the stage for something coming next.

  • As many have observed, iPad is most easily summarized as a larger iPod Touch, plus some of the mobile data capability of an iPhone. Although this has been expressed widely as a criticism, I note that a very large number of people have bought an iPod Touch or iPhone.
  • By making the iPad fit the above description so well, I fear that there is a tinge of Apple playing it safe for Wall Street. Playing it safe, has not been the strategy that invigorated Apple (and its financial performance) over the last decade.
  • This iPad “1.0” is somewhat short on hardware features. I suspect a second generation device will arrive in 2011 with a few more ports, more storage, more wireless, etc. 1.0 only has to be good enough to prime the market for 2.0.
  • The screen needs more pixels; the resolution / DPI is unimpressive. Also, OLED would have been nice; but Apple had to trade off some things to get to a price point, and the screen technology was obviously one of them.
  • The battery life Apple claims, even if it is vaguely close to reality, is fantastic.
  • I am surprised at the lack of a video camera.
  • I expect to see some kind of trivial tethering interoperation between iPad and iPhone over Bluetooth, sometime in the next couple of revisions of both products. I suspect that loyal Apple fans carrying an iPhone 3GS will end up able to use their iPhone mobile voice/data service for both devices… possibly with some extra monthly service charge.
  • iPad 1.0 will not replace Kindle or other eBook readers, though it might slow their sales growth a bit. But what about iPad 2.0, 3.0, with a better screen and even longer battery life? Once a beautiful color LCD device is good enough, monochrome eInk will be a very tough sell.
  • I will quite likely buy an iPad shortly after it ships; but I’ll be buying perhaps 25% to enjoy it as a consumer, and 75% as a means of more fully understanding the industry importance of the tablet form factor.
  • As a user of a “real” Apple computer (a MacBook Pro running OSX 10.6), I find the closed App Store software distribution model something of a disappointment, compared to a tablet form factor Mac OSX PC I could easily imagine; but I have another blog post coming about that in a few days, after I get some real (non-punditry) work out the door.