Saturday, April 24, 2010

Is the iPad a laptop replacement.

Short answer : No.

Slight more accurate answer : It could be, but for a few design decisions.

First off, the hardware. I love hardware. I love virtual keyboards rather than real ones. I love the screen and the form factor. I don't want or care about the so-called missing camera because the form factor is stupid to use as a camera. A forward facing iChat style camera would make more sense, but I don't use the one in my Macbook all that often so no big deal there ether.

The processor and the memory are fine: it was not all that long ago that I was running Linux on hardware with less memory and CPU power, and using it as my daily laptop. The hardware is responsive on all the apps I run, and that is the main thing. Clearly it is not a platform for rendering movies. No problem there: I would not do that on my laptop either.

The hardware supports standard USB, which is nice, and even if it will not charge off every USB port out there, I do not fault Apple for that. The 10 hour+ run time came from having big batteries, and big batteries at the 5 volts of USB means you need amps to charge them. The charger that comes with unit is 10 amps. Most USB ports are half an amp or less. This not Apple being dunderheads. This is Apple unable to repeal the laws of physics.

The Software

At the core of the iPad is UNIX. BSD, in the OS.X flavoring. In a word: Beauty. During the iPhone kick off, Steve Jobs mentioned, after talking about all the things an iPhone could do, that all the functional goodness and richness was enabled by having a real, full fledged operating system at the core rather than some stripped down special purpose embedded OS ( I am paraphrasing there. ). That concept applies double for the iPad. It's massive capabilities start by having one of the best operating systems currently going (other than Linux of course) at it's juicy center.

Layered over the base OS are all the things that make OS.X a lovely place to spend time. Things like the user interface, and all the optimizations for small form factors from the iPhone. Added to that are all the apps from the iPhone ecosystem, plus the new ones that are dual mode or iPad specific. That all adds up to having apps for just about everything I want. Almost.

The Problem

There are some flies in the ointment. First and foremost is the idea that the iPad is tethered to iTunes. I am glad it can sync to iTunes. It is a good way to load content. But at the same time it makes the otherwise independent OS and hardware dependent. ITunes and it's wired relationship to the iPad make it so that sooner or later, you have to come back. To a laptop or a desktop: does not matter. That sync cable is the iPads drug habit.

Not being able to sync over Bluetooth or wifi is frankly not a technical decision. it is just a way to make sure that everyone has to use the cable. the 30 pin patented cable. When that patent expires we'll either see a new cable, or we'll see wireless sync enabled. Or we'll see a USB standard cable. something that makes more sense than the 30 pin unit in any case.

Then there is the lack of a media slot, except via the 30 pin slot and an adapter. It is not that there was no room for an SD slot. That is just engineering. It is that controlling access to the iPad requires the 30 pin gateway.

The same things are true in various ways about media. the iPad could play a .avi if Apple wanted it too, if nothing else than via VLC. A browser that was better than Safari could be allowed. Something not so brain dead as to not be able to play Flash. The idea that Flash is a battery hog is hogwash. We are adults. We get it. We could choose what to do with our battery life. And Adobe could fix Flash. Chrome is a better browser than Safari these days, but by keeping everything gated we are prevented from having a better experience that we are currently having. It is not that what we have is not good. It is just at it is not as good as it could be.

The Good News

Unlike the iPhone, where Apple enjoyed at least 2 years of unchallenged dominance before Android finally stepped up the plate hardware and software wise, the iPad will not have nearly as long before there are viable alternatives. Those tablet alternatives will be Android powered too, and even if you never switch to Android, Android will make he iPad a better place to be.

Android will run Flash. Android will have more syncing options. Android will have SD slots and standard USB ports. Android tablets will function as laptop replacements, or at the very least make it so that you can run far longer away from the mothership than the iPad currently can.

Apple will than face the choice to try and sue anyone and anything that is better than them, which will not make them friends, and will not make them popular, and will make it so that they ultimately lose, or they will compete. The will add the missing features, and unblock the currently blocked functionality.

Then we all will win. I love my iPad, but I will give it to a family member and switch to something Android powered in a heartbeat if Apple does not get it right going forward. I moved my family off Microsoft systems years ago. I do not need Apple either, unless they treat me the way I want to be treated as a customer. I like Apple, so I hope they get that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Richard Meyer said...

Hi Steve, Just a point - you said "I do need Apple either, unless they treat me the way I want to be treated as a customer." in the second to last sentence, I suspect you may mean "I do NOT need Apple ...".

As for me - it'll be a cool day in Hades before I buy Apple AGAIN - since in the 80's Apple pulled out of South Africa, leaving me high abd dry with my Apple ][e Europlus, to try to sell to China (Red China in those halcyon days). They didn't need me, and weren't around for warranties, so I won't buy from them.

They have good ideas, though, and I buy their ideas as implemented elsewhere.

All the best.

Steve Carl said...

Thanks Richard: Just fixed that. That was not a problem with a virtual keyboard, just me typing slower than my brain again. Happens on real keyboards too.

Thank you also for your point (and your point of view!) about Apple and the markets they serve. I know the US, being Apples home market, is often served better than elsewhere in the world. I have always had fabulous service here in the states, the few times I have needed it, mostly for iPhones. I have not yet had to have anything done to iBooks/Macbooks, and there are six or seven of those in the extended family. Of course I broke the warrantee on most of them when I added non-standard parts....