My Thoughts on The Apple iPad

If you’re like me, then you’ve been inundated with opinion pieces and reviews of Apple’s new device, the “iPad”.

Being a self-confessed gadget consumer and Apple fanboy, I’ve been asked quite a bit about my thoughts about the iPad. So, I thought I’d document my perspective here.

Evolution or Revolution?

The question of whether the iPad is really a revolution or an evolution of existing technology has been hotly debated.

Personally – “It’s both”.

Sounds like a bit of fence-sitting. But it’s true.

It’s clearly an evolution as it is really a large iPod Touch. The same interface, just larger.

But this is exactly WHY it’s a revolution. Just like the success of the iPod Touch and iPhone family of products.

When you get your iPhone or iPod touch, it literally doesn’t come with a manual. It tells you about 5 things you need to know, and then “you’re on your own”.

This is because the interface is so simple and intuitive, you simply DON’T NEED a manual.

I’ve witnessed 2 year old children and 85 year old grandparents using the touch inteface with ease.

“Big deal” you say?

It IS a big deal.

Why?

The iPad extends this revolutionary user interface for GENERAL COMPUTING!

The iPhone family of products are restricted due to processing power and screen real estate to the kinds of computing problems that they can solve.

This is a good and bad thing. It’s good thing in that it forces application designers to really think about their apps and release “less features” – it’s 37 Signals’ “Getting Real” way of thinking. We end up with more-focused applications that are naturally easier to use, and end up being better, by doing less.

It’s a bad thing in that a whole class of applications, such as productivity applications, are really difficult to build for such a tiny screen.

The iPad’s larger interface and more powerful processor have opened up a whole new class of applications that all use the highly-intuitive touch interface. And this is a BIG DEAL!

For those who haven’t watched the keynote, I urge you to watch the iWork section.

They’ve taken three incredibly powerful and complicated applications (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) and ported them to the iPad’s touch interface.

What you end up with is completely different from the OS X experience of these applications, which are ALREADY, vastly simpler to use and more expressive than their Microsoft counterparts.

These applications are almost child-like in their simplicity. All through the demonstration, I was thinking “I’m sure they had to cut out functionality”. And by the end of the presentation it was clear that they hadn’t!

This is astounding!

The complete power and expressiveness of the iWork family had been re-imagined for the touch interface, and they’re so easy a child could use them!

This is truly game-changing. A whole class of complex applications will be able to be ported to this platform, and made more accessible for the “rest of us”.

My sentiments have been echoed across the Internet. I’ve seen plenty of people say: “I’m going to get this for my grandparents”.

In the past I’ve heard from my own friends, that they much prefer to get their parents or grandparents a Mac simply because they get less “helpdesk support requests”.

What a great testimony of the ease-of-use of OS X. But this makes OS X look like a hard-core computer hacker’s operating system (which it is by the way – it’s just hidden behind the Terminal App), in comparison.

What this means is that a WHOLE NEW CLASS of people – people who couldn’t use computers, or who struggled to achieve a decent level of competence on normal computers – have now been “included”. How big is this demographic? Well, based on the birth curve of the aging Baby Boomer generation which controls most of the money, I would say – it’s significant!

So, by extending a “zero learning” interface to general computing – Apple has generated a GAME CHANGER!

Is it evolutionary? Yes. is it revolutionary? Definitely!

90% is Good Enough

While Steve Jobs has tried to position the iPad as something between an iPhone and a Laptop, for many people this WILL be a laptop or desktop replacement.

Why?

Let me explain:

When I first moved over to the Mac OS X operating system, do you know what I noticed?

Well, a bunch of things (like how computers don’t have to be so darned hard to use!).

But the main thing that struck me was that it was a REALLY EASY transition because my main uses of the computer were email and web browsing. And because I am an avid user of Gmail, 80% of my day-to-day use of a computer occurred in a web-browser!

So, it wasn’t that it was really easy to move to OS X, but more that it was really easy to move to ANY operating system that had decent web browser and email support.

And for the 20% of other things that I do with the computer -like writing software, web development and graphic design – the OS X alternatives were much easier and simply MORE ENJOYABLE to use!

When I first got my iPhone (I admit to buying every iPhone: the 2G, 3G and now 3GS) I realized the same thing.

The iPhone OS was the first smart-phone OS that had a GREAT web experience on a tiny phone. And this was revolutionary. I realized that about 80% of my web-browsing could be achieved on a tiny screen!

And the iPhone mail client was brilliant. I could handle 80% of my email reading and replying on the iPhone.

In other words, a large part of what I used a laptop for could be achieved on my iPhone.

And as much as I originally hated the on-screen keyboard, I realize that I can now type MUCH FASTER on the onscreen keyboard than on my Palm Treo 650 that had a physical keyboard. Why? Mainly because of the “slide” technique that @ed_dale taught me. It means that I can type a capital letter in a single gesture sliding my thumb from “shift” to a letter, allowing a really rapid typing experience.

Do I still crave a keyboard? Absolutely. I’m writing this blog post on my Macbook Pro, because I can still type much faster on it, with less mistakes.

But the 80% experience on the iPhone is “good enough”.

In software engineering we call these different scenarios of usage (eg. web-browsing, email, typing) a “use case scenario”.

And the current iPhone out-of-the-box covers about 60-70% of common usage scenarios.

And with a few other paid iPhone apps, you can get to about 80% of common use cases quite easily.

In fact, it was actually better than OS X in one major use case scenario – “Games”. There are many more games available on the iPhone than on Apple’s OS X.

The iPhone might not necessarily be the most efficient or quickest way to execute each use case scenario, but you can get the job done. And I truly believe in the old photography mantra:

“The best camera is the one that you have on you”

So similarly, in computing:

“The best computer is that the one that’s in your pocket”

Which is why I absolutely LOVE my iPhone. I can get a lot done WHERE-EVER I am. It’s great.

So what about that last 10-20%…

Stuff like:

  • Creating complex documents such as complex word processing tasks
  • Creating Spreadsheets
  • Creating Presentations
  • Watching TV / Movies
  • Editing Photos
  • Drawing
  • Software Development

There are two pre-conditions for these use case scenarios:

  1. The capability to use a larger screen.
  2. A better data input method.

These two pre-conditions have been met with the iPad.

The iPad has a 1024×768 screen, which is actually larger than a similar screen on a mac or PC because most of the apps have minimal “chrome”, which is to say that most apps use the entire screen and are not hampered by menu bars, etc. As well as this, you can plug your iPad into a large monitor or projector if you need a larger physical display size.

The iPad comes with a great onscreen keyboard that’s a similar size as a physical keyboard, making it much more attractive to use than the already quite good iPhone keyboard.

But more importantly, they’ve given us the ability to use a physical keyboard (via USB or Bluetooth) to enter data! I’ve been praying for this for the iPhone for years! I know there’s a way to JailBreak my iPhone to do this (which I’ve done multiple times), but I avoid JailBreaking my IPhone if I can (for reasons of stability and being able to easily upgrade my iPhone with each firmware update).

I’ve always envisioned that our iPhones will eventually “become” our computers. Either via cable or via wireless HDMI (an emerging wireless display standard), our iPhones will simply sit in our pocket while we use a wireless display and keyboard on our desks at work.. Some day soon perhaps?

So, what’s my point?

For 80% of the computer-using population, the iPad will facilitate over 90% of the core use case scenarios for a computer – AND – it will in fact replace the laptop/desktop computer for many.

Granted, a lot of people who already use laptops may not be prepared to give up the last 10% of use cases to “step down” to an iPad. But I can tell you, there will be many others who simply won’t need to “step up” to a laptop computer. Road warriors and the technically illiterate for example, will be more than happy to “make do” with the iPad.

Will the iPad succeed?

My prediction is a resounding “Yes” ..
… AND…”No”.

Wow, I’m really sitting on the fence again, aren’t I?

Yes, it will succeed because…

… it will open up computing to a whole generation of people to which computing was simply inaccessible. This means, people who are computer illiterate, for which the iPhone OS’s intuitive interface will allow them to be productive in a way that would have been virtually impossible on a traditional computer.

And also to the “mobile worker”. These are vertical markets including professions such as Doctors, Auditors, Police, etc. People for whom sitting down and using a keyboard is just not a great option. The Medical sector has traditionally been one of the first to adopt mobile computing solutions, such as the Palm Pilot, iPhone and Tablet Computers.

But Table Computers have been traditionally very expensive. At only $499, a whole new group of vertical markets will find the iPad is just what they need but have never been able to get: A low-cost, mobile, computing device.

No, it won’t be successful, because…

… It simply can’t be. The iPhone was successful because:

  1. It was a super-cool device
  2. Everyone needs a phone and there are simply more phones out there than computers
  3. People buy phones on contract, and therefore have their phones subsidized by carriers
  4. People’s contracts expire every 1-3 years, forcing a purchasing decision.

Therefore, by sheer numbers of people, a 10 or 20% share of the cell phone market translates to a LOT OF UNITS!

So, when people have their contract up for renewal, and then can get an iPhone for what they ARE ALREADY PAYING (very important), then it’s a no-brainer.

This simply isn’t the case for laptop computers.

Computers in general last a LOT LONGER than they used to. Therefore, people simply don’t NEED to upgrade. They WANT to upgrade, sure, with each new cool laptop that hits the market, but they don’t NEED to.

People usually buy their laptops with cash. A few people finance their purchase, but they are still the minority (particularly with the falling pricing of laptop computers). Thus, there is no natural buying cycle like there is with laptops.

But the main reason is, regardless of how cool the iPad is, you CAN do EVERYTHING on a laptop that you can do on an iPad. There is no pressing NEED to move over.

Sure, it might be cooler, or easier or shinier to do on an iPad, but as I write this blog post there is no iPad “killer app” – something you can do on the iPad that can’t be done on a laptop.

For many people Twitter was one of the killer apps which made people WANT to go over to the iPhone.

I’m sure there will be some killer app that will come out. But surfing the web on the couch is not it. Even though it WILL be a better experience.

“Better” is not good enough

In the past Apple has succeeded by NOT being the first company in the market for a product, but by creating a “better” product; that is, better designed in every sense of the word.

They were not the first MP3 player, they weren’t the first laptop computer, they weren’t the first smart phone. They were “better”, in terms of “user experience”.

They jumped into well-established, growing markets, and dominated (yes, even in the laptop industry. While Apple don’t sell as many units as Dell or Compaq, they make the lion’s share of the profits).

The difference with an iPad, is that while there is an established Tablet market, it has for the most part failed.

There have been Windows Tablet devices for years, but they’ve never been more than a few percentage points of PC sales.

Part of this is due to price point, and part of it is trying to put a touch screen on top of a non-touch OS – it just doesn’t work that well.

But still, it boils down to the fact that there are very few “killer app” mobile computing scenarios that would drive enough of the market to want to use a tablet. I just don’t think the numbers are there.

I could be wrong – if the iPad takes off in the less computer-literate ageing Baby Boomer generation, it might be a runaway hit. But the jury’s still out on this.

So, what does this mean?

It means that the iPad is likely to succeed as the dominant Tablet platform, but just don’t expect them to ever sell as many iPads as they would iPhones or Macbooks.

The numbers just simply aren’t there. It’s not Apple’s fault. It’s just the structure of the market.

And you can’t fight the market.

But they will definitely sell millions of these things, make plenty of profit, or turn the general computing market upside down in doing it. Just don’t expect every second person to own an iPad..that’ll be very unlikely.

The Criticism

A word about the rampant criticism that is filling the interwebs about the iPad. The same response greeted the iPhone. It was only a few years ago, which is the technological equivalent of a decade ago… but the iPhone got the same reactions. It’s not to say that the critics are always wrong, but take their comments with a grain of salt.

It is only after touching an iPod Touch or iPhone for oneself, that most people are “hooked”. For me, it was the first moment I went into the local electronics store and played with a demo iPod Touch. It astounded me with the simplicity and beauty of the interface.

It’s interesting to note that when people actually got to physically TOUCH the iPad, most of the resulting reviews were very positive. Most of the naysayers have been people who are just reading off the tech specs and generating their opinions at second hand (myself included!)

Apple is about experience. Experience can’t be measured by photos and technical specifications. It can only be measured by hours spent with the device. There are only a handful of people on the planet who have had that luxury.

The ultimate litmus test will be when we get to touch and use this device for a while, and then stare at our heavy, heat-generating, battery-sucking laptops and have the strong nner urge to NOT use the laptop (it’s too hard), and instead hold on to the iPad.

This is me – curled up in bed in the morning using my iPhone to process email, read the news and check the twitters.

There will be hundreds of scenarios where we’ll be forced to choose between our iPhone, our iPad and our Laptop. The number of times that we say “yes” to the iPad and “no” to the Laptop will be the true test of the iPad’s success.

To answer some of the criticism, however:

  • No camera – yep. This sux. This is my number one complaint. A forward facing camera would have enabled an really cool space-age Skype Video Chatting application. There’s plenty of room in that big black bezel, even the SDK has the provision for it. So, it’s either going to come out in the next iteration of this product, or as an accessory that plugs into the dock connector. My gut feeling is that it got pulled to reduce cost, to hit cost targets. It’s a shame. But then again, perhaps it’s an application better suited to the next iPhone?

  • No multitasking – There are rumors that this will come out in iPhone OS 4.0. This is a software issue, and can be fixed in the future with a simple software update. Just because it doesn’t have it now, doesn’t mean that it’s not coming.

    However, I haven’t missed multitasking as much as I might have on the iPhone OS. The major way to communicate between apps is the clipboard (now that we have one!).

    The new iPad SDK does allow applications to share documents with each other, however. This will allow better collaboration between applications. I also predict there’ll be some 3rd party standard that will take advantage of this capability and allow apps to communicate with each other through a shared file system.

    The thing that I miss the most on the iPhone OS is background processing. This is also rumored to be coming in iPhone OS. There are some definite use cases (like playing Pandora in the background, or updating your GPS location every few minutes), that will only work with some sort of background processing, that can’t be supported with push notifications.

    Again, I’m hopeful that this will improve with time, or a new, improved ways to achieve a multi-tasking experience will emerge.

  • No flash – I’m definitely in “Flash Sux” camp. It’s the #1 reason for browser crashes. So much so, that both Safari and Google’s Chrome browser have been working more and more to “sandbox” Flash to stop it ruining the browsing experience. HTML 5 is around the corner, and can do most of what Flash can do in a standards-compliant way that’s not dependent on a corporation’s arbitrary standards. Flash has been great in bringing the web this far, but it has ceased to be useful.

  • Doesn’t run OS X – I’m sorry, a touch device needs to run a touch operating system. I’m sure the device will be hacked within a few months and OS X will be coerced to run on this (or some linux variant).. but this sort of misses the point and won’t be a viable alternative for anyone.

  • Micro-Sim – This is a bit annoying. I like buying pre-paid SIM cards (the full-size ones) to use with my iPhone while I travel. It will be a LONG time before the world embraces this standard, particularly since there is very little hardware that can even run these SIMs. I really hope that they enable tethering with an iPhone so I don’t have to worry about buying another data plan, and I can even consider just getting the cheaper (non-3G) version of the iPad. Though, the non-3G version doesn’t come with GPS, which is a bit annoying.

  • No-Stylus – Not a problem. You can already get a stylus for the iPad. The Pogo Sketch and Pogo Stylus already work with the iPhone and will work with the iPad. I’m surprised many people don’t know this!

Open or Closed?

It’s interesting that the biggest proponent of openness and shackling control in 1984 was Apple, when they launched their Macintosh with their famous superbowl commercial, against the PC.

Fastforward to 2010 – where they’ve become the symbol of control and dictatorship.

Even Microsoft has picked up on this and in their response to the iPad made comment on the closed nature of the Apple ecosystem. Wow, how times have changed!

This is sad. I don’t support Apple’s stance on App approval. It stands in the way of innnovation.

I’m not against an approval process. Having a standard to adhere to benefits users. It’s just that the standard is arbitrary, and if your innovation challenges something that Apple has in the pipeline, or could “confuse” “stupid” users, they give it the thumbs down – after you’ve already spent thousands of hours and dollars pouring your heart and soul into development. And it doesn’t matter who you are – even Google and Skype failed to exercise any leverage!

Just be upfront about the standards, what the rules are, be happy when someone out-apples Apple, and that’s fine. It’s all the secret arbitrariness garbage that is wrong.

However, a lot of the reason for Apple’s rejections (in relation to the use of undocumented APIs and features of iPhone OS) are because they’re trying very hard to maintain forward compatibility for their “end game”. Needless to say, the first example of this is the Apple iPad.

I do expect that the AppStore approval policies will become more relaxed and more transparent with time. Here’s hoping anyway!

One thing we DO know, as we saw with the first iPhone AppStore, is that the first iPad applications will be given some leeway, as Apple strives to maximize the number of iPad-enhanced apps that hit the AppStore before launch date.

The Possibilities

What really excited me about the iPhone when it first came out was NOT the stuff that I knew it could do. It was the anticipation of yet-unborn cool apps – those things that I couldn’t possibly imagine, but which, once met, over time, I wouldn’t be able to live without.

For me some of these apps are:

  • Kindle – I own 2 Kindle devices, but you know what they say: “The best ebook reader is the one that’s in your pocket”. I have over 100 books in my pocket at any time!

  • NetNewsWire – my personalized newspaper that keeps me connected to the world of my interests

  • TomTom – I have NO sense of direction (I’ve been lost twice using a GPS; twice I’ve been lost in the vertical dimension!). I can’t live without this app. It’s my personal equivalent of a Bionic Ear to a deaf person! It gives me the confidence to go places I’ve never been to. It really has changed my life!

  • Twittelator Pro – My gateway to the twitterverse.

  • Google Maps – I can find anything, anywhere, any time. The perfect tool when you’re overseas.

  • Ebay – It’s never been more ridiculously easy to buy something. Click-click and it’s on its way! I wish the website was as easy.

  • DropBox – my entire digital life available to me anywhere!

  • Voxie – amazing transcription service. Simply record, and minutes later you have a written transcript and a link to the audio to download. Content creation has NEVER been easier.

  • Video Recorder – video publishing at the speed of thought. A game changer. Leave the Flip Mino at home!

  • Pocket Weather – Get the weather forecast AND a weather radar that you can use to predict when and if it will rain, based on your GPS location. Too cool.

  • Youtube – share those viral videos with friends at lunch.

  • Shazam – listens to any ambient music, and then tells you the song name and artist and gives you a link to buy it.

  • iTunes Store – buy any song at the speed of thought.

  • iTimeZone – quickly plan meetings with people on this stupid round planet!

  • Whiteboard Pro – Take a snapshot of a whiteboard, and email it as a PDF. Very useful.

  • WebMD – self-diagnose your imaginary disease!

  • Pzizz – Powernaps at the press of a button.

… and I could go on and on…

There are bound to be thousands of “must have” killer-apps that will be made possible on the iPad, that we can’t even imagine yet. And that’s what’s really exciting.

Some really cool things that the iPad will enable

Based on the demos through the Apple Keynote, and some ideas floating around the interwebs, there will be some amazing apps that will come out for the iPad:

  • We’ve already seen the amazing “Brushes” app running on the iPad. With a Pogo Sketch pen, this will be even more amazing. I’m personally looking for some sort of 3×5 style note taking application- like an iPad version of “Scrivener”

  • The scope for really cool collaborative applications, like shared whiteboards, etc is a no-brainer for this device.

  • Interactive TV – the iPad MLB video application coolness factor seems to have escaped most of the tech press. As TV become less and less relevant, and online video distribution continues to become mainstream, the promise of interactive TV may be unlocked through devices like the iPad. Custom Apps that stream and augment video with additional interactive components will most likely get more penetration than interactive cable TV ever will.

  • iLife / Media Editing apps – I predict that iLife will be ported to the iPad just as iWork was (duh!). Apps such as iMovie and Garage band will be a natural fit, as well as some sort of USB Midi input. Imagine a full-screen musical keyboard on the iPad!

    There are some really cool possibilities. Video editing on an iPad version of iMovie, for instance – picture “Minority Report”-style video manipulation. Video editing on the iPhone is limited – due to screen real estate and processing power. The iPad should enable much more powerful media editing abilities.

Some problems that still need to be overcome

There are still things we don’t know that I believe will be key to improving the adoption curve of the iPad:

  • Tethering – The obvious first customers of the iPad will be existing iPhone and iPod touch owners. iPhone owners don’t want to buy ANOTHER data plan, and would much prefer to tether their iPad to their existing iPhone data plans (not possible in the US without jailbreaking – but certainly works well outside the US). iPod touch owners would most likely buy the iPad with the 3G option, and would love to tether their iPod touch to their iPad. Either way, bluetooth tethering – as it is a low power tethering technology – will certainly grease the wheels of adoption.

  • Cloud support – for this device to co-exist with a laptop or iPhone, there needs to be an easy way to have all your core files easily accessible between your devices. Services such as DropBox and Apple’s MobileMe can make this possible. Knowing Apple, I’m sure they’d only allow it to happen easily with their MobileMe service, which would be a shame, as MobileMe pales in comparison to services such as DropBox. But… here’s hoping!

Apple’s Biggest iPad Competitor is…

… Apple!

The iPhone is a powerful device. It’s good for over 60-70% of all common computing scenarios. If iPhone OS 4.0 does trickle down much-needed features such as Bluetooth/USB keyboard support and multi-tasking, then this threatens the iPad’s wider adoption. If iPhone 4.0 allows you to plug a VGA monitor into an iPhone (like we see during every iPhone keynote presentation), then again, the iPad becomes less attractive again.

But Steve Jobs has gone on record as saying that if anyone is going to put them out of business, then it should be themselves!

Some Comments about the Apple “SteveNote”

This wasn’t Apple’s best sales pitch ever . The crowd certainly wasn’t wowed by anything other than the low entry price.

Steve is famous for coming up with killer slogans which the media pick up and run with, un-edited – such as “The world’s thinnest laptop” when it released the Macbook Air.

Steve’s marketing slogan this time was:

“Our most advanced technology in a magical and revolutionary device at an unbelievable price.”

Which aside from the rhyming, says NOTHING, is cumbersome and ultimately forgettable.

Fail.

If I was running marketing for Apple, rather than position the iPad as something in-between the iPhone and the Macbook, and being “better” at stuff that you can already do on both devices…

I would’ve focused on this device bringing a “zero learning curve” experience to general computing.

This is the most disruptive aspect of the iPad: Bringing a no-brainer, intuitive interface, that’s been tested, to the rest of computing.

Their wordy slogan sounds like something you’d write as a first draft before whittling it down to it’s core.

I might even play to the perceived weaknesses of the device and run with:

“A computer that’s as simple to use as an iPod touch”

Yes. It’s a big iPod Touch… But that’s the point!!

But then again, I’m not a billionaire 🙂

Steve did seem quite thin and tired, which was made more apparent as he spent most of the presentation in a couch. I understand why they did that – but it did reduce the ultimate impact of the presentation.

As an aside – We’re coming to the end of Steve’s time as the core keynote speaker. Phil Schiller won’t fill that spot.. my pick is the Senior VP of iPhone Software “Scott Forstall”. He was a much more enthusiastic, passionate presenter, while still being very believable in his delivery.

Back on topic..The biggest “genius” move that Apple made in their strategy was making the iPad backward compatible to the over 140,000 iPhone apps. Hitting the market with an existing, proven base of apps is genius.

While many of these apps won’t be as usable on the bigger interface, a few hours of development and hitting the “compile” button will get their existing apps at least working on the larger interface, and a few more weeks of rethinking their user-interfaces will see much improved functionality for the apps on the iPad. Give them a few months, and who knows that they will come up with. Genius, Apple. Genius.

The Bottom Line – Will I Buy an iPad?

Heck yes! I’ve been saying for months that I’d buy one sight unseen! I’m just waiting for the “buy” link!

Even if it sucked I would buy this device. If this has even a 50/50 chance of being the “next big thing” than I owe it to myself and my business to learn about this new computing experience and to reformulate our business strategy to recognise this new platform.

You can’t make those kinds of calls from a distance. You have to submerge yourself in the experience of the device, and log hundreds of hours with it, and also wait to see what other developers bring to bear.

… Or.. this could be just me justifying buying another shiny new toy 🙂 … Oh well, temet nosce.

Actually, I’ll be buying two of these suckers. One for me, and one for my wife, so she won’t keep stealing mine 🙂