Asking iPad Questions

Twitter was incredibly slow for an hour or so today.  Apple;s stock price fluctuates massively.  The number of entries in my RSS Reader was 80% above usual.  It had to be Apple’s Tablet reveal.

It appears that many tech commenting sites and blogs have pitched their tents on one side of the fence already.  “It’s the future, it’ll revolutionise the way we use the internet and consume media” one side cries. “It’s over-priced and under-featured” rallies the other.

I’m rather more cautious in proclaiming the beginning of a brave new world, or the end of an old one.  Rather, I’d like to run through a few questions that sprang to mind when I saw Apple’s iPad for the first time.

Hello Former Colony, Where’s The Love?

Apple iPadApple’s iPad

We’ve been told that it’s an international release of the WiFi version, but there’s no comment on when the 3G version will release internationally.  Looking at the descriptions available, it sounds as if the 3G version of the iPad either comes pre-fitted with an AT&T SIM that can be removed and swapped for another carrier, or it uses AT&T by default unless there’s another SIM card inserted.  Either way, this hampers international releases until Apple can sort out carrier partners.

However, the even more egregious omission at the moment is a price.  We simply don’t know how much the iPad is going to cost in the UK.  If you go to the Apple UK site, there’s no mention of it.  At all.  And if you go to www.apple.com/uk/ipad, you get a 404 (adding a “/uk” to the URL is a sure-fire way to get to the UK version of an Apple page usually).

Another flaring omission for us UKers is iBooks.  The small print on the iPad page clearly states that iBooks is “US only”.  Launching without a BookStore would greatly hamper the iPad’s success I feel, with the caveat that the ability to import books would negate this issue partly.

Is Apple Trying to Make Flash Irrelevant?

If the iPad doesn’t support Flash, and all we know at the moment is that the demo versions don’t, it’s a clear statement from Apple that they have kept Flash off their mobile devices for non-technical reasons.

Given the blazing performance of this device, it’s clear that from a technical standpoint it has the horsepower to run Flash.    It’s omission draws a line in the sand.  if you’re a website owner, producer or developer, then using Flash will lock out anyone who uses not only the most popular smart phone on the planet, but also one of the most popular music players and what will inevitably become the most popular tablet.  Are you willing to take that risk?

For the record, if Apple are trying to kill off Flash I hope they succeed.  If you’re looking at providing video over the web, for example, HTML 5 is more than sufficient for 99% of the use cases.  Flash is a relic of “old web thinking”.  It’s closed, and propriety, and badly written.  It also seems to be the source of a number of stability and security issues.

Has Apple Made Ebook Readers Irrelevant?

The starting price of the Apple iPad is only $10 more than that of the Amazon Kindle DX

The Amazon Kindle DX displays a limited selection of mostly text-based content, like books and newspapers.  The iPad does the same, as well as providing a full web browser, a multimedia player, a platform for a myriad of apps and a whole bunch of other things.  The Amazon Kindle DX costs $489.  The iPad starts at $499.  The Amazon Kindle DX just became irrelevant as a value proposition.

I’m sure certain ebook readers will continue to fill in niche gaps in the market for a very limited client base, but overall, I suspect Apple has just destroyed that market.

How Does it Hook Up to External Displays?

In line with my prediction that the iPad would be used for content creation as well as consumption, Apple announced iWork for the iPad.  iWork looks pretty spectacular by all accounts.  But hidden away amongst the details was mention of projector support.  How will this work?  How will the iPad connect to the projector and will it only work with Keynote?  Could you, for example, output a movie in HD through the same means?  If not, why not and how long until someone finds a workaround?

How Does it Deal With Storage and Documents?

When I saw that Apple were releasing iWork for the iPad my immediate thought was, is there an accessible file system?  Just how will Apple let you move these documents you create on the iPad back and forth between machines?  Is this where iWork.com comes in?  Hopefully not.  Will documents sync through iTunes?  That also seems unlikely (and basically excludes it from corporate networks in any usable way).  So how will they do it?

How Long Can Apple Hide The Ugly 3G Version?

I present to you these two photos, taken from apple.com.

The 3g version of the iPad has an ugly black plastic cover on the case

Does it Come With a Free Chair?

When discussing the usability issues of the iPad, I questioned how one might type on it.  Would you hold it like an iPhone and type with your thumbs?  Would you rest it on a table and type on it like a laptop?  Turns out I was wrong.  What you actually have to do is find a reclining chair, rest the iPad on your thighs, and then type away.

I tweeted shortly after the presentation that:

If I didn’t know better, some of the pictures of today’s Apple event make it look like Steve Jobs did it at home, on his sofa.

I said this rather flippantly, but looking through much of the media currently available on the iPad, the core usage scenario seems to be “relaxing somewhere with my feet up”.

It is the interaction mechanics that worry the most about this device, and many of my issues have been glossed over.  Having said that, sitting with my feet up is how I use my laptop 90% of the time, so I can really see myself using this device in place of my MacBook.

Update!

A post went up at MacRumors which states there is external display support as well as some sort of mountable file system, so consider those questions at least partially answered, for now.