Why I'm Excited, and Nervous about the iPad
Across the pond people have been getting their hands on Apple’s latest toy, the iPad. Here in the UK we’re left to vicariously live through others, reading reviews, checking out unboxing videos and sneaking peaks at upcoming apps, like some sort of weird stalker trying to gather intelligence on a future mate.
It all feels a little, well, sleazy.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else we can do at the moment. Apple are yet to announce either pricing or a release date for the iPad in the UK. For the record, Apple says “late April” for a release date (rumours peg it at April 24th) and “unbelievable” as the price point (I did a statistical analysis of pricing previously).
This has left me, personally, in a strange position. I’m almost equal parts excited and nervous for the UK’s iPad launch. The source of the excitement is obvious. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive, save for the limitations that we all knew about already (no Flash, no third party multi-tasking, locked down eco-system). And as I tweeted earlier, “I think complaining about the iPad’s lack of Flash is like complaining that the first plane didn’t have a steering wheel. It’s a new way“. I don’t think that point is being conveyed enough in the reviews that are out so far. You can’t compare this to extant computing experiences, it’s completely new, completely different. Comparing an iPad to a netbook is as pointless as comparing a Boeing 747 to a Model-T Ford. Yes, they accomplish some of the same tasks, but they take a completely different approach, are aimed at different usage scenarios and should be celebrated for that. I equally wouldn’t want to compare a netbook to an iPad, or a Digital Camera to a grapefruit.
I’m particularly excited by some of the apps that we’re already seeing. VNC clients like Desktop Connect offer a window into ay computer in the world, whilst iDisplay expands the window of your desktop. The iWork suite seems to offer a whole new way to create documents. And those are fairly work-like apps. The real heavy usage from me will come from iPad versions of apps like the brilliant Air Video, which currently allows me to stream video from my iMac to my iPhone over Wi-Fi and 3G with on-the-fly encoding. The iPad version of Scrabble blows my mind (use the iPad as the board and separate iPhone apps to hold each player’s tiles).
And that’s without even mentioning the gaming potential. Plants Vs Zombies in HD is enough to win me over, despite the fact that’ll be the third platform I’ve bought it for.
So my excitement is palpable, and, in my opinion, well founded. So why the nervousness? As usual, it stems from being in the UK. Let’s start with the price. When I calculated the price based on previous releases i came out with a figure of between £400 and £650. Given the current exchange rates, and international markets, I can see this being markedly higher. I’d love Apple to prove me wrong on this one, but it seems unlikely.
I also foresee some issues with the 3G version, otherwise known as the version I want to buy. Apple scored a major win with AT&T in the states. The $30 a month, unlimited, without commitment, cancel-at-any-time bundle they’re offering is groundbreaking, and game changing. Will they be able to score a similar deal in the UK? I don’t know. One of the factors that will work against Apple here is the way mobile operators heavily subsidise phone handsets. Subsidies are far heavier here than in the states. In fact, some of the rumours that have been doing the rounds have speculated that Apple have delayed any UK announcement because the mobile operators are trying to work out ways to tie in consumers.
The other elephant in the room is the iBooks app and ecosystem. Whilst not on the same scale as Amazon’s Kindle bookstore, Apple have managed to get together a decent choice of books for the US launch. However, take a look at the US iPad and iBooks pages and it makes it clear that iBooks is “US only”. This isn’t a surprise. Books rights are notoriously more complicated and entrenched in the UK when compared to the US. Anyone who’s tried buying an audio book on Audible will know that the selection in the UK is a fraction of that found in the US store. It remains to be seen whether or not Apple will even bother to offer the iBooks app in the UK so we can take advantage of the ePub support they baked in.
The same issue, availability, crops up with some of the most interesting looking iPad apps that have shown up so far. The Marvel Comics app, for example, will be horribly crippled in this country due to a complete lack of availability of digital comics in this country. Anyone who’s looked at the existing iPhone apps for viewing comics will know all about this issue. Similarly the Netflix app, which looks really cool, won’t be available here and the UK equivalent, LoveFilm, offer an app but there’s no indication that their pathetically limited watch on demand service will be coming to the iPad.
So as you can tell, I’m torn. On the one hand there’s a device that I believe is going to be truly revolutionary. On the other, many of its best aspects are going to be crippled in good ‘ol Blighty, not to mention the always evasive release schedule and price.
Regardless, I’ll see you in the queues the morning of release.