iPad Asks: Can I Squeeze In Here?

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

In his iPad Keynote, Steve Jobs stressed two critical points: (1) The iPad is a new category of portable computing device, fitting in between the iPhone/iPod touch and the MacBook; (2) To succeed in this new middle category, the iPad will have to do at least some things better than the devices at either end.

In the few days that have passed since the iPad announcement, I have spent a good deal of time pondering these two points. Although I reserve my final judgment until the iPad is released, I am ready to take an initial look at how well the iPad squeezes in to its middle seat.

The iPad as your only computer. Apple has not positioned the iPad as a total replacement for a MacBook. This is good. The iPad cannot serve as anyone’s only computing device. Even ignoring the obvious examples of power users who demand a Mac Pro or who require the speed and screen size of a 27” iMac, an iPad cannot even stand in as a complete substitute for a white MacBook.

First off, the iPad ultimately requires syncing to another computer (presumably a Mac, for readers here). If you want to back up an iPad or print documents created on an iPad or any of a likely assortment of other tasks that an iPad will not be capable of doing entirely on its own, you’ll need a Mac.

Second, if you require any Mac software not available for an iPad, from Microsoft Office to Adobe’s Creative Suite to Apple’s own iLife software, you’ll need a Mac. I believe this includes most Mac users.

The day may come when this is no longer the case. But that day is not coming any time soon.

The iPad as the uncomputer. I have read several articles (such as this one) arguing that the iPad will be successful for the same reasons that the Nintendo Wii succeeded. The Wii did not have anything close to the graphic power of a Sony PlayStation. Because of this, hard-core gamers initially dissed the Wii (just as many techno-geeks have already dissed the iPad). But it turns out that hard-core gamers make up only a small minority of the population. The “rest of us” found the Wii appealing, and it became a huge hit. In the same way, so the logic goes, your grandmother (and anyone else that fits a technophobic stereotype) will rally to the iPad as the uncomputer computer.

I find this argument appealing — especially so when I consider what the iPad might have been if Apple had equipped it Mac OS X instead of the iPhone OS. While the geek in me would have preferred Mac OS X, my gut tells me that the simpler, cleaner, less-prone-to-problems, easier-to-understand iPhone OS is a better match for the iPad’s target audience.

However, the analogy suffers for the same reason I just mentioned: the iPad cannot be your grandma’s only computer, unless she plans on visiting you every time she needs to sync it.

The iPad as a super iPod touch. Some critics have complained that the iPad is little more than a large iPod touch.

First of all, they are wrong. The iPod touch does not, and will not, run the iPad version of iWork applications. Neither will the touch run what are likely to be a slew of third-party productivity applications released over the next year specifically for the iPad. I am virtually certain that, a year from now, no one will be thinking of the iPad as “just an iPod touch with a larger screen.” Thanks to third-party developers, it will be useful in ways we can’t even imagine right now.

Second, to the extent that the critics are right, so what? A larger screen iPod touch can be a big success. After all, there are various screen sizes available for Macs. No one is suggesting that MacBooks or iMacs should only come in one size. So why not a larger iPod touch? If nothing else, the larger screen and faster processor should make the iPad a much better (if somewhat less portable) game machine than the iPod touch. And games are what the iPod touch has been all about.

People have complained that the iPad does not have a phone or a camera. Guess what? The iPod touch doesn’t have a phone or a camera either. And it’s been selling quite well, thank you. There’s room to expand the touch market with the iPad (see this TMO article by Bryan Chaffin for a related take).

While we’re on the subject of what is missing from the iPad, people made similar complaints about the missing elements of the original iPhone: “It doesn’t have voice dialing or MMS, unlike almost every other mobile phone on the market; how can it possible compete?.” The iPhone somehow became a success anyway (and now has all those missing features). As I commented on Twitter: “Those who focus on what the iPad can’t do - see it as failing. Those who focus on what it can do - see at least the potential for success.”

The iPad as your second computer. Here is where the iPad starts looking especially appealing to me. As I have written about before, my main computer is a Mac Pro; I use my MacBook Pro primarily when I am not at home. I take it on trips and to user group meetings. I would love it if an iPad could replace my MacBook Pro here. An iPad would be more convenient to use on an airplane and (especially with a keyboard accessory) could function well enough to replace my MacBook for almost everything I do with it. I would miss a few features, especially the ability to have more than one application open at the same time, but the trade-off could well be worth it.

As ably pointed out by Chris Breen, the iPad as a second computer could also function better than a MacBook in several other contexts — such as in the kitchen as a recipe database or in the back seat of your car as a movie player for your kids. Chris suggests that the iPad might even be great for students, using iBooks as a textbook reader. My first reaction was that students are likely to reject the iPad here because they will (once again!) need a MacBook as well — and will not want to shell out the additional bucks. I’m not so sure. The combined cost of an iPad plus its virtual textbooks may well turn out to be less than students now spend on their physical textbooks.

Bottom line. On balance, I see plenty of squeezing room for the iPad between the iPhone and the MacBook. That’s why I remain confident that it will be a huge success.

I do have one major lingering concern. While we are not at this crossroads yet, the day may yet come when Apple expands the capabilities of the iPad to the point where it can function as a standalone device. This might lead to a day when all but the most demanding power users choose an iPad over a MacBook. The iPad wins the day!

Sounds great, except for the closed nature of the iPhone OS. As I asked in my previous column, “Do I really want to give up my MacBook for a device that allows me to add applications only via Apple’s App Store?…Do I really want a replacement device that Apple appears to have more control over than I do?” While Apple may open up the iPhone OS in the years ahead, I remain pessimistic about the prospect. That’s why I will be exploring this topic in more detail in a future column. Stay tuned.

Comments

kennethben

Why does it need to get backed up to a computer? Assuming that it syncs with MobileMe similarly to the iPhone, for the kind of use this will have it should be fine - contacts, calendar and bookmarks all sync, and .me mail is iMAP - thus on Apple’s servers. The only thing you’d need is some way of getting iWorks documents out of the computer to the iDisk, and once they’ve created that capability even Grandma should be fine with only the iPad. No? Aloha, Ken from Kailua

Ted Landau

Why does it need to get backed up to a computer?

Three immediate things come to mind:

? You won’t be backing up your iPod stuff or iPhoto photos via MobileMe.

? Not every iPad user will be subscribing to MobileMe.

? If you need to restore your iPad, having an iTunes backup is more convenient.

Charles

This is the second uncomputer.  Remember the one for the rest of us.  The Macintosh.

Ted Landau

This is the second uncomputer.? Remember the one for the rest of us.? The Macintosh

Good point. smile

kennethben

Re backing up:
Agree about music and photos, although there are alternatives to computer backup for both.
As to MobileMe, understand that not everyone will do it, but it does offer an alternative to owning a computer.
Agree regarding convenience of iTunes restore, but again the point is that one doesn’t have to have a computer.
In sum, having a computer is a major advantage, but not essential. For someone who only wants the limited tasks that iPad does well, can avoid computer and go with cheaper solutions (MobileMe + photo backup device - haven’t figured out how to backup the music yet, but Apple could solve that limitation if it thought it important by more easily permitting one to re-download one’s music if lost.
Thanks for the thoughtful piece and response.

Dr. Fyzziks

“The iPad cannot serve as anyone’s only computing device.”

Entirely untrue. It can easily serve as my 76 year old parents’ only computing device. What do they do with their computer? Mostly read email (my Dad doesn’t type well) and newspapers, view videos and photos of their grandkids (also sent via email), and occasionally browse various websites.

They don’t print anything (ok, the occasional photo - but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see photo printers that talk to the iPad), and the old 20” iMac I gave them is overkill.

My Dad isn’t a computer person and even though he’s doing much better with OS X than he did with Windows, if he opens up more than a couple apps at once he tends to get lost.

The iPad would be a perfect device for them. A good-sized screen with large icons, a simplified operating system, access to email, photos, video and a web browser. It could *easily* replace their primary computer. Plus, there would be less for me to troubleshoot when Dad does manage to do something strange to the machine.

So while the iPad might not be able to replace *everyone’s* primary computer, I know that my parents aren’t unique in their computing requirements. There is a definite portion of the population whose needs would be served by a simple iPad-like device.

xmattingly

The iPad is a new category of portable computing device, fitting in between the iPhone/iPod touch and the MacBook

You got that right. It almost seems as if Apple doesn’t even know how to categorize it - as of now, the iPad still does not appear in the top horizontal showcase under /mac, /itunes or /iphone on their site.

Very well-rounded summary of the different takes on what this thing is supposed to be. It is such an amalgam of different evolutions of hardware and software that you can’t really pigeonhole exactly what it should be.

Though, I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in the way Apple chose to arrange the oddly spaced, four column app buttons on the home screen. Personally, I would have preferred a more OS X-like interface, and I think Apple could have made that workable without making it “extra geeky” or something that might eat into their laptop market.

Still, I think it ought to do well with a certain market segment: iPad seems like a pretty darn compelling choice against all the crappy netbooks out there, and it’s most certainly going to eat the Kindle DX alive on pricing alone. For me, it’s a no-go though since I already have a laptop & iPod, and no need for something in between.

roblew

re: iTunes backups…
I wonder how the Lala acquisition fits into the iPad picture. Say you do “own” your own music, but the physical files live on Apple’s servers and not on the iPad, thus making iTunes backups not necessary. However, you could choose which songs you want to cache locally to your iPad while you are offline, and have access to all your songs while on wifi or 3G. So, you would not have to worry about backing up those songs because if your iPad falls in the toilet, you can still get the songs back from Apple’s servers on your replacement iPad (or iPod, MBP, iPhone, etc).

I think this model could apply to all Apple products eventually…

rabber

One other possibility about it being your only computer. Suppose everyone in the family has an iPad. Mom and Dad use it for work, play, etc. The kids use it for school and play. The family then owns one computer where computer work can get done and the iPads get backed up. Whereas before one computer would not be enough as everyone needed it, now they do their emailing, surfing, homework, etc. on their iPads.

JonGl

@ rabber

I like your thinking. Thing is… Cinvincing my family to go this route. wink I can’t even talk them into getting one. (daughters want a Wii) u suspect, however, that something along these lines might become the norm which gives me pause,but that’s another post.

-Jon

SiriusA

@JonGl

“I can?t even talk them into getting one. (daughters want a Wii)”

they do until 4 friends have an iPad…

ldlexpress

It would seem that a lot of people are missing one of the biggest selling points of the iPad. You are able to buy 3G access one month at a time. To me this is a huge breakthrough. I don’t own an iPhone or an iTouch because I don’t want to be tied to a contract. I know a number of others in the same boat. This will bridge that gap. I’ll be buying one.

Lafael

Hello!
I wondered when the sync-issue and “only-computer” question would come up. What most commenting people seem to forget is jail-braking. Who can rule out future jailbreak, usb-printing, card reading, storage, home folder etc? Then it could be an only computer. And people like me could sync on the pc at work and have ipad as the only home computer. The tech-fascination may shine on the ipad, just as the jailbreaking community has done on the iphone. I’ll wait and see what happens.

lafael

Ted Landau

Who can rule out future jailbreak, usb-printing, card reading, storage, home folder etc?

You might want to check out my column…iPad and the Meaning of Jailbreaking.

Ted Landau

Agree about music and photos, although there are alternatives to computer backup for both.

There’s also the issue of backing up your apps to iTunes. Yes, you could redownload them all (for free) if you “lost” them…but that would be a real pain if you have a lot of apps. You may not even remember everything you’ve downloaded.

OTOH, I suppose you could argue that the same problem exists on a Mac…if you choose not to back up (as many people do). It’s just that there are more and cheaper backup options for a Mac.

Lee Dronick

“The iPad as your second computer. Here is where the iPad starts looking especially appealing to me. As I have written about before, my main computer is a Mac Pro; I use my MacBook Pro primarily when I am not at home. I take it on trips and to user group meetings. I would love it if an iPad could replace my MacBook Pro here.”

I am starting to look at this as a sort of an iPod for things other than music and video. You can synch your work or study files and take them with you. Pages and Numbers files can be edited, or created. Text and reference books read as well as just “books.”  Sure you can do that on a MacBook, but this is lighter in weight. Also it not being a clamshell design is plus in many circumstances. For one if dropped it probably won’t be as catastrophic as say breaking the hinge on your MacBook.

I wonder if we will be able to Back-To-My-Macy with the iPad and get files.

computerbandgeek

Thought I’d check in with the “student” angle, as I sometimes do.

At my university campus (which is about 60% macbook, maybe 35% in the computer science department), several students are interested in the CONCEPT of an iPad.

The $500 price point is spot on for most university students, provided that the iBookstore has lower prices on textbooks than their traditional counterparts. A student spends about $300 a quarter on books so if the ebooks are even 20% cheaper, the device will partially pay for itself in just a year.

HOWEVER, every student I have talked to so far (from the highly technical apple nerds to the “How do I use a printer?” type) has said “I’ll wait for v2.” Why? Because almost EVERY student video chats AT LEAST once a week. And because ALL university students expect to be able to remain signed into a chat network while doing other things. With the keyboard attachment this device would be a perfect note-taker, but while it is limited to single-tasking and no camera, students just aren’t willing to pony up their $$.

gslusher

They don?t print anything (ok, the occasional photo - but I wouldn?t be surprised if we see photo printers that talk to the iPad), and the old 20? iMac I gave them is overkill.

Certainly. They can connect via WiFi or Bluetooth, with the right drivers.

You got that right. It almost seems as if Apple doesn?t even know how to categorize it - as of now, the iPad still does not appear in the top horizontal showcase under /mac, /itunes or /iphone on their site.

It’s not for sale, yet.

?I can?t even talk them into getting one. (daughters want a Wii)?

they do until 4 friends have an iPad?

How true! I teach pre-teen to teenagers (nearly all girls) riding in 4-H. They are hypersensitive to what other kids are using. A few have an iPhone; more have an iPod touch and a camera-phone with keyboard. (They’re fiends about texting—some do over 100 messages/day.) OTOH, they want to carry stuff. Right now, a tiny phone works well for them, but some seriously complain about trying to view photos on their phones. An iPad would fit in their school backpacks. If Apple enables Bluetooth (or WiFi) interactive games, messaging, etc., they’ll go bonkers. The youngest love Club Penguin; the older ones are heavily into Facebook. (Not so much Twitter—they like the privacy of texting.) The iPad would be perfect for both. Last evening, at a meeting, one of the girls asked another if she was going to be on Facebook that night. Right now, they have to wait until they get home to check Facebook, send messages to their friends, etc. With an iPad, they can do it any time. (I can just hear the teachers screaming.)

Speaking of teachers, a basic, non-3G iPad + keyboard dock would be nigh-unto perfect for kids at least through middle school and would be cheaper than laptops.

There?s also the issue of backing up your apps to iTunes. Yes, you could redownload them all (for free) if you ?lost? them?but that would be a real pain if you have a lot of apps. You may not even remember everything you?ve downloaded.

The App Store does. Plus, you could back up everything to flash drives. Currently, you can buy a 32GB flash drive for $80, a 64GB flash drive for $150. Want to bet that someone comes up with an adapter and software to allow you to backup to a flash drive?

xmattingly

It?s not for sale, yet.

It is available for preorder—which did not stop Apple from featuring the iPhone prominently on their site and along with the rest of their hardware lineup. So for the time being, it doesn’t appear that they’ve figured out how to categorize it.

Ted Landau

Want to bet that someone comes up with an adapter and software to allow you to backup to a flash drive?

Only if Apple permits it, which currently they do not. As I understand it, even if you back up app files under the current OS (which is possible using third-party software), you can not necessarily reinstall them and have them work simply by copying them back ? especially to a restored iPhone.

In any case, I think we mostly see eye-to-eye here. It’s just that you prefer to look at the glass as half-full, while I lean towards half-empty. We’ll see how it all shakes out soon enough.

gslusher

Only if Apple permits it, which currently they do not. As I understand it, even if you back up app files under the current OS (which is possible using third-party software), you can not necessarily reinstall them and have them work simply by copying them back ? especially to a restored iPhone.

Good point, though we have no clear indication as to what Apple will or will not permit on the iPad except as extrapolation from the iPhone.

In any case, the flash drive backup might work for photos, movies, music, etc.—data files, rather than apps.

gslusher

So for the time being, it doesn?t appear that they?ve figured out how to categorize it.

I expect that it will be in its own category, like the iPhone.

beehunter

students are likely to reject the iPad here because they will (once again!) need a MacBook as well ? and will not want to shell out the additional bucks.

Why a MacBook? Why not a Mac mini and save a few hundred bucks? I’m actually hoping that Apple will allow some sort of Mac screen sharing with the iPad. The Mac mini could be a headless print and media server, while the iPad is the mobile screen. Together, they are only $100 more than the cheapest MacBook. (OK, a couple hundred once you include keyboard dock and buying iWork twice over.) That would be a killer back-to-school bundle.

Do you think the eTextbooks will allow annotation?

Ted Landau

Why a MacBook? Why not a Mac mini and save a few hundred bucks?

I didn’t mean to rule out a Mac mini. Just that MacBooks are much much more common among college students (and just about everyone else), so I went with that.

If Apple added some sort of unique iPad-Mac mini hookup (as you describe), that would be great. But I don’t really expect it when the iPad arrives in March.

As to annotation in iBooks, I have no idea. It has not been mentioned yet, so I would expect no.

csimmons

I honestly think that many people, pro or contra iPad, are overlooking a huge potential market for the iPad: current iPhone / iPod touch owners. Just speaking anecdotally: I currently have over 180 iPhone apps, yet half of them beg for a larger screen. The iPad is perfect in that respect. There will of course be apps that are tailor-made for the iPad, but the fact that the device can run almost all of my current iPhone apps unmodified is a huge reason for me to buy one.

Dorje

If Apple added some sort of unique iPad-Mac mini hookup (as you describe), that would be great. But I don?t really expect it when the iPad arrives in March.

While not totally Apple and not very good for several reasons, one could always get one of the VNC Apps that currently works on the iPhone/Touch and both remote control the Mini and use it as local Screen. Problems include refresh rates in my experiance but perphas something 3rd party could be made in the first generation to utilize the 802.11n data capacity of newer macs and the iPad.

I’ve been using Jaadu VNC, in both work and home local network contexts with my Touch. Combined with a Bluetooth headset I can almost watch Flash video (gets a bit choppy and kills the battery decently quick) content in the living room, well away from my floor mounted MacPro. From this experiance and others I think your spot on with taging the iPod as the “other-computer”. Perhaps terminal would be closer. On top of that we are Treking again, ST:TNG style datapad is what the iPad is. While it has decent fuctionalty on it’s own you get the real use when it can link up with a more advanced system and bigger database.

In a related note having VNC enabled saved by baccon when the graphics card in my MacPro died. I was able to acess the tower and get the limited (800x600) non-accelerated video output, much like connecting a monitorless server. Again, iPad as terminal to full computer.

davidneale

My mother is 89 and uses my old iBook for occasional emailing, web browsing (she thinks Google is a gift from the gods) and looking at photos that I send her via email and that she more or less knows how to save in iPhoto. (Be honest, bot bad for an 89 year-old, who had never used a computer before she turned 85.)
Anyway, the iPad would be perfect for her: better screen, easier interface (she gets into a real state when she accidentally removes an application from the dock, and often places windows in the dock without knowing it).
For me, the iPad would be the perfect travelling companion. My wife and I live in Spain and we regularly travel to Belgium, now taking at least my PowerBook with us. An iPad would be a more than adequate substitute for out two to three weeks away.
There’s a lot of fuss made about multitasking, but for the sort of things the iPad is designed for, it somehow seems like overkill. It’s easy enough to skip from one app to another, surely? And how often does one need true multitasking? In an iPad world, not often, I think.

Log-in to comment