iPad: It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again

| Editorial

It was a very odd sensation. Watching Steve Jobs introduce the iPad made me feel exactly as I had felt before with another Apple product introduction. And it wasn't the iPhone.

It was 1984, and I had just received my very first 128K Macintosh from Apple. Several of us founders of the Apple II magazine, Peelings II, felt that this was an important new computer, and we needed to tell our readers about it.

First Mac

The very first Macintosh

I had two Apple IIs at the time. My original Integer BASIC Apple II that had been upgraded with a Floating point BASIC card ... and a more modern Apple IIe. They sat side by side, a meter apart, in a small office and were being used for product reviews, a newsstand database & billing app, and of course, writing articles for Peelings II. My wife was writing her Ph.D. thesis on one of them. And printing it on a Daisy Wheel printer.

The tiny, upright Mac was in an awkward position, on a small table between the two Apple IIs. It was an afterthought. The first Mac seemed out of place, wasn't part of our workflow, and seemed like a curiosity: something to be poked at, prodded, experimented with. But it was too new to be useful.

I didn't really know how to exploit that Mac yet. I was too busy learning how to point and click and double-click. The icons on the screen were simple and stark, yet they also seemed to cry out: "I am the future. Pay attention to me!" As I got to know that first Mac, I slowly became aware that this was the wave of the future. My Apple IIs, workhorses that they were, would some day become museum pieces.

That's how I felt when I watched Steve Jobs' demo of the iPad unfold. There were places where I felt queasy and parts where I felt exhilarated. The queasy parts were when I realized that this device would be the future of Apple, yet things were missing. Does the iPad allow multiple users? (After all, iPhone OS is UNIX.) That may be the purpose of the small, human-like icon to the right of the slider. We'll know soon.

iPad slider

iPad Slider (user selection?)

There is no obvious access to the file system. Like the iPhone, printing seems to be an afterthought, but then printing on paper is oh, so, last century. I wasn't thrilled with Phil's demo of iWork because he only showed the manipulation of content created beforehand.

But none of that bothered me too much because I knew that 1) the iPad hasn't even shipped yet, 2) it's the first of a new breed of device, and we don't know a lot about it, and 3) it's going to take a solid year for iPad developers to flesh out the capability of this breakthrough machine.

The iPad is brimming with potential. It presages the end of the mouse. It's a whole new -- I hesitate to say it -- computing platform. Indeed, we need a new name. The iPad is a computer underneath, but in our hands it's really a ... smartbook.


The Next Generation: A Smartbook

It's going to be an exciting journey with the iPad. We're on the edge of a new frontier. I can feel potential of the iPad bursting all about, just like I sensed that the original Mac was the beginning of the end for my Apple IIs.

Not only will Apple develop the iPad in 2010, but imaginative iPad developers will also uncover and release its potential, put flesh on its bones. Whatever you think of the iPad now, its importance will continue to grow throughout 2010.

I've been watching Apple for a long time now. The most important thing to know about Apple is, after it ships a product for the first time, how they handle the growth and evolution of the product. Compare that first Macintosh, dramatic, yet so limited, to a modern MacBook Pro. There are millions of man-hours of thought and development that span those two devices.

A famous writer once said, in 1984, that if you didn't get on the PC bus, learn and grow with the technology, it would be forever too late to catch up. Many were, in fact, left behind because they didn't care or couldn't be bothered with a PC or Apple II. I'm getting on the iPad bus on day one, and what a ride it will be to learn and grow with it.

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John Mitchener

Well said, John. I remember vividly unpacking that first Mac. Then there was the day we got the 5Mb hard drive for evaluation. That was a game-changer.

Dr. Fyzziks

Yes. Thank you.

While I don’t know if the iPad will be as revolutionary as the Mac was at the time, it definitely has potential.

What the complainers don’t realize yet is that the device isn’t built for them. If they need a full desktop OS, then they should buy a laptop. Steve never claimed that the iPad would replace MacBooks or MacBook Pros.

What we have here is the first dedicated tablet device with a UI that appears to “just work”. That’s tremendously important. In 2001 I worked as an embedded software developer, building the operating system and apps for a tablet device (based on Linux). I’ve seen how hard it is to translate a desktop user interface to a tablet, and Apple did the right thing by using the iPhone OS and building from there.

Yes, it has its flaws. I’d like a camera so my parents can see their grandkids via video conferencing. But then I think about how I’d have to prop the iPad up or hold it steady somehow, and I can understand why Apple left it out. The lack of Flash really seems to bother some people, but it’s not a big deal to me. I can play back both YouTube and Vimeo videos on this device. Aside from that, Flash is mostly used to try and sell me products. Hulu isn’t a concern because like most of the rest of the world, I don’t live in the United States. Finally, as a web developer who likes standards, Flash really annoys me. Safari supports HTML5, so hopefully the introduction of more HTML5-based devices means more web developers moving away from Flash to HTML5 - which is a *good* thing.

Another market for these devices: technophobes. My parents are 76 years old and use their computer to read news, browse a few websites, email their kids and grandkids, and look at photos. *All* of that can be accomplished with an iPad. Even better, when they have visitors over and want to show them photos of the grandkids, they don’t have to crowd into my father’s office - they can just pass the iPad around. I don’t think my mom has ever lined up for a computer product before, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s there on day 1 of the iPad release to pick hers up.

Students are another huge market. The lowest-cost iPad is only a few dollars more than a Kindle DX and has a color screen. Now, I *love* my eInk display, but when it comes to viewing textbooks, the Kindle falls short. I’m a physicist - many science texts use color to convey information (just look at a periodic table). Viewing them on a Kindle isn’t ideal. But on an iPad? Definitely. Not to mention that the iPad is already compatible with a student’s library of existing iTunes content, and has more functionality than a Kindle.

I can definitely understand why some people would feel let down by this product - especially if they were expecting a full tablet MacBook - but that’s not what the iPad is about, and they are not the intended market. At least not at first. But the market for this device is definitely there.


The little person icon on the lock screen is actually to set the iPad in digital photo album view. However, it may later become the change user button. Who knows.

Fahrenheit 451

I too remember unpacking my 128K Mac! I am not disappointed with the iPad (that should have really been named iTouch) as it reminds me of the first iMac: It was interesting, but did not warrant my serious consideration until the recent models. I see the iPad evolving on a similar path.

I’ve learned not to be an Apple early adopter like I once was. There are plenty out there who are willing to be an early adopter—and I thank them!


It’s not for me YET, but I can see with a little refinement getting one. I want to see how it grows over the next year or two.

Alex Jackson

In a year or two’s time, an owner of an iPad will be filling in a survey about the kind of technology they use. They’ll tick the boxes which say they own an Xbox, a Wii, a mobile phone, SatNav, Panel TV, the fact that they have an email address and so on. But the one box that will remain unchecked will be the one asking if they own a computer.

The iPad has removed everything that marks a device out as a computer to the newbie. There’s no file browser, no need for arcane technical knowledge, no barrier between what they want to do and what they can do. What they will see with the iPad is the data they want to see, be it movie, webpage, email, music, picture or TV and they simply won’t think they own a computer.

This really is the ‘computer for the rest of us’. It will sell millions.


The iPad is not “the first of a new breed of device, and we don’t know a lot about it.” It’s the third of a breed that began with the iPhone and has antecedents back to the iPod.

The groundbreaking product introduction occurred three years ago. Some Applephiles are disappointed that it didn’t happen again. Apple is good, but it can’t change the world every three years. They can continue down a path toward a new technology? a path quite clearly divergent from that of the Macintosh. That’s what happened yesterday.


Too bad Douglas Adams didn’t make it ‘till now. This appears to be the first generation of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.


Too bad Douglas Adams didn?t make it ?till now. This appears to be the first generation of ?The Hitchhiker?s Guide to the Galaxy?.

LOL Great Point. I’m sure someone is already working on a Don’t Panic desktop for it.


One of the new forces that determines the features and capabilities of the iPad is that, as a mobile device, Apple must design the iPad so that AT&T and other network carriers will accept it on their networks.  I’d make a small wager that Apple didn’t put an iSight camera in the iPad, because AT&T’s network can’t handle iChat traffic, and AT&T, therefore, refused to accept the iPad, if it had an iSight camera. 

AT&T and other carriers also have business reasons for not allowing video chat on its network.  Video chat use tremendous amounts of capacity, so, if a carrier were to permit it, it would have to charge much more than for video chat both to price ration use and to get sufficient revenues to invest in expanding the capacity of its network and to make adequate profits.  Right now, the carriers networks don’t have the capacity for video chat, nor do they know whether customers will pay for video chat.  But once you put an iSight camera in the iPad, there is no way to keep video chat off the network, even if it means hacking their iPads. 

Apple knows that video chat could be a killer app for the iPad, and, I am sure, urgently desires to deploy it on the iPad, but Apple will have to wait.  The carriers will solve their networks capacity problems, probably with the deployment of LTE, 4G, technology and will work out some pricing model.  Then the iPad will get an iSight camera and iChat.


Well said Nemo.
I hand’t really thought of it in those terms and you’re right. Apple has to know video Chat would be huge. It must be AT&T et.al.  who’s pushing back.


As I said, supra, I’d bet that the carriers are holding up video chat.  But I don’t know why Apple didn’t deploy multitasking in the iPad.  The iPad OS, as is true of the iPhone OS, is a derivative of OS X, so it can easily do multitasking.  General multitasking isn’t deployed on the iPhone 3GS for performance reasons:  (1) The iPhone doesn’t have the resources to permit its most resources intensive third party apps to multitask without slowing performance and causing crashes, and (2) Background process drain too much battery life.  These same issues may prevent multitasking on the iPad.  But I don’t know.

If battery life is a problem, Apple’s future adoption of OLED screens for the iPad may solve that problem.  I think that OLED didn’t make it into the initial iPad, because Apple was determined to price the initial iPad aggressively, and a 9.7” OLED screen is simply too expensive.  However, future iPads or a more expensive top-of-the-line model may get OLED and multitasking.  But I don’t have enough knowledge and the engineering chops, if I had the knowledge, to know why this iPad doesn’t multitask.

John, if you can get the info, you have the engineering chops to do the analysis.  We need your help on at least speculating why the iPad doesn’t multitask.

Dr. Fyzziks

@Nemo: “We need your help on at least speculating why the iPad doesn?t multitask.”

I wonder if it isn’t just as simple an explanation as “the iPhone doesn’t have it”. Bear with me here, I’m not saying that multitasking wasn’t included because Apple doesn’t think we should have it on a tablet. I’m saying that because the iPad and iPhone both share a core operating system, maybe Apple just hasn’t had the time to build a proper multitasking manager into the iPad variant yet.

Look at how long it took them to implement cut & paste. It’s a simple feature, but Apple took their time to do it properly. In the same vein, although multitasking is a core feature of any Unix-based operating system (like the iPhone & iPad’s), Apple mightn’t have hit on the right way to expose that functionality to the user.

I’m reminded of Windows Mobile devices and their original multitasking functionality - clicking the “close” button in an app didn’t actually remove it from RAM, it just closed the UI. If you actually wanted to kill the process you had to open up a task manager and select from a list. Not very Apple-like.

I’m an iPhone developer, and I’ve just downloaded the new iPad SDK. It’s *definitely* a beta. The iPad simulator for instance lacks all of the standard apps with the exception of Contacts and a *very* minimal Settings app - I get a very “under construction” feel from it. Compare this to the iPhone simulator, which includes Safari, full settings control, etc.

To sum it up: maybe we’ll see multitasking in both the iPad and iPhone in 4.0, after Apple has worked the task management interface out to their satisfaction.


I don’t think it’s an issue with the iPad not supporting 3rd party multitasking (and I really wish people would use that phrase instead of just “multitasking”, as my iPhone multitasks just fine, it just doesn’t support it for 3rd-party apps). I believe (or at least strongly hope) that 3rd-party multitasking will be available in iPhone OS 4.0. The iPad will ship first with iPhone OS 3.2, and a major upgrade like 3rd party multitasking is not a .1 upgrade.

I also believe this is Apple’s future for our primary computing devices. We will see these touch features and App-store purchase migrate to our Mac OS X devices. If the iPad supported external storage (USB drives attached to the dock) and Time Machine backups, so another computer was not required for the iTunes sync, then I’d strongly consider an iPad as the computer to send my daughter off to college with next year. Instead, I’m still looking at a MacBook or MacBook Pro for her.


Dear Dr. Fyzziks:  I don’t think so, because, as I said, supra, the iPhone and iPad OSs are derivatives of OS X, which is based on BSD Unix and the Mach kernel.  That is, multitasking comes buit in so that Apple would have had to remove it from the iPhone and iPad OSs, and we know that Apple didn’t do that, because, contrary to a lot of bad reporting, the iPhone OS and apparently the iPad OS both do multitasking, but only of the native Apple applications.  Apple simply prevents third party apps from using that same facility to do multitasking.  Developers, who have tried to use the iPhone OS’s multitasking capability, have had their apps booted out of the App Store.  So the capability to multitask is almost certainly there, which leaves me to speculated in my ignorance why Apple didn’t deploy it on the apparently more robust hardware of the iPad.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

One of the new forces that determines the features and capabilities of the iPad is that, as a mobile device, Apple must design the iPad so that AT&T and other network carriers will accept it on their networks.? I?d make a small wager that Apple didn?t put an iSight camera in the iPad, because AT&T?s network can?t handle iChat traffic, and AT&T, therefore, refused to accept the iPad, if it had an iSight camera.?

So why does AT&T support these netbooks? All run Windows, cameras are available, and their obviously troglodyte manufacturers actually let users (gasp!) install their own software!

If you know anything about new data contracts, they simply have limits and either get shut off or billed for excessive use when limits are exceeded. The carrier doesn’t care if those bytes are used for email or video chat.


The iPad definitely casts a vote in Apple’s twin-bridges dilemma.  While the Mac bridge still supports profits, their interest seems to favor the iGadget bridge.  Can Apple internally and developers externally continue pursuing both OS bridges with quality?

Dr. Fyzziks

@Nemo: I know what you’re saying, and I agree. But I don’t think you understood my point:

Yes, the iPhone and iPad multitask select Apple applications. No argument there. But there is no UI to manage that multitasking, it “just happens”.

If Apple was to enable 3rd party application multitasking, how would they handle task switching? Would any app you run in the background just continue along happily until the device runs out of memory? What if you don’t what that behaviour, but just have one or two key apps running (ie: an instant messenger, SIP client, etc). Would it be a gesture based system, or simply a new Settings option to specify which apps should be allowed to multitask?

If Apple enables 3rd party app multitasking, then they will need to design a user interface to support the management of that functionality. It’s not just a matter of “turning on” 3rd party support - the UI to manage it doesn’t exist in current builds.

My point is that while the iPad may be more capable than the iPhone, Apple may not have had time to build a user-facing task-management UI into the iPad variant of the iPhone OS *yet*. I’m hoping we’ll see it in 4.0.


Dear Bosco:  The use of netbooks on the carriers networks isn’t a problem for two reasons:  (1) Netbooks, like most computers, usually connect to the Internet by means of WiFi or a fixed connection, and (2) the use of netbooks on cellular networks to connect to the Internet doesn’t come close the frequency that people use the iPhone to get to the Internet over cellular networks.  The iPhone is simply much more a mobile device than any netbook.  So the iPhone and, if it succeeds, the iPad create network congestion issues several orders of magnitude greater than the congestion caused by netbooks.  Netbooks connect to the Internet by either fixed (cable or telephone line) or cellular network, and when on cellular, netbooks produce much less traffic than the iPhone.  The iPhone, however, often is connecting to the Internet over a cellular network, which for AT&T has been a nightmare. 

And here’s the other problems for AT&T, which as you pointed out, supra, it has avoided with netbooks.  There is no variable pricing for the iPhone based the use of data.  When AT&T floated that idea, all hell broke lose.

The iPhone is a unique phenomena.  There’s been nothing like it before or since, and the congestion that it causes on networks was utterly unforeseen.  Carriers in other parts of the world have been fortunate that the impact of the iPhone is usually divided among several carriers, and in western Europe, the cellular networks are more advanced.  Here, AT&T got swamped, and because Verizon insist on having the whip hand in its relationships with device makers, Apple and Verizon can’t get to a deal.


Dear Dr. Fyzziks:  I did understand you.  But I think that it is well established that Apple did not remove multitasking management from either the iPhone or iPad OSs.  Both those operating systems maintained their heritage and native ability to do multitasking extremely well, so the explanation for Apple not deploying multitasking for third party apps in the iPad must be found elsewhere.

other side

The iPad and Macintosh rollouts aren’t even comparable.

The Mac’s benefit and potential were immediately obvious (even if it did take the LaserWriter to fully realize things).  To this day the Mac’s rollout sends chills down your spine.

The iPad is much more of a solution looking for a problem.  Nobody’s sure what it even IS, much less what it’s usable for.

And Jobs’ over-showmanship with the iPad didn’t help any.  Seriously, was that Steve Jobs or Donald Trump on-stage?

Perhaps the iPad will vindicate itself, but I have a very bad feeling that Apple just launched an Edsel.

Dr. Fyzziks

@Nemo: You’re almost 100% right, but you’re missing one thing. I’m an iPhone developer and Unix sysadmin, so I’m speaking from personal and professional experience here.

You are absolutely correct when you say that multitasking exists, and that task management from a programmer’s point of view exists. As a developer, I can write an app that runs in the background, with the iPhone SDK as it stands today. And yes, if you get a shell prompt on your iPhone, you can even use Unix-style tools to manage processes.

But nowhere in the iPhone is there an exposed, graphical user interface for the iPhone *user* to manage tasks with. It’s not there because Apple hasn’t written it (or at least, hasn’t included it in the current shipping release of the iPhone OS)

If you look at jailbroken iPhones which can multitask 3rd party apps, you’ll see that there are various end-user-written applications for managing your tasks within the confines of the iPhone GUI. Example:



All I’m saying is that Apple hasn’t written an official version of the “ProSwitcher” and its ilk yet. Or if they have, they haven’t released it. I expect it may be in 4.0.

Hope that example helps. I don’t want to hijack this thread any further, so I’ll leave it at that.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@Nemo You speculated that the carriers were holding up video chat. I pointed out examples of devices that do video chat and any other kind of client/server or peer-to-peer that you might imagine that are actually being offered under contract by AT&T.  I also pointed out that data contracts are just standard chunk of data for fixed price offerings now. The iPad offerings are just a commodity competitively priced by AT&T. Whether the device had a video camera had nothing to do with how AT&T priced it.

AT&T’s problem with iPhone data usage go back to it having negotiated with Apple to get the iPhone before it understood the data sales model. AT&T and the rest of the carriers fully understand the model now. If there were a device that sucked up 1 GB per minute, the carriers would have a data plan to suck up all the money in China if customers would pay it.


Dear Dr. Fyzziks:  I am certainly no expert, but a friend of mine, who is, says that the API to do multitasking is there but is forbidden to all but Apple’s internal developers.


Dear Bosco:  I don’t thin that we are in disagreement.  The difference is the amount of traffic that the iPhone generates on cellular networks, which is vastly greater than other devices.  Cellular networks in general and AT&T’s in particular weren’t built for intensity of use that the iPhone causes.  That other devices do video chat isn’t a problem, as long as they don’t come close to using as much bandwidth doing it as the iPhone users use when connecting to the Internet. 

I agree that AT&T et al. now understand the problem of congestion that the iPhone causes, but for AT&T, which is the sole carrier for the iPhone and now the iPad, dealing with that problem requires enhancing the capacity of its network, and that simply takes time.  Until AT&T has had the time to enhance its network, it must control devices or the functions of devices that do or will place an unsupportable burden on its network.

Dr. Fyzziks

@Nemo: Your friend is 100% correct. The API exists and is forbidden except to Apple’s developers. But there’s a difference between an API (which is a series of instructions a programmer may use to access a feature on the device), and a graphical user interface (which is what I’m talking about). All I’m saying is that Apple hasn’t used the API to build a suitable GUI to control background apps yet.

Example of an API in OS X on a Mac:

[NSApp terminate:self] -> Cocoa API method to quit a program in OS X.

Example of GUI:

The “Force Quit” window in OS X, which uses the API to quit programs.

The iPhone has the multitasking API, but it doesn’t have the equivalent of a graphical task manager to control all those background processes. Apple has to build a good graphical user interface for the task manager, so that you and I can easily manage and quit misbehaving applications on our iPhones and iPads, once they *do* open up multitasking to 3rd party apps.

Whew. Seriously. That’s the last comment for me. I hope, after reading this and my very first post, you see what I’m getting at. In any case, have a good evening. smile


Dear Dr. Fyzziks:  Well, if Apple doesn’t want third party apps to be able to multitask on the either the iPhone or the iPad or both, it is unlikely, is it not, that Apple will build a GUI for multitasking—but, in addition to forbidding the API, not provide the GUI for the task manager?  At least, Apple won’t provide that GUI for managing multitasking outside of Apple.


Re multitasking. (I am not a developer/programmer, just a user).

Screen space is one issue.
If you want users to be able to switch between running apps then there needs to be a method of doing so. So how would that be done? A top bar with minimise and close buttons? They’d be very small, or the bar would have to take up space to make the buttons usable. If it were gesture based that would reduce the gestures available for the running app or mean everyone had to code for the gesture required to minimise in order to make the switch possible. If the device is limited to how many apps can run at one time and strict control is maintained over this, then the hardware can be kept under control spec wise, heat is minimised, battery life is more predictable and so on.
Mail runs in the background as it is. You can’t browse and use another app at the same time, in fact the only thing you can do whilst doing something else is listen, hence the ability of iTunes to run in the background. Most of the apps are very visual oriented, so it makes a kind of sense to limit it to one at a time. I think this ‘requirement’ is more about well thought out design than it is about some sort of control freakery. After all, if you want full computer functionality, buy a laptop.


I think this device could likely displace notebooks for many students. It is low cost. It seems perfect all the types of things many students would need a notebook for. The attachable keyboard is great for taking lots of notes. I wonder if somebody will figure out how to print from this thing?

In fact I am thinking of selling my Macbook. Replacing it with an iMac and this Apple product [I can’t bring myself to say iPad].


Cloud computing!
So, while the tech world debates the hardware shortcomings of the iPad, I’ve yet to see cloud computing mentioned anywhere.
No file system - Who cares, my files are in the cloud.
No external storage - Who cares, my files are in the cloud.
No USB for Time Machine - Who cares, Apple is building a huge cloud computing cluster in North Carolina, that’s where my Time Machine partition will reside.

Apple just bought Lala to stream my music collection to me via the cloud.

I get it, we’re not really “there” yet with cloud computing.  But, with the advent of enterprise class cloud computing platforms like Google Apps, Salesforce.com, Amazon, etc. that is where things are heading.  Apple sees it, and they now own the best way to interact with the cloud.

Does the iPad have everything we want right now?  Obviously not.  Will the iPad redifine computing in the next 10 years, absolutely.

How long have people been begging Apple to reach out to business users?  Here’s your answer.  Business just became fun again.
Touch your email.
Touch your business data. (Salesforce)
Touch the keynote presentation you’re about to give, and if you get done early you can catch a flick on the plane ride there.

This isn’t about iChat and external storage.  The iPad doesn’t replace the current desktop model.  It replaces what netbooks were intended to do. (Remember, it’s called a netbook because it is meant to surf the ‘net.)
The iPad redefines how we interact with the internet, which is where all of our apps and storage will be in 10 years.  Listen to what Steve harps on in his presentation, you have the internet in your hands.


What the complainers don?t realize yet is that the device isn?t built for them.

I’ve read quotes like this here and in other articles on MacObserver, and I have one thing to point out in defense of those that “don’t realize ... the device isn’t ... for them”:  If this is the future of computing, then this device WILL be for them/us.  It isn’t now, of course, but if touch interfaces will replace mouse interfaces then we’ll have to replace our MacBooks will iPads eventually, and when that happens there will be an extremely valid reason to gripe about everything it can’t do.

As I’ve said before, the important thing is that iPad is a closed system.  Other limitations of the device are acceptible, understandable, and/or will be fixed soon enough.  But if Jobs manages to replace laptops with iPads in the next several years, we’ll want it to be an open system.

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