Nuthin Up My Sleeve But This Little Ol' iPad

Each time there is a major product release or update from Apple Steve Jobs and his crew clam up tighter than a California facelift.

Well, that’s true for the official channels anyway. Somehow leaks, sneaks, and peeks always manage to make their way to the public forum, resulting in a feeding frenzy so fierce it’d make a pond full of half starved piranha devouring a wildebeest look like a leisurely victorian tea party.

Steve Jobs is cagey, and I believe he’s a wily guy as well and uses this situation to Apple’s advantage.

In the days and weeks leading up to Apple’s media event where Mr. Showman Jobs gave us an extended look at Apple’s new device, as all manner of juicy tidbits just happened to fall into the hands of those who might know someone in the media. We got screenshots, glass shots, loose lipped CEOs, and the ubiquitous “reliable sources” filling websites and printed pages with all manner of speculation fodder. And the public anticipated each bit of news like a crack-head looking for a fix.

Many people came away from Apple’s media event disappointed. The device Jobs described as being magical seemed anything but. Like the first iPhone, Apple’s new tablet lacks so much that it hardly seems possible that the device can succeed as a glorified digital picture frame much less a category defining product. Every tech-talking head with a forum looked at the iPad and wondering aloud where Apple went wrong. There’s nothing magical it seems except in the deluded minds of Jobs and his minion.

Photo courtesy of Apple Inc.

And if you believe that I got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Like a masterful stage magician, Steve Jobs has focused our attention on the hand with the shiny-shiny, and we gaze at it intently waiting for it to burst into a puff of smoke from which a golden dove will appear. What we don’t realize is that Jobs has a much bigger trick up his sleeve and if we took a peek at the other hand, that is to say all that wasn’t announced or demonstrated at the media event, then maybe we’d have a clue of what we might see when the smoke finally clears.

One of the features seemingly missing from the iPad is a camera. No camera means no video iChat, no iPad-made movies, no optical input. Current rumors suggest that there are at least provisions, both hardware and software, in the iPad for a camera, even if the actual camera is MIA. Rumors have it that this feature may appear in the released version of the iPad in March, or perhaps only in the 3G version as an incentive to pay the higher price.

I believe that, if there isn’t one in there already, there will be a camera in the iPad when it’s offered to the public, in WiFi and a month later in the 3G version. I believe this because a camera fits so well with what the iPad is about, and that is being personal. A camera lets you express more of yourself to others, even if you only use it occasionally. I also believe that iChat is one of the tricks Jobs still has up his sleeve. iChat will work in both WiFi and 3G modes, though video over 3G may not be available (thanks AT&T). I have no other reason to believe this other that it just makes sense. All of the pieces and parts are there, Apple just has to connect them.

Another feature that wasn’t mentioned is connectivity. Sure the iPad will have WiFi and 3G, but what will it do with it. Just being able to surf the Net is nothing new. What is important to me is being able to get to my stuff; my music, my files, my pictures. The iPad can hold up to 64GB of stuff, but who will want to sync that much data? Even 16GB is too much. A better way is to connect to that data, perhaps in my own personal cloud, and Apple can provide that cloud.

Jobs showed off a reworked iWorks suite. What he didn’t show is how we might be able to use the iWorks apps to access files on Macs and PCs at home. Again, all of the pieces and parts are there, we just need Apple to finish connecting them.

We saw how the user interface has expanded to include hold-pinching, as demonstrated in the iPad’s photo app, and other touch-happy controls. We saw the Calendar and Contacts apps expand to use the extra screen real estate and provide a more personal view of the data contained within. What we haven’t seen is how all of these apps fit and work together.

On the iPhone email automagically finds entrees in your Contacts when you address your note. How might apps on the iPad, with its faster processor and increased memory, handle similar subterranean links?

We didn’t see multitasking because Apple believe’s that giving every app the ability to multitask may lead to instability and make the user’s experience less then optimal, but there are other ways to make most multitasking a non-issue. It seems clear the Jobs believes that focus on the task at hand is the best way to provide a solid user experience. Within the application we may be able to do several things at once.

In iTunes, for instance I may be able to download a song or movie while surfing through the Apps Store like I can on my iMac.

To keep clutter to a minimum applications may use those pop-ups that we saw in the demo. From what we’ve seen so far, the iPad presents a clear and unfettered interface, and I hope some elements of the UI makes it over to the iPhone, which could use a bit of sprucing up.

There’s more, but the thing is this; The iPad is not a lot of things, but it doesn’t have to be. There are two sides to every coin, and while we can see some of what it isn’t, it is for certain that we haven’t seen all that it is and what it can be.

I’ve been thinking about this since it was introduced and it seems intuitively, if not logically apparent that the introduction of the iPad is like those first few drops of rain of a looming storm; if we wait a few minutes there’ll be a lot more where those few splatters came from.