Now that we’ve had a night to sleep on it, and (hopefully) finish up with the bad menstruation shtick brought on by the name**, it’s time to take another look at the iPad. Having contemplated and considered, I have some additional thoughts.
* The common thread among those who have seen and touched and used the iPad is that “you won’t truly understand until you handle it; words and specs and YouTube video doesn’t do justice to the experience of using it.” My regard for Stephen Fry is such that I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this front.
* Everyone seems to think that $499 is not a bad price to pay at the entry level for this thing. That’s as may be – no one has ever accused me of having a good sense of the value of money one way or the other, and I will agonize for literally months over a $20 Nerf gun but think nothing of donking off $20 worth of coffee and soda in a day – but my comparisons are to things like a $299 netbook, or $199 iPod Touch, or $200-something Kindle 2 that comes with free lifetime wireless access. Against that, $500 is kind of steep no matter how you slice it.
* I played around with a Dell Mini 10 running Windows XP this afternoon. I think the search indexing was running some of the time, which didn’t help, but the general feel was: OH. DEAR. GOD. SO. SLOW. I wonder if it would be any better with Xubuntu on it instead. The keyboard on the Mini 10 is the best I’ve seen yet on a netbook, and even pwns the keyboard on some of Dell’s full-sized small-business offerings (Vostro 1520, I’m looking at you…and contemplating using the bathroom) but if that’s as fast as it gets…maybe the fundamental problem is that things like the iDevices or the Kindle have a purpose-built Device OS rather than a full-size Computing OS (such as Windows, etc), and as such can run their own apps and things faster on less powerful hardware than trying to coax Windows performance out of an Atom N270. (God help you if you try to watch QuickTime movies on that thing…)
* The thing I always come back to is…blogging. You wouldn’t ever want to blog on an iPhone. Twitter, Tumblr, sure – but nothing over 100 words. Looking at the Kindle, I’m not sure you’d want to blog on it even if you could – the keyboard is made for a long session with a surgeon about the damage you’ve done to the ligaments and tendons in your thumbs. And looking at the iPad, I still don’t see how typing on a flat glass screen is going to work. This brings me to the next point…
* Devices like the iPhone/iPod Touch/Kindle/smartphones generally – they are meant for consumption, not creation. You read on them, you surf on them, you do a little communicating on them, but you don’t use them to hammer out the Great American Novel*** or design your website or handle your taxes. For all their weakness and lack of power, netbooks actually give you some small opportunity to produce; if the iPad turns out to be unsuitable for same (iWork or no iWork), it really will be consigned to the Kindle/overgrown iPod Touch category.
* What do we do with these devices, anyway, aside from using them like you would a $20 prepaid phone? Let’s see…reading blogs and RSS feeds. Reading big amounts of text. Following Twitter and Facebook. Checking in with Foursquare or Gowalla. Checking out ball scores and train schedules. Buying movie tickets, checking the bank balance, reading Texts From Last Night (DON’T YOU DARE JUDGE ME), reading and replying to the email…which begs the question: can’t you do all of this in a browser?
With that question asked, the next one has to be: what about Google? After all, Android is a device-agnostic OS, and if the iPhone OS can be scaled up to tablet size, you have to think Android could as well. More to the point, Google has the Chrome OS, which is basically a browser and enough Linux kernel underneath to drive the accompanying hardware, and there’s no reason THAT couldn’t be turned into a web-tablet sort of format as well. It might not be as elegant as the iPad, but then, if elegance were everything – or anything – Windows would have died in the crib. Windows 7 is the best version of the OS ever and it still isn’t as elegant as System 7 was in 1993, but every version of Windows has been “good enough.” I think Google could easily turn out a “good enough” web tablet and come in well under $500, if they have a mind to do it…
* With that question asked, we turn to the big one for me: the form factor. See, my current PDA is a “Rite in the Rain ™ All-Weather Field Book” which is a 5×7 water-resistant notebook. I can stuff it in the hip pocket of my jeans and roll out just fine, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to dump notes and thoughts and quick ideas and fax numbers with a ballpoint pen than to launch Notes or Evernote or what have you and peck it out on the keyboard.
Thing is, if it were 8×10, I couldn’t do that. I would need a bag. And once you have a bag, you might as well have a laptop. The limiting form factor for me is the size of an inner jacket pocket; anything bigger than 5×7 is going to be problematic at best, especially over half an inch thick. I’m a guy. I hate carrying the bag if I don’t have to, and I have enough back issues that it’s a good idea if I don’t. (The murse is right out.) So something the size of the Kindle 2 is probably at the upper limit of what I could tote around with me. Which leads to the other problem: when I worked in DC, my normal loadout went something like: cell phone, pager, iPod, pipe, tobacco pouch, lighter, Leatherman… you get the idea. (Some years, add Blackberry to that. Pre-phone Blackberry, natch.) I don’t want to go around with the HURT-ting Bat Utility Belt, and adding a 5×7 tablet on top of an iPhone (or Nexus One, arguably) is a pain in the ass I don’t really need.
Ultimately, what it comes down to is “horses for courses.” You’re never going to do video chat or watch entire shows on Hulu with a smartphone – the processor and battery just aren’t there. You don’t want to try long-term web surfing on a Kindle (and you sure don’t want to pay per feed if you’re reading a hundred RSS feeds a day). And while a netbook might be a good compromise if you’re just running down South for a week and don’t want to drag your 15″ MBP, it’s the best of a bad lot for serious computing tasks.
Add it all together, and the iPad still isn’t for me as currently constituted. The sex appeal may be off the chart, and I reserve the right to be amazed in person when it finally hits the local Apple Store, but right now, if I was starting from scratch, I think the choice would still be iPhone 3GS + white plastic MacBook, rather than stringing together some combination of iMac + iPad + phone or what have you. Even the netbook is a tough thing to justify. That said, right now my computing environment consists of a 15″ MBP that belongs to my employer (and don’t think my private account isn’t FileVaulted and passworded to a fare-thee-well) and a long-term-loaner pre-production iMac that may or may not be circling the drain…the only thing that’s legit mine is my iPhone 3G. So right now, I have $75 on account and another $150 in wellness bonus**** coming from work next month…and while I’m not close to running out and buying anything, I have to say I’m in the market. But for what?
** Although “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Marketing” may be the greatest joke of all time.
*** RIP to JD Salinger, who has the same problem as Harper Lee or the makers of Avenue Q: what do you do when your first work is among the greatest things ever written? In Ms. Lee’s case, you hang it up and walk away on top…and could you blame her?
**** STOP LAUGHING AT ME IT IS NOT A JOKE I AM GETTING HEALTHY STOP IT I SAY.