Sunday, March 28, 2010

iPad, the magical tablet: thoughts

Well, I have a feeling that the next 7 days are going to be pretty saturated with iPad news and 'leaks' and rumors.  I expect to see more than the usual amount of apple fanboy trolls on comment boards and also their arch-nemesis, the anti-apple fanboy trolls.

As a gadget whore, I was obliged to purchase an iPad on launch so I in turn pre-ordered a 16gb WiFi version to get shipped (should have just picked it up after realizing the 3rd is a Saturday! hope work has Saturday deliveries).

Honestly, I know that I really don't have an apparent need to fill with the iPad (again, except for my appetite for the latest gadgets and toys) but am really curious to see if it will fill a need I never knew I had.  Keep reading for my reflections on past netbook / media devices and if the iPad can overcome their failings.

First off, just some a little back story to help you understand my current geek-view on tablets/portable media devices.  I've been interested in portable devices since I was a kid.  I grew up in the late 80s and 90s.  I had a Sony Walkman and loved it!  I owned tons of just basic radios that I'd take apart to see if I could 'boost' their signal but never had any success.  In grade school, I had a used Gameboy and also saved up my money to buy a 2.5" lcd portable tv.  A portable tv + 1 hour bus ride = not that bad of a ride.

In my high school years, portable CD players were the craze even though i secretly lusted over the forgotten/missed opportunity of the Sony mini Disc player (drm killed it, if it would have played mp3s may be a different pmp landscape).

In college, I bought my first ever PDA; a Linux VR3 Agenda (yea, i bet most have no idea what this pda is, hehe).  It wasn't a Palm or 3Com pda; nope I got a Linux VR3 just so i could compile JavaScript in my pocket. It only lasted a month until I resold it on eBay and then got the first color pda; the Palm IIIc.

What a device! Color touchscreen display, IR and USB connectivity (w/hotsync cable). Later the next year, the iPAQ 3600 series was released and purchased.  This pda really was an amazing piece of tech and also a piece of art in terms of design.  Nothing seemed closer to Star Trek design than it.  This then leads us to the most recent years and my adventures in touchscreen mods and tablets and also faster and more capable smartphones (iPhone, Nexus One).  I also part-took in the netbook craze w/the original Asus EEEpc and the MSI Wind and ultralights with the Macbook Air and now to finally the iPad and upcoming Courier (if it is real and not just vaporware).

So what has the last 10 years or so of using these device tell me? Just a few things (again, all opinion, not backed by any facts/stats):

1. input has to be top priority!

i've owned 2 tablet pcs (hp tc1100 and dell xt) and a touch-screen modded MSI Wind and the touch screen factor always becomes more novelty than useful after a month of using.  typing and using a touchpad are superior for most apps that are used.  vista/win7 just recently brought handwriting recognition up to usuable levels in an os. the advantage the iPad has vs any tablet or convertible pc is that the iPad isn't a pc or full blown computer.  Its not a reduced functionality for the sake of being small (ie netbook) machine either.  Apple is trying to create a new genre all together so input problems should be minimal.  Touchscreen keyboard is based on iPhone and that is the top touchscreen keyboard available on phones.

2. playback formats must be wide and open

drm has killed too many cool devices (mainly sony based ones) and limited codec support.  the iPad shouldn't have to worry about this since its using iTunes and most iTunes users have their content in such formats.  some people don't like being tied to iTunes but when it all comes down to it, you need a main syncing app and iTunes isn't so bad.  ebook format support hopefully will remain open and get further support for other types.

3. make me want to take it with me everywhere

the problem with a lot of cool gadgets is that most times i will leave them at home; 'just one more thing to remember not to forget!'  if the iPad can really be captivating, it has to make me want to take it with everywhere. i really hope there are some good note taking apps since i could see an iPad replacing my little notepad i take with to meetings in the office or on the go.

i could see the iPad being a great couch companion at night for browsing some web while watching tv or laying in bed or even an extended trip to the bathroom ;)

4. apps, apps, apps

the thing that the iPad has going for it over any tablet pc is that its OS is basically just running custom designed apps.  a tablet pc is basically just a full blown pc masking behind its touch inputs.  the os is not custom designed for touch or pen; its tweaked but not designed from ground up to be touch/pen based.  netbooks face an even harder challenge; lets do what a full pc does with half the power and on top of that lets add in touch/pen input.

running custom apps and having the developer support that Apple has will definitely be to their advantage and may help them finally bring tablets to the mainstream.  there really are not many custom tablet apps for Windows 7 or Vista or XP Tablet Ed.   Running apps designed specifically for the form factor makes for a much better user experience; that's just common sense and still don't know why tablet pc makers have yet to invest into software r&d to make good apps (not ones that suck up all of your system resources like most manufacturers 'utility' apps do).

5. magic

the last thing is magic.  heck, Apple even mentions it on their website. however magic to me is more public perception of the device. there has been a lot of negative press from the tech bloggers (me included) but that probably won't really matter.  Apple is again using a blue ocean strategy to try to get everyone onboard and not just the geek elites.  Heck, if your a true hardware geek you'd be a fool not to drool over the Nexus One.

the experience itself could be the magic part that Apple keeps claiming.  we'll see soon enough!

Well that turned into a REALLY long post!  So to wrap it up, a few of my guesses for the iPad launch.

1. Total sellout, I believe that this has been confirmed by Apple pushing new iPad pre-order ship dates to 3/20

2. I'll guess around 750,000 sold in first week

3.  Tons of complaints about high magazine prices; most likely a drop in price after such

4.  Major price drops on Kindle and other eBook readers to compete

5.  Hulu app by end of April; free and paid versions; monthly service for unlimited/no ad viewing? (me hoping more than anything)