Early Thoughts on the Apple iPad

It seems like everyone else has dumped their thoughts and opinion of the iPad on the internet, so I guess I will too.  I may not provide anything insightful, but this post could be fun to look back at a year or two from now to see what I got write and wrong (post your thoughts in the comments to play along).

In case you’ve missed it, the iPad is Apple’s new consumer gadget.  It has a 10″ touch sensitive LCD screen (give or take) and is half an inch thick.  The operating system (for those who care) is basically the same one that’s on the iPhone and the iPod Touch.  This means that it’s designed to be used with your fingers, and that it can only install applications that are downloaded through the App Store and approved by Apple.  The basic 16GB model starts at $500, and there are 5 additional models (depending on storage space and 3G connectivity) topping out with a 64GB version at $830 plus $30 per month in wireless charges.So, what can you do with it?  Well, it has iTunes so you can listen to music or watch movies and TV shows.  It won’t replace the TV in your living room, but it basically gives you a portable media player for every other room of of the house (kitchen, bedroom, and yes even the bathroom ;)).  The iPad also includes the Safari web browser so that you can surf the web from wherever you are.  I do this to some extent with my iPhone, but that’s mostly for quick things like looking up what year Blade Runner was released (1982).  The iPad has a large enough screen that I think you could be comfortable surfing the web for hours, or bringing up a recipe while you cook (if you’re careful to keep it dry).

Apple is also releasing an eBook reader and store, so you’ll be able to buy books online and then read them at your convenience, much like the Amazon Kindle.  Most people don’t read for fun, and some of those that do won’t like anything other than good old paper books.  Then there are the people that read constantly.  For those people, an eBook reader may be ideal.  There are some differences in the displays of the iPad and the Kindle.  As I mentioned above, the iPad uses an LCD screen which means that it is lit from the back and glows.  This might be a little hard on the eyes if you’re reading in bed at night, but your eyes have pupils for a reason, and you’ll be able to turn the brightness down.  The Kindle uses eInk, so it looks a lot more like paper.  You can’t read in the dark, so you’ll need to bring your own light.   EInk also looks a lot better when you’re reading outside in bright light (LCD screens can get washed out).  Another benefit of eInk is that it doesn’t require any power to maintain an image, and only a little to refresh the screen to “turn the page”.  On the other hand, LCD can provide full, rich, colors and eInk is currently limited to black and white (I hear that pictures look terrible on the Kindle, so don’t buy it for kids books or business books with graphs).  At the end of the day, some people are going to prefer one device over the other, but I expect that they’ll both be adequate for most people in most situations.  It’s funny.  I don’t think Apple even wants to get into the eBook business, but they know that if they don’t provide the application and the store, then everyone will use Amazon (I’m sure Amazon is going to release Kindle software for the iPad).  If everyone gets comfortable buying eBooks from Amazon, they might try buying music and movies there too.  OK, enough about eBooks.

There are some other applications that’ll come with the iPad like a contacts book and a calendar.  I don’t know how many people will throw out their paper versions, but for people that never really got into storing their contacts on paper it’ll be another easy place for keeping track of this stuff.  There are more apps, like maps and photos, that people will want too.  You can also buy office applications for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations for $10 each which is a great price if you’ll use it (you’ll probably want to buy the keyboard dock for $70 too).

Then there’s all of the 3rd party applications.  The App Store for the iPhone and iPod Touch have a huge number of applications, most of which will work just fine on the iPad.  I have a handful of news readers and a dozen or so games on my iPhone that I would want to bring over.  With the increased screen size and speed, application developers will be able to make even more interesting applications.  Web applications for the iPad are another area that we’re likely to see a lot of activity and innovation.  I’m really curious to see all of the new things that will be invented for devices like this.

Now for some real speculation.  (Disclaimer: Yes, Jesse works for Apple, but she makes iTunes gift cards not hardware or software.  I have no insider information.)  Apple bought Lala, a music streaming website and community, last December, and I’m sure they’re working as fast as they can to integrate some features from Lala into iTunes.  I don’t know if they’ll make it in time for the iPad launch or if we’ll have to wait, but I expect to see something from this deal showing up this year.  The iPad is crying out for a camera.  I’m surprised that they’re really going to ship a model without one.  Actually, I’d like to see two cameras: one on the back (like on the iPhone) to take pictures and record videos, and one on the front that can see you for doing things like video chat and maybe facial recognition.  It would be cool if Apple would include an FM tuner for listening to the radio, but Apple may see that as competing with iTunes.  Eventually Apple will want to drop the price on the low end models, but not until their some real competition out their (maybe a Google Android based device from Dell).

We were watching Blade Runner the other day at work and commenting on the interesting mix of the future.  There are flying cars but no cell phones.  You can talk to the computers, but the screens are small and ugly.  Being nearly 30 years old, it might be a little unfair to pick on blade runner, but you see the same thing in modern movies too.  Every once in a while, something new comes along and changes the norm.  There have been a lot of failed attempts at tablet computers in the past, but I think Apple might be on to something with the simplicity of the iPad.  We’ll just have to wait to see if it (and similar devices) take off.  At this time I’m not recommending that everyone buy one.  I need to try one out for a few minutes first, but I think there’s a good chance that after giving it a try, I’ll want to buy it and you will too.