Why the iPad will be Successful

10 April, 2010 01:20PM ยท 8 minute read

Many pundits have put forth their suggestions regarding Apple’s new “magical” device and, having read through the opinions both for and against, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and face the facts: The iPad will be successful.

Before discussing why let’s first tackle the leading arguments against the iPad in the current global debate:

The iPad is just an over-sized iPod touch. Yes - that’s exactly what it is. This is a bad thing? Why? The most infuriating thing about an iPod Touch or iPhone is the amount of scrolling that needs to be done when surfing the web, reading a book, navigating long lists of items in contacts, music, email or whichever application is running. The iPad reduces this problem by having a bigger screen. Another drawback of the iPod touch/iPhone is the battery life isn’t very good. The iPad - in most benchmarks so far - is exceeding Apple’s claimed ten hours of continuous use by a good margin. The only bad thing about the iPad is that it’s bigger and heavier which, frankly, it needs to be in order to overcome the previously-mentioned limitations. What is the problem with being an over-sized iPod touch? Nothing so far as I can tell. People who want a portable music player that can surf the internet in a pinch when they are out and about will choose an iPod touch/iPhone - the others who want a bigger screen and a more immersive experience and don’t mind the extra bulk will buy an iPad. Maybe some people will even buy both.

The iPad is not as powerful as a laptop. It’s important to understand that whilst the iPad is a powerful computer in its own right, it’s not trying to be everything for everyone - yet. For the moment most application s have been tweaked over many decades of development toward mouse-hover and -click and not touch input. With time applications will be ported to the iPad/iPhone/iPod touch devices and will also be usable on these devices too - it’s just a matter of software and time. The Apple A4 chip (like many ARM-based CPUs) is very energy efficient. So are the latest Intel CPUs and, on benchmark tests, the performance gap is beginning to narrow (when single core executions are considered). In the interests of slimmer packaging, better battery life and better cooling needs, laptops are also reducing their speed when operating on their battery and future iterations of the iPad will come much closer to laptop performance.

That said, what is it about laptop performance that matters anyway? If you are serious about video editing or playing graphically-intensive games chances are you’re not using a laptop anyway, or if you are it’s a high-end MacBook Pro which is a major step in price above the iPad. Simply put, as the software selection improves, less people will want to use laptops because they are bigger, more expensive to purchase and difficult to carry around when compared to an iPad.

The iPad doesn’t support Flash. This is regrettably Apple’s choice and it’s a shame that it’s taking a stand on such a significant product as Adobe Flash. There is no doubt that Flash (to date) hasn’t endeared itself to the computing public as it is a resource hog (unless hardware accelerated), it is proprietary code which Adobe changes regularly without much notice (making hardware acceleration difficult in the long term), and it is well known to be unstable (prone to crashing browsers and some operating systems). Apple’s stance may well be right on this one but it seems too much like a back-door action against Adobe for other reasons which doesn’t endear Apple to anyone. Win or lose, in the end this will be a pain for the very large number of people in the world who enjoy playing Flash games in Facebook or any number of novelty emails that fly about the ether. With Apple’s mind unlikely to change and Adobe unlikely to support a rear-guard action with a Flash plug-in loadable on jail-broken iPads, it seems we will all die wondering whether this was much ado about nothing from Apple.

The iPad can’t be easily read in bright sunlight. How many laptops can be easily read in bright sunlight? Take that number and then divide it by the number of people who also enjoy reading a book in bright sunlightyou’re your result is in double-digits then that’s about how many people in the world this will affect. It’s a problem, yes, but for so few people it doesn’t really matter. If it really bothers you, buy an e-Ink device like the Kindle or the Nook.

There is no multi-tasking (for third party apps) on the iPad. There are four basic scenarios when background applications make sense: For notifications/listening (like a VOIP application); for loading/working on data in the background (like a web browser); for swapping data back and forth between applications (copying bits and pieces between notes and email and Pages lets say); and keeping the state of the application when reopening it (like staying on the same place in a book you’re reading when you reopen the application).

Due to the nature of VOIP there’s currently no choice but for each device to register on the internet and wait for a call. It would be possible to have a notify-respond-recall system that would work with push notifications but this is not the way VOIP currently works and hence there’s no easy way around this one.

Loading or working in the background is most common when users want to play with a simple (non-intensive) application like Twitter, whilst typing up a long email or similar between comments in a conversation. Switching in and out of the apps to answer a tweet then back to the email seems like a pain to some people but in reality this is merely the equivalent of switching windows on OSX/Windows - except the mouse is used and not the home button with a tap on the application. Why is that such a problem?

Another common multi-tasking need is transferring data between programs - usually text and/or pictures. The iPad supports this with cut, copy and paste. It takes not that much more time on an iPad than it would to perform the same operation in OSX/Windows.

It would surprise many to know that most of the way interruptions to an iPad application are handled (or iPod touch/iPhone application for that matter) has more to do with how the application is written than it does with the OS. If the application is well-written the state of the application is stored on exit and restored on reentry and this isn’t a problem.

Whilst it is true that running applications in the background could be advantageous at times, it’s not a deal-breaker and, once again, it can be easily rectified by a firmware update at any time should Apple change its mind.

Tablet PCs have been around for a decade and have never taken off. Yes the hardware platform known as Tablet PC has been around for a decade or more now. However, the intention of a Tablet PC is that touch (via pen or finger) completely controls the device and all of its functions. In the past, touching was simply overlaid onto a point-and-click interface. Gestures were basic, inconsistent, unreliable and for the most part not well thought out in nearly all implementations. Add to that a greater expense for the device and it’s no wonder they never took off.

The iPad is different because: it’s more affordable than the vast majority of tablets that have been and gone before it; it builds on the iPod touch/iPhone gestures and touch technology which is now best in class; the entire operating system for the iPad was developed with touch in mind - not a mouse; and the applications written for it are optimised for touch input - they’re not desktop applications which have no idea you’re using a Tablet PC.

Herein lies the fundamental reason why the iPad will succeed. Unlike all the Tablet PCs that have come before it, it is designed to be basic hardware, with most of Apple’s efforts focused on the software. Why did Apple itself write three flagship applications in Pages, Keynote and Numbers for the iPad? It had to show the world how to write a good touch-based, desktop-quality application. Third-party developers will follow Apple’s lead and the sky’s the limit.

Despite the detractors and a few restrictions the iPad will be a success. Is it magical? That’s debatable. It is Apple’s second big step down the new road in computing - putting the PC into the hands of the masses who can easily learn to use and enjoy what PCs have to offer. If you think it needs a built-in hardware keyboard and a command-line interface, chances are you’re a geek and it’s just you. Original edited by Matthew JC Powell.