Doubting the iPad
by Tony Kontzer
While my colleague, Brian Watson, may not want to bore you with his commentary on the much-ballyhooed iPad, I've been chomping at the bit to let loose with my thoughts.
The bottom line summary, based on zero personal interaction with the new gizmo: By all accounts, it's an amazing achievement in technology design that triggers a hypnotic effect in those who hold it, but I have serious doubts about the immediate-future impact it will have.
Apple is touting the iPad as the missing link between smart phones and laptops, a device that expands on the experience of Apple's venerable iPod and iPhone lines while packing much of the power of a laptop into a smaller, cooler form factor. Two areas in which the company seems to be most focused on generating buzz are gaming and e-reading, so let's start there.
On the gaming front, I'm highly skeptical. Most gamers have all that they need to indulge their addictions. Powerful gaming-friendly PCs provide the cozy, enveloping experience needed for online role-playing worlds. Today's multi-featured, next-generation gaming platforms tap the Internet, allowing people to sit comfortably on their couches, shooting bad guys or scoring touchdowns in concert with friends around the world. And smart phones let the serious devotees while away the hours in airports, on subways, or while sprawling in the sun on a college campus. What do they need another device for, especially one that has to be held in some awkward way on one's lap in order to fully engage with it?
And when it comes to e-reading, never mind the iPad--I'm still waiting to see proof this is a category poised to take off at all. For all the talk of Amazon selling millions of Kindles, I've yet to EVER see anyone actually reading a book using an e-reader. My experience may be an anomaly, but I certainly see people everywhere I go reading those holdouts from the non-technological frontier known as books. (And this is a good seven years after I attended an e-book event in New York at which "experts" proclaimed that e-readers would be ubiquitous within two to three years.)
I ask, how many of you are actually going to spend more than $800 for a high-end iPad so you can re-read Catcher in the Rye (which inexplicably is near the top of Amazon's list of bestsellers) on the go? Something tells me not many hands are going up.
As for Watson's post on the potential value for IT, I can certainly see how iPads might be seen as useful in the hands of workers whose jobs are far from desks--those who do things like check-in rental cars or keep tabs on wildlife at national parks. But without a built-in camera or the ability to multi-task (the iPad can only run one app at a time), where's the advantage over other hand-held devices? And given that the overwhelming majority of businesses today use Windows-based PCs, not Apple products, how easy (or difficult) will it be to integrate the iPad into an existing IT environment? IT folks will have to answer lots of questions like these before any executive's going to sign off on a big investment in the iPad.
There's also the not-so-small matter of netbooks, those dirt-cheap PCs that are designed for the less technologically inclined among us who rely upon a small set of basic computing tasks. Netbooks sell much less than even the entry-level iPad (which will retail for $499), and can do more.
Oh, sure, the iPad will sell to the serious iGeeks, those who happily plunk down huge sums for the honor of being early adopters whose chests swell when people notice their devices and say, "Oooh, cool, is that the iPad? Can I see it?" But amid all of the gee-whiz qualities of the iPad, I wonder why more people aren't comparing it to the Newton.
Actually, the L.A. Times has it right. Ultimately, it will be the lighting-fast A4 chip Apple unveiled as the brains of the iPad that will have the bigger technological impact. But who wants to talk about a chip when we can salivate over a giant, glorified iPod Touch?