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?


36 Comments for "Doubting the iPad"

  • Mark Eastwood February 09, 2010 10:42 am

    You say "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." I'm a user of the Kindle, I've had a DX since about June 2009. I travel weekly and I see them on planes every week. Its also true that many people haven't seen one so they ask me about it. Think about planes and trains, I tihnk you will see more of them. I agree with you, I don't see the iPad stealing Kindle sales, its an overgrown iTouch (I have an iTouch and I love it, but I don't have an interest in the iPad).

  • Alex Guezentsvey February 05, 2010 12:30 pm

    Who would like to know any opinion of a dude for whom the top position of The Cather in The Rye in the charts is inexplicable?

  • malcolm davis February 05, 2010 8:57 am

    "I've yet to EVER see anyone actually reading a book using an e-reader." I have 2 friends that received Kindles over the holidays. They love their Kindles and use them constantly. Kindles may be for non-technical types that have time to read things outside of the most recent tech article.

  • Frank Case February 05, 2010 5:53 am

    "(Catcher In The Rye) which inexplicably is near the top of Amazon's list of bestsellers" Are you that uninformed or is this a joke? J.D. Salinger just died - that's why it is at the top of the bestsellers list. But I agree. The iPad should be called "Newton II." It's a severely dumbed down but more expensive netbook. Previous attempts via Linux to provide a simpler netbook interface have already failed miserably. The iPad is for two markets: 1) The non-techie who wants the internet but not a computer. It's too expensive (they are the most likely to make decisions based on price) and too much of a future shock for them. 2) The Apple faithful and techies. It's too limited and closed for this group. The A4 chip is the news here. Hopefully it will be fast and in the next iPhone.

  • ken February 04, 2010 1:18 pm

    Hm-mm..., Catcher in the Rye is the book that Mel Gibson's character was brainwashed into buying by the evil government agency in Conspiracy Theory. Anyway, I agree, the iPad is interesting; but, not the game changer Jobs makes it out to be.

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