By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm
In the end, the one thing about Apple product events that’s utterly predictable is this: Some of the rumors will turn out to be true, and some of them will turn out to be false. And until you know which are which, it’s pointless to too many waste brain cells on trying to form any opinion at all.
This morning, we learned enough about the product we now know as iPad to start thinking about it seriously. But it’s not like all has been revealed. In fact, I’m still asking questions rather than coming to conclusions.
After the jump, in rough order of importance, 25 things I’m wondering about.
1. How’s the keyboard? I got a little hands-on time with one after the event, and was pleasantly surprised. It looks a lot like the iPhone keyboard, but its far larger scale makes typing much comfier, and much closer to typing on a physical notebook keyboard. I’m not rendering any final verdicts until I’ve spent more time with it in a variety of orientations–standing up, sitting down, using it in my lap, and using it on a table. But I came away feeling more optimistic about it, and I’m surprised that Jobs and company didn’t do more to tout it during the presentation.
2. Is 250MB really plenty? Steve Jobs said that the lower-priced AT&T 3G plan–fifteen bucks for 250MB of data–will be enough for most users. Depends on how the iPad ends up getting used, I guess, but that seems low. (I use around ten times that with the EVDO account I have with Verizon.) Watching the meter as you use the iPad doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun.
3. Is the $30 plan really unlimited? As in…no limit? (With Verizon EVDO, I’m capped at 5GB a month, which is more than I need.)
4. What will all that extra traffic do to AT&T’s network? Granted, there will probably be fewer iPads out there than iPhones, at least at first.
5. Will people not buy the iPad because it’s on AT&T? Especially since so many people assumed it would be on Verizon for so long? Is it going to depress sales?
6. Will you be able to use it on T-Mobile? We were told today it uses a new sort of SIM card. Maybe T-Mobile should offer it, undercutting AT&T’s prices?
7. When will there be a non-AT&T 3G iPad? For now, the mythical Apple-Verizon relationship remains just that: mythical. I’m guessing the next milestone at which a Verizon deal for the iPad and/or iPhone might be announced is at WWDC, when Apple will talk about its next-generation phone.
8. Is the fact everything runs in full-screen mode a problem? For a couple of decades now, we’ve been used to the idea that real computers run applications. But I dunno: I usually run programs maximized, and one of the few things I dislike about OS X is that it’s hard to make a program occupy all my screen real estate. I think the full-screen thing on the iPad is not a crippling problem at all.
9. Is the lack of multi-tasking for third-party apps an issue? Yes, it is. Especially for any music app that isn’t from Apple.
10. How about the fact it doesn’t have a camera? A device this large could never be a satisfying substitute for a digital camera, but it’s a little surprising it didn’t come with a Webcam and video-enabled iChat.
11. Why iWork? For the most part, iPad seems to be aimed at consumers. But Apple put a lot of work into building versions of its Keynote presentation app, Pages word processor, and Numbers spreadsheet. They really take advantage of the iPad’s interface; they might be the most impressive thing Apple showed off today. But I would have expected the company to roll out the far more consumery iLife in iPad form if it wasn’t for widespread rumors of iWork being part of today’s announcement.
12. What’s the thinking behind the pricing? It’s unusual for Apple, since the base price of the cheapest iPad is hundreds of dollars less than many predictions had it. Apple usually builds fancy machines and prices them accordingly, but in this case it defeatured the iPad somewhat to hit a price point. The $499 starting price puts the iPad in the same price zone a decent netbook; maybe that’s what Apple was going for.
13. How good will the third-party apps be? Ones that are pretty much just an iPhone app at higher resolution may not be all that exciting. Ones that really take advantage of the new form factor will be.
14. How deep will the content be? Apple didn’t have much to say about who it’s signed up to provide e-books and other reading material. I get the sense it’s similar to its early rollout of iTunes video–it’s launching with what it has, and will try to ramp up quickly thereafter.
15. Will Web sites redesign themselves to be iPad-friendly? Many certainly have to work well on the iPhone. And one of today’s neatest demos was of a NYTimes.com that was designed to be highly readable on the iPad. Will other content sites follow suit?
16. What happens to e-readers? The Kindle and Nook and their many competitors aren’t going anywhere immediately. They’re much cheaper than the iPad, they’ll probably have a textual content advantage for quite some time, and their battery life is vastly better. I’m guessing, however, that in a half-decade or so we’ll look back at today as the beginning of the end of the idea of monochrome e-readers.
17. Will Apple let other booksellers build apps for the iPad? Wouldn’t Amazon want to make Kindle for the iPad if it could? Can it continue to sell books outside of Apple’s e-commerce world? I know that Barnes & Noble wants to be on the iPad if it can, since its strategy is to sell books everywhere that people read them.
18. Is the battery life going to put a crimp in reading? Not for magazines and papers–ten hours is enough. But will people be less likely to sit down to, say, a novel if they know they’ll need to recharge multiple times before they get to the final syllable?
19. How long until we’re drowning in iPad clones? They’re going to be hard to do well, since so much of the device’s appeal is wrapped up in its proprietary software and services. But it being hard to do something well has never stopped the PC industry from trying. (The JooJoo–nee CrunchPad–gets a pass here, since it looks like it’s thoughtfully done, and it predates the iPad announcement.)
20. What does iPad mean for netbooks? The cheapest one costs about the same as a well-equipped netbook. The screen is more beautiful. Judging from the zippy interface I tried, the performance may be better. In a way, the device is closer to being Apple’s answer to netbooks than I anticipated, but I’m not sure what that means.
21. What does iPad mean for Microsoft’s “Slate PC?” Sure, there are theoretical advantages to buying a Slate PC running full-blown multitaskin’ Windows vs. the more limited iPad. But I already wrote that Microsoft’s seeming disinterest in reimagining Windows’ interface for touch devices was an issue. And that’s more glaringly obvious than ever now. It’s not as bad as the contrast between the first iPhone and Windows Mobile phones, but it’s a major issue for Microsoft if the company thinks that slates are going to matter.
22. What does iPad mean for Google’s Chrome OS? Both are designed to do browsing well. But the whole point of a Chrome OS netbook is going to be that it doesn’t run local apps, and the single most appealing thing about the iPad is going to be that it does run local apps. Vast quantities of them. Plus all the Web stuff that Chrome OS wil do.
23. What does iPad mean for Macs? It’s not Apple’s most powerful computer. But it’s clearly a better realization of what Apple thinks a personal computing device should be in 2010 and beyond than any Mac. What are the chances that the next iMac–or at least the next iMac after that–might resemble an iPad, or even be an iPad? Now that Apple’s proved it can release a computing device containing an Apple-designed CPU–the iPad’s A4–how long until it starts designing its own processors for Macs?
24. How long until some or all of the iPad’s limitations get fixed? For as long as there’s been an Apple, it’s tended to release first-generation products that were cool and highly-refined–but which were missing features that no other company would even consider trying to eliminate. (The Apple II didn’t do floating-point math at first.) The first iPhone was a brilliant piece of software contained in a fairly limited phone; in the two and a half years since it came out, Apple has addressed many (not all) of the first iPhone’s holes. How long until the iPad gets a camera, full multitasking, a more reliable 3G provider, etc., etc., etc.?
25. Will the iPad save the publishing industry? Hope so! Not making any bets just yet, though.
I’m not going to come up with a bottom line on the iPad until I have the opportunity to try one at length in the real world–and even then, it’s a living platform, not a one-off box, so in some ways we won’t truly understand its implications until a year or so has passed.) But I’ll continue to share my impressions and would love to hear yours.