Thoughts on Apple’s new tablet: the iPad
I’ve been writing about tablet devices on this blog, so I wanted to put my initial thoughts out there on today’s announcement of the iPad. I wrote earlier that in order to succeed where others had failed, a new tablet device would have to re-invent the UI completely. What I failed to notice was that Apple had already done that: with the iPhone! All of the research and development that Apple has poured into the development of the iPhone interface applies roughly to touch interfaces of all sizes. The first innovation was subtle: dropping the pen. Early on in the mobile device market, the pen seemed to be the only logical way of interacting with a touch sensitive device. Fingers obstructed the view, and were low resolution (especially if you have bigger hands). Of course, Apple solved this by changing the UI instead of trying to solve the problem with the input device.
I fully expected to see no pen interface and no handwriting recognition natively, and so far this seems to be the case. One thing that I didn’t know was whether the iPad was supposed to be a full replacement for a laptop. The answer according to what I’ve seen of the keynote so far is no, it is not. A key takeaway is that Steve, in his introduction of the device, asked the question “what comes between the iPhone and an laptop? The answer to that question would have to do some things better than either device to justify its existence. Confusing the issue slightly for me was the announcement of the iWork office suite for the iPad. Given the focus of the tablet on not being a laptop replacement, I’m surprised that this made the cut. However the logic might be that in order to bridge the gap effectively, there had to be at least some level of compatibility with native document formats. Interestingly Apple’s story with the iPad is much different than Google’s story with ChromeOS. Apps rule the day still on the iPad rather than embracing the web fully like ChromeOS. I predict that this will change eventually, but Apple is obviously doubling down on the App Store in the meantime.
Overall, the iPad is more similar to an oversized iPhone than anything else. However, it has a less focused personality than the iPhone. Remember in the iPhone keynote Steve hammered home the point that the iPhone was three things: an iPod, a phone, and an Internet mobile communicator. By Jobs’ own description, the iPad is an eBook reader, a movie player, email device, gaming device, and more. The iPhone can do these things as well, but Apple is very good at focusing consumer attention so that they understand the device better. I think that if there is one failing of the iPad pitch, it is that I’m still not convinced that it does one of these things so much better than what I have that I need to run out an buy an iPad to do it.