Friday, February 5, 2010

To iPad or Not to iPad

Every announcement by Apple seems to generate remarkable furor, including last week's introduction of the iPad.

While most people -- including the press -- haven't had much time to look at it in any depth, that hasn't stopped people from prognosticating about the iPad's future.

While the iPad looks like a really big iPhone or iPod Touch, it's a little of both and a lot of neither.

It's not like an iPhone because there's no built-in phone, but as I've discussed here for quite a while, most mobile devices are more computer than phone.

Neither does the iPad have a camera to take still or movies. Nor does the iPad have a USB connection with which it can connect to a computer over a physical wired connection, and it doesn't come with a physical keyboard, although there is an on-screen keyboard and a keyboard accessory that can be purchased.

Instead, the iPad relies on WiFi or a 3G (cellular) connection to connect to the Internet.

What the iPad does have is a much better screen for viewing Web sites, books, photographs and movies.

Oddly enough, the iPad's screen aspect ratio is that of traditional television, not High Definition TV (HDTV). Given that most computers nowadays are going to the HD widescreen format and are trying hard to accommodate HDTV, it's surprising that the iPad didn't include HDTV format and capabilities in this first iteration.

The iPad is also supposed to run most of the 100,000-plus applications from the AppStore, albeit at a lower resolution, as a result of the different screen resolutions.

Two of my biggest concerns about current e-book readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook is the lack of color and multimedia. Apple's iPod addresses both of those items very well and Apple's new downloadable e-books will make a great change in how we view books.

From all available information, the first version of the iPad will be a great way to consume content from the Internet. It is not intended to create content such as word processing, spreadsheets, or video.

With the iPad's larger screen, it will be very interesting to see what applications are developed specifically for the iPad. Clearly, there will be many games and reference tools. But since the iPad isn't something you slip into your pocket, the iPad's larger form factor will make it better for some applications than others.

As a result, it's not likely that the iPad will replace anyone's laptop, desktop or netbook computer anytime soon. Instead, we'll have to see whether the iPad is creating a new niche of computer that's part traditional computer as we know it, part netbook, part e-book reader and part of something we haven't ever known before.

It could be that the iPad is just as good at creating a new market as the original iPod was. Despite the iPad's limitations, if the initial iPad sales are successful, there can and will be further versions of the iPad that will address many of the items that Apple and consumers consider to be shortcomings.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Friday 5 February 2010.
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