You’ve probably seen adverts for Apple’s new iPad – it’s been splashed across TV and billboards nationwide. A sleek, touchscreen multimedia tablet with Apple’s customary ease of use; it is a very attractive device. But I’m not buying one. At least, not yet. Despite its many virtues, it doesn’t quite stack up as an ownership proposition.
What can the iPad do? It’s basically the iPhone’s big brother – excelling at all the usual email, web, iPod, multimedia stuff – and of course Apps. The bigger screen makes it easier to navigate and digest content, and makes it practical to read eBooks and electronic magazines (like the iPad edition of WIRED magazine). Compared to a conventional laptop, the tablet design is much neater and the touchscreen control more friendly – this really is a fantastic device with which to sit back and enjoy web and multimedia content. So what’s stopping me?
Any prospective new computing device would need to earn its place alongside my phone (iPhone 3GS) and my laptop (Dell XPS M1330), or replace one of those outright. The iPad can’t replace a phone (I’d look like Dom Joly shouting into his oversized brick), nor can it do everything I need from my laptop (downloading photos from my camera and culling/geotagging/organising them whilst on holiday is just one obvious example). The obvious place for using the iPad is around the house. That leaves the iPad needing to carve out a house-bound ‘multimedia’ niche:
- Living Room/Sofa: Lots of potential here. Browse the web and keep up-to-date with personal email/social/calendar/tasks stuff in tandem with telly watching (or video/music playback from our media library) – with an iPad that comes to life quicker than a PC (even running Windows 7 – recommended!). The iPad could act as a great touchscreen remote control for media playback across our home network (via the brilliant PlugPlayer app). I had been considering dedicating a second-hand iPod Touch as a remote control, but an iPad could help earn its keep there.
- Kitchen: Just think how much better an iPad would be than an iPhone – for watching online TV, doing online grocery shopping or to help with the cooking (using the fantastic Jamie Oliver’s 20 Minute Meals app or the freshly minted Waitrose app). Remember to cover it in cling film first, so grubby cooking hands don’t mess up the screen. There’s no way I’d use a laptop in the kitchen!
So, what’s the problem? The fundamental problem is that the iPad is a single-user device. Only one person can set up their details on it. This makes sense on a phone, but not on a larger multimedia device like the iPad that begs to be shared between people. Say I’ve set up details of my email and other online services (Google Apps, Facebook, Flickr etc) on an iPad and then hand it to J, she would have to log out of each of the services and then log in as herself. And vice versa when it’s my turn next. Families with kids who are buying an iPad as a ‘family’ device are going to have bother (e.g. when little Johnny emails Dad’s boss, or deletes all of Mum’s Google Contacts). That’s a long way behind my laptop, which allows J and me to maintain separate profiles – we just log in with a quick fingerprint swipe and all our settings are as we left them. The iPad is a fantastic bit of hardware that’s ideally suited to sharing (for example, the wide viewing angle of the display), but the iPad’s single-user operating system (rooted in iPhone beginings) limits sharing to “look at my iPad screen” rather than “let’s make this our iPad”.
Steve Jobs would no doubt say “just buy two”. I say, “when it’s ready, I’ll buy one”.
Update 17/08/2010: Rumours suggest there might be a second-generation iPad on the way by the end of the year. It will need to compete with a range of alternatives, the most interesting of which appears to be the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Tablet. I’ve also found an interesting comparison between the iPad and Tablet PCs.