Feb 6, 2010

The Pad

In another lifetime, I was a Geek. Yes, with a capital "G". Belt full of gadgets, laptop bags stuffed with widgets. I could discuss networking protocols enough to be functional, understood the wiring, routing, switching, etc. Some of it still hangs in the background, and I don't have to call tech support, but I gave the vast majority of it up and have been happy to re-assign the brain-space it was taking.

Now I still consider myself a bit of a geek, but no more capital "G". Certainly not a hardware geek. No longer is the latest-greatest that interesting. To wit: I have been thinking about a new iPod Nano, since my 1st-generation Shuffle (the white pack'o'gum style, 512MB) is starting to frustrate me. I wandered over to the Apple site and looked things over, and was startled to see that the Nano has a camera, and microphone, and speaker, and zOMG! I exclaimed about such to a friend, who said something along the lines of, "They announced that last fall. It's not new."

My desktop is nearly nine years old (PowerMac G4/667, purchased in spring 2001), my Mac laptop is approaching five years (iBook G4/1.2), and my two previous systems are still floating around - functional if somewhat long in the tooth. (Mom and Dad have my 8600/200, which was upgraded with a G3/375, and my iBook SE/366 is in a box in the house.) In other words, I've become the user that wants it to "just work" - but I'm able to get under the hood when it doesn't.

I have, very loosely, kept a half-eye on the news from Cupertino, because when Apple does something new and different, they tend to do it VERY well. Sure, there have been a few resounding thuds along the way (20th Anniversary Mac, Mac Cube, Newton), but so many of their products have literally revolutionized the information world. The Macintosh. The iMac (OMG NO FLOPPIES!). The iPod (in all its incarnations). The iPhone.

Now, the iPad.

There has been some VERY loud screeching from various corners, and some of it is understandable. One of the largest arguments against the iPad is the tightly controlled software stream: it comes from the iTunes Store, and that's IT. Monopolistic? Well, yes and no. Yes, because that allows Apple to control what goes to your machine, but it allows developers to make a profit, clearly reduces piracy issues, and also provides a cleaner support process for Apple. Easy, clean installations; software has to go through SOME kind of vetting process before release... Is it ideal? Probably not, but it's the system in place for now.

Other people have said that Apple released it without having a clear market in mind. On the contrary, I think Apple had a very clear idea of who they were aiming this at: users who want it to "just work", and users who have lightweight overall computing needs OR lightweight mobile needs and have access to heavy-duty hardware at home or work. By combining a reasonable screen size and proven simple interface with either a WiFi or 3G data connection, I believe they've got another home-run here.

For example: the 60-something retiree who wants to read the news, write some emails, and poke around in his fishing forums. Or the mid-level executive in his 30s who needs a mobile data connection, more than an iPhone or Blackberry, but doesn't need a full-fledged laptop or even netbook. Or me. A gen-X'er who wants mobile data but is thrifty and doesn't need a "smart" phone.

Let's look at the specs real quick: 8x10", half an inch thick, with a 9.7" HD screen. Weighs 1.5lb, battery life is 8-10 hours. Light as a paperback, smaller than a purse. A 3G data connection is $15/month for 250MB or $30/month for unlimited data - and no contract. Thirty bucks a month for unlimited data? Baby, sign me up. I can cancel my dial-up internet at home ($21/month) and have a better connection, and be able to take it with me.

Netbooks are nice, but have small screens and keyboards, and are generally underpowered for what they're doing. Smartphones are slick, but the postage-stamp screen is a real pain, and the three-inch-wide keyboard is just unrealistic for some of us. Laptops can be a nuisance to lug around everywhere, and a data card is an expensive luxury for most users.

The final noise against the iPad is the Apple fanatics. Yes, those who line up, wallets in hand, for ANYTHING to ship from 1 Infinite Loop. They are saying that Apple "owes them" more. That Apple has "betrayed their expectations". Bucko, you can only have expectations of Apple if you own stock, and they sure aren't disappointing there. (AAPL 2/6/09: 99.72. AAPL 2/5/10: 195.29. Any questions?) Don't like it? DON'T BUY IT. It's that simple.

Of course, the iPad is pure vaporware right now - but Apple has a pretty clean history of a product matching the hype, and I think this will be another feather in their cap. I look forward to putting my hands on one, and this may well be my next major technology purchase.

1 comment:

mhaithaca said...

Some manufacturers talk about things months before they have anything to show, and that's vaporware. A product that's an evolution of something many of us already have, and one whose early models work and have been in the hands of people I know, doesn't seem like vaporware any longer.

I think you hit the nail on the head. This will be the computing appliance people have been talking about, even attempting, but not managing to produce, for decades. It'll be the "laptop" for people like my dad, who needs e-mail and web browsing, and if he didn't need to manipulate photos, I'd say this could replace his iMac. But it'll also be the laptop for people like my friend Leslie, a chef who can't stop talking about how her iPhone makes so much more sense than any of the cell phones she's had to deal with before. This really is exactly what she needs. Heck, she may not even need this. She has the iPhone.