Thursday 28 January 2010

Initial iPad Thoughts

Having had a few hours to digest the Apple iPad announcement, I thought I'd share a few of my thoughts.

These points are based solely on the material released by Apple so far, so specifications may change before the hardware is released to the public.

Initial Feeling

Watching the video on, the most compelling things for me were the web browsing and email experience. I already know how good it is to browse the web on the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the ~10" screen of the iPad can only make this better, so I'm inclined to agree with Apple that iPad may well be 'the best' way to surf the net, especially from the couch in front of the TV, so my initial feeling was along the lines of 'if the price point is good, I'll have one of those...'.

Apple's shiny hardware, slick presentation and well-integrated software suite certainly did the job of making the iPad a desirable item for me.

Rationality Kicks In

The vast majority of my computing time is spent at my desktop, sitting behind four large displays connected to my Mac Pro. I don't anticipate a time where I would use a portable device for writing code, processing photos or the various other productivity tasks I do on a day-by-day basis.

My laptop (MacBook Air) is used primarily for web browsing, email collection and composition, instant messaging and as a place to offload memory cards from my camera when I'm out and about. It does get other uses, but those are far less frequently employed. As such, the iPad seemed like a pretty decent alternative to the laptop for everyday use. However, as I looked closer, various shortcomings made themselves apparent that could break the deal.

No Flash

Like its iPhone and iPod Touch counterparts, it would appear that Apple still refuse to implement Flash in their browser. This means lots of websites with partially broken functionality and no video apart from YouTube itself, or video in specific Quicktime formats.

Why would Apple cripple their 'ultimate' web browsing experience in this way? It seems pretty simple to me - Apple want to ensure that all executable code that runs on its platform is vetted through their AppStore, and Flash would be a way around that restriction. As such, its doubtful that Apple's application console devices will ever support this ubiquitous web technology.


Even the connectivity-starved MacBook Air has a USB port, but not so the iPad. A single Apple iPod dock connector is all that is provided. The limitations this imposes are fairly crippling.
  1. I can't connect a card reader to quickly offload pictures from my camera
  2. I can't connect a webcam in order to make video calls
Of course, Apple will counter this with their iPad Camera Connection Kit, but who wants to have to carry around two big adapters (that will be an added cost, of course) in order to do a job that the hardware should be able to do out-of-the-box? Would an SD card slot and a USB port or two really have been such a massive blemish on the iPad's body, or are customers simply being scraped for every last penny?

4:3 Aspect Display

For a device placing such a big emphasis on movie playback, it seems completely counter intuitive to outfit it with a 1024 x 768 pixel 4:3 aspect screen rather than a 16:9 or 16:10 display. This will mean that when watching the majority of movies, which tend to be in the order of 2.35:1, huge portions of the display will be taken up by letterbox black bars. While these are still present on a wider aspect display, on a 4:3 screen, nearly 50% of the display is wasted.

To illustrate this, I put together this example image, showing a movie frame at it's original 2.35:1 aspect, then displayed with letterboxing for a 16:9 display, and finally a 4:3 display. It's very clear how much screen space is wasted on the 4:3 version.

Original 2.35:1

Letterboxing for 16:9

Letterboxing for 4:3

It is possible to zoom the image up so that it fits the screen, but just look at how much of the original frame is lost when 4:3 'pan and scan' is applied to a 2.35:1 image:

No Video Conferencing

I've touched on this before, but there is no built-in camera on the iPad, so any thoughts I may have had of being able to video-call people on Skype are scuppered until further notice. The lack of USB ports precludes the use of an external webcam, unless the previously-mentioned iPad Camera Connection Kit can be used for this purpose, but I'm not holding out much hope for that.


On balance then, it would appear that the iPad in its current incarnation does not provide me with a logical replacement for my laptop, which is a great shame, as it initially looked to be so promising.

Despite all the points against it though, I still find it a very attractive bit of kit and I'm already finding myself drawn to it, despite the fact that a voice in the back of my head is constantly asking what I'd actually use it for, if I needed to have the laptop with me anyway.

Perhaps this irrational desire to own it is the very thing that will guarantee the iPad's success?

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