iPad, so what?

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iPad

So Apple announced the tablet after all. Going by the name iPad it’s just that – a tablet computer, or maybe rather a tablet phone as it runs on the iPhone operating system. A quick recap: the iPad does have wireless, a browser, multi-touch, motion sensors for gaming and many ways of purchasing content through Apple (by ways of iTunes store and a book store). It does not have a camers (so no video chat), not phone capabilities (no calls), no real ways of customizing anything.

It is, in other words, a media consumption device.

I’ll let this sink in for a minute since I think it’s profound. Both Apple laptops and iPhones are clearly devices to communicate and create. The iPad is more like the iPod in that it doesn’t enable you to input anything but text. (Which is fine for email, potentially a blog post and some Facebook status updates, but not much more than that.)

Some pundits claim that the iPad will revolutionize online content consumption, others say that it’s closed-system-approach will be the end of hacking & tinkering. (Johannes Kleske listed a number of articles with much more profound analyses than mine. Go read them!) I don’t think any of those are really true, nothing will change as profoundly as these articles suggest.

Instead, I do see some ups and downs being triggered through the iPad. My take in random order:

First, eventually ebook readers will make progress tremendously faster than they have done so far. The iPad really pushes this genre, which overall is great. It’s the kind of competition the ebook reader market really needed. (Let’s hope the competition will actually come up with great alternatives and not just give up like in the mp3 player market, where there’s still mostly crap because the iPod captured the largest market share.) So: thumb up for ebooks.

Second, if the iBook store (is it called that?) is implemented anything as well as iTunes, it’ll be interesting to see Amazon and Apple clash over a potentially huge market. I certainly hope that Amazon will be driven to switch of DRM in ebooks like with their mp3 downloads, and thus do everybody in the industry (and the consumers) a huge favor and beat Apple that way. Again, thumb up for ebooks.

Third, it was about time for a new category of device that’s slightly less ugly than a laptop to keep near your couch for random email & facebook checking. However, I wouldn’t bet a $500-900 device fills that niche for me. A tablet? Sure, why not. But it’s one of those $199 max things.

Fourth, I don’t think the iPad will stop anyone from tinkering. However, if you’re interested in how UIs disconnect us from the technology we’re using, please do read (or re-read) Neal Stephenson’s classic “In the beginning… was the command line“.

Fifth, Apple is trying to push their pay services down our throats. They’ve been doing this for a long time, of course. And the way iTunes demonstrated that you could actually sell music online was great – practically everybody profited from this. However, it feels like the iPad takes this to a whole new level. “Here’s your shiny new tablet”, Apple seems to say, “but you won’t be able to do anything with it unless you buy your music, your books, your games in our stores. Any maybe we won’t change our terms of services ever, in which case you might be able to consume all the stuff you bought for awhile.” After all, it’s important to keep in mind that every dollar you spend within the Apple ecosystem stays there, and dies with Apple – you can’t take your (paid) content outside this system. It’s total lock in, and it sucks like there is no tomorrow.

Sixth, the iPad might actually really help the struggling newspapers sell their content online. I’m really torn on this one. On one hand, this is great news since many newspapers and magazines have been fighting for survival for awhile now, and here’s a potential savior. On the other hand, I could go crazy thinking that the less experimental, more conservative, no: more lazy and old-school newspapers, those who just never got a hang of how to work the internet, could actually profit most from this. It’s quite possible that all the laggards in this field are better off than the risk takers and innovators, by just leaning back and blocking and complaining and waiting for Apple to come along and invent a gadget that allows them to keep doing what they had been doing for decades. I really hope the net savvy competitors in the field will win over those fighting the web. But Apple might have just awarded the technophobes. We’ll see.

That’s my two cent. What’s your take?

Image: by mattbuchanan, some rights reserved.