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Top iPad Misconceptions

April 28th, 2010

The iPad is still new, so many people still haven’t wrapped their heads around it yet. David Letterman touched on this with his Top Ten presentation just before the release, lamenting that he couldn’t figure out what the iPad was. Here are a few common misconceptions I still see fairly often, in no particular order:

1. It’s a Computer. Well, technically, it is, but the iPad itself is not supposed to act as a stand-alone computer. If you’re buying one instead of a laptop, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise, just as many people who bought netbooks were unhappy. The iPad, at least for now, will not do all the things that a laptop or desktop will do. There are several reasons for this. One is the infancy of the OS and available software; the OS will gain features as time goes on, and developers will produce more powerful apps, but for the time being, things are still in the exploration phase. A second reason is the hardware; it’s not yet powerful enough to handle what some users might expect. But the third and most likely reason is design: Apple almost certainly does not want you to see the iPad as a laptop replacement. They want you to buy a laptop, phone, and and iPad. Some of the limitations are built-in, so as to keep the iPad from cannibalizing too much of the products on either side. Apple saw a gap and wants to fill it, but not at the cost of their biggest money-makers.

2. It’s an Oversized iPod Touch. No it’s not. The iPod Touch is an undersized iPad. The iPhone and iPod Touch were perfect for what they were, but the iPad is what a multitouch device should have been in the first place. The iPad is not an evolution, it’s the main event following a multi-year preview.

3. It’s Nothing New. This is an offshoot of the “oversized iPod Touch” misconception, and even the “it’s a computer” misconception: people are trying to shove the iPad into existing categories of what they are familiar with. Yes, it resembles an iPod Touch in some ways. Yes, tablet PCs and touch screens have been around for years. But the iPad is completely new because it’s the first correct expression of what a fully-fledged touch-screen tablet should be. Previous tablets were standard GUI PCs trying to act like tablets. The iPhone and iPod Touch were too small to really be fully-fledged tablet devices. The iPad is the first multitouch tablet which is actually what a tablet should be, and that’s its secret.

4. The iPad Is Its Own Killer App. This was one of the first misconceptions, based upon the initial introduction of the device. People who are disappointed in the iPad generally often are because they look at the iPad all by itself and assume that it’s the end-all be-all of itself. However, the iPad is just a platform, as close to a blank slate as Apple could make it. It’s simply a very cool blank slate, with incredible potential. But the real killer apps will be the literal killer apps, software made for the device. Apple gave an initial push with the iWork suite, which will attract many. But maybe the killer apps for some will be iBooks and Kindle; or maybe it’ll be Netflix and the ABC video apps, or perhaps NPR and the newsreader apps. I know a guy who will buy one mostly for the MLB app so he can watch baseball games. There will not be any single killer app; instead, all good apps for the device may be killer apps. The iPad is not about being impressive all by itself, it’s about delivering things in a new and impressive way. Just like the original Macintosh back in 1984 was great, it would have sucked had it been just MacWrite and MacPaint forever; it was great because it ushered in the age of the GUI, just like the iPad is ushering in the age of Multitouch.

5. The Closed Ecosystem Is a Bad Thing. This depends on who you are: if you’re a power user or tinkerer who likes to control everything on your computer, then yeah, the closed ecosystem is bad. These voices tend to get disproportionate play time on the Internet, as people like that tend to be the authors on the web, just as art critics who write most art reviews tend to be specialists with very specific tastes instead of everyday consumers. But most people don’t have the same high-end requirements, and for them, the closed ecosystem comes across very differently. Yes, there is the disadvantage of being locked in–but let’s face it, that happens to a certain degree with all computer devices. You buy a Windows PC, you’re locked in to the OS and the apps there as well, so in that sense, the iPad is little different. And yes, Apple can dictate terms and types of apps that get through–but again, this is something that affects the techie crowd more than the average consumers, who almost never notice how this affects them in an adverse way, and many benefit in other ways.

The advantages, however, outweigh the disadvantages. A protected system without the fear of viral infection. A dead-simple way to find any app in one central location. A huge variety of apps for very low prices. A common interface and style which makes the system easier to use. What it boils down to is that all systems have good points and bad points; the closed ecosystem of the iPhone OS simply has a different set than what most people are used to, but for the majority of people, it’s a better overall trade-off.

One thing which is not a misconception is that the device is a hit. In my office, for example, out of about a dozen people whose intentions I am aware, four have made a decision to buy the device at some point, more than a month before it gets released here. Nor is this due to my evangelizing; all came out of the blue. I expect more minds will be changed after the device is seen and handled. And that’s where the misconceptions, both good and bad, will clear up.

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  1. Tim Kane
    April 28th, 2010 at 12:11 | #1

    Reminds me of the old SNL skit.

    A: It’s a floor wax.

    B: No, It’s a dessert topping.

    A: No, it’s a floor wax.

    B: No, it’s a dessert topping AND a floor wax!

  2. Troy
    April 28th, 2010 at 18:34 | #2

    Seven dimensions that the iPad has that all or many previous attempts didn’t:

    1) Touch instead of stylus. Either you get the importance of this or you don’t.

    2) 3G/802.11n instead of no connectivity

    3) Performance — OpenGL ES 2.0, integrated CPU/GPU/Memory makes this thing FAST
    (and it’s only going to get faster when they move to a multiprocessing CPU)

    4) Battery life — stellar, thing is a battery with an LCD panel. (Adds some weight tho.)

    5) Portability — Pretty much the size of a B5 notebook. Fits easy in the top small pocket of a backpack. Not quite as portable as an iPod Touch of course, but much more portable than any netbook.

    6) Affordability — $500 is a pretty good pricepoint for the utility. 5 year service life, $2/week, easy value proposition.

    7) Aesthetics — No fan, doesn’t get hot, no corners were cut as far as materials and feel.

    (this list started with 2 dimensions but I got on a roll)

    The only flaw I’ve found really is the thickness of the glass introducing some parallax when touching the device (and adding some weight). 10 years from now this thing is going to be scary good.

  3. Troy
    April 28th, 2010 at 18:52 | #3

    Funny what the difference four years makes:


    Sony just didn’t have the internal engineering chops or product management vision to bring a useful piece of technology to market.

    Plus one of Apple’s hidden advantages is platform uniformity. There’s only one iPad in the iPad platform at the moment, and Apple is going to sell 5M or more of them this year, 10X more than any other single platform.

    The brings unity of focus among app developers. The iPad is a fixed target with a known performance envelop, just like xbox 360 and PS3.

    The Sony above suffers from the fact that nobody can really profitably write software exclusively for the device.

  4. Tim Kane
    April 28th, 2010 at 22:53 | #4

    Troy: Good points on the software dynamics.

    Luis & Troy:

    The chip in the Ipad is made by Apple. What does this mean long term for the Apple-Intel relationship? Will Apple start making all their own chis for all their own devices? Intel was working real hard toward computer on a chip for small devices.

  5. Troy
    April 28th, 2010 at 23:41 | #5

    ^ The desktop space is still a Windows world, and Apple gains more being x86 compatible than trying to beat Intel at its own game. The worst that can happen sticking with Intel is being as fast as everyone else.

    Desktop performance really doesn’t matter any more. I purchased a Mac Pro in 2006 and a MBP in 2008 and don’t see any necessary upgrades in the foreseeable future.

    There’s certainly room for the iPhone OS to morph into a laptop form factor later this decade. The current generation doesn’t quite have the oomph to supplant a MBP, but the next will be getting close.

    Apple’s design win with the iPad is the tight integration of CPU, GPU, and unified memory architecture in a single package (3 layers sandwiched together).

    Intel is trying to play defense by focusing on x86 and making it relevant in the portable space with Atom now, but this is still a sideline for the company more or less.

    Apple has the corporate focus on the handheld space now and it is showing (somewhat to the detriment of the desktop space).

    Thing is, x86 compatibility is superfluous for the handheld space. Netbooks run Windows and so need the Atom, but Microsoft’s next phone isn’t going to be an Intel architecture. Nobody in their right mind has ever chosen the x86 architecture from a blank slate.

  6. Tim Kane
    April 29th, 2010 at 07:32 | #6

    Troy: Great insight. Thanks.

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