Let me preface this by saying that I do not own an iPad nor do I own any other “tablet” like device. I’ve played with an iPad and some of the older generation of Windows tablets (Laptops with swivel screens and stylus input running a “Tablet Edition” of Window) but I have no exceptional experience with anything I’m going to rant about. That said, I’m still going to talk about them.
I’m going to try to address various talking points I’ve been reading in articles, comments and blogs but don’t sue me if I miss anything.
It’s Just a Big iPod Touch
And you know what? That’s a big part of what makes it different than previous generation “tablet” devices, which have all decisively under performed in the market. The iPod touch brought the PMP to the masses. Yes, the PMP market existed long before the iPod touch, but only geeks were really paying attention. Archos is a novel french company that makes some compelling products but unless you’re an Internet superstar, you probably haven’t even heard of them. Cowon? Taiwanese company but lump them in with Archos as they are basically selling the same PMPs with small feature and form differences.
The iPod touch (and the iPhone) brought tasks that used to require full fledged computers into the pocket. It defined a different way to do old things. Apple didn’t invent any of this, they just brought it to the masses which is something I think the geeks and nerds truly resent. No longer was handheld computing reserved for those “in the know” or clever enough to figure out how to jump through all the hoops to get value out of the gadgets.
The iPad takes this simplification to a larger form factor. The iPad wasn’t the first product to bring computing to this form factor, it was just the first to bring the simplification of the iPod touch to this form factor. I think this is a great idea, considering the proven appeal of the iPod touch. It represents an increasing disconnect between the desired outcome and the complex processes needed to get there. The simplicity of the iPad (because it very much is like a big iPod touch) is a strong differentiator from previous “tablet” efforts.
I’ve read lots of fans raving about how it can’t be just a big iPod touch because of all the new use cases, how it changes the paradigm of computing and how it makes the device vanish and truly connect you to content. I’m not into these emotional arguments, thought they very well may ring true for many people. I’m just a bit more pragmatic than that.
Technically, the iPad is very much like a big iPod touch and frankly that appeals to me because I really enjoy(ed) my iPod touch despite my self-inflicted hardware trouble with it. People who argue that it’s not a big iPod touch are making these arguments for entirely non-technical reasons, which is fine and all but you have ignore the that technically it is pretty much a big iPod touch while making the argument that it’s not to make it a compelling argument.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Netbooks do X, Y and Z, have A, B and C hardware features and you can get one for dirt cheap. We all know it. Thanks for the update, Internet.
If you want a portable computer that mimics your desktop or slightly-more-portable laptop in a smaller more inexpensive package, I’m not sure what’s so interesting about commenting in iPad/tablet articles about how these devices just don’t stack up for your needs: buy a freakin’ Netbook and enjoy that Intel Atom processor and the whopping performance it provides running desktop-class software. What’s that? You can run Photoshop on your Netbook? Well shazam! Whodathunkit? Let the design firms line up at Best Buy because now that the cat is out of the bag, we’re sure to see professional designers using Netbooks instead of their over-priced, under-featured Macbooks. Puh-lease.
Netbooks do exactly what desktop and laptops do, only worse. All the widgets, task bars, window controls, menus and other desktop paradigm elements need to be packed into that 10″ or less screen. All that bloated software needs to be packed into 1-2GB of RAM. All that poorly optimized code that runs fine on the latest Core i7 needs to be processed by the underwhelming Atom.
But on the other hand, if you intend on using your Netbook for browsing the web, using IM, reading documents, writing documents or other tasks that a PII from the late 90s can handle without too much sweat then we have a more interesting discussion. More interesting because it’s no longer about what can’t be done on the iPad and other tablets, it’s about the experience of doing so. Netbooks don’t dramatically change the conventional experience of web browsing. The iPad does. Netbooks don’t dramatically change the conventional experience of reading documents. The iPad does.
If you’re not looking for a dramatic change in your basic-needs computing experience, Netbooks should be right down your alley. If you are, maybe an iPad or any one of the upcoming slew of other tablet devices just might. Netbooks fill a need for many but it’s just more of what we’re already used to in a crappy form factor with smaller screens, degraded performance and terrible keyboards… all for price to match while offering slightly improved mobility at best.
It’ll Never Sell Unless it Has X, Y and Z Features
That’s your inner techie talking and depending on who you are it could be putting false notions into your head. Apple sells plenty of products that don’t have X, Y and Z. And people love them. Blame it on marketing. Blame it on the RDF. Blame on the media. Blame it on being a hipster asshole. Blame it on whatever you’d like but it doesn’t change the fact that a long feature list isn’t what makes Macbooks fly of the shelf. It’s not what makes the iPhone 4 still have more demand than supply.
The idea that because a product doesn’t satisfy several items on a feature checklist which you’ve decided are crucially important will result in a market place flop is false, regardless of whether the product would be better if those features were included.
iPad and various Android and ChromeOS powered tablets will sell (and the iPad already is selling) precisely because they provide a usable subset of functionality wrapped into a neat(er) little package as opposed to the whole shebang. This point has been decisively proven wrong already and things are just getting out of the gates. But Windows-powered tablets didn’t sell, you say. And yet those products had exactly every feature you wanted. Funny that!
No flash, no multiasking, no replaceable battery, no USB ports, no file management all are moot for the grand scheme of sales. Could the iPad sell even more if it supported flash, had multitasking right from the get go, had a user-replaceable battery, USB ports and a traditional file browser? Maybe, but these things are simply not detrimental to sales. Even if they are detrimental to user adoption from the nerd brigade.
Where “features” really sell is where they easily translate to something joe-fuck-ass can immediately understand. The iPad has a 10 hour battery life, according to Apple. What does that translate to? You can use it constantly for the majority of a day on one charge. This is something that is easily understood and provides immediate obvious value to customers. USB ports, as fine and dandy as they are, do not provide such immediate value to the masses. People may find it desirable to pop in a USB flash drive to transfer some .docs to their iPad or tablet but this provides little value in the grand scheme of things where you just sync those files over iTunes/non-host USB port, receive them in an email or connect the cloud service de-jour. These features may very well be compelling to smaller segments but they simply won’t prevent the iPad and any other competitive product lacking them from market success alone. Nor will the including of these features immediately make any competitors a success.
The Openess of Linux on Upcomming Tablets Will Make All the Difference
It won’t. No matter how much I truly enjoy Linux and the values it is often made to represent, it really won’t make one ounce of difference because it’s been proven time and time again that openess is not something that consumers value on principle alone. If the open nature of Android or other Linux variants on the tablet will make any difference is because that open nature will directly result in an improved experience. And frankly, after 14 or so years of devoutly using and participating in all things Linux, I haven’t seen that happen. Sure, Linux itself has improved in the usability and overall experience department. But so has everything else (yes, even Windows) along the same time line.
Android does offer some compelling user experience over iOS devices due to it’s less restrictive 3rd party software practices, this I will concede. But telling me that weather apps on the lock screen or task management applications are significantly improving the user experience to the point where markets are shifting as a result is preposterous. Android is seeing significant and impressive gains in the smartphone arena but claiming these gains are a result of pissed off would-be Apple customers specifically selecting the latest and greatest Android phone instead of the iPhone because Android is rooted in the nebulous idea of openess won’t make me a believer all on it’s own. I need facts and strong arguments. I’m far more convinced that the numerous 2-for-1 deals on Android phones has more impact on Android’s adoption than the concept of openess does.
That said, on a purely ideological stand point I’m all for openess. In markets that are determined by the bottom line known as money I’ve yet to see openess manifest itself as anything but a talking point where it matters when talking about sales. That’s not to say openess doesn’t matter, but the claims that openess is what’ll sell is all I’m trying to debunk.
Upcomming Product X is Going to Kill the iPad
Talk to me when it’s available. Remember the JooJoo? Oh right, you don’t because it’s entirely irrelevant after months and month of Internet hype. Even with all that hype, the net result was 90 pre-orders. Seriously, 90?!? Ok, so not all competitive products are going to tank like the JooJoo. And that’s because they won’t all be clouded by strange business takeovers and court proceedings. Nor will the suck as much as the JooJoo apparently does.
But the point stands: Let’s wait until some serious competitors are shipping products and then evaluate these actual products and the companies pushing them.
There are swaths of articles about iPad competitors. TOP 15 iPAD ALTERNATIVES, TOP 9 iPAD KILLERS, etc. but not yet one credible competitive product is available and shipping besides a handful of minor semi-similar offerings from long term players like Archos or new entrants like EnTourage Edge with exactly zero mindshare which were never really touted as iPad killers in the first place.
I can accept a market with competition. In fact, I encourage it. But hyping yet-to-be-released and even better yet-to-receive-a-release date products as iPad killers is a bit like, well, all the iPod killers and iPhone killers. There is room in the market for more than just Apple, which is will evidenced by Apples incredibly minor share of the PC market and minority share of the smartphone market. And yet, even with those minority market shares, Apple still makes money and still commands significant mindshare.
I’m as eager as anyone to see how things play out, but that’s exactly what I’m going to do: See how it plays out. Not call all the shots before the competition has even loaded their guns.
Yeah, I finished four beers while writing this up, so what? It’s barely 2000 words and I’m not even angry yet. I’m sure there are plenty of errors in the blobs of text above, so please comment and tell me where and why I’m wrong. I need hits baby, hits! See those google ads? You don’t? That’s because they are hidden with fancy CSS for that extra secret pay out from google.
There’s probably a lot more to say but fuck it. I’m done.