First there was the iPad announcement, and then came some analysis. Then, in a tech frenzy of cyberstabbing, came an almost unprecedented backlash.
All of this has left me bemused, if a little shaken, as the damn iPad is not even available yet. Since only a few people have seen it and even less have touched it, this massive output of words and opinion on the device is all rather odd.
The backlash has, however, been a great opportunity, undertaken with quite unseemly relish, for anyone with any kind of beef against Apple.
And there are plenty with chips on their shoulders when it comes to Apple, it appears. And those chips aren't made by Intel, either.
- There are those PC/Windows users who know and love their machines. Having put so much time and effort into them, they resent any kind of challenge Apple represents, even though many of these also somewhat schizophrenically decry Apple as a minor player.
- There are those who label Apple exclusive, disliking the way the Californian computer company links users into an Apple cycle of use.
- There are those who decry Apple because they can't/won't afford it. Yes, as I've have said many times before, yes, Apple products are more expensive than other-brand computers and devices.
(But there are cost-of-ownership reports that prove the up-front cost is usually compensated by less calls to tech support, ease of use, intuitive learning and reliability.)
- There are some IT/networking guys who guard their knowledge and who feel their positions are threatened by computers that are easier for ordinary people to use and maintain (Macs defragment themselves, check themselves and are generally robust, plus can fit themselves into most existing networks).
- There are those who feel genuinely threatened by Apple simply because it is better. Macs and iPhones are more reliable, usable, beautiful, intuitive, handy and virus resistant.
All of these viewpoints are, to greater and lesser extents, understandable, even from my own Apple-centric position, I concede.
But let's get back to the iPad.
OK, I concede the name is bad, but as the wise Jack Campbell pointed out to me over a beer in the Wine Cellar the other day, the Nintendo Wii wasn't exactly the best name on the planet, but who cares about that now? And crikey, I still remember a whole line of computers called Wang...
Personally, I think Apple has time to change it before launch. It would just mean even more publicity. I still like my own name for it: MacBook. But anyway ...
So while pointing out, once again, that we are all just speculating, many of the iPad's features are known from Apple's press material.
In Pat Pilcher's story a few days ago, he said he felt "underwhelmed and slightly cheated" by the iPad.
He hasn't even seen or used one yet – that's at least two months away! Nevertheless, he made some valid points.
Portability: Pilcher said it was too big to be truly portable, but too small to put in a purse. However, I've never seen him write the same about netbooks. If you want a readable screen, there's no way it's going to fit in your purse, fella. And it's certainly more portable than a proper laptop, and more readable than an iPhone/touch.
No HDMI output: I don't get this, but I don't have one of those massive home theatre setups, either. If you have, surely you have other means of getting data into your entertainment setup? The iPad has never been intended for home theatre.
No multitasking: iPad is powered by an Apple-branded 1Ghz mobile CPU. Pilcher wrote "Not being able to catch some tunes whilst surfing and tweeting simply blows." I doubt this is actually the case, if it's using the iPhone OS. On my iPhone, I set music playing, then I home-button out of it. The music still plays and I control it with the remote in my earbud cable, while I run other apps (albeit one at a time). Is that not multitasking? It's limited, sure, but it works great on iPhone. I have no problem with it.
No Flash: this is no surprise. Apple doesn't like Flash, on the grounds that it's old tech already and because it uses too much power. The web might be Flash-based now, but Apple's looking at the future and putting resources into HTML5 with its promise of smooth, high resolution on-demand video. Besides, Flash can be a security risk. Needless to say, Flash developer Adobe is not happy at any of this. Fast Company has a lengthy piece on the issue, but it's nicely summed up at the end.
Gizmodo also champions HTML5 over Flash for the next internet generation (Web3).
However, it looks like Adobe is entertaining iPhone developers with a view to making Flash more iPhone friendly, according to Macworld. So we might all win at the end.
Apple has done this many times before, I must reiterate – abandoning standards for their shortcomings, despite widespread adoption, while adopting new tech for the future – USB instead of Serial, FireWire over SCSI, CD over floppies, ever later versions of WiFi standards. There's always an outcry. Then everyone else follows suit.
But there are some terrific points 'for' iPad, too, some of which you may not have considered.
Hardware: there's no USB port, which seems odd, and no HDMI port, which I couldn't care less about. But when Apple released the iPhone 3.0 software, the OS got much more control over the kinds of data that could be received and transmitted from hardware through its data port.
At the OS3 launch, Apple demonstrated a diabetes monitoring peripheral with the potential to transform how sufferers manage their diabetes.
Since then, some FM transmitters use the charge-port, as does TomTom's GPS in-car kit. Apple has also designed a digital point of sale plug-in for the Apple Stores, and there's a similar device coming from Verifone.
The iPad, with its 9.7-inch screen and practically the same OS, can already use a new plug-in keyboard and a digital camera connector. In other words, the 30-pin charge-port is totally capable of dealing with peripherals, and this opens up a whole new world to those smart third-party hardware vendors.
As I have noted before, iPad carries several innovations that are almost bound to revolutionise out normal day to day computers, and this is great. In iPad's version of Numbers, a spreadsheet program, you can make windows bigger and smaller just by dragging them with your finger.
Across the iPad system, Apple has introduced a new UI element called 'popovers'. They are dialogue boxes, drop-down menus and inspector palettes combined.
Popovers appear on-screen over existing views, but you can't drag them around. To close a popover, you just tap away from it. Fast Company says "This is one of those aspects of the iPad UI that you just have to feel to get it. It feels perfect."
That 'little' monitor:
The iPad display offers 1024?×?768 pixels, offering 132 pixels per inch, which is less than the sharp-looking iPhone and iPod Touch displays (162ppi).
But Apple uses In-Plane Switching in the iPad display, tech more often found in HDTVs than in mobile devices.
In IPS LCD screens, the crystal molecules are oriented so their motion is parallel to the panel, instead of perpendicular to it. For viewers, the result is a very wide viewing angle (up to 180 degrees) with brilliant colour.
Wired has more on that.
The iPad's version of iPhone OS contains more fonts than iPhone OS 3.1. The iBooks app lets you switch the text face between five fonts.
The iPad display may be in the unfashionable 4:3 aspect ratio, but that's just about the right shape for a book or comic page. Comic pages should be readable at full-size on the iPad, with little panning around.
Comixology has posted a comics-on-iPad concept video, but note that you probably won't need to pan and scan as much as shown, on an iPad, because of the screen shape and resolution.
Fast Company, again, has an interesting posting on how good website and magazine experiences are likely to be on iPad.
With a digital subscription to a news service or magazine, you can get updates daily, or even every minute. No more month-long waits for publication. This will create a shift in periodical media production and it will change how advertising works, and it's high time. Fast Company has more on that.
Above all, the best thing about the iPad – and it's a very pleasant surprise, I must say – is the price, starting at just over $700 in New Zealand dollars.
As for how successful, useful, world-changing or a failing, a non-starting, and limited the iPad might actually be, well, we'll see, won't we? Like I keep saying, we're all just speculating at this point. We don't know.
I may be able to tell you by the end of April. Like I've said before, I didn't understand the fuss about the iPhone when it first came out. Now it's my can't-leave-home-without-it device, and I see people using them all over the place.
- Mark Webstermac.nzBy Mark Webster