The iPad, part 2

So the complaining about the iPad continues. Like I said before, this is nothing new, all new products from Apple receive huge amount of critique after they are launched. Everyone has totally overblown expectations regarding the device, and when they actually get something that does not fulfill every hare-brained fantasy, people complain.

This time I'm going to discuss the iPad from two (or three, depending on how you look at things) different perspectives, both of which have been repeatedly mentioned around the web.

"It's just an oversized iPod touch!"

No it isn't. Sure, if you looked at the specs alone (something I advised against) it might seem like that. But it's pretty obvious that it's a lot more. Just look at the apps it runs. You could not run iWork on your iPod. You couldn't really create content on your iPod (apart from tweets, short emails and Facebook-updates). With the iPad you can actually create presentations, spreadsheets, documents. And we haven't even seen what the third-party developers will think of!

It's obvious that the added screen-real-estate and performance enable things that are simply not available on the iPod. Only way someone could think of this as an "oversized iPod touch" is if they simply stared at the specs, without actually looking and thinking what and how you can do with the device.

It should be obvious to everyone that iPad is a lot more capable than iPod touch is. No question about that.

"Why not just get a laptop instead?"

That's another thing being thrown around. Well, why not get a laptop? After all, they have big screens as well, dedicated keyboards, even more power and storage-space... Well, the answer to that is multifaceted one. Let's start with the obvious.

Compared to iPad, laptops (I'll talk about netbooks in a moment) cost more, they are bigger and heavier and they get less battery-life (I just heard that the iPad has 140 hour battery-life when listening to music....). Those are the obvious, measurable differences between the two. But the answer goes deeper than that.

At this point people will say "but I can do more with a laptop!". Sure. You have an optical drive, which lets you watch DVD's, you can run "normal" apps (like Photoshop etc.), you have bigger screen, more performance etc.Tthose are all facts. Does that mean that iPad is therefore crap? Not at all.

The iPad might have less raw features, but the iPad also costs less. Second, the things it does, it does better. Just look at the user interface. On a laptop you manipulate a pointer, which you use to manipulate various UI-elements. On the iPad, you manipulate the UI directly. That alone is a huge difference. It makes using the device a lot more direct (dare I say, "intimate"?) experience.

I will here and now make the claim that browsing the web on the iPad will be a better experience than browsing it on a laptop, even without Flash. My iPod touch has already taken it's place as my main web-browsing device in my household. I rather browse the web with my iPod than with my laptop. And iPad will be order of magnitude better at web-browsing than iPod touch is.

Same will probably happen with email. I already use my iPod for email, but there the laptop still reigns supreme. I wouldn't be one bit surprised if iPad ended up being just as good, if not better at email than a laptop is. Looking at the demos, the email-client in the iPad is very powerful. Order of magnitude more powerful than the one in the iPod touch.

What about photos and movies? Again, it seems to me that iPad will be as good or better at those than a laptop is. iPad is more convenient at your lap than a laptop is, and it's easier to share the screen with others. Watching movies on a laptop is certainly doable, but far from ideal.

It seems to me that while laptop will always be more adaptable, the things that the iPad does, it does better than a laptop does. This isn't about doing more things, it's about doing less things, but better.

"Wait, what about netbooks?!"

Ah yes, the netbook... I mentioned that compared to the iPad, laptops are bigger and heavier, more expensive and get less battery-life. But that also applies to netbooks. Looking at those raw features, iPad and netbooks seem similar.

But the problem with netbooks is just as Steve Jobs said: "they aren't better than laptops in anything. They are just small and cheap laptops". The software they run is the same software running on the laptops. It's "jack-of-all-trades" software that is designed for large screen and small screens, instead of being tailor-made for the device. It's software designed for mouse and keyboard. The email-experience, web-experience, movie-experience etc. are not better than they would be in a laptop, they are worse. On the iPad, they are better. They are better because Apple designed the apps for the device, as opposed to shoehorning some existing apps to the device.

The benefits netbooks offer when compared to laptops is that they are small and cheap. But so is iPad. in fact, iPad is smaller than netbooks are. Sure, netbooks might offer adaptability not present in the iPad (USB-ports etc.), but everything else in them is crappier.

Bottom line

The usage-areas Apple focused on during the presentation (email, web, photos, movies, music, books) cover huge part of the things that people do with their computers. And iPad excels at all of them. It's an undisputed fact that it's more capable than iPod touch is. Anything touch can do, iPad can do a lot better. And it also seems that the things the iPad does, it does better than a laptop would do them. Then there's the content-creation, like word-processing. Laptops obviously excel at that, but iPad seems to very very capable in it as well, maybe even better than a laptop is some ways.

If those usage-areas cover the things that you look from a mobile computer, then the iPad is a no-brainer. It's smaller, cheaper and it's _better_. If you want to do something else, you might need a laptop, maybe even a netbook. But for huge numbers of people, iPad will be perfect, and when developers really get going, we will see some excellent apps on the device. Apps that do things that simply would not work on an iPod touch (or a netbook for that matter).

It's the experience, not the specs

Three years ago Apple announced the iPhone. While people were generally speaking impressed, there were the naysayers. Competitors, people who generally dislike Apple and so forth. Usually their arguments regarding the crappiness of the iPhone related to some features it was missing. Nokia famously quipped that iPhone is not going to get anywhere because it does not have 3G. Others complained that the camera had too little megapixels. The complaints about the iPhone have continued to this day, but the arguments change as iPhone becomes more capable. But all the time there are some features that the iPhone is lacking, and therefore the device sucks.

Yesterday Apple announced the iPad. iPad is thought to be Apples answer to netbooks, the small and inexpensive laptops. And the complaints have already started: the screen-resolution is too low, it's just an oversized iPod touch, no multitasking etc. etc.

What all these complaints fail to understand is that Apple and the devices they make are not about the specs, they are about experience. Every Mac-user is familiar with the pointless comparisons PC-users do to show how much less equally equipped PC would cost when compared to a Mac. Yeah, maybe, whatever. But fact remains that I'm more productive on a Mac, and I get more enjoyment from my computer than I would get from a PC. Even if that PC might have few megahertz more than the Mac had.

Same thing with the iPhone. So it didn't have 3G. What do you use 3G for? Well, MMS-messages and web-browsing. Fact was that no-one used MMS, and iPhone had world-class email-client instead. Web-browsing? Web-browsers sucked on phones, so 3G went more or less useless. iPhone was order of magnitude better at web-browsing than those 3G-phones were.

But, instead of focusing on the actual web-browsing experience, the nay-sayers focused on the feature (or, lack of it).

iPad does it again

It seems that the cycle is repeating with the iPad. Nay-sayers are focusing on some indivual specs, as opposed to thinking about the experience as a whole. Yeah, the screen-resolution is pretty ordinary. But still, early comments regarding the screen in actual use are overwhelmingly positive. Words like "crisp" and "stunning" are being thrown around. What would higher screen-resolution give? It would mean that the CPU and GPU would have to push more pixels around, and that would mean either that

a) performance would suffer
b) battery-life would suffer since CPU and GPU would have to be more powerful
c) size and weight would suffer, if they wanted to have more powerful GPU and CPU while retaining the battery-life

and in addition:

d) the price would be higher

And we need to remember that the device will be running apps designed for that screen (or for an even smaller iPhone-screen), as opposed to the situation we have with netbooks, where it runs software designed for apps that will use all the screen-real-estate they can get. iPhone and iPod touch manage just fine with screens that have a lot smaller resolution that the iPad has.

One common complaint is that iPad is "just an oversized iPod touch". Maybe, but is that a bad thing? As Scott Forrestall said: "The bigger screen allows use to have apps that are not just a little bit more powerful, but order of magnitude more powerful". And looking at the product-video available at, the apps that run on the iPad are A LOT more powerful than apps running on the iPod touch or iPhone. Hell, they have iWork running on the iPad! The performance and the screen of the iPad really make it possible to run apps that would simply not work on the iPhone. iPad can really replace a laptop for many people.

One other complaint is that iPad does not multitask. Now, how would you use multitasking? The most common use-scenario seems to be apps that stream audio, like Spotify. So you can't run Spotify on the iPad, while doing something else with it. But the solution to this is really simple: iPad is not a replacement for iPhone or iPod touch. So why not run Spotify on your iPod or iPhone, and use iPad for the other task? I mean, you will most likely have your iPhone in your pocket, am I right?

The problem Apple has

The thing is that people are Apple's competitors are used to discuss technology in terms of features. Computers are sold by underlining the amount of megabits and megaherts they have. And in many ways that applies to really personal technology as well, like phones. Sure, Apple does the same where they have to: they talk about the specifications of their computers, because in there they might actually mean something. But that does not really apply to these "post-PC" products, like smartphones and iPad. Who cares how many megabits or megahertz your phone has? Notice how Apple never tells details about the amount of RAM or the CPU that is inside their phones?

Same thing is happening with the iPad. Apple does not talk about those things, because they are irrelevant. What matters is how well those products actually work and how much use and enjoyment the user gets from them. And THAT is the area where Apple really delivers. But the problem is that many people, and even many journalists and experts are still stuck at the idea of staring at the specs, and using them to determine the quality of the product. iPhone sucks because it didn't have 3G, and iPad sucks because some netbooks have higher-resolution screens. People, you need to look beyond the specs! The product-video Apple posted tries to get their message across: that the actual use is what matters, not the specs. It just happens that "better user experience" is not a feature that you can really list in a spec-sheet...

Apple has been trying to change the rules in this area for years, and while they still have a long road ahead of them, I think they are making progress.

The exception to the rule

There is one exception to the "let's not talk about specs"-mantra that Apple is repeating: The iPad's CPU is designed by Apple. Now, they aren't really shouting this from the rooftops either, but they surely are not keeping it a secret. The message is clear: Only Apple can deliver an unified product. They have for years talked about how only Apple creates the hardware and the software. Apple is now taking that to a whole new level by designing their own CPU's. The CPU inside the iPad is designed for this product, and the software on the iPad is written for that CPU. That allows Apple a level of freedom their competitors simp0ly do not have. They use chips made by one company (usually Intel) and they use software written by some other company (usually Microsoft). Only thing they do is slap those parts together and call it a day. There's very little product-differentiation between PC-manufacturers. When you have seen and used one PC, you have seen and used them all.

Same thing will happen with these "slate-PC's". Steve Ballmer already demoed few in his bug-ridden CES-keynote. Those devices were running Windows 7, an OS that was designed primarily for normal computers. The UI was not smooth, and the product was to be released in 6 months or so. They used CPU's from Intel, CPU's that have to cater to lots of different markets and products. iPad is running an OS designed for the iPad, using a CPU designed for the iPad. And the iPad will be available in 2 months. And even though the iPad will be available before it's competitors, it did not feel like a half-baked product, quite the contrary! It was smooth, refined and finished.

I feel sorry for Steve Ballmer and his customer.


Many moons ago I mentioned that when it gets really cold, we sometimes see "Pillars of light". They are... um, pillars of light that rise from bright lights. I finally managed to take picture of them, and by popular request: