iPad – iWant or iHype

Apple iPad – Game Changer or Hype?

Put aside the droll jokes about feminine hygiene – those will fade as quickly as it takes Apple to upgrade the new iPad to a newer, more versatile, version. There are Apple aficionados who will rush out, line up, spend crazy amounts of money to be the first on the block with the latest device from guru Steve Jobs and Co., and I used to be one of them. Now it might be the time to look beyond the platform, more to the why? What is behind the iPad that makes Apple know it will be a winner?

Apple iPad

Apple iPad

Admittedly there is not a shiny new device in front of me, so much of the commentary is from others. However, from of the months of rumours, and the final launch, all I could envision is an iPhone writ large, and frankly, for now, that is all the iPad is. In fact, unlike the iPhone, there is no camera – but who would want to use a book to take a photo?

The genius is the content provision. Jobs and the Apple crew did not launch the iPod or iTouch until they could largely control the available music, videos, movies and prime time shows. They set the agenda, and the pricing, with the content providers – even the data carriers – and that makes Apple the primary source of information control, yes, control, of all the device producers. Unlike Nokia or Samsung – who often design handsets as loss leaders in return for carrier fee sharing – Apple is determined to profit from each device, from the data fees, and more long term, from the content. Lacking in the Kindle is the ability to play video – and think of the full potential of e-books: video and multi-media embedded within the written word. The iPad is a mostly full media platform – lacking Flash – but is there anything inherently new? No. Do they change the interaction profile? No – in fact, you can buy a docking station and keyboard!

As Charlie Brooker eloquently states in his Guardian UK article

It’s an iPhone for people who can’t be arsed holding an iPhone up to their face. A slightly-further-away iPhone that keeps your lap warm. A weird combination of portable and cumbersome: too small to replace your desktop, too big to fit in your pocket, unless you’re a clown. It can play video, but really – do you want to spend hours staring at a movie in your lap? Sit through Lord of the Rings and you’d need an osteopath to punch the crick out of your neck afterwards. It can also be used as an ebook, something newspapers are understandably keen to play up, but because it’s got an illuminated display rather than a fancy non-backlight “digital ink” ebook screen, it’ll probably leave your eyes feeling strained, as though your pupils are wearing tight shoes.

The iPad falls between two stools – not quite a laptop, not quite a smartphone. In other words, it’s the spork of the electronic consumer goods world. Or rather it would be, were it not for one crucial factor: it looks ideal for idly browsing the web while watching telly. And I suspect that’s what it’ll largely be used for. Millions of people watch TV while checking their emails: it’s a perfect match for them.

The iPad is not a technological game changer, it’s a simple match of current content on a larger screen. It will offer Apple, publishers and App designers a new platform, but only if the take up is as large as the iPod, which I doubt will happen. The iPad does not fundamentally break the division between a decent laptop, which has far more functionality, and a truly portable device, like the iPhone.

However, if I were a fashion editor – watch for safari suits with large iPad pockets!

The iPad is available for $499 from the Apple.com Store

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