What the iPad isn’t
…isn’t named very well
. I actually really dislike the name iPad. I liked the rumor that the device would be called Canvas. It sounded like a very elegant name, but I realize that while canvas does encompass the artsy, creative aspects of using the iPad, it wouldn't address the e-book reader, gaming, and work aspects of the device. I also hoped that the rumors that they'd drop the "i" prefix from the name were true, but I guess that Apple is retaining the "i" prefixes for non-laptop mobile devices, and the Mac-prefixed names will be used for the laptop and desktop computers. Don't you agree that a name like Apple Tablet, Apple Slate, or MacTablet would've been a nicer name? I guess iPod is kind of a strange name for a device, yet now it has become commonplace. I'm sure we'll all get used to iPad, but for right now, seeing all the jokes about it are getting really tiresome.
…isn’t a "tablet" computer, per se. AFAIK, Apple never actually referred to their device as a tablet. I guess through a controlled leak it could've come out that Apple was working on a slate device, and then the term "tablet" got bandied around. Unfortunately, since the Microsoft Tablet PCs are the tablet computing devices that most people are familiar with, the features of said Tablet PCs came to the forefront. However, the iPad has neither of the major features of a Tablet PC — stylus input and handwriting recognition/OCR. Actually, OS X does have a handwriting recognition engine called Inkwell, but the iPhone OS doesn't. I guess the rumors were somewhat natural because Axiotron had started work on the ModBook, and at that time, I seem to remember rumors of an actual Apple tablet device supposedly coming soon. Axiotron must've been sweating, worried that Apple would make their ModBook products obsolete. They have nothing to be worried about for now.
Image credit: Axiotron
Axiotron ModBook. This is not the Apple iPad.
[Editor's Note: browsing Axiotron's website today reminded me how interested I was in the ModBook. I'm seriously considering having them convert my MacBook into a tablet Mac! :)]
Actually, with the iPad's larger screen, it may be possible to combine Dan Bricklin's Note Taker app and a Pogo Sketch stylus to do some rudimentary digital inking. I bought a Pogo Sketch a little while ago and tested it on my iPhone (haven't yet written that up for my blog… *sheepish grin*). While it was kind of hard to do at first, I was able to sort of get the hang of it and ink out a short ink blog post. However, the Pogo Sketch tip is not that accurate, and it feels like writing with a Q-tip (as Leo Laporte described on MacBreak Weekly; the Pogo styli are used in Apple retail stores on the iPod-touch-based point-of-sale devices). It's definitely not comparable to using a stylus on an active digitizer like on a Tablet PC. Also, the Note Taker app didn't do any handwriting recognition, just straight "ink" capture. That's exactly what I prefer, but most people who handwrite notes on a Tablet PC prefer them to be converted into typed text.
Pogo Sketch stylus: works on capacitive screens (iPhone/iPod touch) and the MacBook multitouch trackpads.
I don't think Apple has any plans to make a device resembling a Tablet PC. That just isn't the direction these touch-enabled devices seem to be going. But I still hold out hope that perhaps they will make a touch version of the full OS X and create a slate version of the MacBook line like the ModBook. That would be awesome. 🙂
…is not a replacement for either smartphones or laptops.
As Andy Ihnatko has said several times on MacBreak Weekly, Apple is very careful not to have devices with redundant features. The Mac mini and the Mac Pro are desktop machines for different situations. The MacBook and the MacBook Pro have enough distinction for there to be separate demographic targets (in theory). The iPhone is the smartphone. Even the different iPods have distinct features and hardware for a given demographic. Apple was very specific about positioning the iPad between the iPhone and MacBooks, making a hybrid device that has an enhanced version of the iPhone OS that takes advantage of the new hardware.
There have been a lot of complaints, saying that the iPad is a useless device because you can't do such-and-such feature like you can with a laptop, or it's not pocketable like the iPhone. The point of a new hybrid device like the iPad is not necessarily what you can do with it, but rather how you interact with it. The slate form factor and touchscreen does make interaction with it more intimate, as Steve Jobs said. It's just you and the screen. No intermediary keyboard (when not using the keyboard dock) or mousing device. You're holding the device directly in your hands and navigating with your fingers. You want to show off some pictures? It's like flipping through a physical photo album, not manuvering and huddling around a laptop screen. Reading an e-book on a slate actually feels like holding the dead-tree version in your hands. This form factor promotes a more casual mode of computing, and they tried to emphasize this during the announcement by sitting in a chair, propping up the iPad in your lap. You can still get some serious, productive work done with the iPad, especially having more screen real estate than a smartphone, but in general, the iPad is a casual computing device. At least that's the impression that I get. I've used a Tablet PC in slate mode for browsing and reading e-books and it definitely feels natural and more comfortable than doing the same on a laptop. But it is something that you have to experience yourself; it's kind of hard to explain, not to get all hippy-dippy on you, Dear Reader. 🙂
Having apps like the iWork suite available on the iPad means that you can really get down and do some "real work" on the iPad. However, it's not going to address the needs of someone who really uses a laptop as some kind of workhorse, using full-blown Photoshop or editing video on Final Cut. It isn't meant to, though. This isn't some cop-out device that's missing real horsepower to get things done, despite people's protests to the contrary. Besides, why would Apple make a device that would cannibalize sales of either their iPhones or their MacBooks? Both categories of devices are netting a ton of profit for Apple. The iPad is a step above a smartphone and a step below a laptop or desktop machine. If you tell me that you never ever do any casual web surfing, e-mail, gaming or whatever, then there really is no point for you to get this device. But if you have a laptop or a netbook and all you do is e-mail and surfing, you could totally get by with an iPad, and even be surprised at how much productivity it provides when you're done relaxing. I can totally see using the iPad as a mobile blogging machine at a trade show, perhaps not for super-hardcore bloggers from Engadget, but you never know. I could also imagine getting a bit more robust photo editing apps, especially since one of the accessories for the iPad is a set of dongles to allow offloading pictures from your camera. I doubt a pro wedding photographer would ever be able to use an iPad to edit hundreds of RAW files out in the field, but an advanced amateur photographer could offload a few JPEG snaps to run through CameraBag, CameraKit, Lo-Mob, Autostitch, or one of the other awesome photo editing apps already available in the App Store and produce some very nice artistic photos for printing or uploading to Flickr. I know I'm going to try that scenario, for sure.
…is not going to be a static device. The iPad will get firmware and hardware updates just like the iPhone did, and these new features will likely address major concerns people have about multitasking, having a camera for video conferencing, having USB ports, and so on. Even if you think that the iPhone still is a crippled, locked-down device, you can't deny that the difference between the first-gen iPhone and the iPhone 3Gs is quite significant. The original iPhone didn't ship with the ability to install 3rd-party apps, but now there is a thriving ecosystem in the App Store. There was no GPS in the first-gen iPhone, but now the 3Gs has GPS and a compass enabling some pretty awesome augmented reality apps. The same will happen for the iPad. The changes may be too slow for some people's likings, but it will come, and the potential is exciting to me. People have done some pretty suprising stuff with "lowly" PDAs and smartphones, making them into mobile workhorses that would rival full-blown laptops and desktops. I see the same promise for the iPad.
The iPad is a new and interesting hybrid device that may not be useful for more power users, but I think it is worth looking beyond the regular computing conventions to at least try to understand the niche the iPad fits in. Some people might be pleasantly surprised at how much functionality the iPad can offer. Besides, can't you imagine what you might be able to do with it once it's jailbroken? 🙂