On January 27, Apple held a much-hyped and long-anticipated "event" in San Francisco, where Steve Jobs unveiled the company's new tablet device, named (perhaps, in the wake of all the jokes it inspired, to its regret) the iPad. I was looking forward to finding out exactly what the specs on this were going to be. I've been trying to find a really good tablet PC for years, since way back when Microsoft introduced Windows XP Tablet Edition. I love the concept, but none of the devices that have hit the market since then has quite gotten it right — at least for me.
Would Apple be the one to finally do it? Given my experiences with the Mac in the past, I wasn't overly optimistic, but I was willing to give it a chance. Now, after all the speculation and rumors, its tablet is out in the open for everyone to see. And no, I won't be lining up outside the Apple Store to buy one. Like so many of Apple's products, it's pretty, but that's just not enough. This device may fit your needs completely, but here are the top 10 reasons that it falls short for me.
Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.
1: There's no physical keyboard
There are two basic tablet form factors. The first is the "convertible," which includes a keyboard and a swiveling screen that allows you to use it like a regular laptop or lay the screen down on top of the keyboard and use it flat. The second is the "slate," which is a flat screen with no physical keyboard. We all knew the Apple device would fall into the latter category. Up until the unveiling ceremony, the rumor mill was calling it the iSlate. Thus the lack of a physical keyboard doesn't come as a surprise, but it is a strike against it in my book. Some are saying the virtual keyboard is very good, but I've tried touch typing on them before and it's just not the same.
If I want a compact touch screen device I can use to watch videos, surf the Web, read my email, etc., I can do all of that with my smart phone. If I need to do more than that, it's probably going to involve touch typing. And for that, I can use my laptop or netbook. If I want to watch a movie or TV program on a screen that's larger than my phone's, I can do that on the laptop, too. Why would I need to buy and carry a third device?
2: This one size doesn't fit all
If the tablet is going to fit into some gap between the phone and the netbook, the size should be somewhere in between, too. The iPad's screen is about 10 inches, the same as most netbooks. It won't fit into your pocket. It's thin and light, but so are many of the netbooks on the market now. For example, the Sony VAIO X series laptop/netbooks are the same half-inch thick and virtually the same weight (1.5 lbs. vs. 1.6 lbs.). And we're also starting to see netbooks in the convertible tablet form factor, which is really exciting.
3: It runs a phone OS
I would have been more tempted by the iPad if it ran OS X instead of the iPhone operating system. A phone OS is much more limited in what it can do, and the iPad suffers from the same limitation as the iPhone when it comes to applications: Yes, there are lots of them, but you can get them only from one source, Apple's App Store. Can you imagine the outcry if Microsoft said you could buy Windows programs only from them?
One of the biggest limitations of the iPhone OS is that you can't multi-task. Like it or not, we live in a multi-tasking world today. People may be satisfied with running just one app at a time on their phones — after all, the screen isn't big enough to see multiple windows — but with a device that's four times as big and costs quite a bit more, we expect to get a real computer. And real computers multi-task.
4: There's not enough storage
The iPad will come with 16, 32, or 64 GB of storage. From my experiences with the early netbooks, I learned that 16 or 32 GB of storage isn't enough for me. Granted, my needs may be greater than that of the average user. But by the time I install all the programs I want to use and put my music, photos, and a few videos on there, what once upon a time seemed like a lot of space really isn't. The 64 GB model might be just barely enough, but the price is high — much higher than a netbook with four times the storage.
5: There's No HDMI output or camera
Today, computing is all about multimedia — both consuming it and creating it. You can watch HD movies on the iPad (although it doesn't have the 16:9 standard aspect ratio), but you can't output them to your HDTV because there's no HDMI connector. And you won't be making movies or taking pictures with your iPad, either.
One handy use for a device of this size and form factor would be video conferencing... except Apple forgot to include a camera and microphone. Most new laptops and netbooks have a built-in Web cam. Even the iPhone has a camera, albeit not a particularly good one. You could just buy a Web cam and connect it... but what do you connect it to? That brings us to the next problem.
6: There are no USB ports
Even those $299 netbooks have USB ports for expandability. Not only could it be used for a flash drive, to ameliorate the storage problem; it could also be used to plug in a standard USB keyboard when you need to touch type. But Apple chose not to build any USB ports into the device. I understand that you will be able to add USB support by buying a special dongle that connects to a dock. That's all well and good, but it means that you have to spend more money for something every netbook already comes with. And even worse, you'll have to carry these extras around with you if you want that functionality when you're on the go — which sort of negates the whole idea of "thin and light and compact."
7: There's no flash memory slot
The saving grace for my first netbook was that I could add storage with a flash memory card. The iPad, unfortunately, doesn't have a built-in flash memory card slot. Again, Apple is going the dongle route. More to carry around, and more to spend money on. By the time you buy everything you need to get it closer to the functional equivalent of a netbook, you may end up spending a bundle. And that brings us to the next point.
8: The price is not right
Those who love the iPad are seemingly in awe of its "aggressive pricing." And for those used to paying Apple's prices, I guess it does seem like a bargain. But for those who come from a PC world, not so much.
I think there is a market for a low-cost touch screen tablet device that serves as an ebook reader, Web browser, and mail client, and on which you can view photos and videos. The iPad is priced several hundred dollars too high for that market. Lots of people would pay $299 for something like that. But the iPad pricing starts at $499 for the 16 GB model with no 3G connectivity. From there, it goes up to $829 if you want 64 GB of storage and 3G. For that much money, you can buy a powerful compact laptop that runs a full-fledged operating system and multi-tasks and that has USB and SD and Ethernet connectors, 4 GB of RAM, and 250 GB of storage.
The iPad is being touted as a better ebook reader, but it costs twice as much as the Kindle and other ebook readers.
9: It's locked in
Apple loves to lock you in, and it hasn't broken precedent here. You have to buy your apps from the App Store, you have to buy its dongles to use standard accessories like SD cards and USB devices, and you can't even remove and replace the battery yourself. The 10-hour battery life is impressive (although some netbooks offer comparable times), but if you were flying to Australia and wanted to bring along an extra battery for the extra-long flight, forget about it.
On the software side, you can't run Skype to make phone calls with it, either. We wouldn't want to cut into the iPhone market, after all. Nor can you download Flash to install on the browser, which means you won't be watching those YouTube videos.
10: It's all about the network
One reason I was actually thinking that Apple's tablet might be a possibility for me was the rumor going around, pre-release, that it was going to work on the Verizon network. You could almost hear the silent groans when it was announced that the 3G versions of the device will use AT&T's network. I know dozens of people who love the iPhone but won't buy one because they don't want to deal with AT&T. The company has already had network congestion problems that it blames on the popularity of the iPhone. Now it plans to add iPads to the mix?
And you'll have to pay another $30/month for unlimited data for your iPad (or $20 for 250MB), on top of what you're already paying for your cell phone. Or do they expect people to give up their phone data plans and just use the iPad for data? I don't see all those iPhone users doing that. This thing is looking more expensive by the minute.
Of course, if you buy the lower priced versions of the iPad, you won't have to worry about 3G anyway, since they don't come with that capability. Here's wishing you good luck on finding those wi-fi hot spots.
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Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 additional books on subjects such as the Windows 2000 and Windows 2003 MCSE exams, CompTIA Security+ exam, and TruSecure's ICSA certification.