Apple Talk: iPad's edge in the tablet stakes

Apple's tablet has new rivals but it's the user experience that counts…

One year on from the launch of Apple's iPad, we're still discussing the future role for this type of device. Whatever its long-term purpose, the key will lie in the user experience - and that's where Apple still has the edge, says Seb Janacek.

In January, the CES show ran its annual slot in Las Vegas. Apple wasn't attending. It has never attended, yet its presence was strong.

Twelve months ago, all eyes were on Apple as CEO Steve Jobs finally unveiled the iPad. Since then, there has been a trickle of competing tablet computers.

Back to CES 2011, where there were dozens of me-too tablet computers on display, following on the trail of the iPad.

One thing is similar about the tablets unveiled in that they all look much the same. The key variation is in screen size - and Android version - but the form factor is pretty much identical.

Once Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, the debate began about how it would become part of our technological lives

Once Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad, the debate began about how it would become part of our technological lives
Photo: James Martin/CNET

A camera here, a camera there. An SD card here, a rubberised back there. The only constant feature is that large and dominating touchscreen and this is where the battle for the main ground will be fought.

Just after Jobs unveiled the iPad and before anyone really knew anything about it, I spoke excitedly to a number of colleagues and friends about how we expected to use it. There were naturally a lot of assumptions about how it would become part of our technological lives.

Assumptions about iPad's role and function

Some assumptions were correct: that we'd use it for web and email. Others were not so correct: that we wouldn't use it for much content creation.

One assumption we got very wrong was how it would become a popular family device with different members of the family logging in to access their email and messaging.

The iPad has certainly become a family device, but the assumption that it would cater for a number of different user accounts was wrong and based on how the machine would be used by partners and kids, like the Mac or PC.

Yet the iPad is running iOS not Mac OS X, and multiple user accounts simply don't exist. The iPad is a device that has a personal relationship with its owner. iOS doesn't cater for that assumption.

iPad sales helped by absence of user accounts

Soon after it was released, I noted a number of articles, reviews and comments on websites where people admitted buying a second iPad as the first one was appropriated by relatives. That lack of user accounts is doing good business.

The point is that a year after the launch of the iPad and many years after the birth of tablet computing, we're still coming to terms with...