In my last post, I explained why you don't need an iPad, but as is the case with Apple fever, whether or not you need an iPad has little to nothing to do with whether or not you are going to buy an iPad. So, with that in mind, I wanted to write a bit about the positives of the iPad, the reasons why it is a good device, and try to see both sides of the iPad fiasco. But, ultimately, I want to talk about why the arguments for the iPad are nothing more than hype.
First, I had a chance to play with the iPad at an Apple Store on launch day. I didn't have a huge amount of time, and I was limited because the Apple Store (according to an employee) has strict rules about what apps they can load onto iPads for the public to demo. So, I was not able to use some major things, such as the Kindle app, or Marvel apps, but I was able to use my iTunes login to load up the New York Times app, Wall Street Journal, BBC, ABC, Netflix and Reuters apps.
The iPad is what you would expect from Apple. It is pretty, easy to use, fairly intuitive, and has the clean Apple look. The iPad is completely a consumption device, not a creation device, and that is both its allure and downfall. If all you want is something to surf the web, check e-mail, play some games, read and watch video, the iPad is a very nice device. It does all of those things well. If you want to write e-mails, blog posts, or even Twitter updates, maybe the iPad won't do so well for you. Typing in portrait mode was tough for me. Typing one handed is slow and the device is a bit too heavy to for most people to hold comfortably one handed for an extended time. Typing with my thumbs worked okay, but even with my pretty big hands (I'm 6'4",) it was a stretch to reach the middle of the keypad. Typing in landscape mode was surprisingly comfortable, but that requires something to lean the iPad on, something that was already set up at the Apple Store, but not a good sign for if you want to use the iPad somewhere other than your living room or bathroom.
Also, while the ABC and Netflix apps work very well on WiFi, I don't imagine those apps being very useful for the most part. I don't think streaming video is really the way for this device. The iPad is technically "unlocked" but won't work on anything but AT&T, and given AT&T's past, I'd expect a downgrade in video quality for the 3G models, which effectively makes the screen pointless. When you're at home, unless you're in the bathroom, there is no need for these apps, because with On Demand services through cable providers, or Netflix streaming on any number of devices, there are better options for these things than the iPad. Ultimately, I see the iPad working best with preloaded video, or purchases from the iTunes store (sneaky Apple!), because none of the other options will be useful enough.
The screen is nice, but has problems with both glare and smudges, another issue that would make this device fairly useless outdoors. I can imagine short bursts of reading being fairly comfortable on the iPad, but extended periods of staring at that screen could lead to strain. The built in iWork app suite is also very well designed, but again, somewhat limited, because while you can use the device to write documents, it is awkward to do so. Games look great on the device as well. So, I can see tablets having niche uses (not just the iPad mind you, all tablets. This is an important point: Colgate is toothpaste, but not all toothpaste is Colgate. Kleenex are tissues, but not all tissues are Kleenex. The iPod is a media player, but not all media players are iPods. The iPhone is a smartphone, but not all smartphones are iPhones. The iPad is a tablet, but not all tablets are iPads. Name recognition does not the best product make.) I can imagine tablets being incredibly useful in the classroom, on the train, in the bathroom, at a coffee shop, or as a cheap alternative to a DVD system in a family car.
Ultimately, the iPad is a nice device. For better or worse, it is what you would expect from Apple, but because of that, it is not what everyone wants and it's not what everyone needs. And, because of the hype surrounding it, I fear that this device could hold off the evolution of the media industry, which in the end, will only hurt the media industry, and here's why: the iPad will allow the media industry to hold onto their walled gardens and pre-packaged products just long enough for them to become completely irrelevant.
I played with a number of the media apps like NYT, WSJ, BBC, and Reuters. Reuters had good ideas with pushing the UI, NYT and WSJ both just looked like digital scans of newspapers (the worst option possible), and BBC had the best offering by far. BBC did what American newspapers can't quite grasp: the old way of the print media does not apply any more, it is old and dead, and we need a new way forward. We are no longer a mass consumption audience. We all want different things, easy access to the content we want and we want to be able to get other relevant information as well as share stories we like. Newspapers do not allow that, and that is not how you build a successful digital format. NYT and WSJ don't understand this. They are offering a newspaper and nothing more. BBC offers a news discovery platform, and that is what we really need.
Consider these examples:
1) The New York Times website, and article about Global Warming. It is static, the only links are relevant people, not concepts, ideas or events. Past coverage is limited to 2 links all the way a the bottom.
2) The New York Times teamed with Google for "Living Stories" about Global Warming. There are links for all relevant information, a timeline of important events, and tons more articles related to the story.
Which one presents the news in the way you want to consume it?
The expected additions of pay walls and limited content only exacerbates the problem. The newspapers are trying to hold onto control when their best way forward is to give up control. Stop trying to sell us a package and give us quality content. Give us control over what we see, how we see it, and what we can do with that content. The old media is dead. If you try to exclude us, or pretend you have something special we need to pay for, we will go elsewhere. There are plenty of organizations willing to give us what we want and how we want it. And, many of them don't have to subsidize a dying print business, they can focus on making the best product for us, not the best life raft for them.