The iPad is not a computer

I waited a few days before writing about the iPad. Apple product launches tend to contain some surprises and I wanted a little time for reflection before commenting.

My considered opinion: the iPad is a revolutionary device, because it’s not a computer. The iPad isn’t for writing, it’s for reading. It’s not for making films, its for watching films. It’s not for developing software, it’s for using software. The iPad is a consumer device. What makes the iPad revolutionary is its single-minded focus on media consumption.

I imagine if I had an iPad I might use it to read a book in bed, or maybe to watch a movie. I might take it round to friends too show them my holiday snaps. I might use it to check my emails while making breakfast in the morning, and to read the newspaper in the garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon. And, of course, I’ll use it to keep up to date with my friends via Twitter and Facebook, and maybe read a few blog posts. I might even play some games on it. All of these are tasks that the iPad is well suited to.

It’s worth remembering that many families, particularly in Europe and North America, have one or more computers at home. Many of these people don’t make anything with their computers, they just consume content. For such people, an iPad is far more useful than a computer. It’s small, it’s light, it’s simple, it does everything they need, and it just works.

Well, almost everything. I think there are a couple of things missing.

  1. How do I get my content onto the iPad? I have CDs that contain music, I take photos with my digital camera and video with a video camera? If I need a computer to get this content onto the iPad then I can’t buy an iPad instead of a computer, I have to buy one as well as a computer. The minimum requirement is a USB connector and a SD card socket.
  2. The iPad doesn’t appear to allow any web plug-ins. Plug-ins are fundamental to how the modern web works. Without plug-ins I can only use part of the web from my iPad. It’ll be fairly easy for some sites to provide alternative solutions using HTML5, and there will be plenty of games available through the app store, so it may not matter much. But there’s also a lot of good educational content on the web that is accessible only through Flash or Silverlight. If I have a family, I’ll want my children to use this content from my iPad. I should be able to download plug-ins from the app store, just like any other software for the iPad.

I think the iPad will be very successful. Hardware add-ons will fix the connector issues. As for the web plug-ins, I wonder whether Apple will be forced to allow them in eventually or whether the web will be forced to adapt to the iPad. Only time will tell.

12 thoughts on “The iPad is not a computer

  1. Good considered review. You make some excellent points and in particular the focus on the ipad being a consumer gadget rather than a user gadget. It’s remarkable to think that the computers that got men on the moon are nothing like as powerful as the machines sitting in bedrooms being used to watch porn, send emails and play solitaire! Ain’t technology wonderful!

  2. I agree, the iPad is not a computer and therefore it’s
    a huge luxury, as it requires the owner to have another computer.

    This, I think, it it’s biggest problem. Many of my friends that are looking for a computer around the £300 mark would love this, but with limited storage and the lack of basic features common in a netbook (a file system for example) and also the in ability to support an iPhone (you need another ‘computer’ to run iTunes) it just can’t compete.

    So it falls to the likes of me and you, who have many computers, but feel they can splash out on yet another device to, as you quite rightly said, “consume media” on.

  3. Before this post gets polluted with all the Flash hates that seem to have creeped out from under their stones in the last few days I think its worth adding some other areas of concern.

    The device is being promoted as an eBook reader yet for some reason known only to SJ and his cronies this feature will not work at launch outside of the UK. I assume that this lack of core funcationality will mean a heavy discount in the UK ? Yeah right – Apple will just xharge their usual inflated prices to subsedise their US customers.

    The device is going to sell in its bucket loads regardless but for a crowd to assume this is the mystical device that will seek out and destroy all Flash content is just proof that sadly reading an open source / HTML book and possessing an internet connection is not qualification for valued comment in the futre of the web. That crowd can go back to the 2 tone green screen geko browser internet connections. Flash is here to stay and will continue to lead the way in rich and engaging internet experiences.

  4. They did a big deal of advertising the iPad as an e-book reader. Well, it has neat “book-like” eye candy animations and a nice ripoff of the design of a few existing “book shelf” software, but as you mention on your post “to read the newspaper in the garden on a sunny Sunday afternoon” might not be that possible, since this is a (reflective) screen and it will be as good to read in the sun or even not so extreme light conditions as a normal laptop or netbook. E-ink ebook users will know what I mean. The eye strain is also way different. I can’t stand more than 15-20 minutes reading a PDF on screen for example, as opposite to endless hours in my Sony ebook reader. Hopefully it will allow you to import your PDFs or eBooks you already own.

  5. I forget where I read it, but apparently Apple will be offering a $29 adapter that plugs into the standard Apple port at the bottom, and that adapter will offer USB and SD card connectivity.

  6. Apple had me sold on e-book reader. But they forgot to add a readable e-ink screen and remove their hideous DRM control, making this device useless for that purpose.

    If you buy an i-pad, you still need a PC/mac, you still need a smartphone, and if you want an e-reader too that’s yet a third device.

    The only device you might be able to say goodbye to is your PSP or DS, as handheld gaming might be the only saving grace of the i-pad.

    As for the browser… this is clearly a gambit on their part to redefine people’s expectations of the browsing experience to suit their own agenda. I really hope it falls flat on it’s face for that reason alone.

  7. I like your summary – it’s similar to my own opinion. The device is fantastic for 80% or more of what I do with my computer at home. The only fails are the requirement of a computer to actually sync and update the iPad, the lack of simple stuff like a SD card slot for camera photos (the dongle is big and ugly) and most importantly the fact that it wont connect to DLNA servers for receiving media content streams, and it can’t ‘play to’ DLNA clients like a modern TV. For a device so focused on media consumption, this seems like a real missed opportunity – and one that basically ‘unsells’ me from the device. Something that makes me a little sad inside because until the next Apple refresh of the iPad I doubt any other device will come close to the iPad for looks and interface, or provide the nice experience of such a device.

  8. Not a computer, For reading not writing, light web browsing. Anyone remember the Nokia mini-tablets?

  9. “As for the browser… this is clearly a gambit on their part to redefine people’s expectations of the browsing experience to suit their own agenda. I really hope it falls flat on it’s face for that reason alone.”

    My grandmother never wanted a computer, but she got an iPad. Then she found out she needed someone’s computer, with iTunes, just to start using her iPad. Must go through the gift shop before entering.

    She would like to print out simple things like boarding passes, can’t. She would like to watch Hulu for free like everyone does with a computer, can’t. She would like to make the text larger on iBooks, can’t. She would like to find out what these mysterious Flash screens are all about, can’t. That’s OK for a pod but not for a pad. Google et. al have a lot of room to leapfrog. Pads need to be luddite friendly.

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