The Retrospective

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iPad: A Mild Mannered Device or God Save The Media?

February 1st, 2010 by

Apple iPad
Photo Courtsey of Apple Inc

Typical of introductions to Apple’s new products, reaction to the unveiling of the iPad has been swift and polarized. The last few months have brought countless news stories, blog posts and general punditry, and when combined with Apple’s penchant for extreme secrecy, the wide and complicated range of emotions was almost inevitable. Apple is both extremely innovative and very cautious with its product launches. Watching the live blog updates was like reliving the launch of the original iPhone in 2007, and as with that historic event, I’ve found myself once again looking at an awesome device with a limited, almost crippled functionality.

Since the announcement of the iPad’s imminent arrival I’ve been scratching my head trying to figure out how to fit another electronic device into my already packed digital lifestyle. My iPhone is mainly for internet access and applications; the Blackberry Bold is my primary phone, email and messaging device; and the Kindle is the perfect way to reach my goal of reading a book a week. So how can I justify the purchase of another gadget when it’s so similar to my iPhone?

Apple iPad
Photo Courtsey of Apple Inc

Exacerbating the situation were the underwhelming scenarios Apple presented as selling points of the iPad, almost all of which can be accomplished with the iPhone and iPod Touch. The poorly designed gaming demos of Nova and Need For Speed were impractical at best and made one wonder about what could have been (split screen Flight Control anyone?). It has the same performance liabilities as the iPhone, which means there’s no multitasking OS and no built in messaging applications. Couple those lackluster features with a reliance on iTunes and a lack of support for formats like DivX and I was tempted to write it off on the spot.

Apple iPad
Photo Courtsey of Apple Inc

So now for the part where I tell you why I haven’t. Having had more time to think about what Apple is trying to accomplish, I’m beginning to see why a gussied-up iPod Touch is the beginning of a new age in computing. Apple has a task-based philosophy that is readily apparent in the iPhone; it’s computing without the concept of files so there’s no Finder app or a Windows Explorer equivalent. The idea that your photos should be accessible only by the applications that need them is a design belief that is the polar opposite of many Windows-based devices. Geeks love the complexity of the desktop metaphor, and even the people that don’t love it find ways around its quirks, which probably explains many a cluttered desktop. The iPhone OS’ simplicity is what readily attracts so many non-technology obsessed people to the device, something that seems to cause hardcore Apple fans a fair amount of anxiety.

Rather than follow Microsoft’s lead in trying to scale down Windows, Apple is stripping down OSX and building it up to find a happy medium between the phone and the desktop. The iPad’s addition of drop down and split menus adds more usage capabilities for users who feel confident performing complicated functions. The iPad won’t destroy the desktop, but will find a permanent place alongside it.


As it stands now, the iPad is a simple media and Internet tablet which is changing how we consume media content. Give it a year though, and it’s more than likely that application developers will come up with newer, more complex functionalities that once would have been destined for a smartphone. And once again proving that Apple has a knack for creating devices that sway the masses, the iPad’s combination of existing applications, 3G wireless networking, and high resolution graphics should drive widespread adoption by people who have so far resisted e-readers and netbooks; remember, the iPhone and iPod Touch were once gateway devices for the vast market of people who were either too intimidated or too frustrated by previous phones and music player. After seeing the iPad now, though, the only thought that has me scratching my head is, where does Apple take the iPhone?

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