The iYawn – In Case You Hadn’t Heard

Apple as a company is incredibly skillful in the way it essentially manipulates the media surrounding the launch of one of its new products. And the media justs lets itself be manipulated.
Apple certainly designs beautiful products that take design in consumer electronics to the next level. And their corporate muscle has managed to open doors, as we’ve seen with the iTunes store, in spite of the relatively poor user experience of some of their software (come on – you don’t really like iTunes or Quicktime do you?).
So what do we have in the iPad? Is it a game changing device? Does this mean the end for all other netbooks or e-readers? Should Amazon, Asus and Samsung be running scared?
Not really.
Unless I’ve really missed something, they’ve built a more powerful than average netbook, but left off the keyboard (although you can get one as an optional extra!). I’m typing this on a rather gorgeous Asus UL30A. It’s bigger than the iPad. In fact it’s 13.3″, but it’s awfully slim. They key thing is that it has a lovely keyboard. Typing an email is a breeze. That’s not really the case on touch screen devices is it? When was the last time someone sent you a long email via their iPhone? You can tell – because iPhone users, like Blackberry users before them, seem to love to brag about the device that they sent their message from. While this particular netbook is somewhat better powered than most with a CULV processor (and to be fair, more expensive than some iPads), it’s also very easy for me to type on my Samsung N110. And the Asus gives me 12 hours on WiFi incidentally. What I’m really trying to say is that as a user interface, the traditional physical keyboard has yet to be beaten.
The iPad certainly cheaper than I was expecting with prices starting at $499, but with Apple being Apple, don’t just run that through a currency converter to get the UK price. For starters, there’s going to be VAT on top. And quite probably other import duties. To see what I mean check out the prices of the basic MacBook at the moment. In the US it’s priced in the Apple Store at $999 which according to Google is £618. Yet Apple’s UK Store charges £816 for the same computer. In the absence of any international pricing just yet, I’d suggest at least £399 if we’re incredibly lucky, and up to £499 if we’re not. For the base model without 3G.
What’s really curious is the huge jump in prices between the ones with space for a SIM card and those that don’t. While you can buy a USB stick for your laptop for around £15 on pay as you go, Apple seems to be charging $130 for adding that functionality. I wouldn’t pretend that a stick out of the side or back of your netbook or laptop isn’t a little unsightly, but that’s a lot to pay to make it “sightly.”
I’d suggest that it’d be more sensible to just go out and buy one of those aforementioned 3G sticks and pop it into your iPad. But unfortunately, rather than shipping with a traditional two or three USB ports, the iPad comes with none. You’re going to have to buy an adaptor to get things into it.
That’s certainly going to make transferring data onto it really easy from USB sticks and the like, just a little bit fiddly. You’d better hope you’ve got good online reception if you want to move your data around, because you’re probably going to have to do it wirelessly.
Getting back to those price points for the 3G versions – the data packages will be extra. Do you really want to take out what’s effectively a third internet subscription. You already have your home ISP and you mobile package (which, if you’re interested in this product, will definitely include data). You might even already have a third subscription in the form of a Blackberry if you keep calls and email separate. Do you have a lot of cash burning a hole in your pocket right now? Well we have come out of the recession. But you might still have to cancel that gym membership.
At least that processor should let you do – you know – more than one thing at a time.
Nope. No multitasking. No leaving your Twitter application running while you do something else.
And it wouldn’t have killed to put a little camera in the top would it? You know – for Skype and similar.
What about reading books on the device? Well I’ve not been happy with any of the products I’ve seen on the market to date, and I still have severe reservations about most people even wanting to read on an electronic device. I honestly don’t see bookshops going out of business because of this (Bookshops may well go out of business, but that’s because of the price cutting Amazon and the supermarkets are able to achieve – but that’s another story entirely). I’ve been through the arguments before, but in essence books are more to me than bits in some memory somewhere. And I own rather than licencing them.
I’ve no doubt that some will want one for reading the paper, or books. But it’s a damned expensive ebook reader. I’ve always been dubious of taking things like the Kindle or one of Sony’s devices to places like the beach, or your bath. I certainly wouldn’t go near one of those places with this. Indeed, I’m not sure I’d want to get it out on a London bus or tube. And those other e-readers use e-ink which means that you’re power supply is going to last for ages. I’m not convinced that’s the case with the iPad, with Jobs claiming a 10 hour life. There are going to be some dull journeys home when, because the device was on the work WiFi network all day, the battery flattened when you wanted to get back into your novel for the journey home.
Look – I’ve been especially negative about this. And that’s probably been brought on by the sheer frenzy of everyone desperately wanting to be excited by whatever Apple bring out; the hostility is a little unfair. But the “Cult of Jobs” brings out the worst in me.
I’ve no doubt that they’ll sell enough to make it worthwhile – it can’t be less popular in the UK than Apple TV can it? But this is not going to be a massmarket device. Most people are going to be better off with a Dell Mini, or a Sony E-reader; a PSP or even an iPod Touch. Some will have great uses for it; I can already imagine that some professional photographers will immediately be buying one to display their wares in place of big albums of photos. The style conscious will want one to leave around on their Danish designed coffee table just next to the Bang and Olufsen remote.
If I get a chance to play with one, I’ll jump at it. It’s an unquestionably beautiful device. Yet for all that, I’m really not sure what it’s offering me that I haven’t already got.
In the end, I just don’t see this as being a broad appeal device. If it was a little closer to Lenovo’s IdeaPad U1 in functionality, then I can see it. Sadly that device has a predicted $999 cost, an awful lot for a netbook, however well designed, so it could be a while yet.
It does, as Steve Jobs pointed out, make a very lovely digital photo frame though*.
* If you buy the stand accessory.

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