Apple always had a reputation for doing things differently but, with the newly launched Apple iPad, Tom Jowitt asks, has Apple bitten off more than it can chew?
The return of Steve Jobs to Apple back in 1997 can certainly be regarded a key turning point for the company he co-founded in the late 1970s. Until then, Apple was struggling to hold its own against the industrial might of Microsoft and Intel. But the arrival of Jobs helped re-invigorate the company and Apple began to produce products that were, for want of a better word, desirable.
Jobs encouraged Apple’s design flair, and soon the company was producing computers that incorporated this design-driven vision. Jobs and co. also then had a brainwave when they realised that most digital music players at that time were big, clunky and badly designed, with a terrible user interface. And so in October 2001 the iPod was introduced and the rest, as they say, is history.
Since then, Apple and Jobs have brought us the hugely successful iPhone, as well as its poor relation, the iPod Touch. But now the company has effectively launched a big brother to the iTouch, with the arrival last weekend (at least in the US) of the Apple iPad.
The iPad Arrival
Apple is claiming that it had pre-sold approximately 300,000 iPads in the United States by midnight on 3 April. And to be truthful, this is not a bad number for a device that has a bit of a question mark hanging over its role in life.
Apple’s previous products like the iPod and iPhone have always had a clear purpose. The iPod was designed to play digital music (and a little video), whereas the iPhone was a phone, a music player, and a device that could be customised with countless apps.
But the iPad is a more complex device offering a much greater range of capabilities, which leads one to question whether Apple is asking too much from a single device? After all, it is supposed to be a replacement for the traditional laptop, or even your e-reader? Is it supposed to be a portable movie player, or device to run apps?
And straight-off there are some obvious problems or shortcomings with the device. First off, Apple has opted for an obscure mobile standard specifying micro-SIMs different from any other device. The use of micro-SIMs means that, even if the iPad arrives unlocked in the UK, users will be forced to buy the SIM cards from specific mobile operators that stock they, to ensure 3G connectivity for their device.
Another major problem is that the iPad does not have a USB port (or FireWire), so connecting to peripherals, even a humble memory stick, is not going to happen. The other problem if you are considering using the iPad in place of a laptop, is that it lacks the ability to do multi-tasking. Both of these are pretty serious drawbacks if you are considering using it as a replacement for your laptop.
Another major issue is that Steve Jobs is not a fan of Flash, and therefore iPad users will have problems with websites that run Flash video.
And the idea that the iPad will also function as an e-reader is also raising eyebrows. The iPad screen resolution of 1024 x 768 is nothing special, so we know it will not be the best device to watch HD video (it also lacks an optical drive and HDMI output), but one has to wonder whether users will be prepared to use it to read a book or a newspaper as well? After all, it doesn’t offer e-ink technology or an OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display, so there is little doubt that reading on its display might be difficult for extended periods.
It also lacks a webcam, so wave goodbye to any ideas you may be habouring of walking around the house whilst having a Skype video call with friends and family.
And then finally there is the price. Apple is retailing the 16GB version of the iPad for $499 (£316) with Wi-Fi, and $629 (£398) with Wi-Fi and 3G. The 32GB version, meanwhile, will cost $599 (£379) with Wi-Fi, and $729 (£461) with Wi-Fi and 3G. And the flagship 64GB version will cost a whopping $699 (£442) with Wi-Fi, and $829 (£525) with Wi-Fi and 3G. The sterling figures are a straight conversion, and no doubt users on this side of the pond will pay more.
A step too far?
So is Apple iPad a step too far? Is Apple trying too hard to make a multifunctional device that in the end will only be average in what it actually does? Well yes and no. There is no doubt that many people will wait for the next iteration of the device to see if Apple makes good the shortcomings of the current iPad. But, equally, there will be many that will embrace the device.
Incidentally, it is worth remembering that when Apple launched the iPod back in 2001, critics also panned its $400 price tag and its unconventional scroll wheel. But the iPod sold in huge numbers, and Apple has $40 billion in cash in the bank to prove it.