iPad buyers flock to the bleeding edge
How many iPad sold on the symbolic first weekend? Nobody really knows. It was certainly fewer than the hyped 300,000 (which is merely the number that exist to be bought) but it’s still fair to say it was a lot for a product with no track...
Despite the comparisons being drawn between the iPad launch and that of the iPod, iPod Touch and iPhone, the iPad is a much more complex product in a much more competitive territory. The iPod played music and a bit of video, the iPhone made phone calls and established a new software model for mini-apps (its real achievement), but the iPad has to do all of this and a whole lot more besides.
Indeed, there is almost nothing the iPad is not being projected to do from watching movies at high definition, functioning as a music centre (just add speakers), consuming online e-magazines, running a wealth of dedicated apps and behaving like an only slightly constrained computer. It even has an add-on keyboard.
This is asking a lot for a device that lacks some important features.
Let’s start with the basics. At 1024 x 768 (not quite 720p), the screen resolution is nothing to get excited about, and it is not best kitted to handle the world of HD video that so excites the video buffs. There is no HDMI port, the aspect ratio of the screen is 4:3, not 16:9 (which admittedly would be daft for a handheld device), and at 420p the video output is a world off HD.
Not all of this matters a great deal right now but the Apple fans who claim that HDMI and HD output are over-rated features are missing the bigger picture. Video download and playback from portable devices will rapidly become a necessity just as mobile phones were suddenly expected to behave like music players. People will want tablets to output high-quality video - not least HD video footage made on cheap video cameras that live on most street corners - and the iPad isn’t a great way to do it.
On that topic there is no webcam which limits its use for the rapidly-growing raft of communications apps such as Skype, and somehow iPad buyers will have to use the built-in version of Safari without Flash video support. That doesn’t make watching Flash sites impossible but (as in the case of YouTube FLVs) but means that iPad users will have to live in a ghetto where videos either won’t play properly or will but with restrictions.
I could go on. There is no USB port, which makes the idea of it being a laptop replacement look ridiculous, and the lack of app multi-tasking points to deeper limitations of the iPad’s current hardware. This is just as well because users will have to wait a while for developers to re-purpose iPhone apps to look good on their new device before charging them more for the privilege.
Many iPad customers will be happy with these limitations because life at the bleeding edge of v1.0 is always like this. The market propaganda even has a name for such people - ‘early adopters’ - as if buying an incomplete device was some kind of religious faith worthy of special praise. Blessed are the market builders because they are willing to fork out $500 to be part of a special club. Without them would never be V2.0 for the unbelievers.
I tend to think people don’t get out of bed of a morn to make Apple’s living for it. The pragmatic - the people who really move technologies forward - are far better to wait for a future version that meets certain criteria that are far from science fiction because other devices already manage it.
One day, perhaps next year, it will get Flash support, better video, a more powerful processor able to multi-task, and a USB port able to support storage.
By then it will have become the fascinating device some people already think it is.