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tardis

iPad.. heavy flow edition

As some of you may know, I’m not a big Apple fan (although I do have an Apple keyboard, which could only be better if were designed to work with Windows).  At the same time though, I was expecting a lot more from this tablet announcement than was delivered.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is going to be a flop – I have no idea where it’ll go.  Maybe it’ll be as big as many of other Apples huge sales successes like the Newton, AppleTV or the MacBook Air.

Several rumors attributed to ‘anonymous’ Apple employees had stated things like “you’ll be surprised how you interact with the tablet” and “it’ll have a bit of a learning curve compared to anything you’re used to.” I had expected Apple to come up with some sort of paradigm-shifting interface that never materialized.  Some proposed it would have some sort of 3D interface (based on patent filings).  Again, no-go.

After the demise of the CrunchPad, I was thinking this might even be on my list (the low-end model still might be, strictly as a lightweight web surfing device), had some of these rumors turned into fact.  This was not the case.  In the end, the device ended up being nothing more than an iPod Touch on steroids.  Judging by the critical reception it’s receiving (even on Apple-heavy sites like Ars Technica) I’d have to say that I’m hardly the only person who is underwhelmed.  Many rabid Apple fanboys are also less than enamored with it.  It seems like a product that was rushed to market.

Some of the big gripes people seem to have with it;

1. No SD/CF card port, so you can’t transfer photos onto it.  Well, they have an accessory kit for this purpose which includes a dongle that does this, but only for SD.  The lack of a CF card port limits to amateur photographers only, as SD is typically confined to low-end cameras.  The reason it wasn’t included was relatively simple (no, cost is not an issue, it costs next to nothing) – if you could add your own memory to it, then why would you pay Apple for a model with more storage?  After all, Apple charges about twice as much for the flash as you’d pay for an SD card of the same size. 

2. The 3G option is excessively priced.  This is a no-brainer.  At the type of volumes Apple is planning on a 3G chip would cost under $30.  $130 extra is exorbitant.

3. No webcam.  Honestly, I have no explanation for this one.  The module itself for basic webcam functionality would be under $15.  It also seems like a no-brainer type feature for video chat (iChat, or whatever).

4. Still no Flash support.  Sure, you can go on a retarded rampage about how you don’t like Flash, but the fact of the matter is that most websites that embed video require Flash.  I don’t like Apple, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant.

5. The name.  Yes, it’s a horrible name, ripe for satire.  Some people anticipated iSlate as the name, but frankly, that makes little more sense.  Let’s face it, with one of Apples major brands being the iPod, they’d be hard put to not name this device in a similar fashion.  It was too hard for Steve to resist, and since Steve doesn’t understand humor…

6. Positioning – what market is it targeting?  Some people erroneously believe it has the netbook squarely in it’s sights.  It doesn’t.  Netbooks are full-fledged computers with real operating systems, on which you can install anything you’d like.  Do they last 10 hours?  No, maybe 7-8 at best.  But they have cameras, keyboards and general utility that the iPad lacks.  But they’re underpowered!  No.  You’re wrong again.  An Intel Atom running at 1.6GHz is roughly equal in performance to an ARM Cortex A8 at 1GHz.

Also, a netbook multitasks.  Apple still wants to go back to the early days of MacOS with no multitasking.  If you’re an Apple fan, that’s right – you’re too stupid to understand the concept of two things running at the same time.  Steve knows better than you do, let Apple help you.

The device also fails to reach criticality at either end of the spectrum.  It doesn’t have a physical keyboard (without carrying extra crap), and isn’t powerful enough to replace a notebook/netbook.  It won’t replace an iPhone either since it has no phone functionality – and the iPhone can do pretty much everything the iPad can.  Plus, if you’re using both an iPhone and iPad on the go, you’ll have two 3G connections to pay for.

Ostensibly, it is also trying to target the Kindle and other e-readers, even though it is woefully ill equipped to do so.  We spend enough of our time staring at LCD screens, and every study done has shown far less eye fatigue reading a display that uses reflected light.  It also won’t be particularly usable outside in sunny conditions – a flaw in all LCD panels that don’t use transflective technology. 

7. Stylus input.  Truly puzzling why this was omitted, as again, it seems like a no-brainer.  When you’re walking around holding a device like this, the most logical form of input is handwriting.  Unless of course, you don’t have handwriting tech that is up-to-snuff.  Hunting and pecking with one hand on a virtual keyboard would be painful at best.

8. Aspect ratio.  Using a 4:3 screen is puzzling, given that we live in an age where practically all new content, be it movies or TV are created with 16:9 in mind.  The low resolution of the screen has been criticized as well (1024x768), although this is likely a combination of two factors; a) keeping the cost of the device low, and b) the processor can’t really drive much more than that anyway.

9. More vendor lock-in.  Ars Technica’s Jon Stokes put it best; “It'll probably also be the first time that I "jailbreak" a device. That's because Apple's closed ecosystem is feeling less and less like an exclusive resort and more like Big Love's Juniper Creek compound.”.  I’m not buying a device where I can’t acquire and install my own applications/games.  I’ve always been surprised so many people are willing to put up with this onerous limitation.

The App Store is destined to become a victim of it’s own success.  While Apple, pundits and mentally challenged fanboys like to point out – there are over 140,000 apps.  The law of averages would tell you at least half of those are pure garbage.  Ars’ Ben Kuchera is a fan of the device from a gaming perspective, but still points out, “The problem is that for every good iPhone game, there are literally a thousand terrible games.”.  Assuming the same holds true for apps, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t – then there are really only about 140 “apps” in the store, which really obfuscates ones search for quality.  People will waste a lot of money on garbage they don’t want/use. 

The statistics are particularly telling; Only 30% of people who buy an app use it by the second day.  Within 20 days, only 5% of people who download an app, free or not are still using it.  Long-term, only 1% of people who download an app still use it.  Eventually, people will realize that most of the stuff on the App Store is pure garbage.  The only way Apple can stop this is one that would cause even more controversy, and that would be to start approving apps on a qualitative basis.

---

At this point though, I’m thinking it’d probably be best to hold off to see what other products are introduced this year in the tablet segment.  I’m sure there will be many, including the HP Slate which looks great.  This article at Mashable sums up a whole bunch of them.

Comments

I've got a much longer post I'm working on with my thoughts on the iPad, but just a couple of quick points:

1) Terrible name. Just about anything would have been better, however, we all got used to using a phallic object called the Wii, so a few months from now the naming giggles will likely subside, especially if the product is a hit.

2) I have hardware disappointments, specifically a front-facing camera and the lack of an SD slot. Software issues, like multitasking, don't bother me much. If this is a real problem, it can be fixed in a software update, but the hardware, well, it does make me a little sad.

3) You often use part costs to indicate sales costs without taking into account anything else. By that logic, you should give away your software for free, since the materials cost is $0. You're ripping people off! The time required to design the physical system around the chip, plus the hardware costs around the chip, plus API development and system development reqired to take advantage of it, plus the time to negotiate pricing with AT&T and myriad other telcos worldwide, plus, plus, plus.... it adds up to more than the cost of a single part.
1. If. I'm sure it won't be a flop, but I have doubts it'll be a runaway success like iPhone.

2. Multitasking is a real problem. Of the people I know with iPhones, the majority of them have complained about this, and they're hardly the "power user" types. On something that is supposed to be a crossover device, especially one which competes with devices that do multi-task, I think this is a big thing. I would think the main reason it was omitted is to prevent iPhone users from saying "hey -- the iPad can do it and it runs iPhone OS".

And do you really think it is reasonable to expect an SD slot? This is Apple, after all. They could've given every iPod/iPhone an SD slot for the last 5 years at almost no added cost. They don't because then they can't rape you for the extra memory (and they know that most people waste their money buying the model with the most memory, even though they'll never use it all).

I agree the omission of the camera is bizarre.

3. There would be no other costs, as they could use exactly the same chip as they do in the iPhone, thus no API time, as it is already supported. The costs to integrate it into the circuit design would be very minimal (I've been doing a lot of work with embedded stuff lately, including 3G/GSM stuff). I actually looked into it some more, and the chip is under $10 and requires two support parts totaling $4. Negotiations with carriers would not be considered as part of a per-unit cost and would be recouped from profits on sales (and certainly wouldn't cost 20% of the overall price) -- as most of these deals are made after the product has launched.

Plus, plus plus some more if you want -- but you and I both know $130 for a 3G chip is egregious. You can get a whole phone that uses precisely the same chip for $75 on a pay-as-you-go plan. That includes carrier deals and designing/marketing/packaging an entire phone. Believe me, molds for the phones plastics are a fuckload more expensive than doing a little routing on the PCB design before printing them.
So, you give your software away for free, then? As I said, unit cost: $0.
Actually, it's something I'm seriously considering -- and just charging for support.

This can't be justified based on a cost basis (R&D or production). I have no issue with them making a profit, just not a ridiculous one. Even $60 for the 3G feature would be fine. Even at $14 in parts, and $16 (way high) for R&D amortized over all the units sold -- that'd still be a 100% markup which is good even by Apple standards.

OT, is it just me, or was the wraparound case for it fugly as hell?
Pricing is not based on the individual prices of each of the components, since there's so much R&D involved in everything to do with a product that it's impossible to separate out. They charge what they think the market will bear, that's my point.

We've thought of that too as a sales option.

The case is not as attractive as it could be, that's for damn sure. However, the design is pretty clever, allowing for standup-video or tilted up typing. Hopefully a third party will develop a really cool looking case that does the same thing.
Oh, I'm sure hundreds of third parties will develop really cool looking cases.
tardis

January 2010

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