Friday, 16 September 2011

To iPad or not to iPad?

By Peter Stuart Smith (AKA Max Adams, James Barrington, James Becker and Jack Steel)

Is it just me, or is the iPad a triumph of marketing and hype over usability – and over usefulness, in fact?
            Read the reviews and you come away with the firm impression that the iPad, and especially the iPad 2, essentially redefines the tablet computer, being far and away the best of the bunch. Even holding one apparently conveys an almost sexual pleasure, it’s so beautifully designed, sleek and elegant and cutting-edge and just unbelievably cool.
            Wonderful. Now let’s just stop for a moment and ask one simple question that never seems to be addressed in any of the reviews. What actual use is it?
It’s been promoted as a kind of ‘all things to all men’ tablet device, a combination of mobile phone, diary, contacts database, e-book reader and laptop but, unless I'm missing the point, it doesn't really seem to do any of those things particularly well. Who, in their right mind, would lug around an iPad to make telephone calls – and you even need a special app to achieve this – when a normal mobile phone is so small it can sit in your pocket and you don't even know it's there until somebody rings you? And every modern mobile can act as your calendar, contacts list and appointments’ diary. As for ebooks, it seems to me that the Kindle, with its excellent battery life and compact dimensions, is a far better, more convenient and more usable device.
Most netbooks are about the same size as an iPad, albeit thicker, and when you open up one of those to send an e-mail or surf the web, you have a real keyboard in front of you, not the ‘virtual’ version provided by the iPad. Composing and sending emails is a lot easier on a netbook because of the real keyboard, and so is surfing the web, not least because Apple won’t allow Flash to be displayed on their equipment, and these days the vast majority of websites use Flash in one way or another. So presumably some websites can’t even be opened on an iPad, and many of those that can be viewed will be incomplete.
            And the price of the thing is simply eye-watering. Even on eBay, an iPad 2 with 16 GB of memory will cost well over £400, or about the same price as TWO entry-level netbooks each with 160 GB hard disks and 1 GB of RAM. And 16 GB of memory? I have USB memory sticks with twice that capacity. The iPad’s RAM is a mere 512 MB, and the dual-core processor runs at 1 GHz – hardly what I’d call cutting-edge technology. For pretty much the same price, my HP laptop has a 750 GB hard drive, 6 GB of RAM and a quad-core processor running at 2 GHz.
            If you need more memory on a laptop, you simply open it up and add another chip. The same applies to the hard disk. Or you can simply plug in an external hard drive to give you effectively unlimited hard disk capacity. But on an iPad, you can't do any of that. It doesn't even have a built-in USB socket, only a lead that fits its proprietary connector and has a USB socket at the other end. You want more memory? You sell the old unit and buy another. That’s the only way to upgrade. Hardly a choice most people will want to make.
            What about connectivity? As an extra cost option, you can buy a dock to sit the iPad in, but otherwise there’s only the proprietary connector and a headphone socket. I’ve no idea how you’d get the thing to print anything, but it’ll probably only talk to a wireless printer, so if you haven’t got one, forget it. Again, with a netbook or laptop, you can connect it to almost anything simply by using the appropriate cable.
            I’ve looked at Apple’s promotional video, and the most significant feature of the new unit, or at least the one they spend the most time talking about, is the cover. Oh, and it has two cameras, twice as many as my netbook, and twice as many as I would ever have the slightest use for. And most reviewers comment that the quality of the images the cameras produce is actually only barely average at best.
            I’ve also looked at the range of applications, and the vast majority of them seem to be completely pointless. If you want to watch a video, any laptop or netbook will show it in pretty much the same detail as the iPad, and probably with better sound because most laptops have far better speakers. And you can put the laptop down on a desk and sit back to watch the movie, instead of having to sit there holding the unit in front of you. Of course, you can add external speakers to the iPad, as long as you’re prepared to buy the dock, but that means you’ve got to lug around the iPad, plus the dock, plus the speakers, rather than carry just a laptop. If you want to watch a DVD, don’t even think about the iPad because, naturally, it doesn’t have a DVD drive.
I don't play games on computers, so none of those offered on the iPad are of any interest to me. In fact, whenever I get a new computer, about the first thing I do is delete the games folder in toto.
            GarageBand? Do people really want to demonstrate their total lack of musical ability to the world? You want to play a set of virtual drums by tapping on the screen of a tablet computer? Clever technology it may be, but give me a break – it’s a completely pointless waste of time. If you’re a real musician, I suppose you might enjoy playing about with it, but it’s never going to be of any use to a serious user, who’ll run a much better professional program on a laptop or desktop PC.
            I've never done video conferencing, and am never likely to, but if I had to, I think I'd find it a lot easier on a laptop which I can place on the desk and open, rather than having to presumably prop up an iPad on a pile of books or something, or hold the wretched thing in my hands.
            In short, the iPad looks cool and sexy and geeky, the kind of ‘must-have’ accessory people want to use in a train or a cafĂ© somewhere, so that other people will look at them and think they’re smart and sophisticated but, for me at least, it just seems like a complete waste of quite a lot of money. It doesn’t appear to do anything that I’d find useful, or that I can’t do just as well – and arguably even better – on other electronic devices that cost a fraction of the iPad’s credit card-busting price tag.
            Or have I just completely missed the point? Does the iPad have any use whatsoever? What does it actually do that makes it so expensive and apparently so desirable to so many people? Surely somebody out there can set me straight. After all, Apple is predicted to sell 40 million of them this year, and all those customers can’t possibly be wrong.
            Or can they?

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  1. I'm with you on this one. The iPad is sleek and beautiful, but I really don't see a higher usefulness. I have a Nook which my children bought for me that I rarely use; I don't like videos; and games are yet another distraction I don't need.

    Another <a href=">blog</a> today shows further issues.

    I'll stick with my PC!

  2. Thanks for that. I wondered if I was just a lone voice in the wilderness, too stupid to realize what was obvious to everybody else. Maybe it's the other way round ...