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What do we think of the Apple iPad?

The launch of Apple’s new tablet computer, the iPad, certainly caught my attention for 3 reasons:
  1. I enjoy spending an hour each evening consuming web content (news, blogs, video, social sites) with only occasional typed interactions – my laptop is massively over-specified for such use.
  2. I like to try out recipe ideas in the kitchen, and wondered if this might be an alternative to paper printing – and my beloved Macbook Pro isn’t going anywhere near the place with all that flour and water and raw ingredients and stuff getting in the keyboard or sucked into the fan inlet.
  3. I’m a geek with a soft spot for Apple, so it just would catch my attention (you want honesty here, right?).
Tablet computing is geared towards consuming media content rather than creating it. You wouldn’t want to type a novel or major report using it – it’s all about reading and watching stuff (with a smattering of feedback), rather than creating or adapting it. This use alone places the tablet computer somewhere between the smart phone where it’s all about consuming content except for voice and text, and the laptop which is as much about creating and adapting content as reading and watching it.
Of course you might argue that Netbooks fit between smartphones and laptops. Rubbish. A Netbook is a laptop with all the goodness taken out of it. Cheap, value electronics and poor-quality-everything. Yes OK you might take a netbook where your beloved Macbook Pro, Latitude or Vaio might fear to tread, but that’s only because you’ve lost £200 when you drop it and it smashes into a million value pieces. Come to think of it, Macbook Pros, Latitudes and Vaios are expensive enough to include drop survivability in their design and will be happy in those fearful places. That makes the Netbook even worse value.
No, tablet computers are not really value devices even though they are cheaper than good laptops. Their job is to bring content to you in a convenient and easy to use manner:
  • Powerful enough to offer decent & fast web browsing and media playback on a high quality multi-touch screen that is easy on the eyes and fingers.
  • Convenient enough to take round the house with you – to pick up and put down like a magazine or newspaper. Pore over a recipe in the kitchen, enjoy your favourite blog updates in the bath (waterproof ones, please!), and read your favourite e-books in bed. Use just with the natural stroking and tapping of your fingers.
  • Inexpensive enough to not have as your ‘main’ computer yet being cheaper only because ‘unnecessary’ parts such as keyboard, mouse, too many ports are missing. What’s there is to be always of good quality.
Seeing demos of the iPad are certainly impressive; my only criticisms are:
  1. Still no support for Flash or Silverlight. Yes I know HTML5 can offer this level of intensive experience but it’s not quite implemented in some of the major browsers/versions of browser our customers are using yet. We’ve only just got ourselves away from wiring a dual site for IE6 (with its ‘special’ HTML formatting) vs. every-other-browser (with their W3C standard compliance) and don’t want to start HTML4/5 divisions if we can help it.
  2. No webcam! Oh how I want customers scanning products by holding them up to the camera – most Netbooks and all premium laptops *do* have a built-in cam. This type of device is certainly suited to the kitchen and I note that some other tablet brands of tablet have built in camera (one of the team has told me they have spotted video source support in the iPad SDK so I suspect a blot-on webcam will be available soon).
However let me balance my criticisms with this important conclusion: Tablet computers are going to be big, they are going to be in the kitchen (amongst other rooms) and we will certainly research a great Tesco.com customer experience for them. Why? Because if Steve Jobs and Apple have invested in the market with iPad, the tablet concept as a whole is sure of success.

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