Thursday, April 8, 2010

On that whole iPad thing...

I recently had someone ask me what I thought about the iPad, to which I replied something along the lines of what is to follow here. At first I thought it was a waste of time and money, but I think it's much worse than that now. It's a waste of conversation (yet here I am talking about it, oh well). The fact that it's the newest "thing that people want without knowing why they want it" makes matters much, much worse. When the iPod launched, and then subsequently became actually usable and not-too-bad, everyone wanted it, but at least there was a real purpose for it -- music on-the-go, and a lot of it in one place. The iPad is neither an iPod nor a computer, and so sits in a weird limbo beckoning to people who are too stupid to really put any research into the thing. It can do some computer stuff and some iPod stuff, but not everything (well, it can do everything an iPod can do, minus the portability). Anyways, let's stop and look into why a normal, let's say average computer user should never get an iPad...

1) Cost. It starts at $500. If you want 3g capabilities, it's $579, and then $30 a month for the unlimited subscription to that service (no contract, though, which is kinda cool?). What does that $500 get you? Not a lot of storage, for one thing--the $500 model has 16 gigabytes of storage. Here's a flash drive that costs about $35 shipped that also has 16 gigs of storage. Want to double that to 32? Then be prepared to pay $100 more. One Hundred Dollars. To put that into perspective, Here's another drive that costs $70 shipped and holds 32 gigs. Somehow thumb drives have managed to double the storage for 35 bucks, yet Apple will happily charge you 100. Interesting, isn't it? Now, if you want the best iPad money can buy, you're looking at over $800. For something that isn't a computer. It boggles the mind. Then again, Apple always charges tons of money for everything they make

2) Usability (this is a big one). Apple will have you believe that this thing is the most versatile thing in the world. it isn't. It's a big iPod Touch. It has the same app store that the iPod Touch / iPhone has had for years, and it still can't run multiple applications at the same time. Want to check your email when you're in the middle of reading a book? First you have to close the book app, then go into the email, then when you're done, close that, then go back into the book app. Can't minimize, can't multitask. Here's a quote from Engadget's review of it:

"For starters, as we mentioned earlier the iPad doesn't support multitasking, save for Apple's own applications: Safari, iPod, and Mail. Everything else you use on the device is a jump-into and then jump-out experience, which means that for things like IM apps, you're either having a conversation or you're not. For those of us who are used to the iPhone way of doing things, that's at least familiar, but if you're looking to have a conversation while getting your email in order (as you would on a laptop), you're out of luck."

Apple came out and said that users "don't want that" kind of usability. On an iPhone, where it's something small and you're probably doing one thing at a time anyway, maybe, but if you're going to release a product claiming to be "magical" and "revolutionary" (their actual words, check the website), you'd think it could actually do more than one thing at a time.

EDIT: Apple just announced the new iPhone OS 4, which will support multitasking-ish capabilities. Not 100% multitasking like netbooks/laptops/real PCs, but kinda close. How nice of them to implement something that everyone else has been enjoying for years, but make it seem like some kind of amazing achievement. Bravo? Still, I'll say what everyone is saying: FINALLY.

Moving on, the thing is a complete pain in the ass to hold in your hand. Think about it. You're going to be holding a 1.6 pound, rigid, metallic minicomputer when you want to use it. There are no grooves for your fingers or hands. There is no way it can bend or slip comfortably anywhere. Now think about trying to use the keyboard on it. How will you type? Prop it up on your leg? Use one hand to type? Let's say you figure you'll lay it flat on a table -- oh wait, Apple has made it sleek with a nice-looking, curved backing, meaning it'll wobble every time you try and type something on it while it's on its back. You know something's wrong when less than a week after it's been out, people are making stands for propping the thing up. I think actually physically using this would never be comfortable.

The internet browser on this thing is great, though -- it's fast, it's smooth, it's fluid. Okay. But here's the thing: most websites use Flash. The thing needed for any internet game website, or in some cases, entire internet sites themselves. This device does not support Flash, at all. And it probably never will. Any website that uses Flash either won't work at all or will work with very limited browsing capabilities. Let me say that again: Any websites that have Flash as their main way of conveying data to you will not work ever. That's insanely stupid, and honestly boggles the mind considering Apple claimed the internet browsing experience on the iPad to be the best you could ever have (their actual words).

Apple's also really pushing the whole "Look! It can play games!" thing. If you've ever tried to play a game on an iPhone, you should know it isn't the easiest thing to do most of the time, and is heavily dependent on what kind of game you want to play. Something like Scrabble would probably be fine, but playing a platformer? Please. Touch-screen controls are not at the perfected state yet where they will flawlessly do what you want them to. Now, the iPad does have a better interface/responsiveness, but the aforementioned difficulties in holding it, combined with a very prominent home button (meaning if you hold the iPad in landscape mode, you'll more than likely accidentally hit the home button, exiting the game and pissing you the hell off) means that, combined again with the fact that the device isn't exactly pocket-friendly or "mobile" like a PDA/PSP/Nintendo DS means gaming on the iPad is virtually just a bullet-point. Why would you spend $500+ on something that isn't ergonomic towards playing games? You wouldn't, thus, it is something that you'd only do because you have the device anyway.

3) E-Book Reader. As an e-book reader, it works pretty well. It has a lot of publishers on board, and a beautiful screen for displaying the e-books. Here's my advice of caution on this subject, though. For one thing, you must understand that the books you own are never really "yours". What does that mean? Well, look at it this way: When you purchase a book from Apple's iBook store, you purchase it to your account to be used on your iPad (or other iDevices), and that's it. You can't use it anywhere else, and if for some reason Apple doesn't think you should have it anymore, they can take it away from you. "No they can't!" you might think. Yes, they can. There was a major issue with this about a year ago with Amazon's Kindle. Ironically, it was with the book 1984. Basically, Amazon found out that it shouldn't have listed a certain publication of the book as being available on its e-book store, so, they removed it from the store and from anyone's Kindle who bought it without telling them and with no notification. Yes, those people got their money back, but the whole incident showed that when you buy something for your e-book reader, it isn't ever really yours; you're simply buying the right to look at it on that piece of technology. Apple is no different from Amazon, as it has been discussed in the past regarding the iPhone that if Apple wanted, they could disable any iPhone remotely via a "killswitch". This was all over the tech sites shortly after the iPhone launched. Has Apple ever had to use it? Probably not, but it's unsettling to know that they could and you'd be screwed.

Personally, I like to hold a book, knowing it's mine, and if I wanted to, I could lend it to someone else, or, better yet, 20 years from now I can pick it up again and enjoy it exactly the same way. You might throw a joke here right now like "well, I don't know if I'll be around in 20 years." Well, haha, but think about 6 years, or even 4, there will probably be a newer, better iPad that's faster and makes this one look like an 80's cell phone by comparison. Now you have to buy that (another $500?). Sure all the books you downloaded can be used on the new one, but there will be a transfer process of some kind, and you still had to buy a new piece of hardware just to keep up with reading books. Or you could just buy the book and keep it on a shelf forever.

But all that aside, the only other "problem" with the iPad and reading books is the screen itself -- it's a backlit screen. Some people, after reading text on a computer screen for an hour+ tend to have eye strain issues. The reason why the Kindle is so spiffy is because it uses something called "e-ink" instead of a normal, backlit LCD screen. This "e-ink" pretty much mimics how text looks on paper, with no backlighting, and with no strain on the eyes. Now for some people they will never have an issue with the iPad's backlit screen for reading. Some people, this is really a personal preference thing.

4) Minimal Design. Apple is known for the sleekness of stuff. Okay. Well, that's fine and all for an iPhone or an iPod, but with this thing, which is pretty much claiming to be a kinda sucks. There are NO ports on this thing. No usb, no ethernet, nothing. Actually I take that back, there's a headphone jack. If you want to have any of those ports, you have to get an adapter. Maybe you'd never need any of that anyway (like an ethernet port), but there isn't even a card reader on it so you can quickly and easily load pictures to the thing. Even the cheapest, slowest netbooks have that stuff. Some people like the minimal design because it's less to worry about, but I think it hinders what this thing could really be capable of.

Now, all of this isn't to say that the iPad is a terrible, terrible device that can't do anything that anyone wants it to do. What it does, it does pretty damn well. It works fast, smoothly, and is basically designed with idiots in mind, meaning, anyone should be able to pick it up and use it. I just think that for the price, you could easily get a laptop that does everything the iPad does, with a bigger screen and 300 times more functionality. And if you throw in the thought of getting a netbook, then your device, I'd say, is straight up better.

But my real suggestion would be to go and hold one somewhere if you can, and use it, and see if after the initial "ooOOo, look at the pretty screen and metal-ness of it" wears off, you could see yourself using it all the time, or for an hour straight, or for seriously typing on, or...etc.etc.

This is my 2 cents. I'd never buy an iPad, and if I were given one, I don't know if I'd use it. I'd probably sell it to an Apple fanboy, get a netbook with a 1.66 Ghz, dual-core CPU, 2 gigs of RAM, a 160 gig HD, and use the 125 bucks I'd still have left over to get something else that's a few videogames, or a new hard drive for my desktop (the iPad has a 1000 Mhz CPU, 256 megs of RAM, comparatively). Sure I wouldn't look as cool as the Apple fanboys do, but fuck those people.