Ipad??? Hmmm…

Articles like this one are popping up even now on major news sites: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,538919,00.html?test=latestnews

The long awaited but still doubted tablet from Apple might actually be coming.  This has been a rumor for years in the tech/Apple community.  Perhaps because of the failure of the Newton Apple has resisted the clamoring for a smaller laptop/PDA/touchpad.  However, there are reasons this might actually be the real deal.

1. The rise of Netbooks:  Perhaps the most surprising thing to happen to the computing world over the last year is that these little, cheap, under-performing, mini-notebooks made up of mostly left over parts have sold tremendously well.  It’s both an indicator of a down economy and a shift in how people use mobile computing.  People either unwilling or unable to spend the extra amount to get an traditional laptop have shown a willingness to sacrifice to have basic (but full) web browsing, email, and office programs.  Even those with a traditional laptop (like me) have been tempted by the smaller size and considerably longer battery life afforded by a netbook.

2. Kindle and eBooks:  Both the Kindle and Sony’s eBook readers have met with mild success but the detractors for both and the cost (again only slightly less than most Netbooks) have kept them from being a real success.  Really who wants to spend $300 on something that mostly only does one thing?  On the other hand, Amazon’s eBooks are on the rise and even with an Iphone app are a possibly huge source of revenue. 

3. Of course the Iphone and App store:  To say that these two things have been a phenomenal success is to put it mildly.  At this point both the Iphone and the App store are so far ahead of any other PDA/cell phone offering that it’s a valid question weather competitor’s will ever catch up.  That isn’t to say that the Iphone is the most technologically advanced device out there, it isn’t.  However in ease of use and marketing, with millions of apps, the impression Apple has successfully given is that the Iphone can do anything.  It might not do it as well as you would hope but “we’ve got an app for that”.  Of course the sucess of the Iphone and the App store bring up the biggest detractor for an “Ipad” why?

“It’s just a really big Iphone.”  If the Ipad is a reality the previous statement immediately comes into question.  The “Ipad” will have to have Wi-Fi, Mobile Broadband, and in some way be able to utilize existing apps from the App Store.  In that way it will be like a “big Iphone”.  However, Apple will have to show some difference between the two to get people to shell out an addtional two to three hundred dollars.  It’ll also have to differentiate a value for those perhaps looking at getting a traditional laptop or considering a Netbook.  Another question comes to mind in considering an “Ipad”, “Why shouldn’t I pay the same for a cheaper “traditional” laptop, or pay a couple hundred more for a low end Apple notebook?”

What an “Ipad” needs:  1.  Raw computing power:   Mainly the “Ipad” needs to be able to run the Internet, the whole Internet, streaming video and all.  Weather able to do this through mobile broadband or Wi-Fi is immaterial, it simply HAS to be able to do it.  Also the “Ipad” needs to display considerable storage capacity over existing Iphone/Ipod models.  After all one of the big selling points of a bigger screen is the ability to watch movies and TV shows and what good is that if you can only have five or six movies on the device at one time? 

2.  (This should be under computing power but I think it deserves it’s own point) A full Office Suite:  If Apple can modify/optimize the “Ipad” to create documents, spreadsheets, etc in a different and easy way they may have businesses half in the bag.  Either provide a keyboard separate from the tablet that connects via Bluetooth or convince people that they can do more that just write a quick email response with the on screen keyboard.  Apple made a huge mistake back when the Iphone was first launched branding it as an “entertainment platform”.  An “entertainment platform” is a novelty, a “business tool” is a neccessity. (it’s also the difference between individual orders and business orders of 500 units or more)  The applications for a “tool” such as an “Ipad” in the medical field alone almost make such a device worth producing.

3.  A Kick-ass book reader:  Developed with Amazon or not an “Ipad” book reader needs to be not just tolerable it needs to be exceptional.  Single page in protrait mode that converts to two page in landscape, the ability to highlight, take notes, add voice memo commentary, and of course cut and paste would be stellar.  Apple could also wow people with the swiping action necessarry to actually “turn the page” actually looks like turning a page.  They could say that studies have shown that the second that it takes for the brain to unfoucus and refocus helps retain information. (yes there are studies out there that seem to prove that)  And here’s a freebie to Apple, work hard at a textbook library/database.  The “Ipad” might become the number one back-to-school must have if students had the ability to download textbooks, or even better “lease” the textbook off a database or server.

4. Limited ability to file share/synch/connect with computers through a means other than Itunes:   You think of a typical college student working on a paper.  He/she uploads the paper onto their “Ipad” and head to school.  While at school that student makes a few changes at a break but has a longer period of time to work on the paper that afternoon.  At the break the student goes to the library or writing center, sits in front of a computer and transfers the file to the desktop, works on the paper, then transfers the file back to the “Ipad” when they leave.  In a perfect world that seems so easy, but in the nurotic world of Apple and Itunes it isn’t so much so.  (Oh and let me at this juncture suggest that Apple put at least ONE USB port on this thing, the abundance of USB storage devices and the proliferance of their use as file transfer devices almost demands it as well as the ability to print directly from the “Ipad” would be useful)  Excepting Apple’s Mobile Me service (which I swear they’ll force everyone to sign up for eventually), syncing multiple devices and computers is a hassle.  Sooner or later I think Apple will have to get over this hang up and realize that people have been “file sharing” on Mac computers for years and their OS hasn’t melted yet.

Final Verdict:  Do I personally think an “Ipad” is coming?  The answer is yes.  With the drop in Iphone prices if you notice Apple really doesn’t have any products in the $500-$700 range.  This is prime territory for those who want a little more functionality than an Iphone but don’t want to shell out another $300-$400 for a Macbook.  This also is where Apple is losing in the cheap laptop/netbook arena.  I could definitely see Apple bringing out a product that while not necessarily adding much functionality above a Windows powered laptop, would surpass in the Apple “coolness” factor.  Will it have such convenient things as a USB port, separate keyboard, etc, probably not. (especially since Job’s seems to have an unnatural aversion to physical keyboards)   Will there probably be qwerky, obvious to all, necessary functions that for some reason will be missing? Most definitely, this is Apple we’re talking about.  If an “Ipad” does come out I don’t think it’ll be the second coming of the personal computer that Apple will hail it to be.  However I think it will be a niche device for a niche market.  And more than likely I’ll be right in there.

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