What is the iPad really for?

Apple & Mac 3 Comments »

Let’s be honest. Apple make some very desirable gadgets. On Wednesday (27th January), they announced the iPad, the latest addition to their family of (serious) toys.

The iPad is a new handheld, touchscreen product that seems very much to have evolved from the iPhone, with a similar multi-touch interface and applications that are downloaded from a proprietary online store. On the face of it, the iPad looks like a touchscreen portable computer, and, technically, that’s true. However, there seems to be a lot that the iPad can’t do that a typical laptop can. While it does have Wi-Fi connectivity as standard, and 3G as an option, it isn’t a phone, either. The iPad has already received a good chunk of criticism and a chorus of “Meh”s for its ‘missing’ features.

However, what the iPad doesn’t do isn’t important. It’s what it does do. Apple have a knack of taking existing products and streamlining the feature set to improve the user experience. Just look at the iPod for a good example of that.

I don’t believe that the iPad should be compared to a PC, or a smartphone for that matter. It seems to me to be more of an everyday consumer device, just like an iPod or ebook reader: something that has a limited set of features that it does very well.

These features are, by today’s standards, pretty basic things that your average computer user wants to do, such as browsing the web or playing media like videos and music. These don’t require stacks of computing power or a complicated interface.

Instead, the iPad has some advantages over a conventional laptop computer. The most obvious is the touchscreen interface that has proved such a success on the iPhone. Less immediately obvious is that the device is designed to be powered on all the time, just like a phone, with Apple claiming a whole month of standby time. Having to boot a computer to quickly check something online can be a pain (for the impatient like me, at least).

The form factor also lends itself well to casual use: easy to keep on the coffee table or by the side of the bed for some late night Twitter action. I can imagine myself using it for a spot of catch-up TV on iPlayer or 4od in the evening (but not ITVplayer — all their programmes are crap!) or at last, ploughing through some of the many ebooks I’ve acquired on the bus.

The iPad is also able to run a variant of Apple’s iWork suit of applications, games and any applications from the iPhone app store. It will also be interesting to see how developers exploit the features of the iPad once they get their hands on it.

The price, while not cheap, is also much lower than that of one of Apple’s line of portable computers: $499 for the cheapest model, which I expect will convert up to £399 for the UK. More expensive models add more storage or 3G capability, so it really depends what you want to do with it how much you might want to invest.

I truly believe that Apple have hit an untapped niche with the iPad. More user-friendly, convenient and cheaper than a laptop or netbook, but more versatile and better suited to general use than a smartphone. It’s neither, but something that takes some of the most loved pieces of each and comes up with something new. Whether the marketplace agress with me, we’ll have to see.

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