So The Tablet is out, and its the iPad. (Sigh.) I haven’t been blown away, but I also managed not to lose my fucking mind over it. What’s interesting about the iPad is that basically nothing on my wishlist came to be. What’s even more interesting is why. Now, I’m a registered iPhone dev and have already downloaded the new beta SDK, but I haven’t had time to do much with it yet, so I’m not going to be breaking the NDA, because I haven’t seen anything official. Its amazing when you have to go out and do stuff.
So first of all, I didn’t get what I wanted. So am I angry, bitter, or disappointed? Not at all. What I wanted was iPhone OS 4. I was actually surprised when people were talking about 4.0 coming out today, since I was expecting an announcement in March. Well, none of the 4.0 features that I wanted were announced today, and that’s mainly because the iPad is running iPhone OS 3.2. And that’s the other thing: it doesn’t get its own OS. As far as I know (without running the new Xcode), I assume that iPad apps get their own starting point when starting a new project (just like the various iPhone and Mac options) and build option in Xcode. None of this is shocking or unexpected. The other thing to remember is that this thing doesn’t come out for another two months.
When iPhone OS 4 gets announced.
So maybe I’ll get what I want out of the OS then. As to the iPad itself, the question is, who’s going to buy it? I’m not, but not for the reasons that the haters are claiming. I had to think about it for a while. Its certainly a nice device and is well thought out. But what is it? What is its role in my workflow, or day to day life? Yes, it lies between my phone and my laptop, but what does that mean?
What is a laptop’s role? A laptop is a portable general purpose computer. It does everything you want a computer to do, and you can take it with you. What is a smartphone’s role? Fundamentally, its a communications device. You use it for phone calls, email, web browsing, twitter, IM, texts, and all sorts of other stuff. So, what’s the role of the iPad? According to Apple, its a media consumption device. You listen to music, watch movies, read books and browse the web. Sure, it has a lot of overlap with PC’s and smartphones, but the functionality really isn’t the point. The feature list isn’t the point.
According to Apple, the form factor itself is not only the point, but the defining characteristic. You decide which device to do based on what you want to do and where. Laptops are portable, but they’re not really mobile. I might be weird, but I find that I need to set up some kind of workstation in order to be really effective with a laptop. I don’t mean just looking at the web or checking email, I mean really working. If I’m pounding a spreadsheet, working on my novel, writing code or doing graphics, I need a workstation. I need to be sitting at a desk with all my stuff arranged in a way that’s conducive to getting things done. The main benefit of a laptop for me is that I can take my work anywhere and get stuff done. Generally, my desk at work is arranged basically the same way as my desk at home, and I carry enough stuff in my bag to easily set up anywhere.
The iPhone is truly mobile. It lives in my pocket, so I can check Twitter, do email, use Omnifocus on the bus, in line at the coffee shop, while out shopping or in between tasks in the lab. But its small. Due to nothing more than the size of the screen, I can read emails on my Mac at least twice as fast as on my iPhone. I can see a hell of a lot more tasks in Omnifocus. There’s no comparison between how fast I can type on a real keyboard compared to a tiny smartphone keyboard (any smartphone keyboard).
The iPad takes what’s good about the iPhone and adds a lot of what’s good about the Macbook. The bigger screen and higher resolution makes reading, writing and watching better. What remains to be seen is whether or not I can carry this thing around without having to throw it in my laptop bag.
So, while I”m not going to buy an iPad instead of that Core i5 Macbook Pro I’m waiting for, I can see its appeal. I’m going to wait. Next year’s base model will have more memory, probably enough to hold my entire iTunes audio library, plus a bunch of movies. I want to see just how reliable that A4 chip is. And my bank account needs to grow back. But I will buy one eventually. Apple’s clearly in this for the long haul, so I don’t see any rush.
But here’s the rub: that’s about me buying one with my own money for my own use. I would have killed to have this thing in my last two jobs. Working in the lab means taking lots of notes in lots of bench sheets. In an aquatic toxicology lab, you have to take daily water qualities, with lots of fields, daily animal observations, and other stuff. In a pre-clinical lab, you have to do daily observations, regular animal weights, track mortality, all across various groups in multiple experiments. This all leads to hours upon hours of tedious manual data entry where we have to copy enough numbers from a benchsheet to a spreadsheet to make your eyes cross. And it needs to be done perfectly, every time.
We actually tried using a tablet PC years ago, but it sucked. The Excel sheet had tiny cells, required lots of scrolling and the tablet never connected to the network properly. It was such a pain in the ass that we just gave up and went back to the sheets. Having a handful of iPads in the lab would have made it worth my while to convert the Excel sheet to Numbers just to save on the headaches. I would have pushed and pushed until we got some in. And $499 is not at all expensive for lab equipment. I regularly spent $1000 on sterile plastic tubes. I spent $1100 on a digital scale and $1300 on a homogenizer. And those were both bargains. Mark my words: this thing is going to kill in the lab and in the hospital. A lot of scientists are already die-hard Apple users. They are going to be first in line to buy iPads just for iWork, and I would be shocked if benchsheet apps didn’t hit the App Store real soon.