Apple iPad is merely good, not insanely great

When Steve Jobs first demonstrated the Apple Mac he used the words “insanely great” to demonstrate the full graphical display of the computer. It’s a tag that has stuck around to this day among Apple fans. But today’s comments from Jobs that the iPad is a “magical revolutionary” device ring hollow.

That’s not to say the iPad isn’t a desirable device – it’s a 13.4mm-thick form factor that no-one else in the industry has yet managed to pull off (tablets to date have been without exception chunky beasts.)

The software that Apple has built into it looks very good – having a full page calendar and redesigned email client will be very useful. Having it instantly lock and resume iPhone-style will make it quicker to access than any tablet or notebook PC.

Watching video at the bigger screen size will be undoubtedly more enjoyable than watching it on an iPod Touch or iPhone (albeit only at 4:3 ratio meaning some movies will be displayed with thick black bands above and below) and browsing websites will be much more natural without the squinting and zooming in and out.

But come on it’s hardly “magical” as Steve Jobs claims. If you were hoping Jobs would pull something incredible out of his hat – especially given his comment a few days ago that this is the “most important thing” he has ever done – you may well have been left feeling a bit underwhelmed. 

Seriously Steve — this is more important than inventing the Apple Mac? Or more important than inventing the iPod or the iPhone?

As one reader over at said:
the makers of the
iphone and itouch we proudly present to you the revolutionary new
“giant itouch”

The iPad is after all just an oversized iPhone which is exactly what everyone was tipping it would be. It’s disarming for Apple to unveil a thoroughly predictable product within no particularly striking innovation (rather a strikingly fat black screen bezel).

It has some great potential like the ability to download pictures directly from your camera or camera card … but only if you buy Apple’s (presumably) pricey accessory that plugs in to the iPad’s dock connector. Considering Apple builds an SD-card slot into most of its MacBooks now it’s hard to understand why Apple wouldn’t include that on the iPad – it would be such a great differentiator between it and the iPhone. The fact that you have to remember to buy and bring the camera connection kit with you whenever you might need it pretty much dooms it to obscurity from the outset.

One explanation of course is that Apple wouldn’t want people getting the idea that they could –gasp– add additional memory card storage to the iPad lest it dissuade them from upgrading to next year’s model with upgraded storage capacity.

And then there’s the fact that it has 802.11n built in which can transfer data at up to 300Mbit/s (or realistically at around 75Mbit/s) but there’s still no wireless sync capability which means you still have to rummage through your box of cords to find the iPod cord. If wireless sync is good enough for the Apple TV why isn’t it good enough for the iPad?

And there’s still no spectacular data input method – just an on-screen QWERTY keyboard. Of course you can buy the accessory keyboard for it but again it can only be connected directly to the iPad’s dock even though Apple already sells a great Bluetooth keyboard for its Macs.

The use of the Micro SIM is also disappointing. It’s undeniable that Apple’s use of it has nothing to do with space limitations – the iPhone after all which is a third of the size has no trouble fitting a full-size SIM. It’s much more likely to be to do with Apple wanting you to buy the device from one of its official carrier partners. There’s every possibility Micro SIMs will only be sold with special iPad plans too making it difficult for you to get a cheap pre-paid wireless broadband card and use that instead. (However as one of our astute readers pointed out it’s nothing that an X-Acto knife and an hour or two can’t fix – a Micro SIM is just a standard-sized SIM with a bit less plastic around it.)

And then there’s breathless fanboys like Aussie commentator Stilgherrigan who only took an hour or two after the presentation to declare Amazon’s Kindle rooted. That’s despite the fact that the Kindle has weeks of battery life compared to less than 10 hours for the iPad access to a library of books at measured in hundreds of thousands of titles is even thinner doesn’t require a monthly subscription fee for wireless connectivity and uses ePaper technology that doesn’t wash out under bright light like an LCD display does. Speaking of LCD displays a lot of people don’t really like the idea of reading a book for hours on end on a luminescent display.

Yes Kindle has its limitations (like the fact that pretty much the only thing it is good for is reading novels with black and white pictures) but it’s far from dead yet. It’s a very different product even though Apple has built a basic “iBookStore” capability into the iPad.

Finally the kicker. Despite the fact that there’s a 1GHz processor in there and a lot more battery life than the iPhone the iPad still doesn’t allow third-party apps to run in the background. Even Apple’s own apps only do minimal multitasking. If you’re watching a video and want to quickly check your email you have to quit the video entirely load Mail then quit mail navigate back to the video and open it again. Would it kill Apple to put a slide-down alerts window at the top of the screen to let you see new incoming emails and so on while you’re doing other things?

What do you think? Were you bowled over by the iPad or were you – like me – left feeling a bit underwhelmed? Will you buy one anyway?