I vividly recall that moment back in January when Steve Jobs single-handedly brought several web sites to their knees, and halted all activity in the workplace, with his announcement of Apple's latest gizmo, the iPad. I was just as enthusiastic about the upcoming device as anyone.
However, I'm not about to buy one, at least not right now.
Apple is making a bold move to return to a form factor with a long troubled history, especially for Apple. Remember the Newton? John Sculley's pet project of the last millennium was supposed to revolutionize hand held computing. It didn't work out for several key reasons:
- It pushed way beyond the technology barrier at the time. The handwriting recognition software was buggy. The CPU's speed was too slow. The OS crashed frequently.
- Synchronization, especially with a PC, was balky at best, frustrating at worst.
- Network connectivity was limited and hung frequently.
- Software incompatibilities made it difficult to use as a replacement for a regular computer or PDA.
- The form factor had limited practicality, except in specific circumstances. Doctors loved it, but few others did.
- It was expensive.
- It lacked multitasking ability.
Now that Apple has finally gotten on the Tablet Computing 2.0 bandwagon, we expect things to be different. And certainly technology has come a long way since the days of the monochrome LCD. But can we expect the iPad to really succeed where the Newton and many other pad computers didn't?
One triumph is synchronization. With the MobileMe service and iTunes, synchronization between my iPhone and my laptop is a breeze. I expect the iPad to work just as well.
Apple was smart to abandon the stylus and handwriting recognition in favor of the touch screen. And I admit that I do pretty well typing on my iPhone, thanks to the smart word recognition software built into the OS. But it's still far from perfect, and it often corrects mistakes I didn't make. So I'd probably want to have a wireless Bluetooth keyboard handy for whenever I wanted to do serious typing.
Network connectivity, as is the case with the iPhone, should be a snap. However, without a WiFi network, I'd still be suffering with AT&T's abysmal reliability and performance, especially in network-saturated cities such as San Francisco.
Let's look at the last four reasons that the Newton failed. iPad doesn't make much headway with these. Where's the Flash player, for instance? Can you write software programs on the device itself? What about using an alternative web browser such as Firefox or Opera? Can you edit Word documents on it?
The form factor is also problematic. It's still too big for the pocket, so I'm not going to take it anywhere I wouldn't take my laptop. At least it weighs a lot less.
Battery life is a new problem. With the Newton, the rechargeable (and replaceable!) battery packs would last a week or more. With the iPad, expect to recharge the unit daily, or even more often than that. So I'm not about to replace my Kindle with an iPad for reading books anytime soon.
While the iPad is less expensive than the Newton MP2000, it's still quite pricey. The cheapest version, at $499, has too little memory to be practical, and no 3G wireless connectivity. I expect most folks will shell out at least $600 for the fatter versions, or wait until the end of April to pick up the 3G version.
And the last item on the list — lack of multitasking ability — is the show stopper for me. My number one frustration on my iPhone is my inability to switch between applications without the risk of losing work. You're at the mercy of the app designer whenever you leave the app in the middle of a task. Some apps behave the way you expect, but others do not.
So let's root for the initial wave of iPad sales to spell success for Apple. Let's hope that they solve this multitasking problem once and for all. And most of all, let's hope that Apple lowers the price this fall.