So is the iPad a computer for Mom? Not really.

Posted by Minnaar Pieters 05 Feb 2010
So what is my opinion on the iPad? Well first off, I do like it. Despite all its shortcomings, I think it might be a game changing device.

I read somewhere that iPhone should be renamed the iPad Nano. And that might be a very apt description, seeing as the iPad is actually very similar to the iPhone. Unless Apple pulls something out of the hat (more on that later), there is not much more that a iPad can do that the iPhone cannot. And the iPhone is smaller and more portable. So why would anyone want a iPad?

I tried to think where an iPad might fit into my lifestyle. I have a smartphone and a small laptop. I take my iPhone everywhere, and I take my macbook to work and back home home again. I honestly cannot see where I would use the “third device” Apple is talking about. I really think a netbook sized macbook would have suited me better.

The iPad does not have multitasking, it doesn’t have USB ports, it only runs apps in the closed appstore and the device cannot transfer files (like documents and photos) to and fro like every other computer on the planet (unless you email them or use a tool like dropbox). It runs the iPhone OS, instead of a full fledged operating system like Mac OSX. With a list like this you start wondering what it really does?
And here we come to that magic (frustrating) Apple formula – it might leave out some functionality, but the things that it does do, it does beautifully.

The iPad makes using a computer dead easy to use. After watching all the interface videos (I recommend iLounge's) it is pretty clear that many apps we use every day has been made simpler and more easy to use than before. Even something as boring as email is a graphically rich app on the iPad. Looking at photos using the pinch gestures are brilliantly simple. The calendar app makes outlook look archaic. If you take into account what the average user does on a computer these days, it is pretty clear what the iPad is aiming to do. It is rethinking the way we use computers.

Take for example the average computer user – the person who reads emails, browses the web and types the occasional document. He might also watch movies, listen to music and want something to organize his life. All of these are functions that are perfectly controlled by the stable and mature apps we use on computers today. Then why on earth must the average user need to know about disk formatting, corrupt files, incompatible codecs, incompatible apps, defragmenting, hibernate, sleep, email server protocols, file formats, PST’s, drivers etc? Clearly what Apple is trying to do is make the computing experience as simple and elemental as possible. Perhaps the best analogy regarding the iPad’s simplicity is its similarity to modern cars. Twenty years ago, anyone with the know how could open up a car bonnet and service a car. These days, hardly anyone “tinkers” on their cars – every car is highly specialized that needs very specific proprietary equipment. True, there are always people who want to tinker, but they are quickly becoming the minority. Same with computers. People do not want to maintain their computers anymore; they just want to use their computer.

While you might not agree with this (lets face it, the average reader of this article probably has a big interest in technology and love to play around with their computer), Apple is trying to alter people’s mind-sets about computing. Everything is simpler – and the biggest change to the average consumer will be the appstore. Think about it – instead of searching for an app online, and then downloading it, and then installing it (with a possible hiccup somewhere) the user will fire up the appstore and just choose the app they want. That’s it.

So, if the iPad becomes popular, users of computers might eventually be dumbed down right? Probably not.
One must not forget that the iPad is a secondary device. If you do not have a main computer somewhere, the iPad becomes pretty boring. You cannot put your movies, music and photo libraries on the device without a computer. True, you can buy your movies and music from iTunes, but that’s only new music you want.
This might be my biggest criticism of the iPad – it is not really a device you use on its own. It still needs a host to sync to, a mothership to use properly. It currently seems like the iPad will sync with a folder on its host machine, and this will be the primary method in which you will transfer files. No flash disks, no Bluetooth, etc. Why Apple made the iPad without a USB port is beyond me.

And therein lies the rub – you will never quite rid people from the more technical aspects of using a computer. Think about it - to use the device effectively you need to have some knowledge about things like video codecs, syncing of email servers, caldav for syncing of calendars etc. If Apple wanted to truly make computing simple, it needs to address this.

However, my biggest criticism has to go to the lack of multitasking. I want to be able to do two things at once on a computer. Lack of multitasking on my phone I can live with. But multitasking is something we have been used to for a very long time. I really hope that Apple enables multitasking on the next version of iPhone OS. Without multitasking I really cannot see how people will take this seriously as a computing device.

But what I must keep reminding myself is that this a device that will only show its true colours once developers start making great apps for it. Just like the iPhone at first, it is currently a blank canvas of potential, and knowing Apple they will probably make us all rethink the way we use computers.
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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.