I didn't get to go the Apple iPad launch event today, and so I haven't played with the thing in person yet. So I'm reserving any sort of actual judgement until I have. Remember kids, it's not a "review" unless the "reviewer" has actually tried the thing out for his/herself.
Instead, I covered the event from my office, then headed out for what turned into a two-plus hour visit to the doctor (don't worry, I'm fine). Now I'm back at the office doing a bit of wrap-up work before calling it a day. Funny how my opinion of iPad has roller-coastered as my day progressed.
During the launch event I was interested but not particularly surprised or excited until the $499 price was revealed. I then tweeted this:
At the time I thought, "Wow, it's like a netbook but sexy and with a fun UI and an overloaded content store just waiting for your impulse buys. Everybody who already has a home computer but doesn't need a laptop will want one. Everybody who already has nine computers and three smartphones will want one, too."
Later in the day, while sitting in the Dr.'s waiting room, I caught up on some iPad coverage via the tech blogosphere's RSS feeds. The majority of the posts I read - not to mention the accompanying comments and tweeets - were pretty harsh on Apple's new machine, calling it an underspec'd device with a terrible name. Complaints abounded, targeting the device's lack of multitasking, large front bezel, lack of a camera and SD card slot, and all sorts of other geeky things.
And so my opinion of the device plummeted. Bear in mind I was also waiting at the Dr.'s office. I hate waiting. Especially at any medical-related office. So that likely poisoned by opinion of iPad as much as the thoughts of myriad cranky tech bloggers (a group to whom I proudly belong ... or at least hope I belong).
Then I read this one comment on this one blog, and it kinda snapped me back into reality. What it said, more or less, was that tech bloggers (and tech blog commenters) have a tendency to divorce themselves from the real world, focusing on micro-level details and over-amped expectations instead of thinking about how real consumers who aren't dyed in the wool techheads actually purchase and use gadgets.
Boom, as they say, went the dynamite in my head.
Apple's going to have a big hit on their hands with iPad. Or maybe they won't - I'm generally pretty lousy at predicting this stuff. But I think they can and will and should, whether it's with this first-gen iPad or whatever device comes after it in this brave new world of "let's reinvent the personal computing experience and use the word 'Magical" a whole lot." Why?
Because I can stick one in my kitchen, living room, bedroom, car, or book bag and most anyone in my life should be able to pick it up and have some fun with it.
First off, iPad is a sexy computer that costs less than five hundred dollars. Whether or not it multitasks, has an SD card slot or lacks a camera is irrelevant to most would-be buyers. They'll buy it because it looks cool and fun, is cool and fun to use, and makes them feel all futuristic and sexy.
Second, the thing is made to consume - not to create. Yes, there's an office suite (iWork) and an art program (Brushes) and in time there will be a thousand and one apps for creating stuff. And yes, a bunch of people will hopefully wind up using their iPads to create some really cool stuff. But that's not what it's made for. It's made for consuming media - media sold through the iTunes store, media that Apple gets a revenue share of every time you purchase and consume it.
Now you can consume books on it, too. So it's like a Kindle or Nook but, oh yeah, also like an iPod Touch with a 720p HD screen (even though it's not a 16:9 screen ... but most people won't care about that ... only grumpy tech bloggers). So it's like a Kindle with a full color Web browser and games and apps and a digital photo frame and Email and a calendar ...
And so, you see, it's a gadget. It's a sexy, fun, neato gadget with the huge upside of that darn iTunes store: iTunes, Apps, and now iBooks. And it costs less than 500 bucks if you opt for the low-end model, which I honestly think should be plenty for most people. Sure, it's only 16 gigs. But that's plenty for your apps and books and photos. And you can stream your large media (video and music) from the cloud or from your home PC running iTunes. That's not geek territory - that's super easy stuff, the iTunes Sharing.
There are flaws in the iPad I saw from afar today. Some are minor flaws (no camera, big bezel) while others are bigger (the touchscreen keyboard looked iffy, the lack of Flash is bad for Web browsing). But once the content ramps up and mainstream America can read books and magazines, read e-textbooks, watch TV and movies on the go, surf the Web from the couch, Tweet/Facebook/Hi5 their faces off from wherever, consume ... adult content, let's call it ... in bed (you know you were thinking it), stream music all over the house, and do whatever else with this thin, light, entirely touch-and-poke-and-swipeable gadget ... I think it's going to catch on.
And the grumpy tech bloggers who want SD cards and multitasking and whatever else will still have our MacBook Pros and HP Slates and other devices built for high-powered creation and multiple-means-at-once consumption.
Though I betcha some multitasking is in order for iPhone/iPad OS 4 this Summer. And Adobe's already said that Flash content will be iPad-compatible, one way or another. So a few of those concerns will be alleviated in short order.
Am I saying that I think iPad is hands-down a no-brainer great product for everyone, worth the hype, or exactly what I personally want from a magical computing machine? Nope. And since this is a Phone site, am I saying that I think it's worth it to pay the extra $130 up front and $30/month to get 3G data via AT&T on an iPad? Nope. And am I saying that for the tech-savvy power user iPad is a better choice than any of the myriad tablets and convertible notebooks about to flood the market with their Windows 7, Android, or other Linux-based OSes? Nope.
What am I saying is that it's unwise to write a product off based on the nay-saying of a few. Even - or perhaps especially - when you're talking about a tech product being critiqued by a bunch of tech bloggers. We're a strange breed, locked up in rooms with our blinking, beeping gadgets. Sometimes we forget that the rest of the world doesn't always think like we do - even if we, and our audiences, are growing by leaps and bounds every day.
Today may have been one of those days on which we forgot. iPad didn't live up to the hype and expectations of many a tech blogger. But it may just change the way folks in the American mainstream view, interact, and feel about their computers ... or gadgets ... or whatever you want to call the thing.
I went as mainstream as possible ... well, no, not quite (it's not USA Today) for this next quote. David Pogue of the New York Times more or less summed up why I'm thinking iPad will wind up a winner in the end, with this bit from his first look at the device:
Windows and Linux and Mac OS laptops are also sacks of potential. But they're as much about creating potential as they are consuming it. iPad, not so much. Apple and its content partners will create the potential, and we will consume it. Books, newspapers, TV shows, Apps ... who knows what else. iPad's all about consumption, with a little bit of communication and maybe even some creation thrown in for good measure. Wrapped up in a sleek, shiny package that's cool and fun and begging for you to touch it.
Not everyone wants that. But I bet a ton of folks do. Or will once they get their hands on one in an oh so trendy Apple store. That doesn't make iPad a great product, necessarily. But I bet it'll make it a success.
What say you? Hardcore tech fan or mainstream consumer, it doesn't matter - your voice counts! Sound off in the comments.