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Geek Speak column
[Published in the Key West Citizen Locals Guide on May 28, 2010.]
Years ago I worked on the first IBM ThinkPad, a “tablet” computer with no keyboard. The concept was ahead of its time and the technology was lacking, so tablet computers remained a niche product. Twenty years down the road Apple finally gets it right with the iPad.
Apple has shed much of the baggage associated with previous tablets and concentrated on upsizing their highly successful iPod and iPhone products. Indeed, Apple detractors have called the iPad “a big iPhone that can’t make calls”. That characterization has some truth to it – the iPad’s easy-to-use interface is very similar, and multitudes of users of those other Apple products will instantly find it familiar. But the iPad also shares many of advanced talents of previous tablet computers; it’s much more than a glorified cell phone.
The iPad sits in a category mid-way between smart-phones and laptops. Though telephone hardware is not included in the current iPad line, it does not prevent internet-based telephone calling (such as Skype) via home wi-fi, public hotspots or via the 3G cell phone system. (Note that 3G internet access requires the deluxe model.) So an iPad actually does make calls, albeit with some limitations. It actually can serve as an oversize smart-phone on steroids.
It also competes with the laptop, and could replace one for many people. If you don’t type for a living and don’t mind a touch screen keyboard (or you can dock the iPad to a physical keyboard for those bigger typing tasks) the iPad could be a good laptop substitute. Its web-surfing and multimedia talents are superb, and it’ll do your mail and Facebook with aplomb. It’s also expected to be a popular gaming platform.
Note, though, that those who produce “content” (larger documents, media projects, etc) probably won’t be satisfied. And it’s definitely not a developer’s platform. Stick with a laptop for that kind of thing.
Much of the iPad hype centers on its use as an electronic book and magazine reader. Indeed the experience is much like reading a book, with finger-drag animated page turning, crisp clear text and vibrant colored illustrations and pictures. Lots of smarts behind the electronic pages: zooming, finger-tap jumps, pop-ups, highlighting, note-taking, easy search and much more. And enough capacity to carry around and smoothly navigate a small library of full-length books. There are competing specialized platforms out there, most notably, Amazon’s Kindle line. But none are currently as flexible for other (non-reader) uses.
The iPad also uses the App Store model that’s familiar to iPhone users. This lets you select, purchase, download and immediately use reasonably priced specialized programs of your interest. Most iPhone apps will run (with some limitations) on the iPad now, and there’s a growing library of apps designed for the iPad.
At the beginning of May the iPad’s sales exploded past the 1 million mark (in less than a month) signaling the skeptics that this is a platform to be reckoned with. The viable tablet computer for the masses has arrived.
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