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The good, the bad, and the ugly.

31 January 2010

You might have heard about the iPad, Apple Inc’s newest contribution to the world of technology.  It was announced a few days ago at Apple’s keynote conference, viewable here.  Rumors have been circling the interwebs for over a year regarding what it would be capable of, what it might look like, and so on.  On a personal note, I’ve been awaiting the iPad for nearly two years.  If the rumors were any indication, it was certain to be a computing revolution.  Now that the device has been unveiled, I wanted to take a moment to review it.

Apple's iPad

The Good

The iPad seems to do exactly what Steve Jobs suggested it would during his keynote speech.  It bridges the gap between smartphone and laptop.  It plays music, runs Apple-approved applications, maintains a calendar, displays photos, and acts as an e-book.  In short, the iPad does many things very well.

The accelerometer does, for the first time, what I’ve found oddly missing in other devices.  Regardless of which way you hold the device, the image will always be right side up.  A simple yet incredibly useful function that enables intuitive utilization of the device.

Taking into account that, at current, the iPad has no direct competition could be the largest selling point for the device.  Granted, there are many other tablet computing devices on the market and recently shown prototypes at this years CES but all lack the near-cult following that Apple has gathered over the years.

I’m very pleased to see that Apple is continuing to take a green approach to computing.  The iPad uses Arsenic-free display glass, mercury-free LCD display, and is constructed of highly recyclable aluminum and glass.

The Bad

First and foremost, Apple seems to be under the mistaken impression that consumers are simply renting hardware.  The user has no control over what they install on the device, short of precisely what Apple Inc approves for use.  I think it’s fair to say that apple doesn’t always have it’s users best interests at heart.  After all, we remember what happens when other large tech companies release a product for use on iDevices that don’t contribute to Apple’s profit margin, they shut it down.  It is your hardware, right?  Then why is Apple acting as though the tech industry is akin to world government and they’ve decided to be the China?

Communist Apple

They’d like us to accept that their reasoning for providing little-to-no choice is that they are saving us from ourselves; unstable applications, confusion, etc.  They’re essentially telling us “Give up individuality and control in exchange for a product that ‘just works.'”  …and maybe that sounds great.  The only problem is that they’re giving us a false choice.  It’s like saying “you can either be pro-life or pro-choice.”  Yes, you certainly can be either but there are also a thousand positions in between.  There is no reason a device that “just works” can’t also allow users to control its functionality.

The Free Software Foundation said it best:  “DRM is used by Apple to restrict users’ freedom in a variety of ways, including blocking installation of software that comes from anywhere except the official Application Store, and regulating every use of movies downloaded from iTunes. Apple furthermore claims that circumventing these restrictions is a criminal offense, even for purposes that are permitted by copyright law.

If Jobs and Apple are actually committed to creativity, freedom, and individuality, they should prove it by eliminating the restrictions that make creativity and freedom illegal.

Attention needs to be paid to the computing infrastructure our society is becoming dependent upon. This past year, we have seen how human rights and democracy protesters can have the technology they use turned against them by the corporations who supply the products and services they rely on. Your computer should be yours to control. By imposing such restrictions on users, Steve Jobs is building a legacy that endangers our freedom for his profits.”

Next, for you spec junkies, let’s talk hardware.  The iPad utilizes a processor clocked at a mere 1Ghz.  For those of you unfamiliar with this kind of jargon, 1Ghz was considered a powerful processing unit circa 2000.  The average comparable device today has an average processing speed of 2.6Ghz — more than double the iPad.  Granted, I would be remiss if I did not also point out that comparable products are running full, more robust, operating systems that require more processing power.

Further, once you buy an iPad, you are locked into the amount of hard drive space provided.  There are no built-in USB connections for external storage and no hard drive upgrades available.  The device does come with a USB adapter, but creating a series of adapters for a portable device undercuts the emphasis on portability.

When you consider that many smartphones, including mine, have faster processors and more memory with the option for expansion, not to mention replaceable batteries; one can’t help but wonder why Apple would choose an obsolete set of hardware configurations for their newest device.

When Jobs began touting the iPad as the best full-color e-reader, many people scratched their heads.  First, a full-color display is hardly a selling point for reading black and white text.  Second, the reason e-readers like the Kindle have been so successful is because they use digital ink which does not strain the readers eyes – unlike the iPad.  To many, myself included, Jobs’ proclaiming the iPad as the future of e-readers was a moot point.

Possibly the worst built-in flaw of all: No multi-tasking.  That’s right, you will only be able to run one application at a time on the iPad.  For me, this is the biggest let-down.  Multi-tasking is a necessity on my desktop, laptop, and my phone.  Why multi-tasking would be left out of iPad’s equation is completely beyond me.  Perhaps it’s a hardware limitation as a result of using such a slow processor?  In any case, the bottom line is that you can not download a video while writing an email, look up directions while updating your calendar or anything along those lines.  Multi-tasking is something that computer and smart-phone users (save iPhone) take for granted – when it is suddenly missing, it will be missed in a big way.

The Ugly

The overall design of the iPad is arguably less than aesthetically pleasing.  It resembles a digital photo frame from the early 2000’s, a far cry from what enthusiasts were predicting in the year leading up to its unveiling.

An artists prediction of the iPad

Beyond the hardware design, it would also seem that the software design was an after-thought.  The newest addition to the operating system is the ability to customize a desktop image which, as those who have ever used a computer before already know, has been an ever-present feature in every operating system, save iPhone OS, since computers moved away from DOS.

The Big Picture

Overall, the iPad definitely has it’s selling points. It also is lacking many features one would expect in a “next-gen” device.  Regardless of whether you purchase one this March or not, one thing is almost certain:  Next years re-make will be a substantial improvement that even I may shop for.

On a personal level, I realize that speaking out against Apple is often considered heresy.  To those who would simply dismiss my review as “anti-Apple” I’d like to remind you that i’m also “anti-Microsoft” and “anti-Google” so long as a product or policy warrants such an attitude.  Don’t be blinded by the white box, think for yourself.  Think different.

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