Padded applause

Apple iPad

On Wednesday Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced his company’s latest creation to the world – the iPad. With a 9.7″ capacitive touchscreen and an operating system similar to the iPhone, the iPad has been designed to fill the gap between smartphones and laptops. On a technological level the device is amazing. Equally amazing is the deal Apple has struck with AT&T in the USA to offer 3G data at $14.99 per month for 250MB and $29.99 for unlimited bandwidth. But I’m not convinced that the gap the iPad fills exists for all but a small niche of computer users at this stage.

Steve Jobs pointed out that in order to fill this gap a device would have to be better at things like browsing the web and consuming digital media than a smartphone or a laptop. He added that, in this regard, netbooks had fallen short. And I agree with him.

The iPad apparently does all of these, and then some, better than any laptop or smartphone. But there are also a number of things it doesn’t do at all. And, for this reason, I don’t think the iPad will often leave the house with many of its early adopters.

I use myself as example; I have a 13″ Macbook, an iPhone 3GS and a menagerie of iPods that I have accumulated. When I travel I take my Macbook and iPhone with me. I use the laptop to write articles, browse the web, record and edit audio, produce video – the list goes on. The more demanding of these tasks, especially in audio and video, the iPad will not handle.

The iPhone I use as a phone, navigation device and pocket computer. It Geotags the photos I take with my Nikon D90 and I use it to watch television series and movies. It’s also an iPod, email client, Skype phone and other things. But it must fit into my pocket and it must be a phone. The iPad does neither.

If I was to buy an iPad it would stay at home. I couldn’t justify taking it with me on a trip instead of my Macbook, or my iPhone, because it doesn’t cover all of the bases. And I sure as hell am not going to lug around a third device – it may be better than anything else at browsing the web and watching videos, but not so good that I’d have it in my backpack along with my Macbook, which does a perfectly decent job of web browsing and video.

iBooks, the book store that Apple has added to its digital content offering, looks amazing – but I’m sure it’ll be available, and perfectly usable, on the iPhone too.

I can imagine someone with less demanding computing needs replacing their laptop with the iPad, especially considering the add-on keyboard accessory, and out-of-the-box compatibility with Bluetooth keyboards. I also foresee mobile processors becoming powerful enough in the future to enable tablet devices to replace laptops completely – but we aren’t there yet.

The 10 hour battery life will be a major advantage to people who can justify carrying around the iPad instead of a laptop – and for someone who has to endure long-haul flights fairly regularly, this is the only feature that would convince me to chuck the iPad in my bag.

There is a bigger picture to consider, however. The iPad is the beginning of a new chapter in computing. The tablet form-factor is going to have a big impact on everything from television to education. But it’s early days. Apple deserves credit for developing a technological marvel – and the price, starting at $499 in the US, will make it irresistible for tech enthusiasts and fans of the brand.

I foresee initial sales predominantly focused on the entry-level, WiFi device. It’ll hit the shelves a month before the 3G version and because most early adopters will be technology enthusiasts, will be home-bound while its owners favour beefier devices on the go.

In South Africa I expect we’ll see the device along with the rest of the world in 60 days – but it remains uncertain who its distributor will be. Core is the company that distributes all of Apple’s products in South Africa, except for the iPhone which is handled by cellular company Vodacom.

Then there’s the question of price – and the iPad will be subject to the same taxes and margins that the iPod Touch is, being a similarly classed device. The entry-level model should go for about R5000 in South Africa – anything more would be criminal.

I'm a writer and broadcaster who also designs apps and strategies for disruptive startups in the financial world. Find out more on my about page.