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BW Businessworld

Not Fit For A Fad

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 If you’d been up twittering at around midnight on 27 January, you wouldn’t have been able to miss the smell of the Internet overheating with all the high velocity tweeting and blogging over the unveiling of Apple’s newest — the iPad.

While Steve Jobs glided through yet another of his breathtaking presentations, all those who couldn’t be there let loose a stream of comments at a furious pace that prompted the New York Times to put up a real-time display of “Tabletweets” showing the sheer number of posts going on — over 2,000 a minute.
Putting an end to months of guessing what this gadget would be named, the pod-pad-net-note-tablet device turned out to be called the iPad after all. I told you so. Someone owes me Rs 5,000. The launch also put an end to breathless rumours over just what the device would be: it was just a big, overfed iPod. Much of the world was significantly underwhelmed. Although I must say I have ever since been looking sorrowfully at my iPod Touch and wondering who shrunk it.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t instantly think of buying it. I was doing the mental math even as Steve Jobs did his thing. Not being able to see so well, I immediately felt it would make a great e-reader; for me better than the Kindle because the big bright backlit 9.5 x 7.5 inch screen with text I could expand at a touch would be just what the doctor ordered. I also love watching documentary videos on my iPod Touch and drooled at how beautiful these would look on a way bigger display.
But when and where in between with the laptop, television, iPod and phone would I manage to squeeze in the iPad, I’m still not sure. The iPad has already been called a Kindle-killer, and for many who would sacrifice the simplicity for a gadget that does many other things besides being an e-reader, the iPad is a worthy alternative. The iPad has been introduced at a price that no one has a quarrel with — $499 for the starting 16 GB model. There are to be six versions and prices, differing in the amount of space they offer and the inclusion of 3G. All have Wi-Fi, of course.
The iPad can actually do a lot: browse the Web, view photos, play video, music, games, read e-books, and run anything you add from the App Store. With Apple’s office software, iWorks, you can also work with documents. The iPod does all this too, but the iPad does it bigger, and while that may not seem enough of a difference for some uses, it is for others. One of these is reading newspapers. The New York Times front page, a special app on the launch model, looked eminently readable.
There’s much talk of Apple exploring tie ups with publishers for content that could be paid for and read on the iPad, but not much about it is known right now. Educational uses of the iPad are also being explored. Meanwhile, one school of thought is that the iPad (and, perhaps, similar devices such as the Kindle) will be the saviour of the declining newspaper industry. Oh, come on!
What Apple is trying to do is find and develop that killer app which will make users buy and stick with the iPad. There’s a reason why tablets have not made it mainstream yet. They’ve been clunky, limited, ergonomically unfriendly, sluggish and expensive. The iPad is not clunky at 0.5-inch thick and a weight of 0.68 kg. And it’s not slow either. It is, however, a weird combination of holdable and not-so-handy. And so, the physical and psychological spaces it will fit into depend on what critical use it can be tied to.
The iPad’s killer app will also have to be so good as to compensate for its annoyances. The biggest one is that like the iPod, the battery is not user replaceable. That’s really not fair. I would have a hard time adding an iPad to my iPod graveyard 2-3 years after buying it. It has basic accessories that you would need to buy separately. It also has no camera, no full GPS, predictably no USB connector but the old one used with the Pods, no HDMI out to connect to a television, no SD slot, no multi-tasking and no Flash support. Thanks, but no thanks.
The iPad is still almost half a year away from India and we don’t know what sort of content and pricing will be available when it finally arrives. Until then, you may well see other tablets coming up, specially as an e-reader developing into a multi-function device of sorts. Microsoft recently showed off a tablet that went undeservedly and relatively unnoticed, and there’s talk of a Google tablet using Chrome in the works. With new tablets entering the market, shedding some of the earlier tablet problems and being more widely adopted, the tablet may find a permanent place in our lives after all.
The author is editorial director at Mindworks Global Media Services. [email protected], @malabhargava on Twitter
(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 15-02-2010)

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