Before the Rise and Fall: A Business Traveler’s Hope for the iPad


I’m on the road a fair amount for my job, and I’m a dedicated laptop power user during those trips.  For example, the last half of this week I was in San Antonio, chairing a conference.  Delaney didn’t have school today, so she took a couple of tests early, skipped school on Thursday and went with me.  Between checking my email, reviewing documents, visiting Webkinz, and looking in vain for a late night Avatar showing, we were constantly on my laptop.  In fact, this afternoon we pulled over on I-10, plugged in my wireless broadband card and found information on a for-sale farm in Flatonia, Texas I wanted to look at.

I use an Hp tx2525 tablet PC when I’m traveling.  It’s a good choice, but it could be better.  So I watched with great interest Steve Jobs’ iPad unveiling on Wednesday.  My Apple philosophy is very simple: I think the iPhone is probably the greatest technological advance of the past decade, and I think Macs are hard to use, software challenged and overpriced.  I have been waiting to see if the iPad was going to be a lite Mac or a supercharged iPhone.

In sum, it looks like it will be a little of both.

Could the iPad be Apple’s Alamo?

Since watching the unveiling, which was certainly impressive in a religion-of-Apple sort of way, the thing I continue to lament is the absence of a camera.  Religion or not, I cannot comprehend how you can release any manner of handheld device in 2010 and not include a camera.  I find the absence of native USB and SD card slots to be almost as annoying, but I could probably convince myself to live without those.  But no camera?

I’m not in the market for an addition to my mobile toolbox.  I’m in the market for the ultimate mobile toolbox.  For me to take the iPad plunge, I’ll have to conclude that it can replace my laptop. That may sound like a tall, perhaps unfair, order, but it’s not.  Most laptops have way more features and horsepower than I need.  I’m looking for an elegant device that doesn’t have a bunch of features I don’t need, but that has the ones I do.

So will I buy an iPad?  At first I thought so.  For sure.  The more I think about it, I’m not so sure.  I need to be convinced of a few things.

Like what?

First, I need to know that I can use an iPad view and edit Word documents.  I tried really hard to dump Microsoft Office, but it wasn’t possible for a document-intensive user like me.  Google Docs sucks, horribly.  Open Office will do in a pinch.  But the hard, cold fact is that corporate America operates via Word, and so far there are no legitimate alternatives.  I don’t know squat about iWork, but I doubt the Word experience within iWork is seamless.  Is it acceptable?  I don’t know, but it will have to be to get me to dump my laptop for an iPad.  I suspect this will be the deal-stopper for me.  But I can hope, and I do.  Desperately.

In that regard, let me make one ancillary point.  If Apple truly designed the iPad as an intermediate device to fill the microscopic space between a Mac and a smart phone, it will fail miserably.  Netbooks never took off, and everybody uses PCs. The market for a Mac netbook is about on par with the market for teal ketchup.

Second, I need to get comfortable that I can use Safari for real web browsing.  Candidly, I find surfing the net on an iPhone about as fun as going to the Opera.  So I rarely do it, and when I do, the experience is so agonizing that I don’t even notice the browser.  As long as Outlook web access, Gmail and Google Reader look and work well in Safari, I can probably get past this.

Third, I need the virtual keyboard to work really well.  Better than that train wreck I tried to use and quickly abandoned on my tablet PC.  It needs to approximate the normal keyboard experience.  The virtual keyboard on the iPhone is infinitely better than any Blackberry keyboard, so there is hope here.

Fourth, my annoyance level over the lack of Flash on these products continues to rise.  Flash is, for better or worse, the de facto standard on the internet.  It is arrogant and customer-unfriendly for Apple not to capitulate to this.  I’ll somehow have to conclude that this gaping hole in the specs won’t be the problem I think it will be.

Fifth, I’ll have to get over the fact that it is not widescreen.  A 4:3 aspect ratio is a gigantic leap backwards (see the next paragraph).

Finally and most importantly, I’ll have conclude that, contrary to the way it seems, this device was not hurried to market in an unfinished state, only to be obsoleted in a few months by a device that plugs some of these giant holes.  This is the thing that really weighs on my mind.  I already have a Kindle 1.  I don’t want to collect obsolete and under-performing hardware.

I’m holding out hope.  But if I had to put money on this race today, I’d bet against the first generation iPad.

Now the iPad 2.0. . . that’s a horse of a different color.

11 thoughts on “Before the Rise and Fall: A Business Traveler’s Hope for the iPad

  1. Disclaimer: I'm a fan of Apple and their products and do all my computing using Apple devices. I don't apologize for this. ;-)Kent, Initially I was underwhelmed with the iPad and thought I'd wait for the second revision to purchase one. I also believe the iPad 1.0 was not a result of rushed production but of focused design. Apple has long held distain for the Netbook form factor and I don't think that's changed — a micro laptop pretending to be a full PC/Laptop doesn't fit in with Apples design functionality, so I don't believe they've just redesigned the Netbook in a tablet format or are even trying to redesign the current tablet (Microsoft) definition. I believe they're shooting at a new category — call it the personal tablet Internet appliance if you wish. An appliance that is convenient, reliable (it just works), provides the seamless functionality 90% of users will ever want — from media play, ebooks, casual gaming, email, Internet browsing and a wide availability of applications for almost any special interest. Does this leave some shortcoming for business and techie user…you betcha. I wanted a web cam and usb port, but I think there 's a reason Steve Jobs did much of the demo sitting in a comfortable (living room) chair.Are my conclusion correct and will this be successful? I don't know. But I personally wouldn't bet against them at this point. They have millions of potential customers that already are familiar with the multitouch interface and many of those customers would love a larger screen and more capability for home or travel use. I'll probably buy one.

  2. There is no doubt that Apple can make a sexy device with very high quality standards. However there is much about the iPad to consider aside from the hardware. I am very concerned about Apple's move to embrace a closed content model. Some questions to consider:- Will Apple have the ability to 'brick' devices like they did with the iPhone?- Will all content (free or commercial) have to come through a vetted iStore kind of process? (They do censor content after all – just google 'Apple Dalai Lama China' to see).- What happened to Steve Job's heroic letter regarding DRM.. he has the market power now, will all content be DRM'd? I personally don't think Jobs will mention DRM until he's used enough of it to lock up market dominance in these new areas as well – but that might be a little too cynical.- What about books? Will there be any ability to trade used books? Textbooks? Seriously, what about sharing a great book I just read with my nephew? This is not a silly issue. It's fundamental.There are many other similar questions to consider as well. I love sexy devices as much as the next guy, but questions like those above do really matter. The general public is likely not going to consider any of those questions – but that doesn't make them unimportant.It seems as though this is shaping up to be an open-closed sort of battle with the main forces being Apple and Google. I don't own a smartphone (yet), but I'm siding with Google+Android. Google is not perfect but I think they're fighting to keep things open. They are not perfect to be sure, but they do seem to be much more in favour of keeping things open. I'll happily wait 2 years until someone comes out with a similar, but open device.

  3. Hi Richard. Excellent points and valid concerns. While I like Apple, I'm not blind to Apple's closed system and their continuing support of DRM. I'm not sure how much of DRM is Apple's doing and how much is at the insistence of the media producers. But you're right Apple could do more to reduce DRM and I also would like to see them move in this direction. On open systems — I love the concept but with experience have come to believe it's hard to make a successful business and deliver a consistent customer experience with that model. Heck, if it wasn't Linux would rule the world by now. I've experienced a lot of the Linux distributions out and there's still a lot of variation between them and it still takes a bit of a techie to get the most from each. It's much better then it was, but still not on the level of user experience with Windows 7 or OS X.Apples level of control of hardware and software has in most cases made the “it just works” more then a saying and consistently “it works” the same way each and every time — consistent and highly functional make a good user experience. I don't particularly like the concept of closed systems, but I can't argue with the level of user functionality Apple provides. My 2 cents. 🙂

  4. There's also the fact (I've heard) that there's no multi-tasking. I am a flipper-through-programs par excellence; I usually have three or four programs open at once in my “down” time.

  5. I think that would make more sense at a lower price point, but, on the other hand, the Kindle shows that people will pay lots of money for devices that do a limited number of things well. From a business traveler's perspective, though, this would mean you have to carry at least three devices on the road: laptop, phone and iPad. Add a Blackberry for those whose IT departments still don't support the iPhone (there are still quite a few), and you have four. I want two for now, and at some point one (universal wireless VOIP with a small headset via the iPad 4.0). I can dream.

  6. Yes! The ability to choose! Seems to me there are a lot of settings choices a user can be given to lengthen the life of a battery. There are some things worth losing battery life for and there are other things that aren't. These things vary from person to person, so let us pick for ourselves. That's really not Apple's way, though, where they seem to view choices as confusing.

  7. I have to wonder how much the Google/Android phone front worries Apple (and Microsoft). After all, they are now even talking about replacing the default iPhone search with Bing. I think the penetration of open systems like Linux and Android is progressing quicker than people think. Maybe not Linux on the desktop but the number of TV's, appliances, routers etc. that now use Linux is remarkable. On a side note, I have to say that as a fan of design I was a little disappointed by the iPad. I really thought Apple was going to push past the whole glossy icon/reflective dock sort of thing (and the i-Naming thing). Sure, I wouldn't expect the FLOSS community to push the envelope design-wise (there are a TON of problems to solve before that ever happens), but I didn't think it was going to be such a small step aesthetic-wise. Perhaps they've just set the expectation bar too high for their own good. 🙂

  8. Yes. I'm surprised that the whole “I want to listen to music while I work.” sort of thing was ignored – at least for now. Though I've read somewhere they'd likely enable specific multi-tasking between approved apps.. whatever that means. 😉

  9. Richard, I would argue that many of those area's you named as progress for Linux: TV's, appliances, routers, etc. are in themselves closed systems even if running Linux. The manufacturer supplies the version of Linux OS they want with no changes allowed by the user. It's cheap/cost effective and provides a standard user experience — it's business, and the user could care less what it runs. Most vendors don't advertise the appliance is running Linux except perhaps in a small footnote. Now in some cases these appliances have been hacked but the manufacturer will take no responsibility if modified — closed systems based upon an open system design. That's the way I view those cases but I'm open to be convinced otherwise. I agree I would of like to have seen a more revolutionary product, I was initially disappointed, but I believe Apple has built upon the look and feel of the IPod Touch and iPhone. For non-techies who have one of these products they would instantly feel comfortable on the iPad…of course this is only a SWAG on my part. 🙂 Sometimes success can be your own worst enemy, which I think is the case for Apple. It will be interesting to see what's what when the production units are available and observe how well they sell. If they sales are good $$$$, any perceived shortcomings will not matter so much.As far as Android, it has a lot of potential but Motorola must still be feeling that Google knife in its back with it's Droid and the Googles Nexus One. Andriod phones could turn into a real knife fight. In my mind the biggest thing Apple should be worrying about with the iPhone is AT&T. I was so hoping that tether would be broken with the iPad and it's the reason I don't have an iPhone.

  10. But by virtue of the fact that Linux is GPL licensed, companies have to make their code open. Hence the recent lawsuit by the SFLC against a bunch of big companies (…). The point is that you get the benefit of a well-developed and free code base, but you have to share it back. They should be using BSD licensed code.. like Apple if they wanted to reap the benefits without having to give I'm glad the Nexus One is being well-received. It only makes Motorola have to up their game. 🙂

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