On the iPad

Wow, I’m seeing a lot of negative commentary on the new Apple iPad tablet from pundits all around the Web. People are already shouting that this will be a flop and that Apple have dropped the ball this time. A lot of criticisms: no USB, no multitasking, low memory, no Flash support, no camera, no full OS, and so on and on. Everyone seems to be missing the point completely.

I am personally really impressed with what Apple have delivered and I have absolutely no doubt it will be one of Apple’s best selling products. Let me tell you why.

One mistake people are making is assuming the iPad is just a “scaled up iPod Touch”. Mistake? Really? Absolutely. It’s a mistake because this evaluation of the device comes from an anchored comparison to Apple’s previous work. Instead of looking at the product for what it is, the evaluation simply analyzes the differences, which is mainly the screen size. Instead, you should look at what the product actually is, and what it’s going to do for you.

The screen size is a huge difference. Try browsing the Web on the iPhone. Works well but you have to keep zooming in and out. You’ll need to zoom on the iPad, but not as much – you’ll see a lot more of the page which will make a big difference to the browsing experience. Same thing with photos, and videos, and pretty much everything else. While the iPhone is mainly a phone that does more, the iPad is a fully functional information consumption device. The fact that it uses the iPhone’s OS is also irrelevant because the OS in question is suited perfectly for what the product is intended to do. Instead of looking at the iPad as a big iPod Touch, you should look at it in isolation and ask: is this a good tablet device? The answer is: yes.

Another mistake people are making is assuming that the device was made for them. It probably wasn’t. Most people don’t know what a Web “browser” is, they think the little Internet Explorer icon on their desktop is the “Internet”. These people have a computer at home but they don’t really need most of it. They struggle with it to just do very basic tasks, like show the latest photos they took to their friends. This is the real mass market, and the iPad is an ideal device for them.

The iPad will succeed not because of what it has, but because of what it does.

What it does is enough to cover all the basic needs of many people: look stuff up on the Web, keep a calendar, check email, show photos to your friends and watch videos. The iPad isn’t a personal computer, it’s a highly mobile consumption device. I can see a lot of other side markets: medical, students, taking notes in meetings, and so on, and these will push the device even further. The iPad is in no way meant to replace content creation devices like the desktop or the laptop for real work – and it won’t.

Another criticism I see is that it’s a very closed device. From all the negative feedback, this one bears real weight. However, I don’t think this will negatively affect the sales of iPad. This is because as I’ve mentioned above the iPad isn’t a personal computer. It’s not meant to be some godly tablet that does everything you want. It’s actually the opposite: it’s a tablet that does very few tasks. It’s very focused, and because of that it does the very few things incredibly well. Less functionality leads to a simpler interface, which makes the device a lot more accessible to a lot more people than previous tablet computers that run full blown desktop operating systems. The iPad isn’t a desktop or a laptop, it’s a lot simpler than that.

One great thing about the iPad (and the iPhone) is how responsive it is. When you scroll, the content scrolls without any interruptions and lag – it’s very, very smooth. Why is this so important? It’s important because this level of responsiveness blends the borders between analog and digital media. When you use an iPhone, the content follows your finger as you scroll it – it feels like there’s a physical piece of paper moving under your hand. It feels this way because there is no lag. If the scrolling effect isn’t 100% smooth, this illusion of physical media breaks down and you’re back to struggling with an interface, waiting for it to catch up. This is a big problem that plagues almost all of competing devices.

The iPad will be a very successful product for Apple because it solves problems rather than competes on features. Remember that this is just a version 1. This is a start of a new line of devices that are only going to get lighter, thinner and more powerful, and there will be many new apps designed specifically for the new screen size. Finally we have a device that offers convenient and conformable consumption of information, like the Web, like newspaper, like books. This is the beginning of the end of paper.