A couple of weeks ago at the end of a EuroCloud dinner, a senior Microsoft guy next to me needed to find his hotel in the Cromwell Road. I pulled out my iPad. The irony of using an Apple product was not lost on either of us. I got straight in to Google Maps, showed him where his hotel was and the directions from the nearest tube station. Then I showed him the London Underground map, which Lines and where he needed to change. In theory I could have pulled out my Sony Vaio (or any netbook), fired it up, used the internal 3G card to connect to broadband, and then done some surfing to do the same thing. In practice he didn’t have the 5-10 minutes that would have taken. The iPad was out of the bag, instantly on, connected to the Internet, and in to the map apps within a few more seconds. It is this level of convenience and friction free user experience that means tablet computing is such a revolution. I have the Internet in my hand any time I need it.
This is the way personal computing was meant to be. I liken it to driving a car today compared to when I started driving, or motoring earlier last century. In those days you needed to know a bit about the engine and mechanics to improve your chances of getting from A to B. If it didn’t start in the mornings you needed to know where the spark plugs were, how to get them dry or use WD-40. You needed to know a bit about the carburettor for when you flooded it – that kind of thing. That’s how Windows feels. I need to know about techy stuff because I regularly get weird messages, programs hang, and drivers don’t work. What a waste of time. These days when I open the car bonnet (that’s hood for my American readers), I can’t even figure out where the plugs are, and there are so many electronics – but I don’t need to know, it just works and gets me from A to B. That’s the iPad.
Even when I can’t get a 3G or wifi connection the convenience doesn’t stop. On the Underground tube journey in to London (no 3G connection) I’ll often sit there replying to overnight email. I love the fact that I put the thing in my bag and as I walk up in to the light and the next meeting, the iPad connects and sends the mail without me thinking about it. At home with iPad I’ll walk around with photos, video, the Internet in my hand to show people things the way I would have done with a book or a magazine.
I looked at the Samsung Galaxy Tab. My two kids, and my wife all have Android phones – it’s a great operating system. The Galaxy looks good, but I don’t think the 7 inch size is anywhere near as useful as something around 10 inches. That small size just feels like an oversized phone I can’t fit in my pocket. I’d wait for the 10.1 announced in Barcelona, but that’s not here. The BlackBerry Playbook’s QNX operating system looks great and fast, but that’s not here either, and it’s a 7 inch again. The Motorola Xoom looks good, but that’s not here. All of these devices handle Flash, which the iPad doesn’t. Lack of Flash is a real pain, but that’s outweighed by all of the iPad advantages, and anyway iPad apps are arriving, like for the BBC iPlayer, to fill that gap. The current tablet crop are all aimed at the high end iPad, and with no price advantage (hang on, Apple is cheaper?!). Other devices will come from HP and HTC, but I cannot fathom why the competition has let Apple have the run of the market for a year. Just as they are finally becoming available, Apple comes out with their version 2 and stays ahead.
One of the keys to the iPad’s utility is that “there’s an App for that“. 65,000 and counting. Android might have raw numbers of phone apps, but compared to real world, useful functionality for the tablet, Apple has a huge lead. If you look at the software market, the companies that don’t have an iPad app already, do usually have one in their product roadmap. They may also have an Android app, and occasionally they will cover BlackBerry too. The normal laws of marketing still apply. Apple sold 13m iPads in 2010 and estimates suggest they will sell 34m worldwide in 2011 from an overall tablet market of 43.6m units. They will maintain their lead, and the development resources will follow, making a tablet app for iPad the priority for any software author – Apple’s market position will get even stronger.
There has been all sorts of speculation from the tech crowd about what iPad 2 would include. To some yesterday’s announcement will be a let down. No USB input, no SD memory card slot, no Retina Display. It’s a bit lighter, a bit thinner, has a faster dual core processor, has front and back cameras, can do Facetime for video calls, comes in black or white and has a cool new case (after the style of my gen 1 incase). I love the fact that Ghz are not mentioned. If you dig in to the specs you can find the processor speed, but who cares – that’s the old way of a driving a car. All I need to know is it’s faster (graphics up to 9x faster). Apple didn’t need to do much to stay ahead. They’ve done more than enough, and the likes of Samsung, BlackBerry, HTC, HP, Motorola and Dell need to seriously rethink their strategy beyond me too.
Living with the iPad? I can use it for 90% of the things I do on the road with my laptop, and often I take both. I wouldn’t be without one.