Monday, February 08, 2010

Apple iPad

Well after months of hype and half rumours, Apple have now announced their entrance to the tablet computing and net book sector. The missing device from the world of computing is to be called the iPad. UK betting operator Paddy Power had iSlate as the most likely name so I got odds of 7/4 on the iPad name and turned a £2 flutter into £5.50!!

I do like the iPad. Unlike the original iPhone, the very first version appears to be reasonably priced and a comprehensive and complete piece of hardware. There were a number of anticipated features like a multi-tasking operating system that were not shown, but these can all be added via a basic software upgrade. In contrast the first iPhone did not support 3G mobile networks meaning no amount of software upgrades would allow fast mobile internet or photo messaging.

The question everyone will be asking is "Do I actually need a touchscreen device to hold in my hand and use to browse the internet?" Personally, I have no issue with sitting at my fixed desktop computer when I want to go online.

However when one looks into trends for computer sales, I think it is true that consumer outlets like Dixons or Comet sell a very high percentage of PCs in laptop form factor rather than desktop models. People clearly like being able to put the computer in a cupboard and reuse the space of their computer desk. They like to be able to use the laptop anywhere in the house that is convenient, for example in the garden, or while watching television. Far more business staff require mobile working from customer sites or from home for which a laptop is ideal.

Very gradually, battery life of laptops has ebbed away. When laptops entered the mainstream they would last all day on a single charge. As screens have grown in size, and processors have increased in speed and number of cores battery life has slowly dropped. Last time I went laptop window shopping on the web I would be doing well if the latest laptops would last more than 5 hours on a single charge. So benefit number one of the iPad is it sports an incredible battery life of 10 hours of continuous use!

Next I will discuss what is best called the 'iPhone OS ecosystem'. Recall a recent TV campaign from Apple with the punchline of 'There is an app for everything'. There is no doubt that software drives the sales of hardware. For example I am sure some customers have browsed through the App Store in iTunes and bought an iPod Touch or iPhone because they have seen applications that they wanted to use, or games they wanted to play. This is not the main reason I bought my iPhone, but I did have an urge to use some of the apps before I had my iPhone.

I have also talked to customers in business who have become frustrated because the software they needed for their business was not available on the computers they already owned. They chose the software first, then bought hardware on which to run it.

So my point is that people who see apps in the iTunes app store they want now have an additional choice of hardware device that will execute the app - an iPad. One custom app for example a point of sale application for use in a bricks-and-mortar store like the Apple Store to enable staff to complete sales with customers will be a big driver of sales - the iPad may be the better platform in the ecosystem for this purpose.

This leads me to my next major advantage of the iPad.... it's screen resolution. I have written applications for the iPhone. The first point that hits you as a developer is how small the screen is. When PCs graphics adapters first launched they ran at VGA or 640x480 pixels resolution. The iPhone is half this size, 480x320, or 460x320 after the status bar showing battery charge and signal strength etc. I was investigating writing a TV Guide app, but quickly realised there was no way to show information from many channels on screen at once. A Sky subscriber would want at least 200 channels available. At five per screen this would mean an unfeasible amount of scrolling.

Have you noticed that apps on the iPhone have a very small set of options? Microsoft Word has hundreds of features available from its menus. No iPhone app comes close. I believe the reason for the lack of features and customisation is due to the lack of screen space to show the options. Apps have to be well designed, and features trimmed due to restriction with the user interface.

By comparison the iPad has a resolution of 1024x768 (also known as XGA). This is two steps of development ahead of VGA, the first step was 800x600 or SVGA. With this large increase in screen real-estate and the faster custom-designed Apple processor, the possibilities for developers are now much much greater. It is my opinion that apps (not forgetting games) for the iPad will be an order of magnitute better than all the existing iPhone apps. To conclude, benefit number two is the much larger screen that will bring with it far more potential for application developers.

A second benefit of the physically larger screen is multimedia viewing - lets face it the iPhone is too small to use as a serious device for watching TV or movies. Maybe Apple should revamp their Apple TV to enable recording, syncing those recordings to iPad and even remote control and viewing of your TV? The larger screen will allow more of a web page to readable without the need to zoom. As Apple have advertised, the larger screen is now usable as an electronic book reader.

To conclude I think the iPad will be successful. When consumers replace their present PC or laptop they will be able to consider the iPad instead. Apps on the device will be an order of magnitude better than any existing iPhone apps. Specific apps for specific business needs will drive sales of the unit to businesses. People who require an ebook reader or web and video on-the-go have no better option than iPad at the moment. Also at $499 or I guess £399 in UK this will not break the bank for most people as a fun lifestyle gadget or games device.

There are so many possibilities for this new device....

The hype and rumour mills have already moved on to the next version of the iPhone!