In Defense of iPad

Every time Apple releases a new line of product it creates a lot of buzz, both positive and negative. So, it is no surprise that when Apple announced iPad last week the usual Apple fanboy was raving about it and Apple haters (or potential competition to iPad) was denouncing it. In the midst of all those bickering between the two groups what was missing was an objective look at both the positive and the negative sides of iPad.

I will try to give my take on iPad from a neutral point of view. My experience with apple products comes from Macbook, which I extensively use everyday and iPhone, which I have been using for almost 2 years now. But I am not an Apple only product user. Before moving to Macbook for most of my development work, I have been a long time Linux user and I still use Linux based distros quite often. Also I am one of the early adopters on Windows 7 (and used almost every single windows version ever released) since the Release Candidates. The point of sharing my experience with computer products and OS is to let you know that I am not an Apple fanboy by any stretch of imagination. Personally I feel that fanboyism for any consumer product is silly and stupid.

Having said that, I can see a lot of positives of Apple iPad platform and I am hoping to share it with you from a neutral point of view by addressing some of the negatives that have been pointed out by early reviewers.

 

 

On Flash.

The absence of flash on iPad has been the biggest cause of concern from all parties. It is important to note that iPhone doesn’t support flash either. Yet, despite all the naysayers about the lack of flash support for iPhone, iPhone is the most successful Apple product since iPod.

The official Apple position against flash support has been the that Flash has very bad performance issues. As a matter of fact one of the biggest cause of Safari browser crash, according to internal Apple report, has been flash. And it is not only with OSX, flash always had performance issues under windows too – perhaps not as much as it is under OSX – but it is still quite significant. The biggest example of how unpopular flash performance is, you just have to look at all the flash blocking extensions available on Firefox and Chrome Extensions gallery. They are also some of the most popular browser extensions out there.

Besides stability and performance concerns, flash also has security concerns. Flash had a role in the recent Google hack (IE also played a big role). The problem is not so much as how unstable and unsafe Flash is, I think all softwares had to go through these issues at some point in their history, but how lazy Adobe has been to address these issues over the years.

It is only recently that Adobe started to address performance issues in a proactive way with flash (as they have with Photoshop CS4). But I think it is too little and too late for Adobe. We have already seen that Google and other video sharing sites has been also offering HTML 5 video streaming along with Flash. Obviously, the transition won’t happen right away, but it is inevitable that the future of online video ( and animation) does not belong to Flash. The only way Flash can survive from here is to open up their technology so that everyone can improve it and not wait for Adobe to fix things (if at all).

Flash is more than just video, a lot of online ads and games rely on flash and this is where the second big reason why Apple is not supporting Flash on iPad.

Apple’s biggest profit source (at least in the long term) is not so much as the iPad or iPhone platform, but the marketplace eco system apple has built up with App Store, iTunes and now iBookstore. If Apple supports flash in its current form, as you are used to on your desktop, than it will make those marketplace almost irrelevant and take out a big chunk of apple’s profit margin. The sheer volume of high quality flash apps (games and traditional online applications) out there, mostly free, will make the whole concept of App Store irrelevant. This is also true for flash based music services and, to some degree, flash based online book readers.

By making sure that apple can sustain the marketplace eco system (at the expense of blocking flash), they have been able to offer iPad at a price that was, to most of us, quite unbelievable. As a matter of fact, I think most tablet (that will surely follow soon) will have a hard time matching iPad’s price in compare to the value it offers.

So in defense of iPad, considering the future of Web standard, not having support for flash was the right thing to do. It benefits Apple by opening a new and sustaining proven business model of App Stores. It benefits users in terms of cheaper iPad and stable and secure platform at the cost of flash support and closed environment.

 

iPad is just a big iPhone. Just another closed environment.

The argument is that iPad OS is the same as iPhone OS, so essentially it is nothing more than a big iPhone.

Personally I think it is a poor argument. Apple had to make a decision between porting OSX for iPad or using iPhone OS (which is based on OSX with different UI). Apple did neither. Even though iPad at first glance looks like it is using iPhone OS, it is not an exact copy of iPhone OS. It has many enhancements over iPhone OS and will have its own collection of iPad only apps, tailor made for the platform.

As much as most of us would love to have a tablet with OSX – it is not very practical. From Apple’s point of view, it will open up the platform for everyone, thus making all the marketplace that apple is relying on both for making iPad cheap and a source of long time revenue, will be obsolete.

From a user’s point of view, besides getting a reasonably priced tablet, it will also bring all the stability that closed platform brings. A good example that I can think, is all the gaming consoles out there like PS and Xbox. They can maintain the stability of their system mostly because of closed environment the platform is built on. If those gaming consoles had an open platform where you can install virtually everything you could possibly think of, like you do in your desktop computer, it would have also faced all the problems of an open platform. This doesn’t necessarily mean that an open platform is better than a closed platform, as a long time Linux and open source enthusiast, I don’t share that argument or logic. I think a closed platform like gaming consoles and iPad and iPhone would perform better under such circumstances. Besides the small community of hackers who likes to tinker with system setting and customization, the majority of users don’t care about open platforms. At the end of the day – how the majority of the users will use the platform is all that matters.

Another good example of closed system, even in the open source world, is Chrome OS that is under extensive development by Google. Even though the Chrome OS source is free and open, the environment is set up in a way that is inherently closed and restricted in what you can or you cannot do. The OS itself is a browser stack used as a desktop environment and what you will be able to with that Chrome OS is limited to what browser will allow you to do, unlike traditional OS. The benefit is stability and performance – the target is majority of user base out there who spends most of their time on the browser.

So, in defense of iPad. Even though a closed system looks like a bad thing, IMO its advantages, for general users, far outweighs its disadvantages.

 

Who needs a tablet? I can’t do x with it like in my desktop/laptop.

The short version is that if you can’t see a use of iPad it is not for you. The same way if you can’t see the benefit of notepad, its not for you. Or if you don’t see the benefit of a 27? monitor its not for you.

Clearly not all consumer product is made for all consumers. Big corporations like Apple spend large amount of time and money doing research on their target audience of their future product. They just don’t wake up one day and decide to built a tablet computer. In all likely iPad is a result of 3-4 years worth of research and development both in the technology and UI and its target audience. So to argue that most people won’t find any use of such a device is a bit pre-mature.

A tablet computer like iPad is not meant to be a replacement or an alternative choice for your desktop/laptop/notebook system. A tablet like iPad seems to fill a void of general purpose system for MOST computer users. I don’t think it is too much of a wild assumption to say that most people care about a device that can be used for email and web surfing and play videos in a form factor that is convenient to use. Also using it as an e-reader or office documents is a plus.

So, in defense of iPad. I see a clear market for such a device – considering the form factor, UI and price range.

Last word.

Obviously, my views and arguments can be considered somewhat biased, since I actually like the device and a sucker for touch screen general purpose computer. However, I don’t have my credit card in hand waiting to buy it whenever it comes out – unlike most Apple fanboys. I will wait for reviews from actual consumers and perhaps even wait for the second iteration to come out. Looking at the history of new apple products, they usually go through some drastic change in its early few iterations before it reaches an equilibrium where changes from one generation to another is much more subtle and incremental.