After yesterday’s launch of Apple’s iPad, everything from Twitter to several of my RSS feeds just blew up. I’m still wondering why, aside from the fact it’s an apple launch event. I mean, not that it doesn’t have its fanpeople, but I don’t see it doing what Apple’s hoping it will in its current form. This is going to get long-winded; you might want to make sure you’ve got a minute to browse.
First thing, from a me viewpoint, and from the viewpoint of a member of the blindness community. There is, believe it or not, such thing as too much accessibility. Way too much accessibility. And I think Apple’s trying to reach that level. I was rather politely informed today that I’m being ripped off if I buy a netbook over an iPad, because I won’t be getting the spacial info from a netbook that a touchscreen can give. I’m still waiting to be educated on a down side to that. When I’m working on a blog post, or doing just about anything else I’d usually do on a daily basis, I’m not worrying about where things are on the screen. Quite frankly, I could care less where they are–it’s whether or not I can get to them that matters. I really don’t care if there’s a row of links or menu options scrolling down the right hand side of my screen. If I can get to them, open them, use them, and get rid of them, that’s all that matters. When focusing on accessibility, the interface should still keep its sense of overall functionality. Having to physically look for where it is they’ve positioned an icon, menu option, button or window is, to me, not functional.
We could nitpick about just how far accessibility should go all day, but that’s by far not the only reason I don’t see myself owning or using an iPad in the near future, if at all. I’m a huge useability freak. More than I am an accessibility freak–although, in most cases, useability ends up equaling to accessibility. Part of useability is being able to easily move from one application to another, without having to back out of one, flip through a few icons to find another, and wait for it to open. You need to be able to multitask–don’t even ask how many applications I have open right now. Just don’t. The iPad is running a modified version of the iPhone’s OS. Which–you guessed it–means no multitasking. Suddenly, we’ve entered a slightly more modern version of 1999. People don’t have more than one or two programs open, if that. Or so Apple says, anyway. If this is designed to be a portable personal computer, though, and if Apple’s expecting it to be used for anything moderately heavy on productivity, we need multitasking. There’s plenty of agreement that it would have been very useful were it implemented for the iPhone. It only makes sense, and I dare say a lot of sense, that it would be even more useful for the iPad. So why are we still not seeing it? Were I in the market for a smaller machine to cart with me across the border or something, that might be a dealbreaker. Quick startup? Great. Awesome. Long-ish battery life? Bonus. Touch screen? Okay, I might be able to get used to that. Maybe. No multitasking? See ya. Next?
Even with the lack of multitasking support, which one can only hope will be remedied in a future version, the device itself might somehow still have some promise. At least until you take a look at its specs, at which point that promise kind of gets up and walks out. There’s no ethernet port–believe it or not, there are places where wifi and/or cell coverage, if you want to pay the $130 or so extra for that feature, is unavailable. But you may still have access to plug in. Except, um, you don’t. There are no USB ports, except for the Apple-provided adapters. Which means you can’t connect it to your external HD if you happen to have one. No SD card slot either, meaning the only way to pull anything off the 64 GB flash drive in the machine would be to hook it to your computer, and do it through iTunes. And, yes, all of 64 GB of diskspace on the actual machine itself–a stock sub-$300 netbook can easily have 160 GB of space, albeit not flash memory. I don’t work like that. apple just basicly decided I can’t use most of what at some point I will probably be using at least once. And they put all of this in a package that weighs just slightly less than your typical netbook, with a battery that lasts roughly equally as long as most models nowadays–particularly when you factor in that you only ever actually get about 70% of the advertised battery life. Suddenly, that sub-$300 netbook’s looking a little more attractive.
All that aside, there’s one area of Apple’s operation that I don’t know that I’d ever agree with when it comes to its products. That being, from the instant you purchase an iPod, or an iPhone, or now an iPad, you’re effectively asking Apple’s permission to do anything with it. Want to install a program? Alright, but only if Apple says its okay–or you want to risk breaking your warranty and jailbreaking. On its technical specifications page (link is above), it even lists an iTunes store account as a requirement for the iPad. It’s been said that you’re almost renting your hardware from Apple, not having a whole lot of actual controll over what ends up being done with it. And indeed, with most if not all content needing to come from the app store unless you feel like jailbreaking, I can see where that perception would come from. And I can agree with it. If I buy a computer, even a small portable computer like that one, I want to be able to take it home, throw on a few programs I use regularly and already have handy–and not have to pay for more than one copy of them, since I already have them and all–and go about my business. I can’t do that with the iPad. And if Apple decides, as it’s done before, to change its mind and remove an app from the store? Well, now I’m pretty well out of luck until such time as I can be bothered to jailbreak. There’s a tiny bit of a problem here with that.
What it offers, as limitting as it is, is somewhat promising. I’d consider buying one, if we could just navigate a way around what it doesn’t and likely won’t offer in future. The apple loyalists will brand it as the way we’ll use computers tomorrow. Okay, I can buy that. But I’ll still be using my external hard drives tomorrow. I’ll still have need for ethernet capability tomorrow. And I most definitely won’t be coughing up $30/month to be able to use the internet on my computer without wifi–Rogers already charges me for a data plan I barely use but still have to pay for. If, as they say, we’ll be using computers in this fashion in the future, I’d better still be able to do all of that. Otherwise, go on ahead. Come back to the present when you’re bored. I’m not going anywhere.