Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

iPadding

March 2010

By Mike Gould

By now the dust has cleared and the stunned citizens of this planet have recovered from Apple's big announcement of their new product, the iPad. And since every other pundit worth their puns has chimed in on this, I might as well join the journalistic herd and weigh in with my two grams worth of take.

Come On Down
You would think it was the second coming of Moses, Steve Jobs down from the Mount with tablets in hand, here to straighten us out, change the digital landscape, and lead the way to the promised land of Mac and "Honey, could you please bring me my new media device?". Steve Jobs has that effect on the media, the well-known "Reality Distortion Field" that envelops him whenever he appears to reveal another wonder from the miracle mines deep in the bowels of Apple's headquarters. Because of Apple's paranoia love of secrecy, rumors roil and speculation is rampant whenever a new product is in the offing, and this occasion was no exception.

There were bogus Photoshopped "sneak peeks", dumpster diving for clues in Cupertino, and enough online guessing to keep a multitude of mavens typing away for months. It all culminated in the announcement, on January 27 2010, a day which will live infinity, of the Apple iPad. Not the iSlate, iTablet or iMacNetBookThingie, or any other name which would look as if a woman had a hand in its creation, but the hygienic iPad. Which of course gave rise to a lot of semi-risible comedy on the Web, and yet another reason for people not to take Apple seriously.

But they should, because I, and a lot of other people, think this will indeed be a sea change in the way we will be looking at media, be it TV, movies, or what is left of our newspaper industry. For myself and everyone else who misses sitting down with the Ann Arbor News at the end of the workday, here is a convenient way to sit down with annarbor.com and catch up on the local scene. Not the same, for sure, but I think the closest we're going to get to our previous news-reading experience.

Let's Review
The iPad is a device like an iPod Touch on steroids: a 9.7" screen that is a half an inch thick and weighs in at 1.5 lbs. As with the iPod, you can download apps from the Apple App Store, including a suite of MS Office-like programs called iWork that features word processing, spread sheets, and presentation software that resembles PowerPoint. And yes, you can plug it into a projector, so this makes an attractive alternative to a laptop if you are doing an illustrated talk somewhere. Note that this software is not free; $10 each for the various apps.

And like Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader, you can read books, magazines and newspapers on the iPad's high-res screen. This is what I want it for: get up in the morning, hit the coffee machine, sit down to review the NY Times, annarbor.com, and my favorite blog, BoingBoing.net. Yeah, I could do this downstairs in my office, but then I'm at work. I want to do this upstairs on my couch before I have to go downstairs and be officially at work. Oh yeah, you can do email on it, as well as most everything else you can do with an iPhone. Except make calls. There's no app for that. Yet.

Chips and Chops
This is a new outing for Apple, in that it is the first time the company has released a CPU (the brain of the device) that they manufactured themselves. In the past, Apple relied first on Motorola, then, famously, Intel to provide the chips that run iMacs, MacBooks, and the like. Their iPhones and iPods are powered by processors from ARM, a maker of chips designed for low power consumption and portability.

The chip in the iPad is called the A4 and it is a 1GHz processor Apple acquired when it bought PA Semi, a company whose products are focused on low-power performance, ideal for a portable device like the iPad. Apple bought them out, and used their expertise to build a device that will work for 10 hours at a clip, and survive a month of standby, if Jobs is to be believed. All manufacturers fudge their battery life claims, and I'm sure the above is a best-case scenario. But I'm also sure that the life will be pretty good, probably considerably better than most netbooks out there.

Apple is currently working on their next generation of laptops, and it will be very interesting to see if the A4 or its descendents make it into those more performance-oriented environments.

Picky, Picky
So what's the downside of the iPad? Like most of Apple's fare, it's a tad expensive, though not as much as I thought it was going to be. These start out at $500 for the basic model which comes with built in WiFi mojo; if you want to connect to AT&T's 3G network, you need to pay $130 more with a monthly connection fee of $14.99 to $29.99 a month. The top of the line model runs around $850, which gets you more RAM and 3G connectivity.

Some would complain that it is too big (you can't put it in your pocket) or it is too small (smaller than a laptop, although around the same size as a netbook). I would have preferred a slightly bigger one myself, something along the lines of an 8 X 11 inch piece of paper.

Another complaint is that it doesn't work with Flash animations, which are ubiquitous on the Web. Apple feels that there are better ways of delivering animated content which are more stable and less power-consuming. I have mixed feelings about this, but am mainly interested in static text and photos.

Ah, photos. As a professional photographer, I am looking forward to moving the 6500 photos from the tiny screen of my iPhone to the bigger one on the iPad.

So May will probably find me in line at the Apple Store to score this little beauty. I'll let you know how it works out.

Mike Gould, is a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Consulting/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com.

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