iThoughts on the iPad

I wasn’t planning on writing another post this week, but after watching and reading all this stuff about today’s iPad announcement, I couldn’t help but have all these thoughts about the business implications of Steve Jobs’ latest creation. With most of the dust settled now, here are some of my reactions and questions:

The iPad looks really neat and I’m sure it will work really well, but I don’t think it will be a revolutionary product that will define both the PC industry and Steve Jobs’ career. Most people will not be giving up their laptop for an iPad. For one, it doesn’t look like you can’t do any serious work on it. As good as the on-screen keyboard may be, I can’t see myself writing an essay or making spreadsheets on it. It’s definitely more of a portable/media machine, but I’m not sure it has a competitive advantage there either. If I want to tweet or Facebook on the go, a smartphone will do just fine. It doesn’t do flash. I’m not sure I would watch a full length movie on it either because with a screen of less than 10″, it’s smaller than most netbooks.

That’s not to say the iPad’s completely irrelevant. It’s great for simple, portable, visuals driven tasks. There are rumors that the iPad could appear on 24 and I think it makes a lot of sense. I can easily see the iPad being used by law enforcement and firefighters to view maps of a city and respond accordingly to 911 calls. It could also be a great tool for salesmen and real estate agents to show clients pictures and demos.

If anything, the iPad will force Amazon to step up its game with the Kindle. The most promising aspect of the iPad is iBooks because it definitely looks nicer than the Kindle and it more functionality without being that much more expensive. In fact, $499 is a very reasonable price for Apple. The key here will be whether or not Apple can get the content to ┬ácompete with Amazon’s library. I don’t see how this will help newspapers though. If Apple and publishers think they can force consumers to pay for news articles, then we’ll see a quick death of both print media and the iPad.

Taking a step back and looking at the industry as a whole, I think we will quickly see all sorts of imitators and competitors pop up within the next year. They will try to undercut Apple on price and try to match its features with varying degrees of success. Most of them will fail but some may become viable alternatives (think Blackberry or Palm in smartphones). One potential competitor I’m going to keep an eye out for is Google. I think it’s only a matter of time before they come out with a competitor to the iPad. From a business standpoint it makes a lot of sense because a device like this is meant for cloud computing. Google already has the software with Android and Chrome OS. It even has the hardware experience with the Nexus One now, although a third party is more likely. If there is an announcement down the line, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Of course, my opinion may change completely when I finally see and touch an iPad in person. In fact, I can’t wait to go try it out when it arrives the Apple Store. I’m also jealous of all the TechTrekers who will obviously have plenty of great questions to ask at Apple this year.

Computers and modern life: Reflections from being without a laptop

So the video card on my laptop has apparently died. On the surface it’s been a very annoying ordeal: I was unable to start on my 25 page paper that’s due next week, I have to use a crappy old Dell laptop right now (I didn’t realize how much I loved Thinkpads until now), and I may need to fork over a couple hundred bucks for a new video card/motherboard. On the other hand this has been an interesting case study for technology use and the impact it has on my life.

Even though technically I was without a laptop for about 12 hours (6 of which were spent sleeping) the experience even for just those few hours was striking. First of all, it made me realize just how much I needed my laptop for work. I couldn’t work on my paper. I couldn’t access lecture notes and slides. I couldn’t go on Google. It almost made me wonder how people (including me) went to school before computers. And it wasn’t just that: so much of my routine throughout the day is centered around a computer. I just didn’t know what to do without it.

Which brings me to my second observation. Disregarding the fact that Verizon’s service is nonexistent in 66, I actually didn’t miss that much in terms of communication because my phone has web access. Therefore I could still do a lot of the things I did on my computer: Check e-mail, check the stock market, check sports scores, check the weather, check Facebook, and read news articles from CNN and NYT. Basically if I didn’t have the paper, I would not have noticed too great of a disruption in my communication with the outside world (except reading everything on a smaller screen). This for me was more incredible than anything else. It really goes to show that our mobile phones are no longer just phones anymore, and with Moore’s Law that will only become more and more true in the future. I completely understand now why so many companies are looking to mobile as the future of consumer electronics.

Before I get to my last realization, I want to step aside for a moment and criticize how poor and cheap Dells look, work and feel compared to my Thinkpad (I’m leaving Macs out of this conversation because I haven’t used them enough to get past the learning curve). In particular I miss the full sized keyboard and the full sized Trackpoint button in the middle. Without those two, operating this machine just feels uncomfortable.

To be fair, this laptop is OLD. It still has a square screen and 512MB Ram. In fact, I believe my dad had this laptop when I was in high school. In addition, since it’s a school laptop, I’ve been saving any work I do to my flash drive. So after thinking about this for a bit, I realized that I am basically using a netbook right now (it even runs XP). Now granted it’s not small or lightweight like real netbooks, but functionally it’s a netbook. The only applications I’ve opened up are Firefox and Word. Everything is saved on a separate location. All this machine is really good for is its screen and Internet connection. Incredible. I understand the netbook phenomenon now.

Last comment: One other thing I miss from my Thinkpad is Outlook. I love e-mail, so right now I’m going back to what I did before I got Outlook: opened tabs in Firefox to my BC and personal e-mail accounts, just like I did through most of high school. Speaking of throwback computing, check out this Colbert clip.

P.S. I also miss Google Chrome. As solid as Firefox is, Chrome is just so much cleaner and easier to use. Please hurry up BC Hardware Repair.