Okay, so you’ve read about it, you’ve seen the glamour shots, and you want one.
And maybe, just maybe, this is exactly what you need. God knows it will sell well! But before you drop your hard-earned cash, let’s set aside the Apple logo for a moment and really look at this. Let’s examine this as though it had an Asus or – God forbid – Microsoft logo on it.
First, let’s get one thing straight: this is nothing new. Tablets have been around for a long, long time. They’ve never really sold well, because (so far) they’re not entirely practical. Maybe once we can build a full-fledged computer the size and weight of a real pad of paper, with a nice colour e-Ink display and days-long battery, this form factor will make sense. I’d love it. But we’re just not there yet, and Apple hasn’t changed this.
The iPad is a device that’s defined more by what it isn’t than what it is. It’s not a phone. In fact, you can’t use it as a phone in any way, even if you wanted to. It can’t even do SMS, and it has no camera. It’s also not a computer. Sure, you can run iPhone apps on it, and Apple even has some simple productivity applications ready for it. But let’s be serious, people: this is not a device you can work on. It has no keyboard, and it can’t even multitask, an absolute necessity for doing any kind of real work these days. It’s too big for an MP3 player, it’s too small for sharing videos, and the display technology and battery life are entirely inappropriate for serious reading.
So what can it do well? I’d love to say it’s useless, but that’s simply not true. If I were sitting on the couch and I wanted to check something on the Internet, this would be a good device to have on the coffee table. Some of the wonderful features and uses Apple describes are entirely valid. Using Google Maps on this (assuming it’s supported) as your friend is driving around the city would be fantastic. And I’d way rather review my calendar on this than my phone.
But here’s the problem: If I’m not at home, I won’t have this device with me. I already have a cell phone that can do everything this can do (and more!), and there’s no way I’m going to lug this beast around with me just to get a few extra inches on my calendar. If I’m at home (or work), I have a full-featured computer sitting there waiting for me that lets me do absolutely anything. And even if I were inclined to haul a 9” device around with me (when I’m travelling or at a meeting), there are far, far better choices out there.
For example, let’s have a look at Asus’s T91:
This device is the roughly the same size (just a tad thicker, and maybe 30% heavier) as the iPad. It can do everything the iPad does, and it can do it just as well, if not better. But it can also do a hell of a lot more, because this little tablet runs an Intel processor with Windows. It has USB ports, it has a VGA port, it even has (gasp!) a network port. I can run Outlook, web sites work properly because I can use a real browser, my usual array of programs will all work here, and I can get on my network. I can even print things! On this device, I really can do anything. Oh, and there’s one more trick I want to show you:
That’s right, an actual keyboard and trackpad! Now sure, an on-screen keyboard on a 9” screen might be less awful than your iPhone, but with a real keyboard, you can actually type! You know what this means? I can get things done!
Now, I’m not saying this T91 is the device for you. It’s not the device for me. But it’s still a hell of a lot closer than the Apple iPad – in fact, in my opinion, it totally eclipses the iPad. And the T91 is only one of many, many tablet devices out there running Windows (or Android, or whatever). Sure, it doesn’t have Apple’s striking design, and it doesn’t quite scream ‘luxury’ the same way. But if that’s what you want, go look at other tablets, because they’re out there.
And, by the way, I’ve left cost out of this so far. The T91 sells for around $450. Netbooks – which offer equivalent functionality with a more traditional laptop-style form factor – start at around $300 for something good. And full-blown laptops – only a few inches larger and less than a pound heavier – start around $600.
The iPad starts at $500. Sounds like a good price, for a laptop. But this isn’t a small laptop. It’s a big iPhone that isn’t a phone. In fact, at $500, it doesn’t even have 3G Internet access, and you have to make do with a mere 16 GB of storage. That’s about a tenth the size of my music collection alone. By the time you add the 3G radio and bump storage up to 64 GB – the bare minimum for anything beyond a phone these days – you’re looking at over $800! And that, ladies and gentleman, is a hell of a lot of money for a device the size of a laptop with the functionality of a phone (except for, you know, the phone part). This also doesn’t include the $30 you’re going to be paying to AT&T every month, or the hundreds you’ll spend on matching docks and cases and accessories.
So if you want a really trendy way to browse YouTube in a coffee shop, this is probably the device you want. But apart from that, stick with your phone and your laptop. Soon, we’re going to have a tablet that’s worth having. But this is not it.