iPad's Identity Crisis and Apple's A4 CPU Showstopper

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As you've no doubt heard by now, Apple launched a new mobile computing device and it's within a product category that is all-new territory for the traditionally tight-lipped company. It's a bit of an odd choice for a company that revels in innovation, and after today's announcement, we're left with more questions than answers on whether or not it can truly deliver in the way that Apple CEO, Steve Jobs thinks it can. The iPad simply isn't as revolutionary as the iPhone and iPod, and that alone is at least initially limiting the general perception of the product. For better or worse, Apple has worked itself into a corner where people simply expect each and every new product release to change that product category for the better; to revolutionize things in a way that no other company has done so far.

On almost every front, the iPad doesn't do that. It doesn't revolutionize, and it doesn't change the way we personally feel about mobile computing. Apple's approach was to find a device that could be reasonably retrofitted into a lifestyle as a "third device" between the smartphone (preferably the iPhone, if you're Apple) and the notebook (preferably a MacBook or MacBook Pro, if you're Apple). There are a few problems with that approach. First, Jobs himself thinks that netbooks "aren't good at anything." He said as much in his January 27th keynote for the world to hear. Netbooks are arguably that "third device" between someone's phone and someone's main computer, and when you really look critically at the situation, netbooks are actually far more capable than the iPad in its existing form.


Left: NVIDIA Tegra 2-based tablet playing 1080p Video at CES - Right:  Asus Eee PC Netbook

And in this corner, the Netbook and Tablet World Challenger - The iPad:
Let's think about it. Netbooks can be had for as little as $200 if you play your cards right, with most priced at or around $299. Either way, that's $200 less than the base iPad, which only ships with 16GB of storage compared to the 160GB+ hard drives in netbooks. Netbooks can also play back Flash video content, while the iPad cannot. Like it or not, Flash is still a huge part of the web, and it plays a vital role in being able to enjoy the "whole" Internet. Apple's making a huge mistake by promising a "great browsing experience" while at the same time not letting users view Flash-based pages or Flash encoded video content. Furthermore, you can basically install any application your heart desires on a Windows 7-based netbook. Try installing anything on an iPad. You can't. If it's not in the App Store, you can't install it on the iPad, and as great as the App Store is for the iPhone and iPod touch, we can't say we enjoy being limited to these mini apps on what should be a full-blown tablet PC.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Users can't remove the battery of the iPad, so you're forced to recharge when it dies rather than swapping a new battery pack in. There's no physical keyboard and no proper file system, so actually handling e-mail in a "real world" working scenario is impossible. For instance, you can't easily create a PDF from a web page printout, save to your desktop, and send as an attachment to four people in your address book. To us, that is very basic, core functionality that has to be included if you're selling a device as a "computer." Maybe Apple is just selling the iPad as a toy, but if you watched Steve Jobs' keynote today, you'd know he was aiming far higher with this device.


It's a Jungle Out There for The iPad eReader -
Then there's the glossy display. While pretty, this panel is going to be much more limited outdoors. The reflections will be so significant that actually working/reading will be limited to shady areas. What makes the Kindle (and similar e-readers) great for reading is that they are viewable in any lighting conditions, even outdoors where many go to read. If Apple was hoping to make a device that was half e-reader, half computer, it has slipped up again by introducing a compromise that really hinders the iPad's ability to be used completely as a reader. What's interesting is that Apple clearly has the reading public in mind. It announced content deals with at least five publishing firms, and it even introduced an iBook store where users can go to buy books. But how can Apple reasonably expect people to enjoy these books everywhere if the sun will wash out the iPad's glossy panel?

Tell Me About Your Childhood -
The bottom line is this: the iPad has an identity crisis. It's not quite a serious e-reader, and it's not quite a serious tablet PC. It's probably great at handling multimedia, but it's not nearly portable enough to be considered a portable media player. It's great for tabletop use, but it can't multitask, so you're left with a machine that's seriously limited in what can do well. It's also inherently limited by whatever applications are delivered in the App Store; users can't just customize this to their liking by installing whatever software they want. For $499 (and up, if you want more than 16GB of storage and/or AT&T 3G capabilities), the iPad is tough to take seriously without a serious operating system built-in. This is merely an enlarged iPod touch at the end of the day, with the only gleam of hope coming from the CPU within. The 1GHz Apple A4 is technically a brand new introduction into the processor space, and it's one of the most overshadowed parts of today's introduction. We're highly interested in the A4 and what it can potentially do for Apple's mobile computing line-up in general, so stick with us for that analysis in the pages ahead...


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