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iPad In Between: Not Smartphone or Notebook
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Date: Apr 30, 2010
Section:Mobile
Author: Ray Willington
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Introduction: Is The iPad Really A "Third Device?"
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad at a frenzied event in California this past January, he said something interesting. It was a statement that got many in the tech industry thinking.  Now that we have played with the company's first tablet for a couple of weeks, we think it's time to really take a look at how reasonable Jobs' statement was.

If you missed it, Jobs stated that he saw the
Apple iPad as a third category of device; something that could fit in between your phone (the iPhone, of course) and your full-sized notebook (your MacBook Pro, of course, at least in Apple's opinion...).


Jobs makes his case around the 6:30 mark but does it hold water?

Many people saw the iPad as simply an enlarged iPod touch when it was introduced.  Even though iPhone OS 4.0 promises to bring multi-tasking, the iPod touch and iPhone will be getting the same upgrade, so in a way, those judgments are mostly on target. But what did Jobs see in the iPad that he doesn't see in the iPod Touch?  And how honest of an assumption is it that the iPad really can fill a void that many have not even realized needed filling?


On the pages ahead, we'll explore that question and ways in which the iPad or perhaps even other slate devices, might succeed (or not) with respect to that claim and the newly invigorated, perceived tablet need in the market.
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What The iPad Can Do That Your Smartphone Cannot
What Does The iPad Do That Your Smartphone Can't?

We will start by mentioning that the following section also includes instances where the iPad simply does something in a far superior way than your smartphone, but even in those cases, we think it's worth noting this higher level of functionality as a point in the iPad's favor. Let's start with one of the more basic capabilities of a smartphone: surfing the Web. The iPad crushes every smartphone we've ever used in browsing the Internet. The 1GHz A4 paired with the already excellent (albeit limited by its inability to handle Flash) Mobile Safari browser makes for a strong browsing device. The best phone browsing experience we've had to date is on the iPhone, but the iPad puts even that to shame. Pages load far quicker, there is more screen real estate, and more sites are actually usable on the iPad than the iPhone. There's really no question here: the iPad can browse the Web way better than whatever smartphone you currently have, but unlike your phone, the iPad cannot easily fit into your pocket. But of course, Steve doesn't say that the iPad will; he says it can fit between a phone and notebook, and in times where your notebook is just too big or inconvenient to get to, the iPad is a huge step-up in the browsing department compared to your next-best option as of a few weeks ago.

Mobile Media Maven -
Secondly, the iPad can stream full-res online media in a way that the iPod, iPhone or any other phone cannot. The larger screen just puts the phones to shame, and the 1GHz A4 processor handles even the most demanding HD media files with ease. It's basically the bedside media viewer that you've always wanted, and it's way easier to grab than your full-size notebook. Plus, it'll play videos for 8-10 hours on a single charge; let's see your MacBook Pro (or any other notebook) do that.

Cracking The Books -
The iPad is an ebook reader obviously as well. Despite the fact that the LCD isn't quite as easy on the eyes as an E-Ink display (like the one used in Amazon's Kindle), it still offers a great reading experience. Your iPhone can display ebooks as well, but let's face it: you don't want to read a novel on a smartphone. The screen is just too small, and you waste too much time pinching and zooming. Reading books on a smartphone is a pain; reading books on a notebook is cumbersome. Reading books on an iPad is enjoyable.

The App List Lengthens as Does Battery Life -
The iPad is also more engaging in apps. The iPhone has loads of apps to choose from, but all of them share one main limitation--they have to be used on the iPhone's small screen. Compare that to the iPad's 9.7" panel, and you'll see that developers have far more screen real estate to get creative with. There's already been an iPad DJ application that shows two mixers and a number of toggles on the screen; that would be impossible to accurately use on the iPhone's screen. TweetDeck also works better with more pixels. The list goes on and on. The fact of the matter is that more screen space allows for more interactive and less limited apps, and the App Store is the iPad's bread and butter.

Finally, the iPad lasts for 10+ hours. The battery in the iPhone, and most every other smartphone, is lackluster. Even if you never make a call, and only use apps, 10 full hours of use is a stretch. The iPad can easily last 10 hours when used, sometimes more if you use it lightly. It makes sense, though; the iPad has two iPhone batteries working in tandem (basically, anyway), so that's certainly a plus.

Now, onto the comparison between the iPad and your notebook...
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What The iPad Can Do That Your Notebook Cannot
What The iPad Can and Can't Do Versus The Notebook -

So, how does the iPad stack up to your notebook? What can it do that the notebook can't, or better still, what can it do better? Let's have a look...

Squeezing In -
Work well in tight spaces. Notebooks demand a lot of area to be used comfortably, whereas the iPad can be easily used in a coach-class airline seat or most any other tight space. The iPad can also be used exclusively with your fingers (or a keyboard, via an optional adapter), whereas you'll need some sort of trackpad/keyboard input to get tasks done on a notebook.

Easier Passage -
The iPad can slide through an airport scanner without being removed and placed in a grey bin. You laugh at this one, but for heavy travelers, this is great. The less you have to take off and take out at security means that you're potentially on the airplane faster.

Apps Galore -
Use apps in the App Store. Of course, you can get "real" software for a notebook, but there are countless apps that cost far less than desktop apps and get similar things done. These are real time savers, and often times they add unique capabilities to the iPad that simply cannot be accomplished on a notebook. That said, there's a level of more complex computing functionality that the notebook offers, in addition to being a more open system environment.

Touchy Feely -
Accept commands via touch. The iPad can do many things that a standard notebook cannot thanks to the touch panel. The iPad can become a makeshift DJ mixer, a doodle pad, a note-taking machine or an e-mail machine. There are simply more niche things to be done on an iPad than a notebook; most of these tasks requires the purchase of external peripherals on a notebook (a USB mixer, for example).

Keeps On Ticking -
Last for 10+ hours. We know we're using this one again, but it bears repeating. Your full-size notebook isn't lasting 10 hours on a single charge, period. The iPad can, and if you're not near an AC outlet for extended periods of time, this could be huge.

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So, Where Does The iPad Fit Into Your Life?
We've broken down the finer points of Steve Jobs' argument that the iPad is designed to be a specialized third device, that lands somewhere in between a smartphone and notebook, and now it's a bit easier to determine the validity of Jobs' statement. There are clear things that the iPad does that no current smartphone and no current full-sized notebook can accomplish easily. But is that reason enough to shoehorn a third device into your life?


In order to best answer that question, it's vital to look at what the iPad can do and decide if those things would benefit your life in any substantial way. Will having a bigger screen to use more robust, more engaging apps open up a new world of entertainment for you? Is your notebook not available when you need a better browsing experience than the iPhone (or any other smartphone) can provide? Is your notebook's battery always dying too soon on business trips? Are you in need of a great, highly portable multi-media player?


If your phone and notebook handle things just fine as-is, there's really no need to give the iPad a second look. If both your smartphone and notebook are coming up short in a few areas that the iPad excels in, there's probably reason for you to head out to your local Apple store and at least try one. At the end of the day, we found ourselves believing that the iPad really can act as a third device, but we still don't think it's well-equipped enough to be purchased by those who don't already have a specific use in mind. You be the judge.


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