Radu Cotescu's professional blog

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Apple, Tablets and the Rest of the World

I’ve promised to myself a few weeks ago that I wouldn’t talk about Apple’s iPad because a lot of bytes have been wasted for this subject by so many others (what about the ink levels?!). Although the subject isn’t new any more, the online journalists still talk and write about it like it’s the only thing that the people must hear of.

Of course, the fact that the iPad isn’t launched yet to the masses makes it a subject that still puts forth a lot of interest. So much interest, that now we see news about Apple’s competitors who want to build replicas with more features for a lesser price.

Let’s set some things straight. I am not an Apple fan boy, nor am I a hater. I’ve owned an iPod Nano (4th generation; given away to one of my former high-school colleagues) which I really liked and now I own an iPod Touch (2nd generation). What I see looking at the iPad is just an overgrown iPod Touch with 3G capabilities (only for data traffic) that requires a separate service from the one you might already have been paying for. It’s not even what Apple’s marketeers call it: “The best way to experience the web”. Because of two simple things: the JavaScript engine from the mobile version of Safari and the lack of the Flash plug-in. While the first one might make you feel a bit weird when you would browse a web site with heavy JavaScript interaction (Facebook for example, when you choose to browse it using the desktop UI), the lack of Flash makes it “web navigability challenged” (without the slightest reference or association to people with disabilities).

Of course, Steve Jobs is a visionary man and he might believe that HTML 5 will soon be adopted as a standard, replacing Flash. While HTML 5 is in the “Last Call” state at the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group), Flash is still one of the most downloaded and used software products in the world. It’s virtually running on every machine that implements the desktop metaphor (desktops, laptops, notebooks, netbooks, etc.). Even if the new HTML standard will successfully replace Flash (and it’s something that I’m almost sure of but I’ve used if to be on the safe side), this will take a while (a few years to be more precise). We still have websites that use the Transitional Document Type Definition, for crying out loud!

Going away from the software point of view to the physical one, the iPad’s dimensions are far from the ones of a mobile device (although Apple considers itself a mobile device manufacturer). Yes, it’s easy to carry it with you in a backpack or some sort of a leather wrapper, but it’s not the thing that you can carry in your pocket. It’s not something that you can take with you when you want to have your hands and back free. Considering this, with what is it better than a thin netbook with a great battery life (and we have several candidates here)? It sure doesn’t compute faster, it’s not easier to type with and you are constrained to use what Apple offers you, bad or good (OS, apps, default apps, etc.).

The iPhone and the iPod Touch were and still are some great devices (and I’m not going to enter into more details here). They have their market share and it was a logical thing to try to offer similar products when it comes to other competitors in the market (see the explosion of touchscreen smartphones in the last couple of years). Therefore I really don’t see the point of copying something like the iPad. Of course, some people will buy Apple’s tablet (be it Apple fan boys/girls or people who want to try it just out of curiosity). Still, why should you copy it? Just because it’s made by Apple? I don’t see manufacturers copying the Mac Pro (Apple’s flagship computing device), although as a device class it has a more successful selling potential.

I guess we’ll only have to wait and see what will happen. What do you think about the potential success behind tablets? I, for one, think they will die just like the PDAs did (a few years after their launch and quietly).


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