I’ve never been a huge fan of Apple. As an engineer it bothered me that their products were always long on form and short on function. Secretly, I never thought I was cool enough to own one! I am a PC. My wife got an iPhone. Like many, it was her first foray into the smartphone world and she loved it. In fact she’d never gotten excited about a piece of technology and she was incredibly excited about the iPhone. I was jealous and ended up getting one for myself. It was, in a word, a revelation. Moving from a clunky, hard to use, no app device like a Windows Mobile® phone to an iPhone™ is like becoming an Eloi after living life as a Morlock. Everything just worked, and it was cool.
The iPad™ is a big iPhone. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Sure, there are some features that the iPad will have but Apple is counting on it being the same experience. The experience is really what this is all about. According to Cupertino the iPad will run some productivity software, have a larger onscreen keyboard and be able to "dock" to devices. My friends, the personal laptop or netbook is dead. They just don’t know it yet. I cannot think of a single task my wife, mom or other such users perform on their laptop that won’t be a better experience on the iPad. With Apple’s attention to detail and the wealth of apps on the store the home laptop is going to look pretty boring.
There are some problems with the iPad. Today, the lack of a DVD drive will hurt it. Most people have a good size stack of DVDs and when they travel they’re apt to want to watch them. As engineers we’d solve this by ripping the DVD to H.264 and upload it. My parents aren’t quite there yet. This is a problem now, but is slowing going away as iTunes, Amazon and a host of other services are bringing large volumes of digital content to a download near you. The lack of a keyboard is said to be a problem, but I don’t think so. Anyone typing a magnum opus will be sitting at a desk where they can have a keyboard and stand. If you’re walking around, bumming on the couch or crammed on the bus you don’t want a keyboard. I type many emails on my iPhone and a bigger on screen keyboard will be more than sufficient. The biggest problem is going to be connectivity. 3G is fast, but not fast enough to download a movie (as if AT&T would let you). Ubiquitous wireless access will solve this problem, but is quite a ways off.
The business user is a harder sell. We do like our keyboards and need Office. iWork is a great little application for putting together grocery lists and calculating the cost of home improvement projects, but when I look at complicated financials I reach for Excel®. There is no application on Earth more powerful than Excel and the iPad just doesn’t have it. I think it will. Microsoft® knows that their bread is buttered by the profits from Windows® and Office®. They have an Office for Mac®; they’ll have one for the iPad. When that day comes, the business laptop may well be dead. I may have to have a desktop to sync and do some of the more hardcore tasks, but I’ll never fly with my laptop again.
I recently took a trip where I tried not to use my laptop, instead relying on my iPhone. There was only two times I had to bring out the laptop and both involved Excel. When I’m at my desk it really doesn’t matter if I have a laptop or not. At this point I’m 99.9% sure I could ditch my laptop all together and 100% sure I’d never travel with the thing again.
This approach won’t work for everyone, but I’m confident that the majority of laptop users could ditch the device and have a better daily experience.