What the iPad can’t, and won’t, do

January 30, 2010

Like every other tech enthusiast, I’ve spent the last couple of months lapping up every little rumor surrounding the Apple tablet. The leaked photos and specs were enough to make any geek drool. And this week, the iSlate was finally coming.

The iSlate was going to revolutionize personal computing. It was the most important thing Steve Jobs had ever done.

After all the anticipation, though, we didn’t get the iSlate at all. Not even close. We didn’t get a revolutionary product. Hell, we didn’t even get an evolutionary product. We got…the iPad.

Don’t get me wrong here; I’m sure the iPad runs well. It’s certainly slick and pretty, and I bet there are lots of Apple fanboys and coffeeshop hipsters who will line up to get these. I’ve read and heard these folks online, extolling the virtues of the iPad, and haughtily turning up their noses at the rest of us because, well, we just don’t have Steve’s vision of the future. “Just wait,” they say. “THIS is the future.” But here are a few things the iPad can’t and won’t do:

1. It can’t replace your computer. I have a desktop and a netbook. If my desktop were to mysteriously die, my netbook could get me through. I could hook it up to my external hard drives and access any data I need. I could even install iTunes and sync my iPod to it, so I could keep up with my podcasts. The iPad can’t do that. Which brings me to…

2. It can’t work on its own. You can’t use an iPad without a computer, because the iPad syncs to iTunes. You manage it just like an iPod — through a desktop or laptop machine. That fact renders moot the whole argument that this is the perfect personal computing device for youngsters or seniors who just don’t get technology. The iPad won’t have your music library on it if you haven’t put together a library first. But at least you can surf the net, right? Well…

3. It won’t deliver the whole Internet. I’ve had an iPod Touch for about a year. I love it. But there’s nothing more frustrating than the lack of Flash support. Some sites can’t be viewed at all, and the vast majority of video content online is out of reach. Jobs’ argument that the iPad will offer the best browsing experience ever would be laughable, if the reality weren’t so damned depressing. But hey, you can use it to keep in touch with friends and family, right?…

4. It doesn’t have a camera. I could see the iPad as a perfect Skype device. From the comfort of your couch, you could dial up Aunt Lucy and she could see what the baby was up to. It would be great for videoconferencing or broadcasting live to the web, the way you can with the iPhone. Unfortunately, there’s no camera. At all. Which basically limits you to communicating through e-mail. But at least you’ll be able to open attachments and edit documents and photos…

5. It doesn’t print. I’m guessing you could print from the iPad, but not out of the box. A search of the App Store shows a few printing applications available for the iPhone/iPod Touch, but they aren’t free. So you can edit that photo of Suzy, but if you actually want a print to hang on the wall, you’ll have to e-mail it to someone with a real computer or maybe save the photo to a USB drive or SD card, but…

6. It doesn’t have removable storage. Nope. No USB, no Micro SD, no anything. To get whatever you’ve done from the iPad to anywhere else, you can e-mail it or sync back to your PC. So maybe the iPad won’t let you be all that productive, but at least it will be the perfect entertainment pad…

7. There’s no HDMI out. Nope. You won’t be able to hook the iPad to your plasma and watch movies that way. You can only watch them on the iPad itself. Even the Zune HD can stream to your TV. If it’s video you’re looking for, you can definitely get anything you’re looking for online. Well, except…

8. Video stops at YouTube. You don’t get Hulu on the iPad. Or any other Flash-based video. Anything outside of YouTube is generally hit or miss. Once in awhile you’ll find mp4 videos to watch, but it’s a gamble. Even with these limitations, you say, it’s still pretty revolutionary, isn’t it?

9. It won’t change the world. The iPad isn’t even evolutionary. If anything, it’s a major step back — not just for personal computing, but for the tablet market in general. If you want to see a revolutionary product, look at Lenovo’s IdeaPad. It’s a tablet that runs a Linux hybrid OS on a Snapdragon processor. It’s got a slick UI. But the genius is that it plugs into a keyboard, becoming the monitor of a laptop. Once plugged in, it becomes a Windows 7 machine, running on an Intel chip. You cannot argue the iPad is a technological advancement compared to that. Let’s also not forget that the tablet is not an Apple invention; Microsoft has been trying to get tablet computers off the ground for decades now. Apple has tried it before. There is little “new” about the concept and nothing new about the execution.

Jobs and his loyal flock laughed at netbooks during the iPad launch. He said he believed there was space for the category of gadgets between the smart phone and the laptop; netbooks, he said, just don’t cut it. But my netbook can do everything listed above that the iPad can’t do (it even multitasks). Not only that, but it has double the storage capacity and cost me only $350.

I don’t hate Apple. I admire its attention to design, its marketing acumen and its ability to make people spend a lot of money on products they really don’t need. I admire its ability to create products like the iPhone that change the way people think about a class of products. But this time, Jobs and Apple are testing the limits of their reality distortion field. We have all learned to expect better from Apple. I’m disappointed that after all the hype, all the speculation, all the guesswork, we got a product that seems underpowered, rushed to market and not particularly well thought out.

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Returns on your Facebook investment

January 14, 2010

Throughout 2009, the mantra was that all companies and organizations needed to live in the social media space. Don’t have a Facebook page? A twitter account? You aren’t on LinkedIn or uploading videos to YouTube? In 2009, you were a dinosaur.

At the dawning of this new year, we’re starting to hear something much different. This time it’s noise coming from the other side — a single, damning, awesome question: “What’s my ROI?”

I like this question because it does exactly what needed to be done throughout 2009: It rocks the so-called “social media evangelists” back onto their heels just long enough to expose the enormous heap of BS they’ve been shoveling for the last couple of years. And the best part is when the answer is, well, you’re asking a stupid question.

“Evangelists” don’t like the question because it threatens their business model — which involves taking lots of your money so they can help you, ahem, leverage social media platforms and SEO to maximize your company’s growth capacity. Or something like that. Truth is, social media doesn’t have to cost anything. The only reason it does is that the “experts” are taking advantage of the fear, uncertainty and doubt in corporate culture, where the thought of free anything is highly suspect.

Businesses are terrified of jumping into a space they don’t understand. They don’t want to look stupid on Twitter. They’re afraid of what will be posted to their Facebook page. They’re willing to pay for someone to execute a plan with precision. And for that, they’re gonna pay.

But the dirty secret is that these experts aren’t any smarter than the rest of us. They sure as hell don’t have it “figured out.” And after they’ve sucked up many thousands of your company’s dollars, they don’t want you figuring out what rats they are.

Let’s look for a minute at Twitter. It’s a cesspool of social media experts and SEOs. They amass a few thousand followers and claim to be “thought leaders.” They’ll tell you the more followers you have, the more influence you’ll have. And being part of the conversation is the important part, right? Well…read this and this. Anil Dash has done some of the most interesting reporting on follower counts on Twitter. One of his most interesting observations? He’s not replied to or retweeted more now (he has 300,000 followers) than he was when he had 15,000. And that’s because the vast majority of those following him are, as he puts it:

Some of them are inactive users, some are spammers, some just ignore the noise of the accounts that don’t interest them, like spam in an email inbox. But they can’t count as “followers” in any meaningful sense.

Here’s the thing: I’m not against social media for companies. In fact, I think social media can be a very good thing. I think it’s important for most businesses to play in the same spaces their customers play in. And it makes sense to give people a place where they can connect with you, talk to you, complain to you.

The problems, however, start when when you pay someone to make your company sound authentic on Twitter. Don’t sound authentic. Be authentic. Are you a nerd? A dork? Are you shy? Are you worried people will pick on you? Are you worried that you, as CEO of your company, are going to ruin your brand by speaking on behalf of your company?

What did your mother always tell you? Just be yourself. The people who are going to like you will like you no matter what. Don’t worry about the people who don’t. If the CEO doesn’t want to use Twitter, pick a person or two in the office you’re comfortable with. Allow them to be the eyes and ears and voices of the organization online. Set a few rules, but let people get to know them. Let them grow into the role.

In that way, social media costs next to nothing. A few minutes of time each day to send out a few lines, reply to the chatter, and monitor the conversation. Keep your investment and your expectations low. If you do that, you won’t be asking about ROI anymore. And you won’t want to kick yourself when you get a bill from an “expert.”