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.