Sunday, 28 November 2010

Top 10 reasons iPad is not a Mac/PC replacement

It has become fashionable to argue that the iPad is a laptop killer. Walt Mossberg kicked things off with his iPad review in March, and CNet's Brooke Crothers chimed in earlier this month.

As much as I love my iPad, and indeed all things Apple, I can't help thinking that this is crazy-talk. Sure, iPad is a great device for reading the odd e-mail and browsing the web, but when I hear people claiming it's all they need on their business trips, it makes me wonder how much work they really do when they're clocking up those frequent flyer miles.

iPad's lack of a physical keyboard and Flash support are the two shortcomings most commonly cited as differentiating it from a laptop, but these are just the most superficial and obvious shortcomings (although I accept that for some, the absence of Flash is an advantage rather than a shortcoming).

1. iTunes dependency
Put simply, an iPad can hardly replace a Mac/PC, when you need to connect it to a Mac/PC to turn it on (initially). At present, for setup, backup and system upgrades, you have no option but to sync with a Mac/PC.

2. No shared file system
The "Finder"/"Windows Explorer" is an essential component of a Mac/PC. But this feature is entirely absent on an iPad. In most cases, a file is only accessible from within the app that owns it. So, for example, to e-mail a document as an attachment, you must send it from the app that generated it, rather than directly from the Mail app itself. And if you want to download a PDF from Safari, to view later in another app, you're out of luck. It's also impossible to link between locally stored files, meaning iPad is currently useless to web developers, designers or serious spreadsheet users.

3. Limited document format support
iPad can do a reasonable job of viewing Microsoft Office files, but it is far from perfect. Oddly, support for viewing Apple's own iWork files is not perfect either. Apple has implemented a fraction of the formatting options that are available on the Mac version of iWork. So by amending a document on an iPad, you risk stripping away important formatting. In Pages, for example, paragraph borders and padding are missing. In Keynote, transitions on grouped objects are not implemented.

4. No file sharing
Options for transferring files on an iPad are limited to syncing via iTunes or sending via e-mail. MobileMe users may also use iDisk, and third party apps like Dropbox can help. But as yet, the simplest and most obvious solutions, such as regular file sharing via AFP for Mac and SMB for Windows are unavailable. Also missing is the ability to mount the iPad on your Mac/PC file system as a USB mass storage device to transfer files directly without having to use the cumbersome iTunes syncing method - even an iPod classic can do this!

5. Native file formats only
When opening MS Office or iWork files on an iPad, using Pages, Keynote and Numbers, the files must first be converted into a special iPad format, in order to appear in the relevant app. Consequently, in order to open them on a Mac or PC, they then have to be converted back. This is extremely cumbersome, and creates risks with version control, by duplicating files, rather than allowing you to work directly on a file on your iDisk or Dropbox.

8. Not extensible
Many have griped about iPad's lack of Adobe Flash support, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. iPad is not extensible in any way. Indeed, 3rd party developers are explicitly prohibited from developing shared frameworks, runtimes and libraries. So, not only is there no Flash, but no Java, no WMV, Silverlight, Apache, PHP, nor SQL. You can't even install your own fonts, which is a big shortcoming for a platform promoting graphics apps, such as Keynote.

9. No Terminal app
The Terminal app is one of the hidden gems of Mac OS X. Buried away in the utilities folder, it may not be very pretty, but if you learn how to use it, it can be incredibly powerful. Since iPad is based upon the same Unix as Mac OS X, (Darwin), it's a great shame that Apple doesn't provide us with a terminal app to take advantage of it.

10. Single-user only
While Mac OS X has excellent multi-user support, it is currently nonexistent on iOS, giving the operating system a strangely retro feel. In practice, this means when an iPad is shared in a household or office, everyone must use the same settings. No customization per user. No parental controls per user. No separating content per user. This isn't a problem on the iPhone, since phone are typically single-user devices, but the iOS should offer more on an iPad.

Please don't get me wrong, I love my iPad, and the recent developments in iOS 4.2 are very welcome. But let's be realistic, as yet, it's a long way away from becoming a Mac/PC replacement.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Economist on iPhone and iPad

For those who are interested, The Economist has just announced that its much anticipated iPhone and iPad apps are finally launching tomorrow - internationally. "Existing print or online subscribers will receive access to the full contents of each week’s issue".

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

iTunes web store and Android app

Update: it was just the Beatles after all. Ah well...

Yesterday's teaser on Apple's home page came completely out of the blue. It seems no one was expecting it. The teaser represents several notable departures from Apple's typical media management:
  • It only gives one day's notice, rather than a week
  • It's on their website, rather than e-mailed to selected journalists
  • It explicitly states it's about iTunes, rather than just hinting what it's about
  • It's happening at 10am New York time, rather than California time
  • Seemingly no media event ("Stevenote")
Some say that it's going to be the Beatles catalog, finally appearing on iTunes. While this is certainly long overdue, it would hardly be the kind of earth-shattering news that justifies the claim "you'll never forget." Any serious Beatles fans ripped their treasured CDs into iTunes years ago. Sure, maybe this will be an appetiser, but it's unlikely to be the entrée.

Other guesses include a new subscription service, or a cloud service. These seem implausible to me, simply because iTunes 10.1 was launched only last week, and another update would be required in order to push out these kind of feature.

So what could it be?

My money is on iTunes' finally opening up its ecosystem to support 3rd party devices. I've outlined this strategy before, which would be predicated on maintaining iTunes market dominating position, even as consumers move from dedicated MP3 players, of which iPod claims the lion's share, to smart phones, of which iPhone is one of many.

If this happens, we can expect to see a web-based version of the iTunes store launching, plus iTunes apps for Android, plus maybe Windows 7 Phone and Blackberry.

It may seem like a strange idea to provide iTunes on competitor platforms. Think of it as the "glass of ice water" strategy. It once seemed equally unlikely that Apple would give iTunes away free to Windows users. At AllThingsD in 2007, Steve Jobs explained it was like "giving a glass of ice water to people in hell." In fact, it's a beach-head into competitor territory - once people get used to using iTunes, their next gadget is more likely to have an Apple logo on it.