iPad's big flaw is lack of input

Summary:Apple's iPad launches in a sea of excitement, but it's crippled from birth by family history

The iPad. It's new. Just not that new. Although the iPad looks and feels exactly like a giant iPhone, it has an equal genetic contribution from the iPod.

On the surface that's no bad thing. Born in 2001, the iPod has been an enormous success. No competitor has ever come close: only now are sales slipping, as music streaming starts to take over from downloads.

Apple achieved and kept dominance in music players by an extremely smart process of product evolution. Core functionality remained largely untouched, with variations in form factor and superficially impressive new features used to keep things fresh and prices up despite Moore's Law. Commercial brilliance — and an evolutionary dead end.

The iPad is just one step evolved from the iPhone, and as such the glimpse it gives of Apple's preferred future is not heartening. It has a custom processor chip, designed and made by Apple; in future, this technology could easily be extended to include comprehensive Apple-only hardware extensions that make applications hard to port to other platforms, or lock down content to Apple-only devices.

It has no USB ports or card slots, rendering most peripherals incompatible and data transfers difficult. There is no mouse or stylus support, nor any way to add it. It doesn't multitask. This is not a platform for innovation any more than was the iPod; all it does have it inherits from the iPhone, which was a first for its form factor in a way no tablet can replicate. 

And innovation is going to be the secret ingredient that makes tablets great. There are many places where they work well for data entry, not just consumption: vertical markets such as health, engineering and education. Horizontal markets with ideographic writing, such as Chinese and Japanese. Design, creation and editing of anything non-textual. These are areas begging for new ideas.

But innovation and creativity outside its control is not what Apple wants. It's ironic, given that the company depended on the creative industries like gorillas on the cloud forest, that it should abandon them so absolutely.

The result is a device that risks death by an inability to adapt. Its ancestors, the iPod and iPhone, have the rich niche of the pocket. The iPad's aspiration, to take over the role of the desktop and laptop as a digital consumption device cut free, is thwarted because they do things it cannot. If it is to find things and ways of working that they cannot, then Apple needs people to use it to invent. To make things anew.

As an Apple poster once said: Think different. That's hard, if you're forced to be the same.

Topics: Mobility, Smartphones

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