iPad's big flaw is lack of input

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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  • Try wireless for i/o...

    I've been using some of the iPhone wireless (wifi mostly) apps as a way of interfacing with just about everything, from using it as a remote control to my home A/V server to using it as a mousepad or controller for my office computer or running presentations... it works the other way around too and you can have your wifi enabled iPhone or iPod touch work as an ftp server for data transfer. So no USB ports, no problem, just get some sort of device (keyboard, docking station, you name it...) and the appropriate app into the environment and you're set to go, whether it's transfering data to/from the device to typing your next blockbuster novel into it.

    I am not an Apple evangelist (don't even own a Mac), but quite frankly I don't see lack of traditional input methods being an obstacle for this one.
  • Wireless, Bluetooth etc.?

    Nice. Now I can see the wireless keyboards, docking stations and stuff having followed the link you kindly put in your comment.

    Trouble I've now got is this: Do I want to spend double what the device is really worth, then spend more money on a bluetooth k/b, and more again on a case (which isn't listed in the box contents), when instead I can buy a netbook and adapt my O/S to suit me? And netbooks' keyboards are attached!

    No sir.
    Fat Pop Do Wop
  • One of the first things I do

    is disable bluetooth on any device of mine that supports it. Nasty, unreliable, insecure stuff.
  • Think who they are targeting

    Most people spend 98% of their time simply consuming content, the rest is spent leaving messages on Facebook or sending the odd email. They hardly touch their keyboard so I don't think this is going to be a problem. This is not pitched as a laptop replacement, its a 'connected appliance', which is what they mean by 'a new class of device'. Quite a few non-tech people I have spoken to who have seen the presentation said it look just about perfect for what they need. These are the people this is aimed at, the masses, not the minority that create a lot of content, for them Apple make laptops too.
  • A dead end? I think not.

    You say yourself that Apple depends on "an extremely smart process of product evolution".
    This is four days after an entirely new Apple line was launched. Another respondent has commented that THIS VERSION is aimed at people who consume content. Seems fair enough to me. It can, however, evolve rapidly to serve many other purposes with more sophisticated software and connectivity.
    Revisit your comments in a year, let's see what happened next.
  • Agreed

    This product will evolve as new software becomes available, just like the iPhone did. It will also evolve physically as new versions of the hardware are produced. If enough comment is made about the lack of a camera then guaranteed version two will have one.
  • Yes, who are they targeting?

    I spend very little time consuming content on any of my numerous electronic devices - unless I'm travelling. Sure, I'd love to have an iPad, but I can't for the life of me think when else I'd find a use for it - other than when I'm visiting an ageing relative in hospital, and for that I could use a netbook or a laptop.

    I agree that it will compete strongly with the Kindle and similar devices, but they aren't exactly taking off here in the UK. But as a fun gizmo to have in my pocket there's one big disadvantage - my pocket isn't big enough.
  • Only the devoted and..

    I'll informed will purchase this, the rest of the industry will release their own version with all of the above plus more features, with greater hardware & software compatibility, for half the price of the $600 mark.

    I think many other company's have just being sat on the side lines waiting to see, and once they did they then went back to work on their own to finalize them ready for release.

    Yet again this is just another over priced apple lock in product that doesn't really deserve any other name other than iFail.
  • Think about what happened with the iPhone

    Everyone said it would fail and that it was a limited device with no potential. Then the competition brought out clones that had more advanced hardware, but the iPhone still sold like hot cakes. The point is that if you don't see the point of the iPad then it wasn't designed for you. Lets face it if you frequent ZDNet the iPad is not meant for you, unless your a fan boy that can't resist anything with an Apple logo on it.
  • No their not...

    The same the iphone a had a market it showed the way to go to get maximum features without clunky user interface, and with significantly boosted ram in such a device, for the first time people had a real alternative to a phone/smart phone, Walkman, pda, sat nav, stream cast receiver, web tool/toy and so on so forth, all this pocket size!

    Now lack of keyboard niggles some more than other's, but the big one is the propriety lock in with the apple format, people where prepared to let this go with the iphone, but they won't with this because it does not have that same convenience factor with it, and the more i here about the ipad the more it's starting to look like a over zealous kindle.

    I wonder if it ships with chains & a ball.
  • One man's functionality another man's worry

    While I am sympathetic with your argument, I think you have missed my point. The people this device is aimed at don't see the lack of functionality and lock in as a problem, they see it as a solution. I think this is a bad thing personally but Apple have shown that these types of locked down appliances are popular and are capitalising on it. IPhone and Touch are very popular even though they are locked down. These devices live within their own Apple provided world and that suits a lot of users just fine. No problems, viruses, complex configuration, just pick it up and off you go. For these people the iPad is perfect and for now at least they are in the majority. For the rest of us there will be a lot of Android and other OS devices similar to iPad that let us change and tweak things our hearts content.
  • handwriting?

    when I saw the headline, I thought you might mention the lack of handwriting support... but is it fair to say no way to add mouse support? if someone brought out a Bluetooth keyboard with a trackpad on it, would that work? And will the capacitive add-on styluses for the iPhone not work with the iPad. My feelng is less that you can't add these and more that the iPad won't offer anything extra if you do add them. HP's capacitive screen tablet PC has an excellent stylus that lets you write smoothly with the feel of ink, like an active digitiser on a resistive screen, but it has the full-fat Windows OS and handwriting recognition to make that useful...
    Simon Bisson and Mary Branscombe
  • Could you site where you got this statistic?