Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The iPad: Why?

Tech Tidbit:

After my column last week about how your smartphone can save your life, Listserv reader Lucy Buckley pointed me to a story about a photographer who was trapped on floating ice in the North Sea. The photographer used his camera's flash to signal for help. Being able to signal for help is something that smartphones, including the iPhone can do -- if you get a strobe/flashight application.

Tech Tidbit number 2:

Do you use Instapaper? Instapaper, , is a fast and easy browser add-on that lets you easily save web pages for later reading. And if you have an iPhone, the saved pages will sync with your phone so you can read while on the go. Instapaper also has Editor's Picks -- basically the best stuff that people have been clipping and saving from the web. It's through the Editor's Picks that I learned how to survive a fall from 35,000 feet, should worst come to worst on a flight (Here's the direct link to that article: People have actually survived a fall from seven miles high.

Tech Tidbit number 3:

On the off chance that you're thinking about the weather, here are some websites to keep you informed, if not amused:

The Capital Weather Gang remains the best local weather website:

Weather Underground lets you customize how you want to see local and faraway weather information:

There's a terrific page with multiple weather windows, including satellite and radar images at

If you go to (replace 20008 with your zip code), you'll be treated to your neighborhood weather forecast directly from the National Weather Service.

And although not exactly a weather information website, here's a link to a webcam for a nice beach in Mexico: Warning: Visit that website at the risk of your own sanity.

Now to the main event, the iPad.

Since when did a new device become something that people rooted for or against? Is it because the Superbowl is over and until the baseball season starts, there's not much to entertain us?

I am rooting for the iPad, but I'm not getting one. Despite the iPad's coolness, I'm just not convinced that the iPad is something I need. Or something that anyone needs. When I compare the iPad, priced at $500 for the starter model, to a $500 netbook, the netbook wins in every category except for weight, the ability to surf the web by touching the screen, and gee-whizness. What can't an iPad do what a Windows netbook can? iPads can't play flash video, the most ubiquitious form of video content on the web, don't multitask (you can listen to Internet radio after you're done checking your email, but not during), don't have built-in cameras for Skype video calls, don't have USB ports or memory card slots. There's no Bluetooth, and typing on an iPad is going to be a pain for touch typists. These are basic features for portable computing devices.

With its beautiful screen and multi-touch scrolling, the iPad is browser-centric, and yet there are countless websites that won't work on the iPad. Pity.

While the iPad is lighter than a netbook, if you plan to do any serious typing on it, you'll need an external keyboard. And if you plan to take your iPad anywhere, you'll need a protective case. Suddenly, the iPad isn't so light and svelte anymore.

And let's not forget the fact that you can only run software that Apple approves. That might be okay for a cellphone, but for a computing device? Can you imagine if portable PCs only ran software pre-approved by Microsoft?

Then there's the real practical problem of how many devices you are going to carry when you're traveling. You need your cell phone -- the iPad doesn't replace that. A camera can be good to take along. And a laptop or netbook is absolutely necessary if you're planning to write, edit photos, place Skype calls, moderate the Cleveland Park Listserv, or perform many other tasks. Few people are going to leave their netbooks behind and just take an iPad.


What the iPad represents is potential. Revolutionary potential. iPad 1.0 doesn't impress. But it's already spurred other computer manufacturers to created their own tablet PCs. We'll soon see powerful tablets from Google and Microsoft. Before next holiday season Apple will, I believe, come out with iPad 2.0. Like converging low pressure systems that produce a giant snowstorm, all of a sudden there will be tablets everywhere. And when that happens, we won't just be surfing the Internet, doing light email, and playing Bejeweled, or even reading books. I predict that the iPad tablet --not version 1.0 but the ones that follow-- will herald the end of students suffering back ailments as they trudge around 30 pounds of textbooks. Tablets will be how we read the morning paper -- and like it. Tablets will be the way we watch movies in bed, and the way we play on Facebook. They will be our video phones and just about everything else we do while connected to the Internet. And not in ten years or even five years. Soon. Perhaps not before the snow melts, but within a year or two, some of this will happen. And that's cool.

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