Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Opine on the iPad

It has been quite a long time since I was excited about an Apple product announcement. Their tack to being a media company took them out of my sphere of interest for a decade now. Apple technology had become a fashion statement, rhetoric notwithstanding.

The tablet was another story; I always thought it to be the natural evolution of the laptop. I was involved in early attempts at creating a tablet computer by Grid Systems, stood in line for hours at MacWorld in Boston to buy a Newton, plunked over 1G last year on UMPC, bought an OLPC (you can rotate the screen and turn it into a tablet) and have been a Kindle fan from day one.

The main problem with the early attempts was CPU and storage. That was solved by about 2003, leaving two main problems: software and screen technology.

In today’s world software is no longer an issue: there is a number of options out there from Win7, to Chrome OS, to iPhone OS. The thornier problem of screen technology remain unsolved.
You see a tablet needs to be lightweight, rugged, viewable in any lighting condition and run un-tethered for a long time. Present screen technology is just not up to snuff.

  • e-Ink comes closest but suffers from lack of color and inability to address individual pixels which makes it unsuitable for media applications. Besides, it’s as unsexy and an IBM PS/2.

  • Backlit LCD displays are power hogs and not daylight readable. Fragile as a champagne flute, these displays are just not meant to be dropped.

  • OLED technology is promising, but suffers from shorter life (display dims and looses color over time), and higher costs.

Power consumption in non e-Ink devices necessitate larger batteries and therefore tend to weight 1-3 lbs. It is simply not comfortable to hold that kind to device for an extended period of time.

My prediction is that the iPad (after the fanboys buy two each) will not garner enough of an audience to be counted a success. It’s too much of a compromise: too heavy for a book reader, too large to be an iPod (imagine going to the gym), too limited to replace my laptop (VPN anyone?), not enough connectivity for TV viewing.

Unlike Microsoft, Apple does not have a history of investing heavily in non-homerun products. 50% chance, iPad will die on the vine.