Yes, I’m being deliberately inflammatory. The media seems to imagine it’s the salvation of the newspaper, and some brilliant shift in the Internet to accomodate it. Sorry, but what it is is a shiny, locked in gimmick.
Apple has steadfastly avoided the Netbook trend– the sub-$400, 7″-12″ laptop which now represents a significant amount of all PC sales. No surprise– a $399 iNetbook would cannibalize sales of their $1,000 and up machines.
Instead, the iPad runs a limited system most reminiscent of an iPhone scaled up to twice its original size. Among the major limits: limited developer access, crippled multitasking, and the same interface conventions.
Limited Developer Access doesn’t sound like a big fear. Get anything you want from the App Store. It’s all pre-vetted and safe too! Consumers initially like the concept of a ‘safe’ source for software. Apple drools over a cut of every sale. But what happens when there isn’t the App you want, because of Apple’s policies? We’ve seen it plenty of times on the iPhone platform already– Google Voice was delayed and hobbled, turn-by-turn navigation arrived late to the party. Unfortunately, the truly breakthrough products– from the open-architecture PC to Facebook– have benefitted from an ecosystem which allowed someone to bring out the “out of left field” application.
Why does multitasking matter? The more hardware resources you have– whether it’s screen pixels, processor cycles, or memory– the less likely you’ll need them all the time. Moreover, the more convinient it can be to have something else in the space. If you have a big monitor, you probably don’t keep one window full screen all day– so it becomes worthwhile to have media players, IM clients, and such which can fill in the extra space. A device like the iPad will be fundamentally limited if you have to stop and go to a different program every 5 minutes.
Finally, the interface conventions. Once you get to an 8″ or 10″ screen, you’re making excuses if you can’t have a decent keyboard. In such a situation, it seems like you’re really just trying to keep the device a toy– if people can’t write a document on a touch-screen, they’ll buy that $1,000 MacBook.
All in sum, it means Apple delivered a compromise device– built more around their desires and product-segmentation aims than a real consumer desire. It also means thaat it’s unlikely to become a true “platform” the way the iPhone and iPod systems did.
For the person who wants a full-scale device, the Asus EEE Tablet can do anything the iPad can and a thousand things more. For the customers who want a little less, single-purpose devices like the Kindle offer a experience built around a single need. The eBook sales logic for the iPad seems a little weak when you realize the Kindle offers 10 times the battery life and a text-friendly screen.
Finally, how does it fold back into the whole web thing? Simple: The “Our Company is an App” thing will not scale past a certain point. Yeah, when it’s a mobile phone, fine, but when you’re looking at bigger screens, bigger memories, and bigger expectations, you’d better return to the basics of the Web:
* There won’t be one master device to emulate the behavior of. The iPhone apps which follow Apple’s style guide are fine. But a website designed to match the feel of OSX looks out of place on Windows XP. It’s true even on “midsize” devices like netbooks and tablets, which may run the iPhone OS, Windows XP, Vista, or 7, Linux, or potentially even Android.
* Users will expect an experience on their terms. Their MP3s are running in the background, so don’t load music. They may be leaving an instant messenger or video open, so don’t hog every pixel on a display.
* Compatibilty is still king. Yeah, it works in Mobile Safari on the iPad, but for the people who bought someone else’s tablet and are running Firefox or, help us all, IE8?
* There’s no master storefront to get on everyone’s desktop. even if you make apps for the main mobile and “pad” systems, it won’t reach a lot of people, and especially the desktop. Instead, appeal to normal search behavior and live inside their browser. Or do you prefer deliberately reaching only a small percent of the market?