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Apple iPad Tablet: the good and the bad and the ugly


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The tech industry is now divided over Apple iPad. According to some, the device is great and comes with great features and would become another game changer from Apple. Some say, it is not a game changer but a major catalyst that just gave a push to the concept of tablet PC. Another group of people are expressing their dissatisfaction over its lack of features, high price, AT&T service quality and data pricing.

I have been covering the Apple iPad tablet for the last couple of days. Here is another long article from me that will try to give you a bird’s eye view of the thoughts and ideas from different people about the possibilities, weaknesses, strength and future of Apple iPad tablet PC.

Mark Tauschek, lead researcher, Info-Tech Research Group, said that the iPad could propel Apple into the corporate world beyond the recent progress made by iPhone. Bruce Francis, Vice President, Corporate Strategy of corporate strategy, Salesforce.com said that the iPad brings together two important trends: the use of business technology in consumer products and easy availability of high-speed connections. Now, business can push critical information out their to sales and field service teams and get back instant updates. The iPhone rewrote the rules on smartphones and the iPad will probably do the same for mobile computing. Lisa Kala, assistant dean for administration, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education, said that the iPad could find uses among educators and even more acceptance among students as a digital textbook. The color screen, Internet connection, and ultra-portability make it a natural fit for students who are used to getting information from PCs and it is more versatile than the Kindle. The ability to be multifunctional and portable and having the comfort of looking at something in one’s hands is very nice.

Doctors and nurses at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, adopted tablet PC in 2003 but they abandoned it for the devices were heavy with physical keyboards, short battery life, and poor quality screens. Now that Apple iPad is on the block, the doctors are rethinking of adopting tablet PC. Cheryl Reinking, Vice Chief of clinical operations at the hospital, said that the iPad is promising enough to reconsider the hospitals to move back to tablets. The device could be valuable for doctors moving around the hospital. It can be used in the operating room for quick documentation or in the lab. It can be used at the bedside to make notes or use it as a reference for medications.

Remember, Steve Sprang showcasing the popular “Brushes” application on the iPad at the “latest creation event”? That was just a sneak peek of how the iPad could also become a big mover and shaker in the arts and music circle. Ge Wang, co-founder, Smule, a popular music application developing company, said that the iPad could prompt a whole new class of music and production apps that utilizes larger touch-screen. Smule is now planning to build apps for the iPad which might include a digital guitar or harp or a DJ app or mixing program.

The Apple iPad will change of the publishing industry. Book and newspaper reading are two of the most prominent features of the Apple iPad. Many believe that the “tablet-styled newspapers” and magazines would persuade online readers to pay again for news. Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, is not so optimistic about the tablet PCs. He said that tablets still have a lot to prove but if the devices get better and they prove popular then newspaper might go for “tablet publications.” With the iPad there is some encouragement.

Negative aspects:

The naming of the Apple tablet PC made women feel awkward. Many women believe that the name, “iPad,” feels like some kind female hygiene product. Moreover, Fujitsu claimed that it released a wireless touchscreen device by that name in 2003. Interestingly, Fujitsu's trademark filing has not been approved yet as, MagTek, a California-based IT security specialist, filed an application earlier. Apple is expected to file its case to the U.S Patent Office opposing the trademark in February 2010. The Tech Herald reports:

Speaking with The New York Times after Apple’s official unveiling of the iPad on Wednesday, Fujitsu’s director of public relations Masahiro Yamane indicated that the Japanese computing giant has been selling iPad-branded hardware since 2002.

“It’s our understanding that the name is ours,” he commented. “Mobile is a keyword for Fujitsu’s iPad too. With the iPad, workers don’t have to keep running back to a computer. They have everything right at their fingertips.”

STMicro, a European chipmaker, also revealed an existing iPad trademark for its proprietary semiconductor technology. A Canadian underwear manufacturer also uses the name, “iPad,” to market is cleavage-enhancing bras.

Many think that the Apple tablet is just another concept tablet PC. There is nothing impressive about it. It is somewhere between netbook and smartphone. Many people will buy it for its touchscreen and carrying a device that can keep you connected to the Internet and play all media files at the same time.

Many are unhappy with the pricing scheme of Apple iPad tablet PC. Moreover, AT&T’s data plans were not liked by many. For a true multimedia device, the 250 MB data plan is not so good. The 16GB Apple costs $500. If you want 3G plan, you will have to pay $129 up front. So, the total price of the device becomes $629. Add with it $360 for paying $30 subscription fee per month and your total expense comes up to $989 plus tax. The 32 GB and 64 GB model will cost more. Instead, it would be better to go for $499 iPad with built in Wi-Fi.

Another big issue is the poor service quality of AT&T. AT&T has the best 3G Network coverage in the U.S. but it is already under huge pressure as iPhone subscribers consume lots of data. With the addition of Apple iPad tablet PC, the pressure further increased. Such demand would definitely drive up the bandwidth price sooner or later. This can become a blessing in disguise for Verizon Wireless, the major rival of AT&T. When there is too much pressure on one network and the price is high and quality of service goes down. Some subscribers will leave AT&T and sign up for Verizon. Hence, investing in cellular networks can become quite risky.

Another big complaint is that the device does not multitask. You can not listen to music and browse the newspaper or web at the same time.

Now, this might sound a bit awkward but a camera on the iPad tablet could have been very useful for video chatting (now that Apple lifted blocks on VoIP), tweeting Twitpics, and last but not least, taking big size photos.

The iPad does not support Flash player because Apple believe that allowing flash on the device would pose a security risk. This means, no Disney, Hulu, ESPN, Farmville, or JibJab or many flash based online games.

The iPad comes with a LED backlit In-Plane Switching (IPS) display which is not so power efficient like the OLED devices. To much movie watching or game playing will drain battery power. LED screens are also not good for the eyes compared to e-ink displays. Prolonged exposure to LED screen could even cause migraine-inducing. Wall Street Journal writer, Brett Arends, wrote an interesting thing about e-book readers and I also agree with him. Serious e-book readers do not want a "multifunctional device" with LED screen cause they grew up looking at computer screens and they are already pretty fed up of it. They just want to read normally by ambient light. More over ebook readers have longer battery life than iPad.

Apple has been severely criticized for the closed system of its App Store. An application will first be reviewed by officials of Apple. After being permitted, the application will be shown at the App Store. Developers can not create any porn applications or any other applications that infringe on Apple trademark. For this reason, many developers quit Apple. The Apple iPad tablet can run all the applications of the iPhone App Store and SDK for iPad applications development had been unveiled. The rule will be also be applied to iPad application developers.

The Apple iPad does not have USB drive. You will have to transfer files through dock connector. Users would have to pay extra to get a USB adapter on iPad tablet PC. Many tech journalists expressed their dissatisfaction over the absence of USB ports.

In-app advertising:

App Store application developers can make money by displaying ads in their applications. With the unveiling of Apple iPad tablet PC, Apple just opened up another new horizon for in-app advertising. In the beginning of 2010, news came out that Apple bought mobile advertising firm, Quattro. The acquisition is a clear indication that Apple does not want Google to run its mobile advertisement business. During its latest earnings call, Apple also made it clear. Andy Miller, who served as the Quattro Wireless CEO, was named VP of Mobile Advertising and he will directly answer to Steve Jobs.

AT&T struggles with increasing data traffic:

The day after iPad’s release, AT&T reported that it will invest $2 billion to improve its network in 2010 to keep with the rising demand of data from iPhone and iPad subscribers. During its 2009 fourth quarter earnings call, John Stankey, COO, AT&T, reported that his company is planning to spend somewhere between $18 billion and $19 billion in 2010 to upgrade its wireless and backhaul networks that connect the cell towers to AT&T's main network. The money that will be spent in 2010 is roughly $2 billion more than the company's 2008 investment.

AT&T will add 2,000 new cell sites and upgrade its existing cell sites. With the upgrade process completed, AT&T can easily switch to 4G wireless technology in future. AT&T will begin testing its 4G network using LTE in 2010. In 2011, it will commercially deploy 4G in selected areas and the number will further increase in 2012.

Quy Nguyen, CEO of Allyance Communications Networks, an AT&T partner in Irvine, California, said that AT&T had been aggressively upgrading its network, but still faces challenges from new applications that are coming to the app store every week which requires more bandwidth. Mr. Quy said that wireless infrastructure upgrade is a constant battle which is not only a big problem for AT&T but also for other network carriers as well. As soon as networks upgrade, more video, music and streaming applications come out and put even more pressure on the network.

Will iPad replace netbook or laptop?

This is another issue causing heated debate among tech industry people. I am not a tech savvy guy. I never seen a tablet PC. Still, whatever I have read about tablet PCs, I do not think they would be able to replace netbook or laptop so easily. Many tech industry people said that, tablet PCs are good for basic computing and internet browsing and I agree with them. You can not work long hours with tablet PCs. First, you would have to use one of your hands to hold the device meaning you can use one hand to input data. You can not type using one hand. Second, tablet PCs do not have any physical keyboard or mouse. Though Apple iPad tablet comes with a keyboard docking, imagine carrying the doc all the time with you. It does not remain an ultra-portable device then does it? Tablet PCs can not replace laptop or netbook. It will take another five-six years down the road.

What I think:

I really like the Apple iPad tablet. It is a sleek looking machine with a nice touchscreen. I also liked the keyboard docking port that allows the tablet PC to be used like regular PC or laptop device. It is a great device for watching movies, reading books and newspapers and playing games. The device also has an impressive battery life. Another edge the Apple iPad tablet has is the App Store. The iPhone/iPod App Store is the most successful app store in the world with a rich collection of applications. All the iPhone applications can run on iPad. Apple also unveiled an SDK to develop iPad apps. This will make a lot of difference between the Apple iPad and other tablets available in the market. No other, PC maker has such a big App store at their disposal. However, the battle is half won for Apple. There are still many issues that the company needs to address. First of all, the device's lack of multitasking is a big minus. Apple must work on increasing iPad's processing power. The HP Slate, displayed at the Microsoft keynote speech by Steve Ballmer in CES 2010, has superior processing capacity than Apple. Plus, it runs Windows OS, the most popular OS in the world. Another big problem is AT&T’s 3G capability. Currently, the iPhone users are not happy with AT&T’s 3G service. The network's existing 3G istructure can not handle the pressure of huge data downloaded by Apple iPhone subscribers. Apple iPhone users regularly stream live sports events and watch television shows that takes up lots of datas. The small number of iPhone users takes up majority of the data on AT&T's 3G network. With the addition of the Apple iPad, the pressure has further increased. If AT&T fails to cater the growing appetite of the iPad users, it will be a big disaster for the iPad tablet PC.

In the end, no matter what we say, the final verdict will be given by the consumers. Apple has not launched the iPad in the market yet. Previously, journalists panned the iPhone but they were proven wrong. True, that the iPad has its shortcomings; yes, it is pricey, yes, AT&T service sucks but things are never perfect in the first attempt in tech world. The first iPod released by Apple had many problems but the company quickly fixed them and changed the face of portable music industry. So, let us be patient and see how the Apple iPad tablet PC does after launch.

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