Tech Analysis: As eWEEK Labs Senior Analyst P. J. Connolly wraps up an evaluation of the iPad and prices some solid-state drives, the end of the road for conventional hard disks looms on the horizon.
I've worked with portable computers since the TRS-80 was the state of the
art, but the iPad is the first portable that made me feel like I had the future
in my hands.
I really enjoyed taking an iPad for a spin,
if three weeks and counting can
be called that. I almost don't want to return it to Apple; it's a lot harder to
misplace than a mobile phone, and it's far less awkward than a notebook
computer. I can do work on the iPad that would be impossible on a phone, even
one with a QWERTY keyboard. For me, this is simple device lust.
That's because most laptops, netbooks and notebooks allow you to take the
desktop environment wherever you need to, but they bring desktop-style
constraints with them. Even traditional tablet PCs (remember those?) are just a
little too awkward to use while standing. The iPad, on the other hand, is light
enough that you can use it one-handed, as if it were a mobile phone.
Unless you're headed to Yankee Stadium,
that is. It seems that New
York's American League club classifies the iPad as
being too much like a notebook computer to be allowed inside the ballpark. I
haven't learned the reasoning behind this decision, but it's possible that the
iPad could be used as a weapon, and as one man in Denver
found out, it's definitely a target for thieves.
This ban gives me another excuse to stay out of Yankee Stadium-not that I
need more reasons to avoid the Bronx, being a
fourth-generation Detroit Tigers fan. I take that rivalry seriously: If anyone
asks me how open-minded I can be, I point out with a straight face that some of
my best friends root for the Yankees.
But I side with the Yankees' management on one point, which is that the iPad
is more like a notebook computer than a mobile phone. If anything, slate-type
devices are the future of portable computing, though they still need some work.
(For example, I wanted to use the iPad to write this column from a park bench,
but the skies were clear and I've learned the hard way that the iPad hates
Longer battery life and touch-screen technology aren't responsible for
opening up this range of possibilities; it's the solid-state hard drive, or SSD.
No ifs, ands or buts about it, when flash memory went from being a place to
park bootstrap code to a practical replacement for the hard disk, everything
I agree with my eWEEK colleague Wayne Rash that cost is the main obstacle to
general adoption of SSDs. But I wonder how long that will last.
It's true that mechanical hard drives are currently the best value for
money. According to my local source for computer parts, a 160GB SSD
costs about 10 times as much as a conventional hard drive of the same capacity.
But that's today, and the cash difference is only about $400. Does anyone
believe that this gap can't be closed dramatically in five years?
Look at what happened during the recent television wars. In 2002,
conventional CRT units were still widely
available; today, you can barely give them away. It's hardly far-fetched to say
the conventional hard disk is likely to go the way of the CRT
I know that the next portable I purchase is going to have an SSD
instead of rotating brown matter, but I have a couple of years to decide
whether that machine will be a notebook or a slate. Fortunately, that choice
can wait for the future.