Some Final (for now) Thoughts About the iPad

I swear to heaven that this will be the last thing I write about the iPad until the other side of Labor Day, unless I’m specifically asked. (Even I’m getting tired of the subject.) Could Apple have developed the iPad without the experience gained during the three years that the

I swear to heaven that this will be the last thing I write about the iPad until the other side of Labor Day, unless I’m specifically asked. (Even I’m getting tired of the subject.) Could Apple have developed the iPad without the experience gained during the three years that the iPhone has been in the market? Of course not, as the simple mental exercise of switching the device histories will demonstrate. Imagine if the iPad had been released three years ago, with a fixed application set and only 8GB of memory; it would have been more expensive than it is today, and sales likely would have been nowhere what they are to date. Or go back two years, at a time when the iPhone had a limited pool of third-party apps, and an economic disaster was in the making. There’s no question in my mind that Apple’s timing for the iPad is nothing short of brilliant. Yet for all of the iPad’s curb appeal, it remains a first-generation device with many limitations. Some of those are easily rectified; for example, although I don’t expect to see an iPad with camera in time for the holiday season, that feature screams “Class of 2011” gifting. Likewise, the application base for the device will expand rapidly, and that’s what will make the device useful for many people. (I confess to wishing that during my testing I had a budget of $100-$200 for iPad applications, and I’m sure some people will spend that much per month on them.) But there are other issues that may not be so easy to fix, such as the device’s propensity to overheat when used outdoors on a sunny day. A fan really isn’t a practical option, and the possibility of Apple adding ventilating slots to the iPad is equally unlikely. Then there are issues that are somewhat outside of Apple’s control, such as its ongoing partnership with AT&T. Although I don’t want to belabor this point too much, my field tests around downtown SF demonstrated that the carrier’s 3G network can go from just dandy to bloody awful, at the drop of a hat. This isn’t a matter of speed, but as I found, one of congestion and coverage. It’s unclear whether the iPad as currently engineered can take advantage of the next-generation data network that AT&T swears it’s going to begin rolling out this year. If we have to wait for iPad Mark II to get HSPA+ support, I see a healthy market for used iPads starting sometime next spring. (I will believe in LTE when I see it, but I would be shocked if Apple’s future plans for iPad - assuming that this unholy partnership with Ma Bell continues - don’t include the carrier’s promised 4G technology.)

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