When Steve Jobs revealed Apple’s latest product, the iPad, on Jan 27, no one was surprised. For months, online forums, blogs, newspapers, and magazines had discussed rumors of Apple designing a tablet device; so frequently, in fact, that it soon only became a matter of when they would announce it. Most people expected that the device would be as revolutionary as the iPod was when it was released in 2001, or as innovative as the iPhone was when Steve Jobs pulled it out of his pocket in January 2007. Just as the iPod changed the music business forever and the iPhone redefined the premium phone, so too would Apple’s tablet computer transform everything.

However, most people did not bother to define what exactly Apple’s tablet would transform. Would it run a reduced version of Mac OS X and blow all other touch screen computers out of the water? Would it be primarily an eBook, newspaper, and magazine reader, simultaneously saving the publishing industry and trouncing Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader? Would it be just a gaming and media device, completely outclassing Sony and Nintendo’s handheld gaming systems?

However, once the iPad was announced, many Apple devotees, blinded by their unrealistic expectations, complained that it wasn’t innovative, but just a big iPod touch. What they didn’t realize was that the iPad was innovative precisely because it wasn’t designed for them to begin with.

Apple’s reasoning for creating the iPad is rooted in hardware and software platform it began to develop in 1989. The Newton OS was an operating system that served as the software platform for Apple’s tablet computer, called the MessagePad. The whole Newton project was an attempt to revolutionize personal computing, serving as the basis for a whole line of mobile products targeted primarily at businesses.

The three major programs Newton Devices were bundled with closely resemble essential application in current mac products: Notes (named exactly the same today), Names (a contacts program that is similar to the iPhone’s Address Book program), and Dates (a calendar program that is the precursor for the iPhone’s program calendar).

After a decade-long hiatus from Apple, Jobs returned as CEO in the late 90s, instilling a bold new vision into the company. Unfortunately for the Newton, the devices it powered were not part of the vision, since Jobs permanently shut down further development of the stagnating Newton project. However, Jobs never relinquished the dream of developing simple computing device on his own terms, resulting first in the release of the iPhone, and now the iPad.

Just as with the Newton devices 20 years ago, Apple is attempting once again to revolutionize personal computing. This time around, Apple’s target audience are not those willing to endure sleet, rain, and snow to get their hands on the latest product update, but those who find using computers a daunting enough task to begin with.

Apple has been wise to recognize that a significant portion of the population is far from tech savvy. As college students, we may think that everyone knows how to surf the web, but many people, for example, are still confused about the difference between a search field and a browser’s address bar. Instead of just striving to create the fastest, smallest technology, Apple is now trying to create products that are as user friendly as possible.

How did Apple formulate their modern vision of the idiot-proof computer? The iPhone can be seen as the first step on this process towards a new standard for personal computing. The operating system on the iPad is just a slightly modified version of that which is used on the iPhone. Unlike other tablet computers currently on the market, which run software based on a point-and-click interface (which is inconvenient for a device that uses a touchscreen as opposed to a mouse), the iPad will be intuitive and responsive since its operating system was built from the ground up to be manipulated with fingers.

By using the iPhone OS in the iPad, Apple has also avoided the major pitfalls faced companies trying to release new operating systems: lack of a significant library of software, and the distinct possibility that consumers will not take well to the new system. Not only will all current and future iPhone apps work on the iPad, guaranteeing strong software support the minute it launches, but Apple already knows that, for the most part, consumers have responded well to the iPhone’s touch interface. In fact, the iPhone sold well even before it allowed third party application development, partially because of Apple’s good reputation and partially because the iPhone OS worked so well that consumers were willing to buy it even without strong software support.

iPhone applications can be blown up to double their pixel size to better fit the iPad’s 10 inch screen. While this is a decent interim solution, text-heavy programs will probably be blurry after being stretched to double their size. That is why Apple released a kit to developers just as they announced the iPad: now they can redesign current programs for the iPad and create new ones meant just for the new device.

In addition, Apple has designed the iPad’s software so that the user does not have to deal with saving files somewhere in a file hierarchy. For the iWork applications that Apple has designed for the iPad, which include a word processor (Pages), presentation software (Keynote), and a spreadsheet program (Numbers), any documents created are saved within the apps themselves.

Rounding out its suite of online media stores, Apple has created a new online bookstore and their own iBook format. Thus, Apple is not only advertising the iPad as a simplistic computing experience, but also as a more feature-rich alternative to the Kindle—the iPad has applications and extensive media support, features that the Kindle currently lacks.

However, Apple has not yet completed the perfect simplistic computing system. The current iteration of the iPad does not allow for multitasking, which means two apps cannot be open at the same time unless you’re using Apple’s own applications, which are Mail, iTunes, Calendar, the iWork apps, and perhaps a couple of others. That means if you’re talking to someone in a chat program, you can’t keep that open while you look at a webpage. This also means that you can’t type up a document while you listen to a track on the Pandora app. While multitasking won’t necessarily matter to people who want a barebones computer that just works, it is still a crucial oversight that hamper the iPad’s productivity.

In addition, there is no Flash on the iPad, which means many websites, such as youtube, that use Flash content cannot be rendered on the iPhone. Apple did not include Flash on the iPad (and the iPhone, by the way) for a variety of reasons that could warrant a whole new article entirely. In short though, Flash is one of the leading causes of crashes on Apple’s computers, and since the iPhone OS is based on Mac OS X flash would presumably cause the iPhone and the iPad to crash as well. Flash also uses a lot of system resources, which would result in lower battery lives for the iPhone and iPad. Nevertheless, the lack of Flash certainly weakens Apple’s claim that the iPad provides the best web experience of any device, since the Internet is still largely dominated by sites dependent on Flash.

However, even if the iPad was designed with non-tech savvy consumers in mind, it could still be an ideal product for students. But how do students justify purchasing a less powerful, less feature-rich device that will largely duplicate the functions of laptops that many students already own? Students rely on technology to be more productive, and so any technology either must be extremely efficient or perfectly serve all of their diverse needs.

While every student works differently, let’s assume that there are three major functions that the iPad must excel at if it is to be ideal for student use: book reading, note-taking, and paper and project creation. The iPad comes very close to achieving this criteria, but its limitations prevent it from becoming an ideal device for student use.

Even though the iPad could prove to be an excellent electronic book reader, it is currently unclear how many books the iPad will have in its book store, and whether it will carry all of the textbooks a student would need. Therefore, the iPad may have limited value for students if the availability of their required books is limited. There is even debate over whether the iPad would provide a pleasurable reading experience: many people believe that the Kindle’s e-ink technology is better suited for longer reading times than the iPad’s backlit screen.

As mentioned earlier, the iPad will be able to use reputable iPhone notebook programs, and therefore be quite effective at note-taking from a software standpoint. However, many students may not be comfortable with the iPad’s touchscreen keyboard, and so may type less effectively and accurately. In addition, the iPad’s current lack of multitasking capability will require a student to awkwardly transition from the iPad’s book reader to a note taking program, which could result in reduced productivity.

The iPad’s iWork suite of programs will allow students to write papers and create slideshow presentations, the iPad’s iWork suite will cover these tasks. However, just like with note-taking, a laptop is more effective for these tasks than an iPad due to the iPad’s lack of a physical keyboard. Also, the iPad cannot plug into a printer directly since it has no USB ports, so the only way to print documents from the device would be to email them to another computer or print using a wireless printer.

Given its relative weakness in most of these criteria, as well all of the iPad’s limitations if used as a primary computing device, a laptop is currently a better option for students. However, as the iPad gains features in the future, such as the ability to multitask, it will begin to become an extremely viable productivity platform and media device. What is important to remember is that, just like the Newton and iPhone were stepping stones on Apple’s path towards creating the iPad, so too is the iPad merely one evolutionary step on a journey that will likely revolutionize the way consumers interact with computers.

  • Matty

    Nice article, but no YouTube on the iPhone? Go get an iPhone and have a look at the apps. YouTube is there, without flash, but it’s definitely available.

  • Jamal

    “which means many websites, such as youtube, that use Flash content cannot be rendered on the iPhone”
    -absolutely horrible example, since youtube is one of the few apps that comes with the iphone. Reference hulu or one of the many gaming sites that use flash instead.

  • Ben Jackson

    Actually, Flash is kept off the iPhone OS because of other reasons. More to do with Adobe and it being a proprietary piece of software, instead of an Open Standard. You need to look into things a little deeper as these issues are not as you state them. Apple is trying to bring open standards to the internet and everything else, so that everything works across everything. Flash isn’t an open standard. If they wanted they could make it work and could work with Adobe to make it work without crashing I’m sure.

    It’s got nothing to do with that.

    We need open standards. Microsoft for years has tried to have closed, proprietary standards that keeps things controlled. Apple is trying to stay away from that, and only have control over things when necessary – such as the App Store, to avoid apps getting on your phone or iPad that would cause crashes.

    One other thing, you said YouTube relied on Flash? Wrong. As on the iPhone, you’ll be able to view YouTube so saying you can’t is just really really ignorant or blatant FUD.

    Almost everyone currently relying on Flash is coming to see it’s a stupid thing to rely on and is moving to open standards, just as YouTube have done.

    Flash is dead. Open standards on the web, easier to code, easier to view, more efficient. As a Flash programmer from way back, I would never want to go back to it. Ergh.

    Also, the iPad does have USB, just with an adapter, I’m 95% sure. And you can print to any printer connected to the network I’d assume, just by connecting via wireless. Nobody doesn’t have wireless anymore. That’s how I print from my laptop. Why not the iPad?! Your assumptions are just crazy. Maybe it is missing printing in the first software release, but it wouldn’t be long before that was rectified. You can’t have iWork on there if you can’t print, that’s silly.

    And incidentally, when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod for the first time it actually received a very lukewarm reception. People have short memories. It took a long time before it actually did anything to ‘revolutionize’ music. A LONG time. Same with the iPhone. When it was first announced EVERYONE was talking about its flaws. No 3rd party apps was a big one. Look how things changed in only a year, once they launched the app store, and the iPhone had already been a hit.

    You’ll see the same with the iPad, and as it grows and Apple adds new features and yes, multi-tasking (it won’t be long for the iPhone either – it’s just about ensuring your phone runs smoothly and doesn’t eat up your battery, it’s not like it isn’t capable of doing it. Just like with the App Store and with Push Notifications, Apple will find a way that is good for the user).

    iPad will revolutionise things, it just isn’t able to be seen by people like you. Just like nobody saw it with the iPhone or iPod. The iPod put an industry that was failing miserably in the battle against piracy of music, and gave it new life with new technology. The same will be done for content in newspapers, magazines and books. You’ll see. It won’t be long before you use an iPad for all your textbooks and taking all your notes etc. Just wait to see what developers do with Apps on it.

    You ain’t seen nothing yet.

    Commenting on it in any negative way 1. before it’s been released and 2. before we’ve seen the full understanding of the product (just like you couldn’t understand the full product of the iPod or iPhone before music or apps, or after they had had a few updates of the software).

    iPad will get very quick software updates like the iPhone did to fix any missing features, but trust Apple to do what has worked for them in the past. This strategy works – don’t offer every feature under the sun, and see how users use it and what ends up being important for the growth of the platform.

    My dad recently bought home some fake iPhones from China, with every feature you could want plus more. He was so excited because he had no idea how rubbish they were and thought they might be as good as an iPhone or better, so ended up buying 2 (and being ripped off) – all because the specs were good. It had a 10 megapixel camera and 2 SIM CARDS, and a FM radio and a removable battery and an SD card slot and all that. One smashed in his pocket on the plane, and when I saw the other one I pointed out the differences and once he played with my real iPhone, he got it. So he sold it on eBay and bought himself a real iPhone!

    Specs are nothing. User experience is everything. Developers will do the rest. The possibilities with the iPad are endless. Faster processors, new software updates, cameras for iChat….it’s gonna be very exciting.

  • Ben Jackson

    And to say that Flash is part of the web so therefore iPhone’s and iPad’s don’t provide ‘all’ of the internet is very false. Flash is NOT part of the web, the web consists of all the approved open standards, and flash is NOT one of them. It is quite right to say that Flash has no place on a device that is geared to display the REAL web. Flash is not part of that, despite the number of people who use it.

  • Chris Graves

    I have no idea what planet Ben is living on.

    “The web consists of all approved open standards”… seriously ben? Seriously?

    The FLV format is the most popular video format on the web.

    Steve Jobs couldn’t even do the iPad keynote speech without coming across multiple “missing flash plugin” icons.

    Flash is everywhere. I love my iPhone, but the lack of Flash is hands down it’s biggest limitation.

  • aconsideration

    What’s the impact of iPad on applications sales?

    Currently Apple is making about US$ 100 mn. quarterly from AppStore…

    for more info visit aconsideration.com

  • Alex Wilkinson

    To all those who commented: I appreciate your responses, and am gratified that people read my article and were engaged by the topic.

    To those who mentioned that youtube actually is on the iPhone, you’re absolutely right. I just used a bad example of a website that uses flash. I believe my point still stands that if someone were to go to the youtube website through the safari browser on either the iPhone or iPad, then it would not render correctly. But it’s true that there is a program on the iPhone, which will be on the iPad, that allows for viewing youtube videos. This is different from the website though, but it’s a rather fine distinction.

    Also another point of interest on this topic: youtube is currently testing their website with HTML5 instead of flash. I’m viewing youtube in this way, and I find it much better than using the website with flash. Hopefully, outside of constraints in advertising (the ads in hulu videos currently depend on flash, I believe), other websites will begin switching over to HTML5 soon. Virgin America, for example, has already done this with their website.

    In addition, there are also rumors that Hulu is creating a program for the iPad which would allow people to watch videos from hulu on the device, though I’m not sure whether this program would work on the iPhone also or if it will only be developed using the iPad developer kit. Nonetheless, this is one step in the right direction towards a transition away from flash, which will ultimately be good for everyone.

  • Stan Kossen

    Good article, except for the title. I reacted to the expression, “…just a big iPod.”

    I’ve had an iPod Touch for a couple of years, and it is one of the best gadgets I have ever owned–and I’ve owned a lot of them.

    I never go anywhere without my iPod Touch, and I find it more practical than my MacPro or iMac.
    So for me it will be an advantage if the iPad is “just a big iPad.”

  • Stan Kossen

    Oops. The last sentence should have read, “…if the iPad is “just a big iPod.”

  • Alex Wilkinson


    I actually agree with you, I think the iPod Touch is an amazing device for many reasons (I have an iPhone myself). The title was more a reference to the reaction many tech bloggers had to the iPad, as well as something friends have said to me when they refer to the iPad, not a comment on the Touch itself.

  • Steve Jobs

    This article could have just been 150 words. The iPad is just a bigger iPod. Suckers who buy it are just spending more on “more of the same thing. It is a waste of time to surf. People just waste time.

  • Clara Jobs

    Steve, what are you doing on the internet trolling?! You wait ’til your father gets home…

  • J.Quire

    Sure it’s a big iPod Touch and a swimming pool is a big bath. I think that I’m just about ready to install a pool!

  • Diet Coke

    swimming pool is a big bath tub… hahahahaha it all makes sense now!

  • Suzabelle

    Does anyone else think it’s odd that everyone accepts fondling inanimate objects? Or carrying on private conversations in public? Seems kinda creepy to me, I mean, where is this all headed anyhow… guess I’m referring more to the iphones and other touch screen devices. I really really miss regular telephones that you could cradle with your shoulder if you had to stir a pot at the same time – definitely sexier than having to go find a headset and plug it into the cell phone and then deal with all the annoying little buttons.
    And no, I’m not a technophobe, I was using the mac way before anyone even knew what a “font” was. C’est la vie..

  • Jordan

    I realize this comment is kind of late, but now that the iPad is actually OUT and I can speak to it without speculation as I bought the 3G version, I feel it proper to comment…

    I own an iPod touch and it’s great for what it does, but reading documents and websites on it is a pain. You’re tethered to WiFi availability and if you don’t want to rely on that then your only option is to set up a personal WiFi hotspot using something like a MiFi device from Verizon or Sprint which is going to lock you in to a 2 year contract and rates around $60 a month.

    The 3G iPad has internet access built in and the unlimited rate is 1/2 of what you’d pay with a MiFi device. The 250 MB option is 1/4 what you’d pay. Over a 2 year span that’s a significant chunk of change.

    This is not to say that there’s not a place for the iPod. When I’m driving or working it’s much easier to listen to music with a small device than a large one.

    When I’m out and about writing (as I’m doing now) I use my netbook. Sorry Apple, there is no substitute for a physical keyboard.

    But in instances where I’m at a Motel and they want to charge $7.99 per day to use their WiFi or if I’m in a park relaxing and there’s no WiFi around? The iPad is ideal.

    I never wanted the iPhone… I wanted a phone-less iPhone and the iPad is that device. Moreso because I can now read books from Apple, Barnes and Noble and Amazon on one device without being subject to 3 hardware platforms and 3 DRM systems.

    To the eInk fanboys who go “But… but… eyestrain! Sunlight! Hard to read!” I have to say… HORSE HOCKEY!

    In the four days I’ve owned my iPad I’ve used it at a state park on a sunny day and downtown in broad daylight. The screen is easy to read. The only problem is reflectivity and that’s easy to get used to.

    As a professional I’m staring at one kind of LCD or another ALL DAY and have never had eyestrain issues. One more screen isn’t going to magically tip me over the top.

    Is it perfect? No. iTunes for Windows still sucks and unless you know the name of what you’re looking for the App Store is still pretty much useless – Hey Apple! Give us a WEB interface to the store all ready!

    But that’s not the fault of the hardware.