Saturday, January 30, 2010

The future is here at last!

Years ago when I first became a member of the, well, cult of Apple, their keynote speeches and product unveilings didn't see to get much fanfare. In contrast, the introduction of the iPad this week seemed to be all that everyone was talking about - both online and in the real world.

Although in hindsight this could be because I spend a disproportionate amount of my time with tech heads and Star Trek fans.

Either way, the iPad, eh? This was probably the strangest product launch that Apple have mounted in recent years because everyone seemed to know in advance that a tablet computer was coming, and everyone seemed to expect it to be the most remarkable device known to man (it'll have an OLED screen, front and rear video cameras, solar panels, holographic displays, be able to make the tea, replace my wife, etc); in contrast, the reception afterwards seems to be something along the lines of … well, disappointment.

Unless you're me.

A few years back I came *this* close to buying a 12 inch Apple Powerbook, not to replace my iMac, but to give me the opportunity to do computery stuff on the move. I ultimately didn't buy one because a) they discontinued it before I had the chance, and b) I actually only really wanted a word processor, and spending 8-900 quid on a laptop just so I could tap out one of my inane little stories while sat in Starbucks at lunchtime seemed a little excessive. Since then I've often looked adoringly at the new Macbooks, but they're still a bit expensive for my needs, and I really don't want to lug a lappy around all the time, even a svelte one like the Macbook Air.

Somewhere around the time that the 12 inch Powerbook was discontinued and the first iPhone was introduced, I happened to remark that a slightly larger touchscreen device with a built-in word processor would pretty much be the answer to my prayers - not least because it would have the added bonus of looking like something off Star Trek - and lo and behold, that's exactly what Apple introduced this week.

It's like they read my mind. Wait - was that one of the functions the iPad was predicted to have?

That being the case, I'm understandably somewhat excited at the prospect of getting my grubby little mitts on one. Over the last couple of days I've spent a great deal of time reading everything I can find about the iPad, and discussing it at length with the aforementioned tech heads and Star Trek fans, and apparently I'm one of the few that desperately wants needs one in my life. Most of the complaints I've heard centre on the fact that the iPad doesn't have a camera in it. The absence of one didn't actually register with me until someone pointed it out the first time, but quite frankly I'm happy to go without. I can't imagine holding a 10 inch tablet up to take a candid snap of my chums, nor can I foresee a time when I'd want to video chat in public; quite frankly I hate using my iPhone to make calls in public (particularly when I'm using the mic on the headphones - I just look like I'm talking to myself), and the thought of gurning at an iPad while sat at a table in Starbucks horrifies me. Not to mention that the phone networks would probably collapse if we all started video chatting.

So, no camera - I'm fine with that.

Another complaint focuses on the virtual keyboard, because some old-fashioned people say they won't be able to touch-type. Didn't we have these sort of complaints when the iPhone first came out? Don't we all get along with that teeny-tiny virtual keyboard now? Why yes, yes we do. So imagine how we'll get along with a bigger version - just about fine, I'm guessing. As an aside, how long until Apple replaces their standard keyboard with some sort of multi-touch panel? It would kind of make sense … the current keyboards for iMacs have really low profile keys, much lower than the previous gen ones. It's like they're preparing us. It would make sense for Apple too - they wouldn't have to produce keyboard variations for countries like China and Japan because you'd just be able to reconfigure the touchscreen. Simple - and very Star Trek-like (WIN!).

Some people have also complained about the fact that if you watch a widescreen movie on the iPad you'll have black bars across the top and bottom of the screen. Erm, so what were you expecting? A tablet computer with a 16:9 screen? A long, thin tablet computer!? Don't be ridiculous. The shape and size of the iPad screen is the best compromise for a device intended for so many different purposes.

Finally, anyone who complains about the iPad having limited functionality, or simply being a bigger iPod Touch, just think back to the early days of the iPhone - y'know, those dark times before the app store, for example - and remember how the device has been enhanced since then. I have no doubt that Apple will continuously introduce new and improved functionality for the iPad via software updates, just as they have done for the iPhone over the last few years. Patience, young padawans.

Anyway, having dismissed those issues, and based on the knowledge that Apple have clearly designed this device JUST FOR ME, let's look at some of the things I'm really looking forward to trying out on the iPad. It's pretty much a given that all the Mail/Safari/iTunes/iPhoto/iPhone app functions have great appeal, but to be honest Pages from the iWork suite is the obvious draw for me, because I love Pages on my iMac (so much more user friendly than Word), and I love the idea of being able to write in Pages while I'm out and about. I'm particularly pleased by the fact that you'll be able to download each component of iWork separately and for a reasonable price; I honest can't think of a single time when I've used Numbers or Keynote, so it's pretty darn nice of Apple to give me the option not to purchase them.

The real surprise, however, is the iBook functionality. I think we all guessed before the unveiling that the Apple tablet would have an ebook reader (in addition to being able to wash my car, bring about world peace, and make a swell roast dinner), but I genuinely had no interest in this until I saw the keynote. If you've been unfortunate enough to engage me in conversation about eBooks you'll know - after being subjected to a lengthy rant - that I'm no fan of them (choice phrases include "well books never run out of power," "there's a reason books have lasted thousands of years," and "books smell nice"), but Apple's take on the experience has piqued my interest, both casually and professionally.

As a reader, I can honestly say I can't foresee a time when I will abandon traditional books, because I love them, not just for their content but also for the way they look and feel. I love seeing loads of books lined up on a shelf; I have no real allegiance to shiny plastic discs containing music and films, but a nicely-designed book is, to me, like a piece of art. That said, the way eBooks are presented on the iPad looks neat and probably comes as close as we're going to get to replicating the look of a book in a digital format. Basically what I'm saying is that I wouldn't be averse to reading something on the iPad. Maybe the iBookStore will become the 'go-to place' for finding long out of print gems? Given the choice between reading an out of print book in a digital version or not at all, I'll take the digital version.

Professionally, the prospect of the iBookStore has me excited for the opportunities it will present to my own cheeky little publishing venture, Spark Books (join the Facebook fanpage here). It would be arrogant of me to assume that just because I might not necessarily want to read something as an eBook that others won't too. What I've got to bear in mind is that because the iBookStore uses the ePub format it'll actually be reasonably easy to create an eBook version, and the store will also give us a nice 'n easy means of distribution. That being the case, I've decided that everything Spark Books does will also be available as an eBook on the iBookStore (we just need to get on and do something now).

So to sum it up, yes, I'm eagerly anticipating the introduction of the iPad. I'll be able to read, write, watch movies, and, yes, even compose blog posts on the go (no more excuses for my pitiful output of late). I've already decided that I want the 64gb wi-fi model (you can never have too much memory, and I don't need the 3G one - I'm pretty sure I'll always be able to hot-foot it into a wi-fi spot when I need to). Come the end of March, there's no doubt that if you want me, you'll be able to find me pitching a tent, both literally and figuratively, outside the nearest Apple store.


Inexplicable DeVice said...

Oh, Apple. Is there no end to the iCrap you'll churn out?

I don't mean to be a negative nelly from Sector 2, but I just don't get it. Plus, it's fun to berate something for no particular reason.

I'm too bitter, aren't I?

* returns to rocking chair and mad cackling *

Tim said...

Yes, you are far too bitter. Are you not thinking that iPad means I'll be available online far more often than I am now?

Bigger picture man, bigger picture!

Inexplicable DeVice said...

Ah, you're right! Plus, when you're out and about iPadding (or whatever it's called), you'll be too engrossed in what you're doing to notice me stalking you. I should be able to get *much* closer now!

Mwah hah hah hah haa!

Tim said...

I do believe the iPad has tricorder functionality to detect you, and deflector screens to repel you.