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Scott's Column
Apple iPad After the Storm, The New Computing Eco-System

April 1, 2010
By Scott Lewis

This month I am going to take another look at the iPad before it goes on sale, and I will tell you why it will be a huge success. I also continue last month's computer eco-system with a two phase approach to a new eco-system.

Current Topics:

Apple iPad - After he Storm

Now that we have all had time to ponder Apple's iPad I thought it was a good time to take an objective look at this device... just before it hits store shelves.

Back in November 2009 and February 2010 just before the launch event I wrote what I expected/hoped with the iPad. Right after the event I published a list of Hits & Misses. All of this was very emotional. Clearly I had hopes for a tablet that could be used like a laptop, but with a screen I could draw on. So everything I wrote was tainted.

Now that the idea of the iPad has sunk in I want to take an objective look at the device before it hits the streets. This is largely a chance to set people's expectations, because clearly from all the pundits and bloggers there is/was a lot of expectations for this device.

Let's start with dismissing most of what people think is missing from the iPad:

Camera (front and rear): I kind of get the camera that points at the user for video conferencing, but why a camera on the back. Who is going to hold this thing up and take a picture with it. Any lens that could fit in this device would be no better than the lenses in phones, so why bother. Apple does not want users of its equipment to look foolish, and holding this thing up to take a snapshot would look foolish. Video conferencing is just about as bad. Any video conference while you were hand holding this thing would be terrible. Think about the person on the other end dealing with all the shaking of the image. It's not practical. You would have to have a stand for the device to do video conferencing and a stand is not included with the product. People were clearly expecting too much from this device.

Removable Battery: I read this a lot; people complained this device does not come with a user replaceable battery. Are you kidding. Apple recently switched their laptops over to non replaceable batteries. Why would they suddenly reverse that trend here. People should not have expected this.

No USB Port: This one I get. I would prefer a single USB port to hook up a camera for transferring pictures than have to buy a special adapter. This is the one thing I think Apple did miss the mark on. But this is also not much of an issue. Think about what devices you would consider attaching to this and you will understand why it does not have a USB port. Yes, a cheaper camera connection would be nice, but not a show stopper. They have a dock for a keyboard and Bluetooth for a mouse (which you don't need with a finger based UI). Speaker companies are going to tweak their products so the iPad can dock in them for music playback, picture viewing and recharging. It would be clunky at best to hook up an external DVD drive to try and watch a movie, but that goes against Apple's video content strategy of buying all your content from the Apple Store. So in reality there is little to no need for a USB port.

No SD Slot: I get this one too, but like the USB... how much do you really need this. How much content do you really need to keep on a device that is supposed to be a casual use device for web surfing, e-mail, texting and running simple apps? By design you will be syncing this device with a computer for the bulk of its content... or getting it delivered directly over WiFi. So why do you need an SD slot? You may want it, but you don't need it.

No Multi-tasking: This is the one I sit on both sides of the fence. I can see using this device for e-mail and still want to play music in the background or easily switch between e-mail and web browsing. However, as a casual device I can see how you don't really need multi-tasking. The iPad is supposed to do basic tasks... one at a time. If you need to do 4 or 5 things at once that is what a laptop is for. I can see using this to surf the web from my couch while watching TV. Taking a little extra time to switch tasks is fine since my mind is being occupied with the TV while using it.

Not HD: The device is only partly a video playback device, so it does not bother me that it is not a true HD device. With the memory it has you won't be loading much HD content on it anyway. And remember, most HD content is pretty heavily compressed even though it is at a high pixel resolution. True HD content would suck up more memory than you can shake a stick at. Blu-Ray movies are on a 50 GB disc... for 1 movie. The screen size and resolution should be very good for web surfing, though some sites might be pinched by the 1024 width. With finger scrolling it will be easier to navigate for width and height  than it would with a mouse and small scroll bars. Just touch the page and move it around... or pinch the screen to scale it quickly. HD is not an issue for the intended use of this device.

No Stylus: This was the number one thing I wanted on this device. But I understand why it is not included. This is a consumer electronics device aimed at the iPhone and iPod Touch crowd. Those people don't care about a stylus. They like using their finger to control their current devices plus like Steve Jobs said, "75 million people already know how to use the iPad." He is right. That does not mean I don't hope that they do add stylus support and Photoshop creates an iPad version of its software for us photographers and artists.

No Mac OS X: Since this device had to run all the apps in the App Store it is reasonable that it uses the iPhone OS and not OS X. If it ran OS X it would have to be powerful enough to run all OS X software... like Photoshop, Aperture, Final Cut, etc. This is a consumer device designed to appeal to the masses, not photographers/videographers/designers/artists. It does not need OS X to do that. People get their apps, and developers can tweak their apps to work better on the big screen.

Memory: A lot of people have dinged the iPad for not having enough memory. Yes, the memory is a bit low. I used to have a Zune 80 which had more memory than any of the iPads. However, I could not use all that memory at once. People are not going to be putting their entire music and video collections on this device. They will sync up some of their music and some of their video content to watch something relevant. I now have a Zune HD with 32 GB of memory and I have over 2500 songs on it and still store at least one season of a TV show on it at a time. That is enough considering I charge it up every night and could sync it anytime it is charging. People will have to keep tabs on what they sync (especially the 16 GB version) but this is nothing new for the iPhone crowd. There is enough memory on the 32 & 64 GB versions to load thousands of songs, a few movies for a road trip & plenty of iBooks for reading. How much memory do you think this needs. Remember, it is not trying to replace a computer, but be a larger consumer device than the iPod Touch. I don't think memory will be an issue, and memory will keep doubling every year anyway.

Target Audience

Let's step back a minute. Remember, Steve Jobs said 75 million people already know how to use the iPad. In that statement he is declaring the target audience for this product... iPhone and iPod Touch users looking for a larger device. In other words he is targeting the home market... exactly what I said they should do in my earlier writings.

The iPads is not targeting professional artists, web designers, photographers or any vertical markets. It is targeting average consumers that like expensive gadgets. This device is not for people that run Macs at work and are looking for a new toy to let there creative juices flow. It is aimed squarely at the teaming millions of people that just want a toy to surf the web, bang out quickie e-mails and text messages and play with simple apps that do simple tasks.

Oh... and it makes a pretty darn good e-Reader too, so watch out Kindle.

Success or Failure

The big question people are asking is whether the iPad will succeed where others have failed. What others? As I see it there are no others to compare it to. I have heard it compared to the Apple Newton. What? The Newton was outdone my the Palm PDA devices which morphed into... smart phones. So the iPhone already does what the Newton was supposed to do.

All previous tablet computers suffered from two problems: 1) They were too expensive for the consumer market, or 2) They sucked. It is as simple as that. Inexpensive tablets in the past used cheap displays to keep their costs down and the processors were slow as dirt. The iPad has a snappy processor that is running apps that were designed to run on a Phone's processor. Speed won't be an issue. Moore's Law has seen to the screen issue. The OLED screen of the iPad would have cost over $2,000 just a few short years ago. Now the screen comes with a "near" computer behind it. How cool is that. The only people that would shell out over $2000 for a tablet where the vertical markets. These professionals were getting them from their employers.

The iPad is truly a consumer market device... and for that it will succeed in spades.

If you think this device is too expensive at $500, then you have already forgotten the massive lines for the original iPhone that sold for $600... with a minimum $20/month fee. And the original iPhone didn't have any apps, no apps store, and yucky AT&T cellular service. Apps didn't come out until about a year later. The iPad already has the apps... from the iPhone. They released the development tools before the device is ready so there is time for programmers to build apps specifically designed for the iPad, and Apple already ported the iWork suite to it.

How can this device fail? It can't. Will it sell 75 million units. No. But it will sell millions. And the more it sells the more the competition will try to complete and the more Apple will improve it to keep the competition down.

And the consumer wins.

Conclusion

Steve Jobs said the iPad was supposed to bridge the gap between the iPhone and a laptop. It does just that.

Personally, I was hoping it would fit between my desktop and my phone, allowing me to skip a laptop. The iPad is not quite up to that task, but it is very close. When I look at all I do with a desktop... and then take a realistic look at how much of that I want in a tablet... the iPad meets at least 90% of what I need... and only missed a couple things I want.

Again... the iPad will succeed... and I want one.

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The New Computing Eco-System

Last month I went over my current computer setup, and mentioned that in one way or another I wanted to add a Mac to the mix, have a Win 7 PC and get a larger, higher resolution monitor. This month I would like to cover the steps I had originally planned for my hardware eco-system. I expected to do this in stages, due to hardware costs and such.

As you will recall from last month I have a desktop and a server. The desktop has two small hard drives and a 1.5 TB external drive. The server has 250 GB of space available as network storage for the entire house.

For Phase 1 I would like to add in the Win 7 PC planned in my November 2009 column and a Mac Mini. The hardware below does not reflect the high resolution monitor I would like to upgrade to.

Phase 1:

File/Print/Web server

250 GB is shared for critical file backups
Holds all install files
Hold all shared files (pictures, music, etc)
1.5 TB USB external drive
Holds all video files
Holds backup of all critical files from ALL PCs

Primary PC (Windows 7)

500 GB C: drive
Holds all music files
Holds all photo files (until we need more space)
Holds all critical files (backed up daily)
Includes Documents, Personal Files, Music, Pictures, Mail, etc.

Guinea Pig PC

120 GB C: drive
100 GB D: drive
Will be setup to dual boot XP/Vista/Win7/Linux/etc
Will not hold any critical files
Will not be backed up

Mac Mini

160 GB Drive
Will have minimal critical files (backed up daily)

Notice that I moved the 1.5 TB external drive to the server. At this point I would start to develop some kind of automated backup strategy. I would start with the Primary PC, then migrate that to all PCs and laptops in the house. Then I will backup the server's internal hard drives to the external hard drive.

The 1.5 TB drive will get full fast since it already holds all the video files. Some of the backup strategy here will require more disc space which leads to...

Phase 2:

File/Print/Web server

250 GB is shared for critical file backups
Holds all critical files (backup from all PCs)
Holds all install files
1.5 TB USB external drive
Will hold disc images of all PCs
Will be updated monthly if possible

Primary PC

500 GB C: drive
Holds all music files
Holds all critical files

Guinea Pig PC

120 GB C: drive
100 GB D: drive
Will be setup to dual boot XP/Vista/Win7/Linux/etc
Will not hold any critical files
Will not be backed up

Mac Mini

160 GB Drive
Will have minimal critical files backed up to server

Drobo

Minimum 4 GB of actual storage with as many drives as necessary
Will connect to the network directly through Drobo Share
Will backup all PCs files (critical files will also be backed up to server).
Will hold all photo files (backup of primary PC)
Will hold all music files (backup of primary PC)
Will hold all video files

1.5 TB USB external drive

This will be used for long term storage. It will only be powered up and connected when I am backing up to it or need to restore something.
Will backup all PCs critical files from the file server.
Will have disc images of all machines
Will have copy of all install files
Will have backup of all music files

The big hardware change here is the addition of a Drobo. This is a multi-drive box that allows you to have up to 4 hard drives in its case, and it will look to the computer like one large disc drive. The Drobo can be hooked directly to a network with a separate device called a Drobo Share, but I don't know if I will do that. The Drobo will provide backup of the all the PCs and the server. In fact, I expect to continue to backup each PC and laptop to the server's internal or external hard drive then backup the server to the Drobo. This means there are as many as three places for all files (the local copy, the server's copy and the Drobo's copy).

At this point I will want to look into imaging the machines. Imaging is taking a snapshot of the machine as a complete image, and backing up that image. If the machine ever loses everything you can use the image to reload the computer (or a replacement if necessary) with the image and be exactly where you were when the image was created, complete with all the applications that were installed when the image was made. These images will most likely be on an additional external hard drive attached to the server.

Once I get to this point I may want to think about backing up the Drobo. I know I am backup crazy. That may be true, but all this backup is on-site... in my house. If there were a fire or some kind of natural disaster I could still loose everything. I might want to have a set of important files off site. I could see using the extra external hard drive and leaving that at a relatives house, or even keep it at my desk at work. Just in case. But that sounds like we are getting into Phase 3 of the eco-system. Let's get through Phases 1 & 2 before we get too far ahead of myself.

If you read last month's issue with regards to the iMac, you can plug the iMac into Phase 1 & Phase 2 above by replacing both the Windows 7 PC and the Mac Mini. I am still on the fence with this. I still like the idea, but I don't know if I like spending $1,700 for an iMac that cannot be a hard core gaming machine.

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Conclusion

That's it for this month. I have a lot of stuff planned for the next few months. Time and money are getting tight, so we will have to plan carefully... which means good articles before spending money.

Stay tuned I think you will like what's coming in the next few months.

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