Apple iPad — 5 setbacks and two show stoppers

Many Apple followers are proclaiming the iPad to be the gadget of the future. I agree, except for one thing…

The iPad’s design is elegant, the size seems about right for a device designed to surf the Web and handle e-mail and e-book reading. I really want to buy one…

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Unfortunately, there are a handful of shortcomings with the iPad that I have to think about before I buy the tablet.

No video camera: The lack of a camera surprised me–it almost seems like an intentional omission, so that Apple has something neat to show in “iPad 2.0.” A device with a large, gorgeous, full color screen, a 1GHz CPU, wireless and 3G Internet access…and no way to hold a video chat? (Or audio chat for that matter–I don’t think there’s a microphone, either. Perhaps there’s one in the headphones, though.)

With a video camera, the iPad could definitely replace the Mac laptop in our family room…but without it, that means I’ll need to lug out the laptop anytime grandma wants a video chat with her grandkids. If I have to do that anyway, I might as well just use the laptop in the first place.

No multitasking: If there were a video camera and you could have a video chat with someone, it would be very useful to leave the iPad version of iChat running in the background–otherwise, you’d be quitting and launching it all the time to check if grandma had arrived yet or not. Notifications are nice, but not nearly as nice as simply having the window there all the time.

It’d be pretty simple to design an interface to allow toggling between two running apps; some variant on Exposé, or a three-finger twist-swipe. I’m not talking about full OS X-style multitasking (though that’d be great), but just the ability to keep a key app or two open in the background.

Support for Flash: Let me start by saying this…I have a strong dislike for Flash in general. The fact that it takes up to 80 percent of the CPU in a quad-core 2.66GHz Mac Pro to render a 400×300 Flash game just boggles my mind–full OpenGL games running at 1920×1200 often do so with lower CPU utilization! So yes, I know Flash is a CPU hog. I know it kills battery life. But like it or hate it, Flash is still a large part of the Web experience today for many people–and not just for those seeking Flash games.

Even during casual browsing, the odds are very good that you’ll run into a Flash-enhanced (and I use that term loosely) site at some point–heck, it even happened to Steve Jobs today during his presentation! At one point, while a page was loading, the “missing plug-in” icon appeared where a Flash movie would have been playing.

As much as I hate Flash, not supporting it on a device marketed as providing the ultimate portable Web experience is a glaring oversight. You can buy a full-featured (PC or Linux) notebook for less than the cost of a high-end iPad, and for that, you’d get full support for the Web and all its conventions–even those that Apple doesn’t want to support.

Bite the bullet, Apple, and find a way to enable Flash on the iPad. I don’t like it, I really don’t want it, but there are times I want to view a site that uses it, so I need it in order to make the iPad fully usable as the ultimate Web surfing machine.

True GPS only available only with 3G model: This bit should be footnoted with an I think disclaimer, because Apple’s iPad specs page isn’t very clear about this. However, based on comparing the Location section of that page to the same section of the iPhone specs page, I think the 3G chipset is the same as the one in the iPhone–which means you’d get the true GPS chip with the 3G-enabled iPad.

So basically, if you want to take full advantage of those gorgeous maps, you’ll need to pony up the $130 3G fee–because that fee buys you not only access to the AT&T 3G network, but a true GPS chip as well. Without the 3G chip, you get only an approximate location based on wireless device locations and a digital compass.

Video limitations: While the iPad can play 720p video, it can only output (at best) 576p and 480p–so no using your iPad to send the output of a 720p video to your high definition television. Related to this issue is the puzzling resolution of 1024×768–in a world where everything is headed to widescreen format, the iPad is reverting to the older 4×3 standard. Sure, it means apps that are run in double-size will fit the screen better, it means thicker black bars on pretty much every movie you watch.

To buy or not to buy

As I said up front, I really do like the new iPad. I’d love to buy one; it looks like an excellent surfing, e-mailing, and movie-watching machine. However, there are two show stoppers on the above list that mean I won’t be purchasing the first-generation iPad: the lack of a video camera and chat capabilities, and the lack of Flash support.

Without those two things at least, I will be reaching for the laptop more often than not, so I might as well just keep using that for my casual Web, e-mail and video chatting needs. But with just a couple little tweaks, I can certainly see an iPad in my future.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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