Apple iPad: Could Be Better

Apple unveiled its long-awaited and much-rumored tablet: iPad. My friend Yung thought the name was not the best choice but I am fairly certain that Apple’s iPad will become a revolutionary product and change the way we interact with a computer.

Not Just In Between: With the addition of the keyboard the iPad has genes designed to not just slide in between the iPhone and a MacBook but to eventually replace the MacBook. I think third party peripheral makers will take that 30-pin connection and add to the iPad all the functionality that it is currently missing relative to a MacBook: SD slot, USB ports, FireWire, Ethernet, etc. Apple’s decision to offer the iPad Keyboard Dock makes it fairly clear that you should be using the iPad not only when you’re mobile but when you’re at your desk, as a full-blown computer.

The iPad can do a lot of things but I’ll focus on the experience of reading books as many have expected this tablet to revolutionize the publishing industry.

Reading Books: The experience of reading an e-book using any e-reader with an E Ink technology screen is less than ideal. Here’s the simple reason why: you click a button to get to the next page and then the display does a funky turn-to-black-and-then-show-text maneuver, which takes a while. To me that is simply unacceptable and far from the experience of reading a real book. And the reason why we accept that experience is because we get to do that for a long long time, much longer than with any other device like a netbook or a notebook. I don’t need my e-reader to last a week or two or three. There are power sockets everywhere: at home, at work, at cafes, on planes, in cars, at bookstores even. If I could trade less battery power with a significantly better reading experience, I would without hesitation. The iPad gives me that option. Take a close look at the way pages turn on the iPad. You can see this in the video on Apple’s site. There is a certain average speed at which we turn books or magazines when we read. The folks at Apple nailed this when designing how the page should turn: the page turns almost exactly at a pace that a real page would turn. Simply brilliant.

I do think the iPad will provide a much better reading experience than any other e-book reader available today. Also consider that Apple used one of the most advanced TFT LCDs: IPS (In-Plane Switching). To get a bit geeky here, IPS provides a very wide viewing angle with very little shift in contrast and therefore color. This is an important feature since experiences on the iPad will be shared with others from time to time.

iPhone Connection: I think the close connection to the iPhone made the iPad less than it could have been. I understand the importance of leveraging the iPhone platform. There are thousands of developers and 140,000 apps, etc. But I think the buttons are too small for a device that is almost 10 inches. The screen even if it was entirely populated by those square icons would seem less-than-ideal. The problem I think is that the iPhone is a at most a two-finger touch experience while the much larger iPad is a five-finger or a whole-hand touch experience. Let me explain using Google Earth as an example.

On the iPhone something like a Google Earth is manipulated at most by two fingers. On the iPad I would want to use my entire hand and in a way grab the virtual earth and rotate it instead of using just a finger or two. I would also want to have a whole hand gesture that zooms in and out.

Five-Finger Touch Experience: I think the iPad could have had a more revolutionary UI that makes use of all five fingers. I tried to explain this to a very good friend over coffee at a local McDonald’s. I don’t think I did a good-enough job and I don’t think I could do much better here with mere words. Imagine being able to manipulate objects on the 9.7-inch multitouch LCD using gestures with all five fingers. The objects would be bigger and multi-dimensional so that movement of any of the five fingers would trigger a movement in the object, or your viewpoint. I could refer to the display that Tom Cruise used in The Minority Report but that’s not quite right since we’re talking about a glass surface that we actually touch. The curved transparent displays in Avatar isn’t quite the right example either. The best example might be the photo application within iPad that allows you to peak and/or explode all the files into a X-Y grid using two fingers. The idea that I’m trying to convey would involve bigger icons with the ability for you to use all five fingers and peak at different angles and at varying levels of “peak”. I hope that makes sense.

All-in-all I think the iPad is the best hardware and software work done on a slate platform. The tablet PC championed by Microsoft so many years ago has been almost perfected by Apple today. I look forward to purchasing the iPad and enjoying the transition from today’s computing to tomorrow’s. But I’m also a bit disappointed at the less-than-revolutionary UI that is probably due to the need to leverage the existing momentum tied to the iPhone.