And now it’s the iPad. All other Apple platforms please scoot over one space to make room for the new arrival: iPhone, MacBook, iMac, iPod, Mac Pro...
Oh, dear. No room left on the bench. Well, I really don’t care and I can’t be bothered to choose. Apple TV? Mac mini? You two just sort it out between yourselves and I’ll see one of you when I return in the morning.
By now, we’ve all had a chance not just to assimilate the news, but also to furiously backpedal from all of the sage predictions we’d been making in the past 18 months. I mean, wow: “No keyboard, not even a Bluetooth option.” What sort of short-sighted twit would have said something like that? No, just like studio executives after a major TV series or movie bombs, it’s time to scramble and claim that the true terrible decisions were made far higher up in the chain of command.
There’s also been plenty of time for the Mayor of the Internet to brush the Pringles crumbs out of his scraggly beard and pause in his labours long enough to complain that the iPad is a laughable hunk of junk, and to express his relief that at last, the world is waking up to the hard-nosed fact that Apple products are overpriced toys not worth the attention of an informed, discerning user such as himself.
He then returns to his MMORPG character editor, fine-tuning his elf princess’s appearance to look more like the new barista at the Starbucks near his office.
I’m not complaining about the kind of criticism the iPad is getting. I’m complaining about the fact that it’s getting criticism. Praise is just as silly. The iPad has gone from a device that has Merely Been Rumoured to a device that fewer than 500 civilians have touched. I’m one of them. I stayed in the demo area until a kindly Apple employee told me that they were shutting everything down... and even I don’t think I know enough about this thing to have a real opinion about it. I’ve been able to publish first impressions, to try to convey some tangible surface observations about the iPad, but both the harsh rubber FAIL stamp and the box of glittery pony stickers must remain inside the desk until I’ve had a solid week’s worth of real-world experience with it.
I’ll say one thing about the complainers, though: they don’t lack confidence. It makes up for the lack of imagination.
The same memes kept popping up in post after post. No camera: FAIL. No multitasking: FAIL. The browser still doesn’t support Flash: FAIL. No handwriting recognition: FAIL. I can’t open a terminal window to download and compile the nightly tarball of Emacs: FAIL.
To each commenter, a working, useful tablet computer must have a certain minimum number of these things. They don’t really explain why. But I’m sure they have their reasons.
Somewhere around Hour Three of my iPad-related readings I took a break and headed to a bookcase where my copy of Moon Lander: How We Developed The Apollo Lunar Module sat. Take a guess as to the subject. Many of you will win bonus points by noting the lack of lyricism in the frank, descriptive title and guessing that it is an exceedingly dry read. You will be right on both counts. It’s 273 pages of rote detail about how this spacecraft was designed and built. If you’re determined to get to the end, you’ll need numb determination and high-grade trucker amphetamines.
All of the internet’s complaints about the iPad made me think of a section of the book describing the early stages of the Lunar Module’s design. They were having window troubles. The astronauts needed huge windows to give them a wide view of the lunar surface from their seats during the approach and landing. But that amount of glass adds weight to the spacecraft. Heat can move through it in both directions at will. And it’s a structural liability.
Finally, there came a brilliant paradigm shift that solved every problem and a few bonus ones as well:
Just rip out the seats.
Yes. Eliminate the seats. If the astronauts stood the whole way, their faces could be right up against the windows and they’d barely need any glass at all. Plus, they’d save the weight of the seats themselves, plus there’d be way more room in the cabin for the astronauts to get in and out of their bulky surface exploration suits and backpacks.
Brumman Aircraft, NASA, and everybody else kept putting seats in the damned thing for just one reason: they’d been putting seats in manned vehicles for so long that it never occurred to them not to. It’s how they defined a ‘manned vehicle’. Only late in the game did three engineers realise that the LM would never be operated within Earth gravity and they were free to make choices that were appropriate to this spacecraft, not to every spacecraft.
Leave it out
An iMac without a keyboard is just something you shout at, letter for letter, until you’ve somehow managed to knock out a whole email using Mac OS X’s Speakable Items feature.
An iPhone needs a camera; it is the American Dream to unexpectedly come across George Clooney and Brad Pitt violently making out with each other in a public park and then to sell the photos to a tabloid for a mid-six-figure sum and a phone camera is a critical part of that scenario.
And if you have a tablet that runs Windows 7 or Android or any other OS designed to be used with a mouse and keyboard, only a steady stream of kitten videos and clips of innocent fire hydrants getting hit by skateboarders’ crotches can keep your rage at bay. A browser that supports Flash is a must.
I meant it when I said that it’s way too early to make any sort of a pronouncement about the iPad, one way or another. But my expansive 45 minutes of hands-on experience with it left me with a clear impression: this is its own thing.
Complaining about a lack of multitasking on a device that can only show one window at a time and can close and open apps about as fast as any other mobile can switch between two running apps might be about as silly as complaining about a lack of seats on a vehicle that’s largely unbound by gravity.