These are my very first thoughts having just finished “watching” (or rather reading live blogs of) the event. At this stage I have more questions than answers in some regards, but, I have to say, I’m impressed. This was a tablet demo, what Balmer did a few short weeks ago at CES was a pathetic side-show – a feeble pre-emptive “me too” that’s clearly not even nearly enough to compete on quality.

It was great to see Steve set the scene and give us the philosophy behind the device. He basically talked us through Apple’s thinking on the space now inhabited by netbooks, i.e. the gap between laptops and smartphones. It was like he was telling us a story, and it made sense. You can’t deny that Apple have put a lot of thought into this thing. I’m pretty sure Jobs has been using one of these things for a while, and I think he’s really worked out what a tablet needs to be in order to really be useful.

It’s no secret that I hate netbooks, you sacrifice far too much just to get a small form factor. Taking a big computer and making it smaller and expecting it to work just like the big one is insane, and that’s what netbooks do. It reminds me a lot of Windows CE. The idea that a phone or a PDA needed a Start Menu was madness. The notion that a GUI designed for large screens and mice could just be shrunk was utter lunacy! Does it really make sense to strain your eyes peering at teeny tiny nested drop down menus, or indeed to poke at these tiny menus with a small stick? It certainly doesn’t to me! Netbooks don’t take things to the ridiculous extremes of Windows CE, but the fundamental problem is the same. Our desktop OSes were just not designed for tiny devices!

As happy as I was to see that this thing does not just shrink Mac OS X, I was just as happy to see that it didn’t just super-size the iPhone interface either. That would have been just as bad. Big giant buttons wasting space all over the place, no thanks! What we got looks like a hybrid betwen Mac OS X and the iPhone OS to me. It’s clearly still designed to be used by direct manipulation with your fingers, but on a big screen, with finger-sized dropdown menus and heads up displays and stuff. As Allison loves to point out, I’m REALLY hard to impress when it comes to UI design, but I have to say, I really liked what I saw today. It looks good, polished, and well thought out.

Freedom from the Death Star!

I’m also hugely relieved that this thing comes cellphone-company free. An unlocked device that will work on any network that support micro-SIM, and an option to save money by not even bothering with a Cell radio at all, that’s all music to my ears I can tell you! Were I to be in the US though, I’d have to admit that the data plans from AT&T look impressive. No contract at all, and from as little as $14.99 a month! Hell, even the unlimited package is a steal at only thirty bucks a month! For those of us with no intention of getting ANOTHER monthly bill, the presence of 802.11n WiFi is a nice touch.

Real Apps – not Toy Apps!

The presence of a full iWork suite on the new device blew me away. This is a serious computer! With email, web, and an office suite, this thing would be enough to use as your only computer on business travel! The presence of a display out port to allow connectivity to projectors seals that deal. And, just in case I wasn’t totally convinced, the keyboard dock really really sealed the deal. I think it was smart to do iWork for this thing first, but I very very much doubt this will be the last major Apple app to get ported to the pad. Just imagine iPhoto on this thing, or even Aperture – heaven!

The iPhone comes tantalisingly close to being a good enough computer to act as your only computer when you’re travelling. It comes close, but for me, not close enough. The iPad though, I think that could well be enough. The mail client and iWork in particular hammered that point home to me.

But I Have Questions

However, I do still have a lot of questions about this new device, and the answers to these questions could make all the difference in the world as to my final thoughts on it.

  1. Does it support any sort of multitasking at all? Even just background apps? It would seem to have far more power than the iPhone, so surely it should be capable of doing at least two things at once!?
  2. You can get apps via the app store, but can you ONLY get apps via the apps store?
  3. Does this thing have some form of file store so you can pass files around from app to app? What good are a fully featured email client and a fully featured office suite if you can’t easily pass files between them?
  4. What’s with the USB ports? Will third parties get to write drivers for system-wide peripherals? Could we get printing from this device? What about accessing files on a thumb-drive? Or the internet via 3G/HSDPA/EVDO/LTE dongles? They mentioned USB, but didn’t expand. Update (23:48 GMT 27 Jan 2010): turns out I imagined the USB ports – the thing syncs by USB to your computer, that’s all the USB there is!

Would I Buy One?

At the moment I have an ageing 17″ laptop, and an even older 20″ iMac (it’s a G5!). Both will need replacing within the next year or so. I’ve pretty much decided to go for the whole digital hub idea, a powerful desktop with a big screen at home as the centre of my digital world, and a small light device for when I’m not at home, or not in my study. I have my heart set on a 27″ iMac, so that’s half the equation decided. The other half though, that’s not even nearly as clear-cut!

There’s no way I’m getting another 17″ laptop, the MBP was a great primary machine, and I loved it to bits, but I bought it to be my main machine, my digital hub if you will. My MacMini (and later my second hand iMac) was just a satellite machine to the MBP. In other words, the exact inverse of what I want now. Since it was a primary device, the size really didn’t bother me, in fact, I just love the 17″ display. But, even though Apple’s 17″ laptops are compact by comparison to most others, 17″ is still a big screen, and hence a lot to carry around

Since I’ve decided to move back to having the desktop as my primary device, what I need is a small, light, but capable portable computer to compliment it. The MacBook air would be super, but lets be honest, there’s a recession on and I’m not made of money! The 13″ MacBook Pro is a very nice computer, but maybe it’s over-kill for a secondary device. The venerable old MacBook has just never appealed to me, it’s a relic from times past in my mind. So, that leaves the iPad. If it really is enough, then it would be a steal starting at just $499! Even if I opted for the most expensive model, it would still be under a grand. And lets face it, I really don’t want a cell radio, so I just won’t go for that most expensive model!

Realistically, for me, it’s the choice between a 13″ MBP and the iPad as my secondary computer. I haven’t made up my mind at all on what I will buy when the time comes, but the iPad is a real option, and I have to say, I’m feeling very drawn to it at the moment. Of course, when the reality distortion field breaks down I may well re-consider ๐Ÿ™‚