Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flash! iPad about to change everything

With Pampers worn in their proper place, the early adopters are already in line at an Apple Store near you, caffeine IV drips positioned next to the lawn chairs that will be their homes for the next forty-three hours or so. Saturday begins the season of the itch to be scratched by techies and fanboys/girls, artifact-collecting dilettantes with disposable income, and by the loyalists who’ve over 30 years made Apple Inc. as much a religion as a corporation.

The iPad arrives at 9 a.m. on Saturday and, to go by the early reactions of those who’ve played with it and tested it, the latest tablet-shaped device thrown down from Mount Cupertino by Steven the Lawgiver will then start the process of revolutionizing online access, publishing, music retrieval and things we haven’t thought of yet.

Walt Mossberg, dean of the tech journalists who also navigate the mainstream media, weighed in yesterday in The Wall Street Journal: “After spending hours and hours with it, I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop. It could even help, eventually, to propel the finger-driven, multitouch user interface ahead of the mouse-driven interface that has prevailed for decades.”

At the Chicago Sun-Times, Andy Ihnatko also made with the hosannas: “[A]fter a week with the iPad, I’m suddenly wondering if any other company is as committed to invention as Apple. Has any other company ever demonstrated a restlessness to stray from the safe and proven, and actually invent things?”

The New York Times’ David Pogue: “The iPad is so fast and light, the multitouch screen so bright and responsive, the software so easy to navigate, that it really does qualify as a new category of gadget.” USA Today’s Jefferson Graham also gave his endorsement — ringing but with a little less tintinnabulation than the others.

The choruses of early praise come amid a galaxy of new applications already designed for the iPad, with more following every day. And the e-book market is has been set for a major liftoff for awhile. The International Digital Publishing Forum reported on March 26 that U.S. wholesale e-book sales for the month of January increased more than 260 percent from the same period a year ago.

January, of course, was the month that Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO and Zen visionary in chief, formally debuted the iPad to the world from the stage of the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Just a coincidence, for sure.

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If history is any judge, what’s coming on Saturday will certainly be the first act of the iPad’s existence. All computer technology goes through upgrades and improvements, but it’s Apple’s peculiar genius to have reinforced the organic aspect of that evolution. More than with any other computing devices alive, Apple devices have mastered the mirroring of the plasticity of our lives. The semiotics of Apple technology fully dovetail with our idea of what computers, phones and music players should look like. Feel like. They’re becoming more and more extensions of ourselves.

The iPad will be subject to the same evolutionary process that took us from being quadrapeds to creatures that get around on two legs. And in the future like the past, that evolution will test our adaptability as much as that of the device itself. Starting with its features and its price.

We already know the iPad doesn't support Adobe's Flash technology, one of the thing’s biggest drawbacks. The Flash embargo locks iPad users out of some of the best visually-driven features of major Web sites like Disney, Hulu and ESPN. No onboard camera.

And, as I noted in January:
[I]ronically (very ironically for Apple), the iPad doesn’t allow for running multiple applications at once — a truly concerning omission given the insanely great multitasking capability of the other, most successful Apple products available today. In real-world terms, the iPad’s portability is almost neutralized by its lack of multitasking power. In marketing terms, it’s a challenging, counter-intuitive reach to expect consumers to step back from expectations based on what Apple’s already proven it’s capable of doing.
There are issues with accurate translation of Microsoft formats to the iPad environment; Mossberg discovered this the hard way: “In one case, [an] exported Word file had misaligned text. When I then tried exporting the document as a PDF file, it was unreadable.”

Some other matters, minor on their own, take on greater importance in the aggregate. GPS won’t be available on all versions. The iPad’s lack of widescreen capability means getting a letterbox effect without the corresponding increase in image size (like you get when you watching a movie in letterbox format on TV). And, Mossberg also notes, familiar iPhone apps including Clocks, Stocks and Weather aren’t included.

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But no worries: Some of the features not in the inaugural iPads purchased by the truest believers — the people mainlining French Roast outside the Apple stores right now — will show up in iPad 2.0. The long-term early adopters know this little drill, know it well. The X dollars you paid for an iMac with a 17-inch display in January will get you a 20-inch display and other goodies — in September of the same year.

It’s the price you pay for being in the church: accepting the fact that the pews will be bigger, the hymnals will be thicker, and the stained glass will reveal another 2 million colors the next time you come to worship. Count this writer (working at this moment on a second-generation iMac) as one of the longtime parishioners.

This just in: The iPad is about to change everything.

Including, eventually, itself.

Image credits: iPad images ands Apple logo: © 2010 Apple Inc.

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