iPads Are Mostly (Expensive) Toys

Alexis Madrigal has some theories as to why iPad sales have slowed – which seemed to have shocked analysts, as nearly all of them bet too high on first quarter sales figures.

Yet as Rebecca Rosen points out, the iPad and tablets like them haven’t become must-haves for most, but merely a shiny, expensive gadget suited for a particular group of people.

Madrigal’s conclusions – that many people don’t see a reason to own one – fits it with my own experience of using an iPad.

I borrowed an iPad for a couple of weeks in October 2012. It was my first time really using an iPad, other than a couple of minutes at the Apple Store. I mainly used it to browse – I watched a couple of YouTube videos on it, short clips, looked up some things. It was an accessory to my life. I distinctly remember checking email and logging into anything being a big hassle, which caused me to only use it for extreme recreational reasons, not to write anything. I’ve seen many people use iPads with a rubber keyboard to take notes, in a business setting, and while I can see that working in a pinch, without a physical keyboard typing was a nuisance. The iPad’s lack of a USB port also struck me as not being very user-friendly, in that if I ever wanted to transfer information between computers the documents already would have to be stored in a cloud. For many users this wouldn’t be an issue, but not having the port made the device even more of a high-end toy than something with real value to me.

Having an iPad could not and would not replace having a computer. It just doesn’t have the power and the capabilities that other devices have. All my schoolwork – and anything requiring the use of a username and password, or multiple saved documents – I did on an actual, powerful computer, with a full keyboard and hard drive and software. An iPad would be no match for any sort of productive work, especially without a keyboard or a mouse. Swiping gets tedious, and there’s just simply too much to do that requires finely tuned movements. I prefer big screens, and staring at one even 9 and a half inches wouldn’t cut it for active, engaged work, whether that was working on graphics, a spreadsheet or writing a memo.

And taking photos with an iPad looks ridiculous, but I won’t get into that.

One of the reasons I shied away from making iPad apps in graduate school was because of the inherent limitations. An app designed for a particular platform is a quick way to discriminate against a potential audience, and with the iPad, this duplicates on itself. iPad magazines were the rage a few years ago, but I always thought they had an absurdly small audience. If those magazines aren’t even translated to owners of other tablet brands, the makers are effectively elevating one company’s products over another, not the technology itself. It’s like saying a particular detergent is only useful in Maytag machines but not Whirlpool.

Many iPad apps are indeed beautiful, and no disrespect intended to those building them. But if those apps can’t be viewed on another platform, be it a desktop, laptop, or mobile, then what good are they? Tablets are great as carryon accessories, especially if you don’t want to watch movies or play games on your phone. But for most people, they’re an extra couple hundred of dollars that duplicate an already existing purchase, just with a different size screen.

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One Comment

  1. John

    I’m not a pro-Apple person in general. I don’t prefer their design or user experience philosophies. But if I did, here would be my advice:

    Get and use your iCloud account. Get a big enough one to store everything in it.

    Learn to type FAST without haptic feedback. Make use of the swipe and predictive text utilities built into the keyboard. If you absolutely MUST cling to your antiquated physical keys, buy a case/stand/keyboard combo for your iPad. Logitech makes some very nice ones that feel sturdy.

    Cancel your cable and internet subscription, and buy the biggest 4G data plan you can from your cell provider. The whole point of an iPad is that it’s the leader of the post-PC revolution, so don’t use it like you would a PC. You’re free of spatial limitations! Throw away your desk!
    Also, get an iPhone if you don’t have one already. You’ll need it for picture-taking and animated gif-making.

    Buy all your TV shows on iTunes, even if you only watch episodes once. It’s the only way to get that truly great watching experience. Obviously you’re buying all your music on iTunes too. Duh.

    if you simply MUST cling to your old-media life, get an AppleTV. Though if you really want to join the new-media revolution, ditch your TV altogether and watch everything on your iPad. Your place will look so much nicer, and again, you’ll no longer be trapped in one place.

    Buy iWork, and do all your non-multimedia work in it. Get Office for iPad too, but just to convert your iWork files into it when you have to send files to less visionary people. Buy Soundtrack Pro / Final Cut Pro / Photoshop Touch / etc for your really creative work.

    As for cross-platform compatibility, it’s iOS first, everything else maybe later. Everybody wants to back a winner, and that fact (combined with Apple’s dominance in mindshare, if not market share) is the most powerful thing in iOS’s favor right now.

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