Whew! We all can breathe a sigh of relief now that Apple's new addition to its portables family is finally out. The rumors were starting to get old. Now that it has made its debut, here come the slings and arrows, despite the fact it's a product that is not shipping "right now." As with any tech product release, especially Apple's, the naysayers come out of the woodwork to disparage it as soon as something is announced. "Its not what we wanted", "Why does it not have x,y and z features," "It can't do this, it can't do that," on and on. But what the moaners and groaners don't stop to think about is that creating technology, especially hardware and software that runs well together is not a simple task, even for well heeled tech companies. Very few are truly excellent at it. Apple is one of them. And I can't remember who the others are. So my hats off to them for wading into unfamiliar waters and giving this a shot.
Additionally, this is not a new model of iphone or laptop or desktop, it's an entirely new class of device. One could argue that Apple is testing the waters, trying this iPad out for size and seeing where it can go. This middleware technology is not for your pocket or your desktop but for your hands. And it's quite a lot of power in your hands.
People need to stop and ponder for a moment at the iPad before breaking out the harsh critic pens. This is not just v.1.0 of a new piece of hardware, this is the potential dawn of a new type of truly personal computing. Give it a chance. A company with the reach and financial wherewithal like Apple is not going to release a new device and style of computing without giving it a lot of thought. And with the iPad, my hunch is that this is only the very beginning of something new and different. Aside from the regular specs and features which are now common knowledge and commonly posted across the web, some other aspects of the device are talked about only slightly, or even noticeably, less. Here are several things to keep in mind, especially for education and educators considering this device.
1) PDF – There was no mention of the ubiquitous format in the keynote, but its significant to make a note of it for the iPad. There are millions of PDF documents out there and I, for one, have been longing for a good device to read these with that is not a cramped iPhone screen or a screaming hot laptop that melts my legs and strains my eyes. The iPad may fit the bill very well for these documents. Will PDF be supported? I would bet my bottom dollar it will as there are a number of great PDF apps on the iPhone. And not just supported ie. Kindle which does nothing to give you any customization over the PDF, but actual usable manipulation of the PDF to suit your viewing needs (reflowing text, zooming in on images, clicking links, etc). If these get retooled for the iPad this gives new life to the PDF which many students use for everything from teacher handouts to textbooks. Some iPhone apps to keep your eye on for re-tooling on the iPad include Air Sharing, Readdle Docs, Good Reader and Readdle's PDF Expert. There are others such as Apple's own iDisk and Dropbox's iphone app (I love Dropbox, love it), but the former mentions really lead the pack. Note – PDF is listed as a file type supported (specifically as an Email attachment) by the iPad on Apple's Tech specs for the device, it just was not mentioned in the keynote. I would imagine it is well supported beyond just email attachments so hopefully one can sync or load PDFs to the iPad that are not associated with email.
2) ePub - the new iBookstore will deliver its books in the ePub format which is mostly great news…mostly. This is a widely supported format that offers somewhat of an open platform for e-books to be published. The question is, will Apple go the route of Barnes and Noble (who also offer ePub formatted books) and issue proprietary files of books in the ePub format. My bet is that yes, Apple will have some propriety DRM on the books. My hope is that the iBookstore will let you upload your own ePub files for viewing on the device, much like loading up your own PDFs for viewing. If Apple does not do this, I would bet a third party app appears that does allow this provided Apple gives the developer access to the open ePub format in the SDK. If Apple does lock down the ePub format, I do hope they will eventually lift it or at least loosen the lock a little. O'Reilly has done this and actually seen sales increase of their digital books which are offered in PDF, ePub and Mobi formats, one of the few publishers that does this so be sure and thank them by patronizing their e-store when you can.
3) The Apple A4 Processor – This custom piece of silicon technology is the most likely the child of the PA Semi company purchase that Apple conducted awhile back. This is a new breed of processor not unlike other dedicated chip makers are starting to produce. Known as SoC or System on a Chip, these offer one chip that does it all, graphics, central processing, etc on one piece of silicon making the chips energy and data efficient – i.e. snappy and long battery life. While many of the PE Semi engineers have departed for start-ups in Silicon Valley, Apple now has the in-house capability of fully making its own processors which could be very interesting down the road.
4) The iPad OS – There were lots of bets about whether Apple would us a flavor of the desktop OS X or the iPhone OS. They have gone with the latter and this was probably a very good idea. One cannot underestimate the importance of a good OS and the iPhone is a nice one for the touch system that Apple is developing. The new pop-out menus and other interface refinements that touch offers will get us thinking beyond pull down menus and folders which is a good thing. I think the Facebook app developer Joe Hewitt says it best on his blog about the huge importance of the OS and what it can potentially do.
5) The Apps - Its the Apps people… the Apps that will make or break this device and with a touch interface on a larger mobile device, and a shiny new SDK to go with it, you can bet that developers will jump on this bandwagon too. The fact the iPad will run all existing iPhone apps (albeit scaled down unless the dev retools it) is a big deal. One can argue that the iPod Touch and iPhone were really just test cases to see if people would really…um…be touched by a new type of device. And indeed we have. So all eyes on the Apps because while the hardware makes everything run, the apps are what will make it really hum. You can bet there will be some innovative educational apps appearing on this thing right around the turn of the summer term.
The iPad is a testing ground with the consumers being the tech rats. Once they turn the device loose and see how people use it, you can bet it will be tweaked, upgraded and evolved in ways we probably can't imagine right now. Its an important product because it just might get the masses thinking of computing beyond the mouse and keyboard paradigm. It's time to think differently about how we interact with our data, our information and our hardware. The iPad may be just the thing that does this whether or not it does take off on the scale of the iPhone and iPod Touch. When the iPad finally ships, take a page from Yellow Pages and let your fingers doing the walking. Keene