Thursday, 28 January 2010

Apple iPad: Lower price and fewer features than I'd hoped

I've just been catching up on the coverage of the big Apple iPad launch. I've been eagerly awaiting this, because I have an iPod Touch, which is the coolest device I've ever owned, but is too small to browse the Web or do anything with documents. (It's easy to use, with the touch interface; it gives me instant-on internet, although, as I say, web pages are a bit of a pain to read; and I can carry it everywhere.)

The iPad is basically a very large iPod Touch or iPhone (it'll come in two versions, both of which connect to wifi networks, one of which also connects via 3G wireless). Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be a whole lot more than that. Don't get me wrong, an iPod Touch that's four times the size (twice as wide, twice as high) is actually very useful, and I had already decided that I would (eventually) get one even if that was all it was. And the pricing is better than I expected: entry pricing (16GB, wifi only) is $499 USD, and the most expensive version (64GB, with 3G) is $829, or about $1200 NZD. Based on what happened with the iPhone, that will also come down. But those are attractive prices already.

It's got a supposedly pretty good onscreen keyboard that you can use with both hands, and they've already announced a keyboard dock (or you can use Bluetooth keyboards). The iPod Touch keyboard, because it's tiny, is hard to type on. This should be better, so that you can actually use it as a laptop. They're making a version of the Apple Office equivalent (iWork) for it, and pricing the apps very reasonably, though I would probably use Google Docs in any case and have my documents automatically in the cloud where I can get at them from any web-connected computer.

I can see myself possibly using it in my hypnotherapy practice instead of writing on a clipboard as I do now (the advantage of a virtual keyboard is that there's no typing sound, unless you want there to be), assuming that someone builds an app that can be a front-end for a database. (If not, I can always build one myself on my website, appropriately secured.)

The problem is, I'd like to use it also to record the sessions and - here's the key area where it falls down - write them to CD. There's no provision for connecting to standard USB devices - external hard drives, memory sticks, CD writers, and my good-quality USB microphone, for example. I could record using the built-in microphone or the lapel mic I currently use to record on my laptop, but I'd then have to synch across to my laptop before I could write the session to CD for my client to take away, which kind of takes away some of the convenience.

The other thing it's missing which would have been cool (though it's not, for me, a killer app) is a built-in video camera so that you could sit on the couch, or in bed, and have video calls with someone on the other side of the world. (People are screaming "You can't make phone calls from it!", but of course you can. Skype is in the App Store already.) Maybe they'll do this for iPad 2.0. Of course, if they supported USB, I could just plug in my existing webcam...

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