iPad: The Biggest Tablet Since The Monolith?

So, Steve Jobs has bestowed the iPad upon the world. This is the device that a lot of tech-heads have been predicting for years: the almost-mythical Apple Tablet. This thing’s been predicted before even the iPhone.

What’s In A Name?

The “iPad” moniker was a bad call. Yes, it’s already the butt of jokes. Yes, it falls in line with “iPhone” and “iPod”, but it’s too close to the latter. But then again, a rose with any other name would smell just a sweet, right? Even if the rose sounded vaguely like a feminine hygiene product.

Flash In The Can

I’ve heard plenty of moaning about the lack of Flash. This shouldn’t have been a shock. Apple does not like Flash. It’s proprietary. Flash on OS X performs terribly. For a lengthy take on why the iPhone/iPod touch/iPad will likely never support Flash, see John Gruber’s piece on Apple, Adobe, and Flash.

The other big question is why does the iPad need Flash? To view video — it already does that, and with better performance than Flash. Yes, it doesn’t view all web video, but as Apple’s multitouch devices continue to proliferate, I’m guessing a lot of sites will abandon Flash rather than abandon those devices. (And yes, that includes the porn sites that are probably the reason many want Flash on the iPad…)

To play web games? For one, Apple offers plenty of games through the App Store. Not only that, but many Flash games wouldn’t even work on a multitouch device — especially anything that needs keyboard input. Flash games would suck on multitouch devices.

For ads? The fewer obnoxious ads, the better.

For more interactive web pages? The real solution would be to embrace open web technologies like HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript. Those technologies aren’t controlled by one company, unlike Flash.

Winners And Losers

The biggest losers in all this could very well be Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Sony. They’ve all heavily invested in e-reader devices, and the iPad makes a lot more sense than those devices. E-Ink screens are nice, but if the iPad makes for a good enough reading device, it won’t matter.

The saving grace for them is that they have the opportunity to create their own reader applications for the iPad. (I’m guessing that both the Kindle and Barnes & Noble reader applications for the iPhone will work on the iPad.) I’m guessing that Amazon sells the Kindle hardware at a loss, in the hopes of making up the difference in book sales. Does Amazon care whether they sell books on the Kindle or the iPad? Probably not. The question is whether Apple cares that third-parties are selling books on their platform. I’d wager they don’t care — Apple isn’t in the publishing business, they’re in the hardware business.

The winners are probably publishers. The iPad gives them some great opportunities to have e-books proliferate in the same way that multitouch apps have. That’s a win for an industry that’s facing some very bad times.

Looking Ahead

Apple is heavily invested in multitouch, and the iPad is just another example of that. It’s an opportunity to fundamentally transform computing. These devices abstract away old concepts like file systems and a hierarchy of folders. The old metaphors can finally be swept away: no more folders, no more mouse cursors, no more file managers, not even windowing systems. This is the face of 21st Century computing: and Apple is setting the trend.

The iPad is just another device, one of the first in a long series of devices. It’s likely to be extremely popular, and is very well designed. But ultimately, it reaches beyond that: this is about redefining the way we use computers. Apple has paved the way, and while others are trying to catch up, the iPad proves they’re still running one step ahead.

UPDATE: John Gruber observes a point I missed: Apple now makes their own blazingly-fast mobile processors. Apple’s acquisition of chipmaker P.A. Semi seems to be paying off. Apple is a hardware company at its core, so designing their own chips is a wise move.