Menu Home

I’m Not a Mac #8–Who Really Needs an iPad?

This post is part of my “I’m Not a Mac” series, chronicling my controversial migration away from Apple Computer after 15 years as a Mac user. Find other entries in the “I’m Not a Mac” series archive.

Now that the jokes have subsided about the sanitary napkin-esque name of Apple’s new tablet computer, it’s a good time to ask: who really needs an iPad? Apple announced the iPad two months ahead of its expected late March retail debut to build buzz around the new gadget. But the more I think about it, the less I can figure out who Apple actually intends to buy one. Families? Business travelers? On-the-go urbanites? I can’t see any of these core Apple-adherent groups being too keen on spending from $500 to more than $800 on a device they just don’t need.

My doubt here isn’t intended as Apple-bashing. Although I continue to explore my exit strategy from the Mac OS platform, I still admit Apple offers certain technologies I wish I could take with me in my eventual leap to another operating system. In fact, now that Google Voice is available as a fully featured HTML5  mobile web app, I have restored my formerly jailbroken iPhone 3G–which I only jailbroke to run the older Google Voice Mobile application in the first place. So I’m willing to give Apple its due.

In the case of iPad, the sleek iPod Touch-on-steroids looks good enough to lick. Apple is banking that the Mac faithful will salivate over the new tablet computer’s large screen, easy interface, and strong networking options to browse web- and server-based multimedia content.

But earlier this month, consumer electronics shopping site Retrevo released a survey showing more than 60% of consumers don’t think they need one. The problem is that most people already have access to the very functions offered by iPad thanks to countless existing computing devices right now sitting in briefcases, on kitchen counters, and in side pockets all over America. Here’s what I mean…

Families Don’t Need iPad
Now that national laptop sales have comfortably surpassed desktop sales, it’s a safe bet most families already have a portable way to watch DVDs and browse the web on a comfortably sized screen. In fact, in many households these are likely later-generation laptops. What happened to the older machines they replaced? I would bet money millions of them are still in use as media servers and living-room netbooks in homes across the country. In this economy, what family do you know that would be willing to spend $500 or more to buy an iPad that mimics the features of the older laptop already sitting next to the Xbox?

Business Travelers Don’t Need iPad
The iPad makes little additional sense for business travelers, either. Most business travelers I know are required to carry their work laptops with them, and I don’t know any who are eager to cart around additional weight. For most of them, if they aren’t permitted to watch DVDs or browse the Internet on their official laptops, their fallback device is likely to be a five-ounce iPhone already sitting in their pocket or purse–not an extra one-and-a-half pounds of weight shoved into their carry-on.

On-the-Go Urbanites Don’t Need iPad
This is the potential market I get least of all. Yes, the cool kids among this group tend to be Cupertino’s early adopters who will snap up any device with an Apple logo on it no matter how questionable the feature set. (Macbooks without Firewire? iPhones with abysmally small storage capacities that no longer let you carry your whole music collection with you?) But like business travelers, they already have personal laptops to carry around. Like many families, they probably already have legacy computing devices sitting around at home. And like everyone else on the planet, they have a smart phone in their pocket. And it does everything iPad does, in a far subway-friendlier form factor.

I fall into the latter of the three groups. Until recently, I had a legacy Macbook doing duty as a music and video server. Now those functions fall to my main laptop which simply follows me around the house as needed. When I leave said house, it and my iPhone come with me. Given that–plus the fact the a fully featured iPad costs more than $800–it’s a mystery to me how Apple expects its new tablet to add value to my life.

Or anyone else’s, for that matter.

Categories: "I'm Not a Mac" Series

Tagged as:

Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

My Bio | My Conversion | My Family Reunion

Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

14 replies

  1. I guess I’ll have to give it a miss then. I’ll stick with what I have for now. MAYBE if the price dropped, I’d consider it. But from seeing just the top or bottom half of a PowerBook or iBook casing (some people still use the old ones) can cost around £90 GBP (customer dropped his and didn’t like the dent, lol). I can’t imagine how much costs are nowadays!

  2. Abbie: Great observation about the iPad’s usefulness, for when we’re just “kinda on the go”!

    Syreeta, thanks for that very thoughtful comment. I agree, Mac is definitely a closed system in terms of hardware and the ways Apple lets you use software, and they’re definitely more expensive. I don’t buy Mac fandom’s idea that the cost over time is cheaper one bit. If Windows users knew how often Mac products end up back in an Apple Store or sent in by mail for servicing, they’d be shocked. I’ve never had a single Apple desktop,laptop, iPod, or iPhone in (now)16 years that didn’t have a problem of one sort or another. And that includes a dozen Apple computers that I’ve owned and half a dozen of their portable devices.

    That said, I love the style and ease of use of Apple products, but that’s not a good reason for me to continue to pay a high premium and agree to a walled playground. Macs are good choices for those who can afford them, or those who want a very simplified, easy-to-use computing experience. But at this point, even if I had the money, I really want a platform that plays well with others. It sounds to me like you want the same.

  3. Hello there Mike.

    I’ve run across your blog and have been reading about your OS switching exploits and find it a breath of fresh air compared to the “Mac is this, Windows is that” crap that people (mostly Americans I’ve noticed, no offense to you and sensible others of course) spout on the Internet. Sorry, couldn’t care less about the iPad. I am currently a Windows user (first started with Windows 98, them XP and now currently Windows 7, which I find nice, but sometimes I miss XP just because of its flawless compatibility with most of the programs and hardware I use. Some don’t have 7 drivers yet and some even with running compatibility mode don’t work perfectly), who has built her own PCs over the years, not because of crashes and viruses, but mostly to upgrade them to run memory, CPU intensive and hard drive space hungry software. So while I don’t know a great deal about software, hardware is something not new to me.

    I’ve been contemplating saving up enough to purchase a Mac Mini, as in all honesty, that is all I will ever be able to afford from Apple in terms of computers (plus I think it’s cute and like the ideas of space saving and it being ‘green’). I was told by many that Macs are best for graphics, and at my college, other students have echoed this to me. I have been on the Mac side of things before from using them at college to actually working at an AASP (Authorised Apple Service Partner) in the UK. So I’ve seen Macs go through a lot and was had to work on one daily. I had to contact Apple directly for parts and needed to jump through loops to get them to send the required items as quickly as possible for the rabid Mac users waiting for their machines to be repaired. I’ve had customers yell down the phone at me because I wasn’t able to get a part from Apple in time for them and also if the qualified engineers couldn’t recover the data from their faulty hard drives. In all honesty Apple, were really lazy at times in supplying the parts for us.

    I also saw the prices for replacement parts (for those unlucky enough to have their Apple Care run out and then drop their laptop or spill coke on their keyboard) and wondered who the hell would spend so much on these things?! The one thing I like about using Windows is not the OS at all. It’s the fact I built my PC they way I wanted it and will always know that compatible OSes will work on it. A lot of people (or Mac Fanboys, seems more boys that girls as we actually have a bit more sense. Though I’m sure the more “sensitive” of you will debate on that) will argue and say you’re paying more for the high quality of the product, I don’t doubt you are, and I KNOW you’ll say that Macs do last longer, but that is simply not the case for someone in my position.

    I took the time to learn about the various components required to build a computer, I surf the net looking for deals and can choose out of countless numbers of parts from the best manufacturers (which Apple use for internal components obviously) and get the most for my money. Then you’d probably say, why don’t I build a “Hackintosh”? I don’t really think I’d like to open THAT can of worms and anyway, I have a netbook that has been proven to run Snow Leopard (Samsung NC10, google it), so I could try it and see. What my point is, is that I’m Universal (unlike many that say they are and yet are more than happy to vent how angry they are that you’re switching, or that I won’t.). I just want something that’ll work 100% for me and is just all about me. I don’t have a “Microsoft” PC, I have a Personal Computer that I built myself. I only run Windows because it works for me. I can stop it “phoning home” (hackers already have done). But Macs I am unsure of. Why the hell should I have to buy new hardware just because it’s Mac supported? And then pay a premium BECAUSE they say they are Mac supported? Why couldn’t Apple support 3rd party devices?

    I know the 3rd party manufacturers do this and it’s solely not Apple to blame, but by being so proprietary (and charging a premium) they allow other companies to get away with this. PC compatible versions do the exact same thing, but are cheaper and sometimes work even better due to the vast support. Why are Mac versions of Microsoft software crap compared to the PC versions? The two reasons that are holding me off from committing myself to a Mac are cost and support. I’d like to ask you Mike, is it worth me switching over? I don’t trust “all-in-ones” (iMac) and I doubt I would ever be able to afford a Mac Pro (think they’re ugly anyway), so the Mac Mini “seems” the only way for me I love the design and the fact it’s a “power sipper”. But I don’t know if I can justify the price, as I was planning to get the highest spec available (mostly in terms of processor as they are now soldered onto the logic board).

    I came here as it’s hard to get a neutral response on the Internet whether it’s worth it. I was thinking of using Boot Camp so I can get the best of both worlds, but it just seems more time consuming than just turning on, starting a program and getting to work. Sorry for the huge post, but it’s not often I find a Mac user that’s completely unbiased.

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    PS: I know that some may come up with 3rd party software workarounds in terms of program and hardware compatibility, but I have researched this and some of the programs I use aren’t supported well enough yet for me to use normally. I just wish EVERYTHING on the Mac Mini was upgradable, then I would definitely buy one!

  4. I agree that the entire idea of the Ipad is unnecessary. We’ve got computers for when we’re sedentary, and web-enabled devices for when we’re on the go. Is this for when we’re “kinda” on the go??

    Although, it seems like the perfect size to give all of the geeks in the world a much needed upgrade from the “oversized notebook.” Think about it…

  5. Brian, I think Apple just expects users to “plug” iPad into their existing home networks where media is already stored on other devices. Which begs the question, what do you do with it when you want to add media away from your home? The answer, much like the iPhone, is you better have your laptop with you. That’s certainly a PITA in the extra weight alone–were you foolish enough to carry both devices with you. Which comes right back around to Flop.

  6. I’m going to preface this by saying I’m no Apple fan-boy. I like aspects of Mac OS X, but I also like aspects of Windows and Linux. I run all three at home on different machines. I think the iPad may actually be the first Apple product in ages that will flop. Sure there will be the initial rush of early adopters and fanboys, but I think that will fizzle rather quickly.

    The big deal-killer to me would be no multitasking. I’ve heard (but can’t confirm) that you can’t even run the music app (a la iPod on the iPhone) and do anything else, which is definitely a step backwards from the iPhone and iPod Touch. Apparently it will run iPhone/iPod Touch apps, but only at the same size as it runs on those devices. No storage options like a USB port for a thumb drive means it’s going to be a huge PITA to get a file onto/off of the iPad. And, in true Apple fashion, I doubt you’d be able to access the filesystem even if there were such aftermarket devices. It just seems to me Apple has introduced the iPad with laptop-ey things in mind (iWork, 3G data connection, etc), without it being able to do all the things a laptop (or netbook) can and should do. Which just means it’s going to be a huge expensive flop.

    All that being said, had a bit more thought been put into it, and it was outfitted with a slightly modified Mac OS X instead of a modified iPhone OS, and had the ability to run Mac apps and access storage devices, network drives and devices, and printers via USB, I think it might actually have had a chance at being a huge success. Combined with the docking station with the keyboard that they announced, it could make a good product (think something along the lines of a much smaller iMac that you could detach the screen and take with you and use on the go). Too bad they missed the boat on that one thanks to Steve’s Reality Distortion Field.

  7. Charles, readers might be interested to know you’re the new owner of that “legacy” MacBook (for which I owe you the remote–it’s sitting on my sideboard.) The “lowest-common denominator”/grandparents set does sound like a reasonable market. I just can’t see Apple creating a tablet computer for the Jitterbug-phone crowd.

    I think iPad’s great failure–if you can call it that–is not being a multi-tasker. If people already own older laptops to use in kitchens and dens, why not make iPad a MacBook with a fully functional removable screen? That way you get your niche tablet product that still serves as a replacement for folks who want hard drives and keyboards?

    I see iPad more like Apple’s new Cube. Sexy, but no real reason for being.

  8. Still loving the description of your old MacBook as “legacy”…

    @BTRIPP: VLC (www.videolan.org) plays QuickTime movies — and just about anything else (with the notable exception of Real media). It also has a more powerful interface. I rarely use QT anymore.

    Mike, I was chatting with a friend the other day about the iPad. His 60-something mother, who just can’t seem to figure out computers, saw a story about the iPad on TV and called him to see if that might work for her. She just wanted something simple for email and web browsing, something that doesn’t have a big learning curve — what I call “least common denominator.” I guess that’s the market Apple is looking for?

    Personally, I think it’s a cool device, but it’s typical of Apple’s first-generation projects: not there yet. There’s a company (I don’t remember the name) that will convert your MacBook into a tablet. You buy the MacBook you want and send it to them. They take all the inner workings and put them inside a tablet form factor. There’s a film they put over the MacBook’s own monitor that makes it responsive to touch, effectively turning your MacBook into a tablet. They actually had Apple’s blessing to do this; don’t know if they will now. The point is that they did a far better job than Apple.

    I wonder if the iPad will follow in the footsteps of the Newton, another case of Apple not getting it quite right. And let’s not forget Apple TV — we rarely hear anything about those anymore. A friend of mine who likes the latest and greatest gadgets bought one when it was first released; he hasn’t touched it in over a year.

  9. Kaitlin, that’s a good point. I usually put my laptop on my pass-through when I’m in there with a recipe. Though it’s probably a good idea to treat an iPad with similar, don’t-bathe-me-in-fry-batter respect, too.

  10. Actually, I think the only market I can think of for the iPad IS families. Specifically, I think they would be the perfect thing to hang up in some kind of holder in the kitchen and use it as an easy place to reference the family calendar, recipes, play music, etc. while cooking. I am constantly taking my laptop into the kitchen when I want to try out a new recipe. The iPad would allow for the same thing, without the risk of grubbing up a keyboard.

  11. Dragonslayer, why would you feel more comfortable taking an expensive iPad (or a several-hundred-dollar cell phone that I’m assuming you own since you have a Mac) out in public than taking your MacBook? Especially with the higher end iPad, the difference in replacement cost isn’t terribly large. Is it that, simply, if your iPad gets stolen you may just not by a new one, while if your MacBook gets stolen, you’ll be forced into that replacement cost immediately?

    Brendan, I hear you. That whole “we won’t play nice with another device” Apple ideology is exactly what is driving me away from the platform, no bones about it. Mac users have to jump through hoops if they want to step even a toe outside the approved Apple-verse of products and software. That’s a pain in the ass when–as is often the case–third-party solutions work better than Apple ones.

  12. OK … upfront let me say that I’m an “Apple hater” and have been so since the early days of the Mac, and I hate Apple SO MUCH that if I could replace Quicktime with some non-Apple program on my PC, I would gleefully do so. Needless to say I’m the antithesis of the “cool kids”.

    Over the past few years I have actually had the necessity of on occasion using a recent version of the Mac, and found that (aside from the usual stuff a PC user finds inexplicable on a Mac), that it was not that horrible, and almost made me re-think my deep antipathy for all things Apple.

    But, now along comes the iPad. Aside from the fact that it is a HUGE disappointment on a design basis (it’s not a “butterfly” lay-out, it won’t let you multi-task, it’s simply an overgrown phone, it doesn’t have a camera, etc., etc., etc. … just on this basis I’d rather use my $200 Acer netbook) it returns to the bete noir of the original Mac … it won’t “play nice” with anything else. My biggest gripe with the Mac was (aside from its insane price point, especially in relation to “clone” PC tech) that you couldn’t just run over to Radio Shack, grab some ribbon cable, some snap-on connectors and be good-to-go for adding a printer (or what not) … no, you had to ORDER a special cable which was going to cost a hundred bucks … no 3rd party accessories, no shareware, no alternative software, just the damn Apple monopoly. And here the iPad goes right back to that. No USB connectors, hell, except for the exclusive-to-iPad docking connector, no way to make the damn thing interface with anything at all. What the use is a “sleek design” if you have to start plugging in a mess of cables just so you can read a file off of an associate’s flash drive? And, of course, that docking connector and all the accessory cables will be priced at the Apple “take it or leave it” what-the-market-will-bear mark-up. It’s disgusting.

    Just when I thought that Apple had “seen the error of their ways” they go back to focusing on the “Apple cultists” and hoping that there are enough suckers out there who need to feel “part of the in crowd” and will buy this piece of crap just to try to “look cool”.

    I wish Bill Gates hadn’t saved Apple’s hash back when they were weeks away from joining Osbourne, Commodore and Atari on the tech museum shelves … this is a company that deserved to die an ignominious death! I can only hope that the Microsoft/HP tablet project is going to finally be THE tablet and that Apple will fade away with their fanboys and damn hubris.

    – @BTRIPP

Leave a comment...