iPad Fever

By: jerry | 01/30/2010

Apple has finally announced their new tablet device, the iPad. With it comes the Apple apologists and the Apple haters, each with their take on why the iPad will be the greatest thing since, well, the iPhone, or why it will be an epic FAIL.

It's difficult to gauge at this point what the ultimate impact of this device will be, and frankly, I think it will take a year and a second generation version before the verdict is in. As I watched Steve Jobs on stage with the iPad I was continuously reminded of the PADD devices used by the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek. It might not be the first version, but I believe this device will find significant inroads into how we work in a way that was promised by Tablet PCs, but never delivered because of weight, a clumsy OS, etc.

As with any Apple device, the debut of the iPad has been marked by the things that are absent: a camera, Flash support, etc. This should come as no surprise to anyone since Jobs has been eliminating things from his creations since the iMac launched without a floppy drive. I remember the hue and cry about how the lack of a floppy drive made the iMac a joke. I guess Apple had the last laugh.

VIrtually every device that Apple has launched since then has left pundits gasping at what was missing. And almost without fail the devices have been a resounding success. I fully anticipate that the iPad will eventually get a camera, but it won't be the same as a camera phone. Apple will add some twist that makes sense with the new device. It might even be something they wanted to launch with this version but left out so they could reach one their most important goals: a $499 pricetag for the base model. As the cost of the hardware decreases, Apple will include more features -- but features designed specifically for the iPad.

Perhaps the biggest missing item on the list, though, is Flash support. My initial reaction was disappointment. As I've thought about it more, however, my disappointment is tempered by a few thoughts. There are primarily three uses for Flash: video, games and ads. I'm certainly not disappointed by the lack of ads and most, if not all Flash games, as John Gruber points out, are designed for a mouse and keyboard and wouldn't translate well to the multi-touch interface. This is not to say that some enterprising Flash developers wouldn't create games specifically for the iPad, but personally, I can live without the games.

The most significant issue related to Flash and web browsing is video. Currently much of the video published on the web uses a Flash video player and this will present some problems, especially on a device that Jobs touted as the best device for using the web. However, as more developers begin utilizing the video capabilities of HTML 5 -- as both Vimeo and YouTube are already starting to do -- this problem will quickly go away. While we as developers may be forced to support multiple video formats for many years to ensure that all of our visitors can watch our video content (I'm looking at you, Microsoft), I predict that by the end of 2010, this problem will be substantially diminished for iPad users. Like the iMac and the floppy drive, the iPhone and iPad will drive continued adoption of HTML5 standards and non-Flash video as an option. 

It's interesting that some bloggers (John Gruber, Gina Tripanni, Andy Baio) have been sharing their Flash visitor stats to show that Flash enabled browsers are on the decline. While this does appear to be true, I don't believe the numbers are quite as compelling as they might appear. The Lifehacker numbers show a 300% increase in Flash-less browsing, but that still only equals ~6% total. Gruber's numbers are around 32%, but likely only about 7% are actually completely Flash-less -- the rest are using Flash blockers that allow you to click to view Flash. I suspect that many users of these plugins are more interested in blocking Flash ads then surfing in a Flash-less world. In fact, I would suggest that this is a far more significant statistic for media buyers and ad agencies then it is for Apple.

I don't know if the iPad is significant inflection point for the industry the way the iPhone was. I do know that I am looking forward to a device that fits better for reading, video and casual web surfing. Hopefully the iPad fulfills my wishes, and even if it doesn't, it still feels like one step closer to Star Trek.

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