On 27th January of this year, Apple’s jean-clad messiah Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s new tablet-like device – the iPad. It was probably the most unsurprising surprise product announcement ever. You can watch the whole 1.5 hour piece here.

As I’d anticipated beforehand, the iPad turned out to be a blown-up version of the iPhone/iPod Touch. It uses practically the same operating system, the same multi-touch interface and the same App Store method of obtaining applications.

Why would i ever need an iPad?

This is the first thing I asked myself, and I’m sure the first thing you would ask when confronted with any new product that demands you to throw your money at it. Luckily, Steve was on hand to explain Apple’s reasoning.

According to Steve, most people now own a smartphone like the iPhone or BlackBerry. Most people own a laptop of some sort too (I’d say the latter assumption is more valid than the former, but the iPhone has indeed led to a surge in smartphone ownership). Therefore, the only reason you would need yet another device in-between the 2 is if that new device did some tasks better than a smartphone and a fully fledged computer.

Interesting, Steve. What ‘tasks’ did you have in mind. Here are the things that Steve claims an iPad does better than a laptop and a smartphone:

Wow. Apparently, the iPad is better for browsing the web, email, looking at and organising photos, watching videos, listening to music, playing games and reading eBooks. I’m going to tell you why this is a load of poo.

Internet Browsing

The reason that the iPad is not a real tablet PC is all down to the operating system. As I said before, it works pretty much identically to the iPhone. Therefore, the web browser is a very similar version of Safari to the one found on the iPhone, albeit with a few more options.

Yes, the larger screen makes it better to view and navigate through web pages than the iPhone. But it cannot possibly compete to PC web browsers, with their configurability, ability to install a myriad of plugins and superior compatibility.

The most talked-about web deficiency of the iPad and iPhone is the lack of Flash. Apple’s reason behind this is pretty logical – Flash is proprietary and causes a lot of application crashes on computers. Apple wants to displace Flash from mainstream use, pushing alternatives like H.264. Whilst all this is true, and I would also like to see less Flash on websites, it doesn’t help us now when so much embedded media (and sometimes entire sites) are written using Flash.

Ruh-roh. The all too familiar unpleasant sight for iPhone and iPod Touch users now comes to grace the iPad.

Plus there’s the (im)practicality of the thing. If you’re on a train or sitting somewhere, a laptop wins every time. If you are on the move, it is fairly simple to check the news/weather etc. on your iPhone. Anyone who has to stop, take their great big iPad out of their bag and use it whilst walking will probably seem as stupid as they will undoubtedly look.

So the phone wins on ‘on-the-go’ browsing, and the laptop wins on ‘sitting-down’ browsing. Unless there is another physical state that I’m missing, that leaves nowhere where it makes sense to browse the net on an iPad.

Email

I’m not even going to dignify this claim with much of a response. How is typing an email on a touchscreen better than using a fully fledged email client on a laptop with a real keyboard? Answer: it isn’t. It beats the iPhone, but again, it comes back to the practicality issue. When you’re on the move, you want to access and write emails from your pocket. Unless you have some unusually shaped trousers, I can’t see you fitting an iPad in there.

Photos

Okay, this is one thing that the iPad would be nice for. The screen is the perfect size for viewing photos of a good size portably. The cut-down version of iPhoto on the iPad is much closer to the desktop version than the iPhone version, and so this makes it the ideal platform for viewing and organising photos.

But the iPad makes for one hell of an expensive photo album. And it’s still not better than a laptop. You can’t do much in the way of photo editing.

Another fatal flaw of not having a fully-fledged desktop operating system (coupled with Apple’s aversion to letting you customise anything) is the lack of file-browsing capability. This means you can’t organise folders and do anything obvious like dragging and dropping files. I hate this on the iPhone, but I can sort of understand it. Carrying this lack of functionality over to the iPad (which is supposed to be more like a computer) really, really kills it. Aside from just photos, it means that there is nowhere to save documents or anything else, aside from within applications.

Video

Kind of like I mentioned for photos, the screen size would also be good for watching videos on. But, we find ourselves in the same position as before. The iPad is not small enough to put in your pocket to watch videos on. You will look like a pleb if you walk down the street watching a video on one. And when you’re sitting down, a laptop wins for video every time. Not so much for the hardware, but for the plugins and software on computers which mean that you can watch videos in practically any format. You won’t be able to do this on an iPad.

Actually, I kinda lied about the hardware. Since the iPad has no connectivity and no media input whatsoever, you can’t connect any external drive to it, and you can’t watch DVDs on it. You can on a laptop. Oops – fatal flaw Apple, especially as capacities for the iPad (16, 32 and 64GB) don’t particularly lend themselves to storing a lot of films, especially when you have a lot of other stuff on them.

Music

Oh please. If you want to organise your music on the iPad, you need a laptop/computer with iTunes anyway. Ok, so iPad’s version of iTunes has a lot more options than that on the iPod/iPhone, including better EQ settings. But surely people would rather listen to their music on an iPod/iPhone/other MP3 player when not at home than a massive tablet? Hey, Apple must be right, mustn’t they?

Games

This is a bold claim for a device that has no ‘hard’ input device. There is no way on earth that a device like this could hold a candle to a laptop when it comes to playing games. That’s right Steve, I’ll play Mass Effect 2 on my laptop with a decent graphics card, a keyboard and a mouse whilst you play tilt puzzle games on your iPad. Actually, I can’t imagine Steve playing games on any device, which is probably why he always hands the mic over when they are mentioned in one of his keynotes.

Sure, there are some innovative casual games out for the iPhone, but can the iPad offer anything more than that? I think not.

eBooks

Apple have obviously placed a lot of importance on this feature, especially since they opened up a whole new online bookstore for the iPad. Nobody would ever read a book on an iPhone. I don’t particularly like reading books on a computer either. Does that mean the iPad wins this battle? Erm, no.

The main reason that people don’t like reading on screens is the way our eyes get tired from the backlighting. Enter E Ink screens – found on eBook readers such as Amazon’s Kindle. These don’t have backlighting, and use a special display technology which imitates ink on a page in terms of the way that the eye processes it. This way, it doesn’t strain your eyes whilst reading for long periods of time.

At the moment, E Ink technology can only display monochrome images. But a number of companies are developing similar technologies which can display colour. Once this happens, the iPad will look like an unwanted child. If a colour E Ink type screen was developed with a quicker refresh rate (allowing you to view video as well as still images), this would render the iPad completely useless. Alternatively, Apple could choose to replace the screen on the iPad with a new technology when it becomes available. This would actually make the iPad a whole lot more attractive. However, as it stands, reading on an iPad is akin to reading on a laptop.

My final point on reading concerns (again) the lack of file-browsing capability. The fact that you cannot save .doc and .pdf files anywhere means that you must rely on iBooks to get your reading thrills. Stupid.

Hardware

A quick point on the hardware. There is no webcam attached to the top. I thought the idea of having a video conversation on the iPad would be a massive selling point. It’s something you can’t do on the iPhone and something that would be awkward to do on the go with a laptop.

There is no media slot – no CDs, DVDs or memory cards of any sort. If Apple want the iPad to be better than a PC and a phone for photos, doesn’t being able to stick in a memory card from someone’s camera and importing/viewing those photos instantly sound like an obvious must-have feature?

Question – what piece of connectivity does a computer have that increases its usefulness pretty much infinitely?

Answer – a USB port.

As you guessed, the iPad doesn’t have even one of these. Apple really doesn’t want you to be able to connect anything to it. Not that it would make much difference, because the iPad OS wouldn’t support external devices anyway.

Okay, to be fair, there are adapters that you can get for an SD card and for USB that enable you to connect a camera to import photos and videos. But why can’t these be built in? And what if I want to connect something that isn’t a camera?

I told you it sucks

So, out of the iPad’s specialist disciplines, viewing Photos is the only thing that it seems truly good for. It doesn’t do many things much better than the iPhone and it doesn’t do anything at all better than a computer.

There’s another thing that Apple liked to show off when the iPad was launched – the fact that it ran iWork so that you could do work on it. Wow! Having no file-browser, an inconvenient input method and no Microsoft Office, I can see all of 0 people using the iPad for productivity.

Apple’s selling point for the iPad was the fact that it does the things mentioned above better than a smartphone and better than a computer. Sorry guys, I’m really not seeing what you’re seeing.