Do we really need the iPad?

Announcing the release of the iPad, covered on the Gadget Guy website and all over the known, yuppie gadget-obsessed world – which is to say in San Francisco – Apple’s main man Steve Jobs opened a huge can of worms with his speech. Not content with metering out a severe kicking to the netbook, questioning it’s very existence (if I were a netbook, I’d be outside Apple’s Cupertino HQ right now, marching in circles, waving banners and shouting angry-sounding slogans, believe you me), the somewhat smug CEO claimed all sorts of pioneering world firsts before making the even more grandiose statement that Apple’s new gadget, which he was going to share with us momentarily, was the “true third category device”.

According to Jobs, the entire western world “all use laptops and smart phones now”. I’ll let my Gran know, she’ll be so embarrassed. It’s perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but then this is from the same man who claims that “Apple reinvented the phone, with the iPhone”. No Steve, you really didn’t. You may have given it a beautiful interface, but you know, the phone works just the same as it always has; dial a number, talk to someone a long way away.

Anyhow, Jobs reckoned that, and quoting again from his launch speech, “the question has arisen, lately: Is there room for a third category of device in the middle, something that’s between a laptop and a smart phone”.

We’re going to let that one slide. Ah OK, maybe not. I’m sure that the only place that question has actually arisen is in Apple’s marketing department, as Jobs cajoles them to think up ways of making even more money. But the thing is, that’s actually a pretty good question. People with far fewer ulterior motives have asked that question before, so it’s a good one to consider here.

The soon to be available Apple iPad.
The soon to be available Apple iPad.

Justifying his new baby’s existence, Jobs says the iPad has to be far “Far better at doing some key tasks…some really important things….than a laptop or smart phone; otherwise it has no reason for being”, by which he means web browsing, email, enjoying photographs and music and playing games. Whether you would categorise such activities as “really important” is another discussion entirely, but it’s not clear what Jobs means by “better”.

Consider the existing alternatives. Anyone who’s lived with a netbook might be tempted to agree with Jobs’ hyperbole that they’re not “better at anything”. But they’d be wrong. Netbooks can be smaller, they can seamlessly integrate with your desktop PC (using something like Live Mesh, they can update and synch shared folders in real-time) and they’re far more versatile, in terms of software.

Both of these netbooks from MSI and HP have webcams built in.
Both of these netbooks from MSI and HP have webcams built in.

They have built-in cameras – the iPad doesn’t – so are way better at videoconferencing. They run Flash, so your browsing can be better and so will playing Flash games; so the iPad isn’t better at games. Netbooks can store more stuff than the iPad, with bigger hard drives as standard, and feature USB ports for direct uploads. They can have full-sized, real keyboards, or near as damn it.

On the other end of the scale, you have your smart phones, including the iPhone. The iPhone does everything that the iPad does, only it actually fits in your pocket – unlike the iPad, which is demonstrably bigger than Steve Job’s own head. And, again, the iPhone has a camera, but the iPad doesn’t. I have Kindle on my iPhone, and own an actual Kindle, so don’t need another e-book.

So it looks like Jobs has written iPad’s epitaph himself: “it has no reason for being”.