Monday 1 February 2010

On iPads and Google OS

There is an awful lot of noise at the moment about the iPad (which I guess I'm adding to...) but so many people seem to be really missing the point and this reminds me of a similar mis-perception about the Google OS recently.

It seems to me that Google and Apple are the only companies that really understand what personal computing is evolving into, both of them have a clear (but very different) vision of what is coming next and they are both totally blindsiding the rest of the tech industry.

When the Google OS was announced all my (techie) friends were saying "Whats the point of that?" and bemoaning the fact that everything was "in the cloud" and run through a browser - typical objections were
  1. No local applications
  2. Useless without internet access
  3. Why buy one of these instead of a laptop ?
All of these miss the point.  With Google Gears, browser applications can quite happily run locally, but you probably wont want to much - the vast majority of computer use these days is in fact internet use, so if you aren't connected you may as well switch the thing off.
As for the last item - "Why buy one of these instead of a laptop?" - the simple answer is that you don't.  Buy one that is.  Instead, you walk into Carphone Warehouse, sign up for the latest mobile phone on a 24 month contract and they chuck in a Google OS netbook free.
"But I don't trust Google with all my data." - fine, don't then, but most people really couldn't care less, and for them it is a bonus that all their data is in the cloud and backed up without them ever having to think about it.

What has this got to do with the iPad ?

Well the technically savvy are showing a similar lack of clue about this.  The main objections to the iPad seem to be:
  1. It's a big iPod
  2. The Kindle is better because it has e-ink
  3. The Kindle is better because it has weeks of battery life
  4. I can do more with my netbook
  5. Why didn't they put a phone (camera, gps, other....) in it ?
1. It's a big iPod - Yes it is.  And?
"But why would I pay out for one of these when it is just a big iPod?" - because, it is a big iPod.  All the people trotting out this argument seem to be saying that they already have an iPod and even though it only has a small screen they still play games, email, surf the web, read books, watch films etc. on it so why would they want a big iPod ?  Surely, surely, if you are already doing all this on a teeny little iPod screen, it's going to be so much better on an iPad?

2. The Kindle is better because it has e-ink - first off, I'd like to point out that the Kindle is really fugly, but that aside, the e-ink displays I've seen are grey, grainy and slow, and I would much, much, rather read off an LCD.  "But reading off the computer gives me eye strain" - I spend at least 8 hours a day, reading from an LCD and don't have eye strain, but then I wear the reading glasses that I am supposed to, and make sure I have proper lighting around the screen.  Also, e-ink doesn't do glossy magazines.

3. The Kindle is better because it has weeks of battery life - I don't need several weeks of battery life.  The iPad will (according to Apple) play video for 10 hours straight, and if you've just spent ten hours on the damn thing then it is probably time for bed anyway - just plug it in before you go to sleep hugging it.  "But what about when I go on holiday - a Kindle will last for the whole two weeks!" - they don't have plug sockets where you go on holiday ?  Well, maybe they don't, but if you are on a "get away from it all" kind of vacation then you probably want to be laying off the tech a bit anyway.

4.  I can do more with my netbook - Yes, you can do more with your netbook, and for the same kind of price to boot, and this goes to the heart of what I have been talking about.  Before the iPad and Google OS, the IT industry completely misunderstood netbooks too.
The iPad is what netbooks were always supposed to be - and were, originally.  Netbooks are just seen as small laptops now, but this was not the  original market - they were intended to be web and email devices in a handy portable form factor.  It was only when the major manufacturers saw netbooks selling like hot cakes and decided to jump on the bandwagon with devices that were actually small laptops instead.
The laptop, by contrast, has for a long time been intended as a replacement for the standard personal computer, but by shrinking it down further it becomes far less usable as such and also fails to deliver the value for money and simplicity of the netbook ideal.
Now when people complain that the iPad can't do what a netbook can, they perfectly demonstrate their failure to understand either.

5.  Why didn't they put a phone (camera, gps, other....) in it ? - why would you possibly want a phone in it ?  You're not going to hold that up to the side of your face are you ?  Similarly with the camera, though I concede that a front facing one would be useful as a webcam, but you are not going to use it to take holiday (or Facebook) snaps.  As for other complaints about the lack of peripherals, again, you are missing the point.  Plug your peripherals into your PC (or Mac), not into the iPad that's lying on your knees as you are lounging on the sofa.

The point of the Google OS and the iPad (and other products being offered and developed by these companies) is that computing should be delivered to the masses as appliances.  And this is precisely why the technical community, who are the ones commenting and writing all the articles on these things, don't get it.  Technical people look at these things and see all the stuff that they can't do with them, but fail to realise that non-technical people don't want to do this stuff - they just want a device that works without them having to worry about things like viruses and backups.
Google's problem in this is that their vision is aimed at the techie community, which largely don't get or want that vision.  They are appealing to the same market as Apple, but contrasting it with "Hey, we're free and open, don't buy that proprietary, locked down fanbois kit".  Trouble is, the only people that care about free and open are the geeks, and they want full-featured computers, not appliances.
So, my money is (metaphorically anyway) on Apple as they are aiming at the non-technical customer and all the criticisms of their approach that are levelled at them by the techie crowd are actually strengths in their target market.

Take a good look next time you pass an Apple shop - look at how rammo it is with ordinary people oohing and aahing over the lovely shiny gadgets.  You slap an iPad in front of these people and they will lap it up.

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