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But it is not, does not...!

I've heard a lot of complaints about the iPad. Some people can't even understand why I'd want one. So I figured I'd address that.

At RoughlyDrafted Magazine, Daniel Eran Dilger is doing a series of posts debunking myths about the iPad. I'm going to try not to repeat what he's written too much since he's doing a better job than I could. However, here's a few I'll address. (He does cover two issues I commonly hear that I've omitted here: "It's just a big iPod Touch." and "It's just another Kindle.")

The bevel's too big.

Well, first, how big is the bevel? The technical specifications for the iPad state that the iPad is 9.56 inches high, 7.47 inches wide, and has a 9.7 inch diagonal screen. Since the aspect ratio of the screen is 4:3, the screen should be 7.76 inches high and 5.82 inches wide. This leaves 1.8 inches on the height and 1.65 on the width for the bevel. Divide by two and this suggests an average bevel of 0.9 inches for the top and bottom and 0.825 inches for the left and right sides.

The iPad is designed as a handheld device. Unlike a laptop, there is nothing to support it but the user's hands. Unlike a phone or other small device, it cannot fit within the palm of the user's hand. So it must be held by the user much like one would hold a clipboard or a book. To hold it, the thumb has to have a place on top of the device.

The thumb rests in the bevel. Under the assumption that my hand is average-sized, I measured the width of my thumb. My thumb is about 0.875 inches across. This correlates roughly with the size of the bevel. If the bevel were smaller, the thumb would obscure the screen.

The 4:3 aspect ratio is wrong.

This depends a lot on what you're going to use the device for. As pointed out at The Unofficial Apple Weblog, the 4:3 aspect ratio is the standard ratio for just about everything but video. Trade paperbacks, such as System Performance Tuning, are 9 inches high by 7.5 inches wide, 4:3. The PDFs generated by The Pragmatic Bookshelf for their books, e.g. the one for Metaprogramming Ruby, specify these dimensions.

Using a 16:9 aspect ratio for video would also increase the size of the device. In order for the screen to be the same width (5.82 inches), it would need to be about 10.35 inches long. Adding in the bevel and it'd be about 12.15 inches high, making it a slightly odd size. It would be tailored well for showing video but not for much else.

You can't make phone calls with it.

This seems to come from a belief that the iPad is supposed to replace the iPhone. It's not. In the keynote speech, Steve Jobs says that the iPad is intended for a role between the smartphone (i.e. the iPhone) and the laptop.

So since the iPad is not a smartphone, why should it be set up for making phone calls? The consumer presumably already has some sort of phone already that they will retain.

It doesn't support Flash.

No. And why does it need to? The iPad will come with a native YouTube app. While I agree that it would be nice to see some other flash animations, I don't see it as a necessity.

Daniel Eran Dilger addresses this some. He makes one point that bears reiterating: "Flash is the primary reason Safari crashes, and even accounts for the vast majority of Apple’s Mac OS X crash reports." If your primary goal is to provide a stable, usable device, then providing a technology that has been shown to cause instability is a non-optimal choice.

One point that he does not make is: Adobe Flash Player is itself insecure. In 2009, Adobe released five security advisories for the Flash Player, each one identified by Adobe as critical and each one possibly allowing an attacker to take control of the system. A significant amount of malware, such as Gumblar, has been distributed via these vulnerabilities in the Flash Player. Given this track record, would you want Flash on anything that should be secure?

It doesn't support multitasking.

There is some merit to this. Under the current version of the iPhone OS, when you switch away from an application, it saves its state and stops. This means that network connections are closed. If you have an SSH or VNC client running and switch applications, you then have to reconnect to the server. I can see this being annoying.

However, for most other use cases, I'm not certain this is a huge deal. Between push notifications and the available applications, this no longer seems to be an issue for instant messaging. This may be handled for most other tasks for which you would want to have a background network application running.

There's a lot of complaining about a lack of active multitasking, i.e. having multiple applications shown on the screen simultaneously. For a screen of the size of the iPad, this seems like a bad idea. While the resolution of the screen is 1024x768, it's only 7.76 inches high by 5.82 inches wide. This means there are about 132 pixels per inch. On a 15 inch diagonal screen, this was only 85 pixels per inch. So while the resolution is the same, the density is much higher and it becomes harder to have multiple windows displayed comfortably. Thinking back on that 15 inch monitor with windows overlapping windows and having to switch to check on their status (something that even plagues me on newer monitors), I am reminded of this passage from Frederick Brooks' essay "No Silver Bullet":

The so-called "desktop metaphor" of today's workstation is instead an "airplane-seat" metaphor. Anyone who has shuffled a lap full of papers while seated between two portly passengers will recognize the difference--one can see only a very few things at once.

If the desktop metaphor cannot be achieved on a physically larger monitor (or even on today's much larger monitors with much larger resolutions), how can it possibly be achieved on a smaller screen? Showing only one application, while understandably limiting, prevents the sort of madness multiple windows would create.

It's not perfect

No, it's not. But is anything?


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