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Even if you decide you want an iPad, maybe you are best advised to wait until a better iPad comes along.

The initial model iPads have some major limitations that are sure to be resolved in the next generation.

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Apple iPad - Too Early to Declare a Winner

Competitors are racing to catch up and possibly beat the iPad

Another non Apple tablet, this time a 2008 product from Dell.

Part 2 of an article on why you should wait to buy an iPad.  Click for part 1.



Apple's claim that their iPad comprises the most advanced technology is contradicted by the reality of some surprising limitations the device suffers from.

Even if you love the idea of a tablet type device, maybe you might be well served to wait until Apple (or a competitor) comes out with an improved version tablet with fewer limitations and better overall use and value.

With the market evolving so quickly at present, today's devices will be technologically obsolete in very short order, and tomorrow's devices may be very much better and more compelling.

Software - Several Reasons to Wait

One of the strong features of the iPhone family is its massive range of programs - currently described as being in excess of 150,000 applications.

Up front we have to qualify this number.  It seems that in some cases, individual book titles are being counted as applications, and 'vanity' programs being offered by companies that are little more than a bookmark to access their website are also being counted as applications.

The real number of useful, independent, programs is much less.  It is way too subjective to try and put a number alongside this, but let's say it is somewhere between 10,000 and 50,000 - still a remarkably huge number, of course.

The good news is almost all of these programs will immediately run on an iPad too.  But the bad news is they are hard-coded to fit on the iPhone's 320x480 pixel screen, which is slightly less than one quarter the resolution of the iPad's screen (1024x768), so when running on the iPad, you either have a tiny app all by itself in the middle of the screen, or you magnify it in size.  But magnifying it doesn't make it bigger and clear - quite the opposite.  The text and graphics become fuzzy and pixelated.

Developers are of course rushing to release iPad versions of their programs.  At present, many iPad versions are simply an enlarged interface version of the iPhone app, but with no new interface enhancements to make better use of the extra screen 'real estate' available on the iPad.

This too will change, as developers start to completely rethink and redesign their applications.  But there's less than 100 applications, as of launch date, that show true imagination and enhancement, and which make advantage of the new potential of the iPad.

There is also an interesting trend.  While most iPhone apps are either free or priced at perhaps $0.99 or $1.99, it seems that many iPad apps are being priced at much higher points - $4.99 and $9.99.  Overall, some commentators are estimating that iPad apps are twice as expensive as iPhone apps.

This may be similar to what happened with iPhone apps.  They started off being priced at higher levels than they are now at, and possibly iPad apps will drop in price too as competing apps become more prevalent, and as the app developers, just like Apple, switch from trying to maximize the dollars they take from 'early adopters' to settling down for the long haul with a marketplace that is more price sensitive.

The lack of app alternatives, and their current high prices, is another reason to put off buying an iPad now.

Current Limitations of the iPad - Another Reason to Wait

The iPad is a lovely device, in many respects.  But it suffers some surprising omissions that will surely be addressed and resolved in future versions.

Some shortcomings are software based.  If Apple subsequently releases a browser that supports Flash, that will probably be able to be installed on previously purchased iPads and iPhones.  And perhaps also if a new OS supports some type of multi-tasking, that too could be added to earlier models.

But hardware weaknesses are locked in to the model you own.

Lack of camera(s)

Most notable of these hardware weaknesses is no camera.  A true high end device would have two - a lower resolution webcam on the front of the iPad for video chatting, and a high resolution camera with LED flash on the back of the iPad to take video and still images.

You may recall that the latest tiny iPod Nano units come complete with a minute video camera, and of course all iPhones have a medium resolution camera/camcorder.  It even seems there is the physical space inside the iPad to fit one or two cameras, so the omission of the camera is truly surprising and very disappointing.

One of the things the iPad could potentially be truly good at is an internet chat device, but the lack of a webcam massively reduces its appeal.  This omission (which might have been based on a shortage of tiny sized camera units) will almost surely be speedily resolved in the very next release of iPads.

New Wireless Connectivity Capabilities

At present, the iPad supports all four current versions of the 802.11 Wi-Fi spec (a,b,g,n) and so this is a stable mature capability.  It also has good Bluetooth capabilities (version 2.1 + EDR).

But its weakness is in the types of data coverage provided by wireless companies.  In the US, it is compatible only with AT&T's type and frequency of wireless data service.

There is a huge growth in new types of wireless data service at present, with the range of different and incompatible 3G services already available now being supplemented by new types of 4G (ie even faster) data service.  The iPad can use none of these, only AT&T's 3G and 2.5G (EDGE) service.

It seems likely to expect new model iPads may add further wireless connectivity capabilities.

Doesn't do double duty as a phone

This may never change, but it is a surprising omission.  Why doesn't the option that offers phone-type wireless data go one small step further and promise full regular voice phone capabilities.  If it could do that, it would address one of the overall weaknesses of the iPad - the problem with the iPad is that, for most of us, it doesn't truly replace any other piece of electronic gear we own - instead, it becomes yet another gadget for us to buy, to carry with us when we travel, etc.

If the iPad truly could double as a regular phone, at least it would save us the expense and bother of having to own both an iPhone and iPad - except that, there is probably a clue in the preceding part of this sentence as to why this will never happen.

Apple would be loathe to have its iPad sales simply replace its iPhone sales.  So perhaps we'll never see an iPad that is also an iPhone.  On the other hand, other manufacturers, who don't have a vested interest in also selling phones, might be quicker to add phone functionality to their competing devices, giving us another reason to 'wait and see' how the market evolves before investing $500 - $830 on a device that possibly might have a sadly short technological life.

Future Tweaks

In addition to big enhancements, future model iPads may have some less essential but still nice tweaks.

For example, the screen might become slightly larger, or more widescreen in format, and quite likely will become higher resolution so as to better allow for true HD video playback (something it can't do at present).

Battery life may slightly improve in future models, and storage capacity will surely increase too.

Some things won't change

The design and control philosophy of Apple is such that we'll probably never see the iPad offer direct raw access to its storage via a USB port, and it will probably never allow for SD cards to provide supplemental storage, preferring instead to force us into buying larger capacity iPads up front.

These types of 'weaknesses' merely reflect Apple's approach to the world, and you either love it, accept it, or hate it.  And, if you struggle to accept, or hate this closed architecture, it is another reason to wait until there are good open architecture iPad competitors to consider.

The Future Success and Dominance of the iPad is Uncertain

For sure, Apple is currently riding an extraordinary wave of success in the marketplace.  No-one can deny the enormous success Apple had and still has with its MP3 players, and similarly no-one can deny the equally deserved success Apple has had with its iPhone.

The transforming success of both these devices in the markets they belong has given Apple an aura of invulnerability, an aura that the iPad has basked in, whether deserved or not.

But the new iPad is moving closer to the computer part of the consumer electronic marketplace than either the iPhone or iPod, and when we start to look at computers, the Apple example is much less stellar.

No-one can deny that Apple's Mac series of computers failed to build on Apple's earlier success with its original Apple computers.

Apple was in a similar situation when it released the Mac to the situation it now is with the iPad.  It was the first company to credibly offer a new product - in the former case, a computer with an intuitive graphic interface and mouse.  There had been attempts at graphical interfaces and mice before, but it was the Mac that made it into a mainstream product.

But Apple's high prices and closed architecture allowed Microsoft to attack its operating system, and hordes of hardware manufacturers to attack its hardware.  While Apple/Mac enthusiasts maintain that the Mac remains superior to the PC, its superiority has little relevance in a PC dominated marketplace that these days has largely ignored the Mac and moved on past it.

And, more recently, it could be argued that the same thing is happening again with the iPhone.  At the time of writing this update (Oct 2010) Android smartphones are outselling iPhones, for all the same reasons that PCs ended up trouncing Macs.

Will a combination of high price and closed architecture again trap Apple with its iPad?  This time the onslaught of competing devices can be expected much more quickly than happened with the Mac - Google's Android OS is already giving the iPhone a run for its money, and new tablet devices powered either by Android, a Windows operating system, or even a Linux based OS are expected to start appearing not years later, but in the next few weeks and months.

Update Oct 2010 :  There are now more than 23 different manufacturers who have announced plans to release iPad competing tablet devices over the next some months.

Notwithstanding these preceding comments, we are definitely not saying the iPad may end up being a failed and withdrawn product, just like Apple's earlier Newton table type device quickly became.  But you shouldn't feel the need to rush out and buy an iPad 'just because', and if you do buy an iPad, you need to accept that you may have ended up choosing the Mac equivalent of a tablet, with other tablets from other suppliers becoming much more common and much better value.

To put it bluntly, other manufacturers may develop superior products, and at better prices.  Impossible?  Here's a write-up of a new product that seems to have a dream set of features, and which seems to be better than the iPad in every respect.  Admittedly, its release date and price is not yet certain.  But just as the best of the new Android based cell phones are now more feature-rich than the iPhone, there's every reason to anticipate other iPad type devices being as good or better than the iPad, and at lower prices.

Again, this is a good reason to sit back and watch/wait while the marketplace adjusts to the new tablet paradigm and sorts out who the winners and losers will be.

One last comment here.  If you can't wait to buy an iPad or other tablet device, you need to first read our multi-part series 'A Buying Guide to iPad and Tablet Devices' that walks you through all the things you need to know about how to compare and choose the best of the growing profusion of such devices for yourself.

The Bottom Line

'The early bird gets the worm', or so the proverb tells us.  But if you rush out to buy an iPad, are you the bird - or the worm?

For most of us, we are better advised to 'look before you leap'.

This is the second part of a two part article on why you should wait to buy an iPad.  Click to return to the first part.

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Originally published 9 Apr 2010, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.


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