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Thoughts on the iPad

A month passed since Apple released the iPad, its new tablet computing device. The iPad is a strange device because it does not replace mobile phones (it’s too big to carry around) and it does not replace laptops (it doesn’t run desktop applications, no Flash, no CD reader, etc). The iPad runs the iPhone OS, which is a powerful mobile operating system, but one which is also extremely restrictive and does not allow its users to install any applications except those approved by Apple. Yet with all these restrictions, Apple managed to sell one million iPads within just one month – much more than what the iPhone sold in its first month!

The iPad is a new tablet device category that is primarily used to consuming media. Browsing the internet on the iPad is nice because you have to physically touch the links with your finger to open them and then scroll up or down with a gesture with your fingers. Videos appear beautifully on the crisp high-resolution iPad screen and even though it is not in proper widescreen aspect ratio, it is still comfortable to use.

The iPad is going to expand further the market for ebooks. The fact that it does not use e-ink, unlike the Amazon’s Kindle and other readers, will not be a big barrier for in this market, especially as the richness at which electronic magazines and other publications can be delivered cannot be replicated on any other devices currently in the market.

The iPad is also an excellent gaming device because of its screen size, processing power, its unique multi-touch and accelerometer controls, and its connectivity features via 3G, wifi, and Bluetooth. The combinations of all these features create new opportunities for gaming which attracted many mainstream game developers to the iPad which will help the device can easily compete with other traditional game consoles.

The iPad does not come without its flaws though. When it comes to browsing the internet, it is hard to ignore the fact that it does not support Flash and is unlikely ever to get it because of Apple’s new direction. I also found the screen of the device a bit too reflective for my liking and difficult to use in bright situations. Reading eBooks on it is also only comfortable when the file is formatted for iPad display and not any other PDF file created for printing on A4 size paper. For those of us who also like to write in Arabic, the iPad will also prove incomplete at this stage as it does not support Arabic text input (even though it reads Arabic text perfectly).

After having the iPad for a week, I still find it hard to recommend this device to everyone. It is surely is a nice gadget to have around the house to consume all sorts of media from the coach or from bed, and casually browsing the internet on it is fun, but I still do not think that it will solve a problem in many people’s lives. I do love my iPad now, and if you have the spare money to buy a new sexy gadget for browsing the internet from your coach then you will love it, but just remember that this device is for consumption of media and not really doing any serious work on it.

This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.

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The Walled Garden of Apple

The iPhone has been one of the most revolutionary devices in recent history, it has changed the way we use mobile phones, the way we browse the internet on the go, and the way mobile applications run. Apple managed to achieve this by imposing very strict controls over the operating system of the iPhone and the way users and developers interact with it.

Though technically comparable to that of a portable computer, the iPhone’s operating system is unique in the sense that Apple has absolute control over which applications may be installed on it, even those made by independent developers. There are methods to override the restrictions imposed by Apple and install any application you please, but that would void the warranty of the device, so the majority of users only download applications approved by Apple and made available for download through iTunes. Apple reviews each and every single application submitted to its App Store to ensure that the application is of satisfactory quality, that it does not improperly use system resources, and that it does not contain objectionable content.

For the most part, this has been good for users. It is not common to hear about an iPhone application that crashes or ones that impose a security risk. Yet many developers are starting to complain about the review procedure and the arbitrary decisions made by Apple relating to it. The definition of objectionable content turned out to be very loose so that applications with political commentary or risque content are banned on this ground. In addition to this Apple has rejected applications that compete with iPhone built-in features, such as Google Voice, which wanted to provide iPhone users enhanced calling capabilities.

Very recently a new iPhone software development kit was released by Apple which included new terms and conditions that prohibit using any language to develop iPhone applications other than the ones selected by Apple – even if these other languages were later translated into the same format as regular iPhone applications. Before the introduction of this new prohibition, developers were able to use their existing knowledge to develop iPhone applications without having to learn a new language and they could also develop applications for several other platforms using the same tools instead of having to use a different tool for each different platform. Apple does not only have control over what content developers have in their applications but also what tools and languages are used to develop these applications regardless of what the content is.

There is no doubt that Apple’s strict control over its devices has helped maintain excellent performance to its end users, but like the majority of people now, I am outraged by the new approach taken by Apple. It is simply excessive, even Microsoft’s old monopolistic practices seem innocent compared to this.

Yet I know that still most developers will not be deterred by the archaic rules the App Store because the opportunity to make profit selling iPhone applications exceeds that of any other existing platform, but I don’t think this will remain for long as competing platforms, such as Android, which are more open and transparent are starting to gain market share and could surely establish themselves as a viable alternative to the iPhone. We will just have to wait and see if Apple will be able to continue to rule the smart mobile space with such a regime.

This post was originally published as a column on Muscat Daily.