The iPad dead-end

In a slight departure from my normal blogging, I thought I’d tackle a subject close to my heart – the iPad. Or more accurately, in my opinion the iPad is not the dominant computing paradigm of the future, it’s a diversion to Nowheresville.

I actually own an iPad, albeit by accident after I applied to go on a cloud computing course where the iPad was thrown in as an incentive. I didn’t need the incentive but I did take the iPad and I loved it for a long time.

But I realise that the iPad is actually preventing me from properly functioning on the Internet and I think it’s reached a natural peak and its all downhill if someone can produce (or Michael Arrington can reproduce) the Crunchpad or similar.

Let me explain myself.

The greatest gift that the iPad has brought is easy-to-use, always-on Internet browsing, email and twittering. It certainly beats a laptop for passive consumption of the Internet (or at least, the part of the Internet that doesn’t use Flash). The iPad is a consumer device for people who don’t want to contribute too much but do want to browse a lot. I use iTunes a lot to download courses from premier academic institutions worldwide (especially MIT’s excellent OpenCourseware library). I watch these courses while commuting, or simply sitting in Starbucks. The iPad is great for downloading and watching movies and TV shows (as long as it’s on iTunes).

But let’s face it – this is a consumer device with less memory and storage capacity than an average netbook, and with a proprietary operating system and hardware locked down to prevent upgrades or any non-Apple approved modifications. The iPad 1, which I have, has 256MB of RAM while the iPad 2, just released, has 512MB of RAM.

My daughter’s netbook, by comparison, has 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard disk. It runs Windows 7, but could run Ubuntu netbook Linux or any number of other Linuxes. And I could go anywhere to get movies and applications – including iTunes.

Can I work on an iPad? No, is the honest answer. Typing on a touchpad for anything more than a quick email is a trial of endurance – and it gets quickly painful if I try to enter some mathematics equations.

Let me demonstrate: try entering the following on an iPad

x= \frac{-b \pm \sqrt{b^2 -4ac}}{2a}

That took me 20 secs on a laptop keyboard using LaTeX. Now try it on an iPad any way you can think of. You have to jump from alphanumeric to numeric to symbols and back again at least 10 times. (Good luck finding \pm by the way)

Painful? Yup.

Never mind equations – is Mathematica, Maple, Mathcad, Sage, Matlab or R available for iPad? No. The math software on iTunes are all basic and real math software will never be available under such draconian limitations as are imposed by iPad’s crappy hardware specification.

I can run any of the above math software on my daughter’s netbook, as underpowered as that is.

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5 Responses to The iPad dead-end

  1. Gary says:

    Hasn’t Apple always been about consumer products rather than productivity tools? The exception might be in the graphic arts area, but otherwise it was the IBM PC that broke into the system terminal territory (remember the old IRMA emulation boards) and became the low-end, desktop number cruncher platform. Why should the iPad buck the trend?

  2. John A says:

    I think I’m just irritated that instead of getting faster processors and bigger storage, we’re now getting low-power appliances with proprietary operating systems and software that is so one-dimensional that its called an “app”.

    I still use the iPad when I go out, but to do this (blogging) then a proper keyboard and a reasonable browser that renders properly is essential.

    Here is what the IPad should have been like:

    Now THAT’S something worth saving up for.

  3. John A says:

    I forgot to mention WeTab will run Windows 7 and/or Linux

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