Let’s get this straight: my first adult computer purchase was an iMac Rev B back in 1998. I’m writing this on a black second-gen MacBook (soon to be replaced with a MacBook Pro). My 32GB iPhone 3GS goes everywhere I go, and I cannot travel without my 160GB iPod Classic. I smoke the ApplePipe in several different flavors, and I’m a daily user at that.
On the other hand, consider the specifics of what I use. I have never bought a first-generation Apple product. And, frankly, taking one look at the iPad’s unveiling this week, I am not persuaded to break my non-streak.
Look, no doubt about it, the iPad is pretty freakin’, well, pretty. It is the latest drop dead gorgeous design from the Cupertino boys, yet another Apple product where to see one with all of its smooth curves is to lust after one. The adaptation of the iPhone touchscreen interface to take advantage of a 9.7 inch screen looks stunning; that trick of using finger swipes to expand photo collections has me panting on my knees all by itself. Not only that, but if the printed newspaper is going to go the way of the Newton, then I want my digital version to look as nice and easy to read as the New York Times app demo did yesterday. That looks like something you can read with your coffee and eggs at the breakfast table.
I’m also daring iBooks to make a believer out of me. Let’s be honest — I love real books too much to be able to stomach spending a few hundred dollars on a Kindle; why would I want to spend a few hundred dollars on a dedicated device that doesn’t do the real thing as well as the real thing and has a smaller screen than the page size of the books I usually read? (There’s also the matter of wanting Isaac Asimov to be sorely wrong about the fate of print books he imagined for the Foundation series.) I’d have to get a Kindle DX to feel like I was reading a real book and not one I’d bought at the grocery store, and that still doesn’t solve my problem of compulsively wanting to underline and make copious notes in what I read. However, if the device in question is also the must-have subset of my portable music collection, movie collection, and a working productivity machine that’s even thinner and lighter than my laptop — well, that’s more than double the functionality of a dedicated e-book reader, and already with a reasonably-sized screen, for all of $10 more than the Kindle DX. Sounds like a no-brainer to me — if I’m going to put out that kind of dosh, it better do all of that.
(That said, looking at the screenshots of the iBooks interface, Delicious Library has got to be pissed right now. Probably not for the first time either, since their iPhone app still seems to be dead in the water.)
The truth is, as really and truly super-amazing-awesome all of that is, it doesn’t do anything that I’m just absolutely dying on the vine for it to do. There is not a category of device in my life into which it neatly fits; my MacBook took the place of my old Dell notebook, my iPhone replaced my cracked and cheap Samsung, and the utility of an iPod arose when I started traveling overseas. If the iPad is going to insinuate itself into my life (and not only do I grant that this may be inevitable, but I also sincerely hope that it is), I gotta have a reason. Right now, anyway, the iPad can’t replace all of those things wholesale without me giving up functionality. It can be a smaller version of my stuff (sorry, George Carlin), it can even be the version I curl up with next to a roaring fire while my wife looks on disapprovingly, but that’s all it can be as of yet — a version. Now, we may well be heading to the day when what we now think of as laptops are actually de facto desktops for all intents and purposes, and devices like the iPad become the portable working machine, but I just don’t think we’re there yet.
Besides which, I really can’t bring myself to be an early adopter of anything when it comes to teh gadgetz. 2000 was when I got my first DVD player. 2001 was when my wife and I first got cell phones. I just entered the Blu-Ray and HDTV market this last Christmas. I don’t have so much disposable income that my first thought when I see my wallet is, “Hey! What bleeding-edge device can I go out and buy today?” No, I’m one of those people who relies on the early adopters to work out the kinks for me, so that when the second, third, or fourth generation devices come along that I do buy, there are standards in place (I’m looking at you, high-def videodisc market), and there is a reasonable set of features for a reasonable price.
And make no mistake, the iPad is still missing some things. 1080p video for one, both on the screen and for output (my flatscreen HDTV has spoiled me in just over a month). A front-facing camera for videoconferencing (if not a second camera on the back). A built-in USB port, if not an HDMI port, and a SD slot.
All of these factors put together make me look at the iPad and — well, it’s not that I shrug, it’s just that I wipe off the drool after a few seconds and go back to trying to figure out which MacBook Pro I’m getting.
See, if I know Apple, they know all of this already, and they already have a detailed roll-out plan specifying which generation gets which feature. If the idea is that they have a particular price point in mind and they add features as it becomes feasible to do so within that price point or lower, then there’s no question in my mind that over the next two years or so the product will get to where it’s worth somebody like me buying it. To me, though, it’s not just a question of adding features, but also a matter of what kind of an app library is developed for the device. A couple of years’ worth of individual ingenuity with the SDK could well make the iPad a must-have for reasons I can’t presently predict.
All of this is to say, I expect that sometime in 2012, two things will happen, assuming the world doesn’t end. One, the third-generation iPad will be unveiled, and it will include a sufficient number of the features I enumerate here (the camera or cameras, plus 1080p video, will be the dealmakers for me), probably the second hardware refresh, and it will be at a price point that prompts me to launch the Apple Store app on my 1TB iPhone 6GZX and order one.
Second, rumors will start flowing about the new device secretly being worked on in the bowels of Apple. Maybe it’ll be the iPen you use on your iPad — who knows. I’ll be too busy curled up in front of the fire with my new iPad to care. End of the world or not, 2012 can’t come soon enough.