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The iPad - it's really quite mediocre

It was supposed to be a magical and revolutionary device. But now that it's here, it is plain that it really isn't anything special at all.


We had to wait a while for the iPad to arrive in the UK. Today (May 28) is in fact the official launch day, but the delivery driver called at Audio Masterclass Towers unexpectedly early, so we got our iPad a day early.

And after a day of experimentation it is clear exactly what the iPad is...

It's a computer, only less.

Think of it this way... You could buy a computer and it will be able to do anything a computer can do. That might seem trivial but in fact it is an essential part of computing theory.

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Anything that is computable can be computed by any computer. (Try saying that three times in quick succession.) Let's call that the 3C law for short.

Where practical computers differ from each other is in what accessory features they possess, like a slot for an SD card, or easy access to the contents of the non-volatile memory, for example (the iPad has neither). They also differ in speed, so where one computer might be able to compute quickly enough, another computer might not be able to keep up with the flow of data.

Other than that, all computers are fundamentally the same.

But the iPad isn't a computer. It is less than a computer.

My reason for saying that is that it doesn't obey the 3C law, so it isn't a computer. It may be a fairly versatile computer-like device, but it isn't a computer.

The reason the iPad doesn't stand up to the 3C criterion is that Apple doesn't let it. Apple will only let the iPad do what they see fit for it to do.

So if it can't compute what any genuine computer can, then it isn't a computer. No 3C.

OK, let's move on.

If the iPad (which is not a computer) is so "magical and revolutionary", what can it do that a computer can't?


Well, nothing apart from help you look cool on the train or bus to work, and even that's debatable.

But what about those millions of apps in the App Store? Surely they can help the iPad do things that real computers can't?

Well this is a possibility. Someone might write a program for the iPad that Apple graciously allows into the App Store that provides functionality that is not available in any program written for real computers.

But such programs could be written for real computers. They are open devices that anyone can program, not just certain developers who are blessed by Apple's magic wand.

So just what is the iPad then, and what can Apple possibly claim that is so "magical and revolutionary" about it?

Well there are a number of positive features...

Firstly, it is a very good attempt at a true 'lean back' device.

Computers as we traditionally know them are 'lean forward' devices that you use at a desk. A television is a 'lean back' device that you use to relax. The iPad goes a long way toward being 'lean back', and this is a real development.

Secondly, the iPad is also very easy to use, for what it does. Anyone can get useful stuff out of it very easily because although its features are limited, the features that it has are very well designed.

Thirdly, because of Apple's tight control, it's protected from viruses and - hopefully - buggy software. This could be a significant bonus.

Fourthly, you might just like it. Just liking something can be a good enough reason. Why not?

So will Audio Masterclass be hanging on to its shiny new iPad? Or will it soon be ignominiously up for auction on eBay?

Well, it's too early to answer that question. But buying into the iPad experience could be very relevant to anyone with an interest in technology. Anyone who makes a living from a technology-related field might find it essential to keep up to date in developments in 'lean back' computing.

It might be interesting to come back in a year's time and see how prescient this article was.

Or how wrong?

By David Mellor Friday May 28, 2010