Monday, 3 May 2010

Ten Things you can't do on an Apple iPad

Apple iPad: No Can Do
Ten Things you can't do on an Apple iPad:
  1. Watch broadcast TV
    The iPad has nowhere to plug in a DVB TV tuner dongle, and even if if it had, the iPad doesn't decode the MPEG2 video format used for standard-format DVB digital tv broadcasts. It's MPEG4-only. So you can't use it as a personal video recorder, and if you have an existing PVR, you won't be able to copy or stream the recorded MPEG2 files to the iPad. Unless your other machine's fast enough to convert to MPEG4 in real time, you'll have to transcode your files to MPEG4 first. Oh, and not all MPEG4 transcoder software produces files that play properly on the iPhone OS, so even if you do transcode, you still might not be able to watch the files.

  2. Listen to the radio
    The iPhone chipset supposedly includes an onboard hardware FM radio, which the OS doesn't make available. In theory you can plug an FM receiver module into the iPhone/iPad docking connector, but in practice, it's cheaper to buy a separate radio (or a cheap MP3 player with a radio onboard). Apple don't make a separate snap-in radio, and third-party manufacturers ave been a bit reluctant to market one in case it becomes redundant overnight, if and when Apple decide to finally enable the internal device. Apple don't want you listening to FM until they can find a way to make money from it, and with FM, it's the radio station that gets the advertising revenue, not Apple.
    If you have a good internet connection, you can listen to a stack of radio stations online … as long as they don't use Flash as a delivery medium.
    Major radio stations are often also available via DVB ... but that's not an option with the iPad because of point (1).
    Many iPhone owners get their "fix" of radio by buying a speaker dock that includes an FM radio receiver, but fitting an iPad to one of these is a bit more difficult.

  3. Watch DVDs
    Okay, so you don't expect the iPad to have a DVD drive, but netbooks at least have the option of plugging in a cheap USB-powered optical drive to play your DVD movies. Not the iPad. And even if it had a general-purpose USB port, standard DVD video is encoded in MPEG-2, so even if you find a way to get the DVD .vob files de-encrypted and onto the iPad, it won't play them. If a relative passes you a homebrew DVD with your family's home movies, you're back into Transcoding Hell. Transcoding on a mac probably produces "Apple-friendly" MP4 files, first time, every time ... on other platforms, don't count on it.

  4. View or edit OpenOffice files
    Some organisations are trying to migrate away from using MSOffice files to more open formats, to avoid vendor lock-in. The main alternative suite is OpenOffice, which runs under Windows and Linux, can read and write all the main MS formats as well as its own "open" format, and also happens to be free. Apple don't seem to have a reader for "Ooo" files. They don't seem to much approve of open formats, and would rather you used Microsoft's apps and formats than open-source – they see open-source as a bigger threat than Microsoft.

  5. Share photos.
    Jobs says that sharing photos is "a breeze" on the iPad. By "sharing", he presumably means, "tilting the screen so that other people can see it". If you want to actually give someone a copy of a holiday picture, you'll probably have to do it on a different computer, rather than the iPad. There's currently no "file export" media option. Budget picture frames usually have have picture sorting, import/export, and USB/SD card support functions, but the iPad doesn't, it's strictly a secondary device. Any serious file organisation is supposed to be done on a parent computer, so don't expect to be able to sort your piccy collection on the iPad while sitting comportably on your sofa.
    There is a USB/Cardreader accessory listed for the iPad ... the Camera Connection Kit ... but Apple currently only describe it as allowing you to import files to the iPad. To get the photos out of the iPad, you're supposed to synch to the iPad's "parent" PC or Mac, and then save them from that parent device. In which case, it'd be faster to upload the files directly to the parent machine without going via the iPad. Not exactly "breezy".

  6. Use standard peripherals.
    As well as not having internal USB, the OS 3.x iPhone apparently doesn't support much in the way of bluetooth peripherals other than stereo headphones, and apparently doesn't even support Apple's own bluetooth keyboard. Apple's "official" external keyboard for the iPad is a dedicated iPad keyboard-and-stand, which only works in portrait mode. Heath and safety regulations say that you aren't supposed to use keyboards in an office environment unless they're adjustable, and this looks like it probably isn't. But Apple seem to have realised that this restriction sucked too much, and the iPad's OS 4.0 now seems to be more relaxed, and supports Apple's general-purpose bluetooth keyboard (which costs the same as the dedicated iPad keyboard).
    Unless the iPad's "OS 4.0" is a radical departure from 3.x, you probably also won't be able to zap contacts or notes or files into the iPad from general bluetooth peripherals, like you can with decade-old bluetooth-equipped Palm devices. I used to carry about a pocket-sized Targus folding keyboard and an OCR pen-scanner device with my old Palm organiser. Nothing like that seems to be available for the iPad.

  7. Record stereo audio.
    Apple want you buying music, not recording it, so while the Apple dock connector has pins for stereo in, the official iPad Apple specifications don't commit to the pins doing anything. Maybe they're connected, maybe they're not. If they are, great. But its a brave third-party manufacturer who releases a product or connector for a function that an Apple device isn't guaranteed to have – even if your gadget works now, one OS revision later it might not (see also (2) external FM radio). As a playback-only media centre, the iPad again has the problem that onboard organisation is limited – you're supposed to do all your media organising on a separate parent computer, and iTunes usually won't recognise album art originating on a PC. Often it won't recognise PC-ripped tracks and let you download replacement artwork, either. Of course, if you're sick of watching CoverFlow "flipping" blank squares, you can always buy your albums over again as Apple downloads, or rip the CD's again using a mac ...

  8. Use unapproved software.
    Apple reserve the right to decide what software you run on your machine, and there are certain sorts of applications they really don't want you to have. You normally aren't even allowed to load your own media files onto an iPhoneOS device unless the iTunes "sentry" approves – the iPx range won't emulate a basic thumb drive.
    You can often upload these "unapproved" apps and use your iPx gadget as a file caddy, by hacking past the Apple firmware's protection to expose the internal filesystem over USB – "jailbreaking" – but jailbreaking doesn't always work on all models, and it's too early to know what eventual proportion of iPads are likely to be jailbreakable.

  9. Camera functions
    iPhone OS 4 is supposed to finally add proper support for camera functions, but the iPad doesn't actually have a camera. In theory it'd be easy to add support for a camera that snaps onto the dock connector, but AFAIK, no third-party manufacturer has yet produced one.
    It's probably easy in theory to support a swivellable webcam that can point forwards as a camera or backwards for video calls, but that'd need the device to be held upside down with the dock connector at the top. There's no technical problem with this … except that Apple's own OS 3.x applications refuse to work in upside-down mode. On OS4, the onboard applications are supposed to work in any orientation, but it's still a bit discouraging for manufacturers to know that if they launch a camera, it won't work well on v3.x devices. There's also the possibility that if Apple do decide to embrace the idea of an add-on camera, they won't make the function ready until they have a camera of their own to sell. You could buy rotatable snap-in cameras for some Palm organisers nearly ten years ago, so the iPad's still lagging behind in this respect.
    And there's some useful camera-aware apps: the Evernote notetaking apps let you snap images (memos, restaurant menus, street signs), save them with geotagging data, and apply OCR to add the text in the image to a searchable comments field. If you have a iPhone with Evernote, and someone shows you their contact details on their smartphone screen or a business card, you can snap a photo and get a text file. But without a camera, none of this cool stuff will currently work on the iPad. Evernote also has a nice voicenotes feature, but again, on the iPad ... no onboard mic.
    So, no Skype video calling.

  10. SIM-swapping.
    The iPad isn't locked-in to a particular phone provider (hooray!), but the bad news is that if you've just bought a high-capacity service plan for your iPhone, and you want to transfer it to your iPad (which you expect to be using for all your serious mobile web-browsing from now on), you can't. The SIMs are physically different sizes. The iPhone uses a standard-sized SIM, the larger iPad uses a smaller mini-SIM. In theory, a mini-SIM with a holder can fit into a full-size SIM slot, but that chances are that if you're an existing iPhone owner, you won't have one of those. Apple enthusiasts have gotten used to Apple engineering-in incompatibilities with other manufacturers' products, but some have gotten a bit annoyed at what looks like a deliberate incompatibility with other Apple products.

The iPad isn't really what Steve Jobs said it was. It's not a device that's designed to sit in some middle ground between netbooks and laptops, because those two types of device can do pretty much everything on the list.

The iPad's purpose is straightforward: it's designed to kill sales of the amazon Kindle, break amazon's stranglehold on ebook sales, and let Apple add ebook and magazine retailing to their existing music-and-movies portfolio. It's a conduit.
It has to be five hundred dollars in order to crush the Kindle DX, at $500 its facilities have to be limited in order to avoid undercutting Apple's own laptop range (which starts at a thousand dollars) and it has to be based on the iPod Touch (with an updated "iPhone OS" and a bigger screen) to give it an established sales channel, because that's the "other" OS that Apple have, because that preserves separation between the iPad and the more expensive OSX-based products, and because that makes it more difficult for people to dig out and redistribute downloaded paid-for content.

Those three things pretty much define it.

1 comment:

Claudio said...

Your blog is great!! I'm very happy to have reach it accidentally. Since the beginning I was pretty skeptical about iPad, specially because Apple was using iPhone OS on it. After read your comments, I'm convinced that it is a piece of junk.