About a decade ago Mike Andrawes and I kept hoping someone would come out with a device that would make surfing the web on the couch easier than it was. Mike took the notebook route. He kept buying (or stealing from me) notebooks that were cooler, thinner and lighter while still being a notebook, for the purpose of browsing the web.

I took a more extreme route. I tried ultraportables. I bought a Sony PictureBook. It had a Transmeta Crusoe processor in it, which was horribly slow but gave me the form factor and battery life I craved. I put up with a ridiculously impractical screen just to get something small to browse the web and do work on.

Matthew Witheiler, another AnandTech veteran took a different path. He embraced the tablet PC. Matt became our Tablet PC reviewer on AnandTech as he searched for the perfect device. Unfortunately, he never found it.

None of us did. Today we all went back to the tried and true device: the notebook. The iPhone came along and gave us a revolution in the smartphone space. Ultimately it and the devices that followed just complemented our notebooks - sometimes with a new level of frustration as we were now at the mercy of wireless carriers and ridiculously slow SoCs.


The smartphone revolution gave us some great devices

History likes to repeat itself, and that’s what we’ve seen happen over the past two years. The introduction of the netbook brought the journey full circle. People wanted a cheap, light, portable web surfing and light work device - the netbook did just that.

The keyboard and screen issues have been mostly solved. Performance still sucks and part of that is due to the fact that there are no good netbook OSes that are optimized for the level of performance a 1.6GHz Atom can deliver. Most OEMs ship some variant of Windows on these devices, and with less than 2GB of memory and a single-core in-order CPU, that’s just too much to be fast.


Back to ultraportables again

There’s also the issue of storage. Netbooks desperately need solid state storage, but a single 2.5” SSD is often over half the price of a netbook itself. Pair up a slow CPU with not enough memory and a really slow hard drive and it’s not a good combination.

Microsoft, Intel and Apple have all taught me one very important lesson over the past 13 years: if you’re going after a new usage model, you need new technology to tackle it. For Microsoft and Apple that meant a new UI with Media Center and the iPhone. For Intel it meant a brand new microarchitecture optimized for power efficiency. First with Banias (Pentium M/Centrino) and then with Atom.

Netbooks, and to a greater extent tablets, eReaders and smartbooks, are going after new usage models. These aren’t notebook replacements, they are a new category of device designed for a different usage model. The one thing they’ve all been missing is the perfect combination of hardware and software to deliver the whole package.

The one thing Apple prides itself on is doing just that. As one of very few one-stop hardware/software makers, it has the ability to tightly couple UI with physical design. We saw it manifest in its greatest way with the iPhone, and now Apple (or perhaps the media covering Apple) is attempting to recreate the magic with the iPad.


The final frontier?

The device doesn’t ship for another 60 days, but there’s a lot to talk about based on today’s introduction alone.

The Basics
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  • piroroadkill - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Seemed plausible, but wikipedia seems to cite it as being Cortex A9-MPCore Reply
  • cjs150 - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Movies: Sadly for apple my home system runs windows. I am not going to transcode movies that set up for windows media centre just to play on the iPAD - I did this once for the PSP and it is a pain.

    Also only 720p is pathetic.

    EBooks: big plus point will be format but will want to see DRM rules first. However all ebook readers fail for me - I am a very quick reader, ebook readers like Ipad only display a single page at a time and currently the refresh rate on page turnover makes reading a very poor substitute for a real book.

    itunes - do not use, storage is dirt cheap and I only use lossless formats - sounds better as well.

    Storage: needs an SSD.

    Output - no HDMI port

    So far the only things this will be any use for are

    1. reading the newspaper on my morning commute - as it is a better size - but even there how do I do the sudoku and crossworld puzzles in the paper

    2. keeping kids quiet on long journeys by watching movies - but the PSP does that and is a lot cheaper

    Not impressed. Suggested second gen improvements: HDMI port, SSD capability, expand the formats supported, speed up the processor so that page turnover for Ebooks is instant, 1080p display and that is just off the top of my head
    Reply
  • Griswold - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    No mention of the lacking flash support? And they call it a surfpad? Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Because there is NOTHING compelling about iPad, the oversized ipod touch.

    It is so amazingly limited, and so expensive for what you can do, that it literally seems like apple is creating a parody product that is a sure fire way to tell if someone is an absolute dick
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Maybe I should build out on that comment:

    No multitasking
    No flash/java (Apple™ Full Internet Experience®)
    No full OS X, and thusly, no freedom to decide what you want on it, apple decides
    Capacative touchscreen (creating the retarded bezel, and removing all use as a sketching tool, which mystifies me, surely Apple goes for creative types, and a sketching tablet would be attractive, ooh, but PINCH TO ZOOM)
    No SD port, or indeed, memory expansion of any kind (640k is enough, right)
    No replacable battery (Apple's perfect creation would never run out and need charging when you need it most, surely!)
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    If only I could edit. That said, it will sell in the millions and be heralded as amazing, of course, proving once again, you really can sell a turd. A REALLY polished and shiny turd Reply
  • charles Monneron - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    One thing the iPad could excel with is remote desktop display. Jaadu VNC on the iPhone already provides a very decent experience on the iPhone (I can even use the "Spaces" feature on OS X on an iPhone 3G with 3G connection), but the use is ultimately crippled by the small size of the screen, especially when one needs to display a keyboard. With an IPad, such app would really shine.
    With virtualized machine outputing as VNC servers, it could be a cost effective for corporates compared to laptops, with much better data security (with VPN or SSH tunelling, that IPhone OS offers).

    Of course, the same can be said for netbooks, but, ironically, they become too powerful for this usage !
    As far as I am concerned, as I always have wireless internet access, I see no point at having a laptop anymore. An IPad, possibly with the keyboard accessory, and a desktop/server at home is sufficient for me.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    A netbook too powerful?

    As a consumer do you often think "damn, this is too powerful for my needs, I've just been waiting all this time for a less powerful, more restricted, and more expensive product to come along!"
    Reply
  • charles Monneron - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    Powerful as in too hot on my lap. The superfluous software layers of a full fledged Windows XP (or worse, windows 7) end up eating cpu power and shorten battery life. When I play a video on my iphone, it stays cool. Read the introduction to the article again ! Reply
  • zonkie - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    What Apple is doing with the iPad is pretty smart.
    The iPad isn't really intended to be revolutionary as a computing device. It will be just good enough at enough things that you will justify it's purchase. It's meant to find more ways to sell you Apple stuff. It's not going too be great at anything except giving you the preceived need to buy loads of small ticket items from Apple.
    You can read a book on it so you're going to try that out. Money for Apple. You're going to buy that stupid beer drinking app a 2nd time. Money for Apple. You're going to buy apps and music and data plans and it all has to be from Apple.

    People buy a netbook and get all the functions the iPad has and mostly for free. Apple is smart because they are finding magical ways to seperate you from your cash under the guise of convenience.
    Reply

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