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Pass the Kool-Aid


Ross M. Miller
Miller Risk Advisors
April 11, 2011

I have now capitulated to the cult and possess my first Apple product, the iPad 2. (Actually, the second for my family, but the wife has the iPod Touch and is likely to gain full possession on the iPad any day now.) I got the iPad on rollout day at the local Best Buy. Down the mall there were 40 folks at the Apple Store still waiting in line 2 hours after the 5 o'clock launch, but at Best Buy I could just waltz in and buy one in less than 5 minutes. They were out of 64GB WiFi models, so I got the Malcolm-in-the-Middle 32GB model. The iPad 2 is not perfect, but it is wonderful and has the potential to become even more wonderful over time.

The iPad 2 is not my first tablet computer; that honor goes to my ThinkPad X61t. As a tablet computer, the ThinkPad needs a lot of work. The touchscreen is far from precise even after calibration (the iPad requires no calibration, it just works). Even with a full-fledged dual-core processor with a higher clock frequency that the iPad has, the ThinkPad is poky, lacking the quick response of the iPad. The ThinkPad is 3 times as thick and 3 times as heavy (and cost me 3 times as much 3 years ago). The ThinkPad was a disappointment from day one, while the iPad immediately beat my expectations for it. Indeed, I viewed the purchase as based more on curiosity than on practicality, as the combination of my Android smartphone and the ThinkPad could allow me to do whatever I needed to do when away from home.

I had intended to purchase the original iPad shortly after its rollout last year (and write a commentary about it then), but when I picked it up, I figured that the purchase could wait until they made it lighter and less ungainly. The iPad is in no way ungainly, it is a perfectly rounded thin slab in contrast to the irregular and pudgy slabbage of the original. Weight is still an issue, ideally it would be magazine weight, but is it not a deal-breaker at its current 1.3 lbs. Clearly, a titanium body would go a long way toward that goal, but Apple clearly figured the added expense would severely limit the market. A special titanium edition of the iPad, perhaps for this coming holiday season, would surely generate enough sales even at a $200 premium to the standard model to make it profitable.

My base for comparison is not my old ThinkPad, but my nearly one-year-old HTC Incredible Android smartphone if one allows for the vast difference in screen size. While the Android phone wins hands down on customizability and multitasking-if there is a way to put icons on the iPad exactly where I want them or to use "widgets" direct from the screen I have not found it-the iPad takes the honors in most other areas. The iPad is the clear winner in sheer stability of operation. The Android phone is seriously crash-prone, a problem that is sometimes solved by banishing an errant app, but not always. The Android's advantage of taking micro-SDHC cards is negated by its tendency to corrupt them in a manner that not even my PC can fix. (This is a well-known Android problem.) The stability issue is so severe with Android that on that count alone it is likely to be years before I am likely to think about dipping my toes in the Android pool again.

Many iPad apps are nothing short of stunning, making the comparable iPhone or Android apps (if any) look pathetic. Flipboard is an RSS feed reader that is better than anything I seen on any platform. It turns any feed into a "magazine" that can be quickly flipped through. Reading actual threads of conversation from forums is still something that needs work (one is unceremoniously dumped into Safari to view them), but Flipboard remains a top-notch app for demonstrating the possibilities of the iPad and it is likely to sprout in the coming months into an entirely new kind of interactive experience.

Even mundane apps seem special on the iPad. The Kindle e-book reader, while nothing special, provides a fine e-book reading experience until the persistent backlight glow brings out one's hidden homicidal tendencies. The SiriusXM app is surprising wonderful. SiriusXM has serious (pun intended) problems with user interfaces on other platforms; their new browser interface is beyond atrocious. Through judicious outsourcing, I suppose, their iPad app is the best music app that I've yet to see. It provides a very useful album cover view of everything that is currently playing on all one's favorite channels, making the management of service's plethora of choices more manageable.

One pleasant surprise that I found with the iPad is that newspapers and magazines with good iPad apps, such as Barron's and The Economist, read much better on the iPad than on their print equivalent (at least until the aforementioned homicidal tendencies set in, which takes about an hour for me, fortunately about the same time it takes for antsiness or boredom to set in). That is because the iPad is so responsive that flipping pages on it is much quicker than with physical pages make from wood pulp.

What is really exciting about the iPad, however, is all of the totally new interactive experiences that it may create. The creative burst of development for the iPad, which remains in its infancy, may contribute to the first progress against the computer software gap in some time. The only potential fly in the iPad ointment is that Apple remains the gatekeeper for iPad/Phone software while Android is wide open to all comers. Despite being a proponent of open software back before it was even known as that, I must admit that what Apple's gains from the standardization of its computing experience more than offsets the very occasional app that Apple keeps out of its garden.

Apple, however, not only walls some apps out of the iPad, its lack of a directory structure that can link to external hardware or networked devices keeps a user's data behind a wall that iTunes only clumsily breeches. Fortunately, the cloud comes to the rescue through such apps as Dropbox and Apple's own competing service. Next time, I will look at some interesting developments in the consumer electronics arena that are stealthily bringing the cloud into millions of homes.

Copyright 2011 by Miller Risk Advisors. Permission granted to forward by electronic means and to excerpt or broadcast 250 words or less provided a citation is made to