The iPad checklist

Early on in yesterday’s presentation, Steve Jobs listed seven tasks the new iPad had to be better at, when compared to either a smartphone or a notebook computer, to justify its existence.

Every task on the list had its own little section of the presentation, and at the end Jobs basically said “We think we’ve done it.” Generally, I’d agree, but not with every item on the list.


I give this one to the iPad. For what most people do all the time, and what everyone does most of the time (thank you, Mr. Lincoln), the iPad will be better than a notebook computer because of its direct manipulation of the items on the screen and its greater portability. There will, no doubt, be sites that won’t fit nicely into its 1024×768 screen, but those are few and far between. (I can say this with some authority. My notebook computer is an old iBook G4 with that same screen size; horizontal scrolling is very rarely needed, and when it is it’s mainly because I have my Dock on the side, eating up 50 pixels or so.)

That the iPad will be better for browsing than a smartphone should be obvious. The larger screen more than makes up for the reduced portability.


For many people, the iPad will beat the smartphone and the notebook, but I’m not one of those people. Nor, I suspect, are most of the people who’ll be writing reviews of the iPad, so don’t be surprised to see the iPad’s email client get low marks. If your emails tend to have a lot of writing in them or tend to have multiple attachments, the notebook will always be a better email machine. The prospect of using a real external keyboard with the iPad doesn’t change this; adding a keyboard nullifies the iPad’s portability advantage.

There are, however, people for whom email is mostly a matter of reading and categorizing, with writing that is seldom more than a paragraph or so. For these people the iPad’s combination of portability and size will make it superior, although they may be scared off by reviews of the virtual keyboard written by people who type for a living.

Smartphones are probably still the best email machine for the constant traveler, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find the iPad beating out the smartphone for many of these folks. I often see these people eating lunch at WiFi hotspots, and if the iPad can take over for their Filofax/DayRunner it will also turn into their email machine.


To me, this isn’t even close. Smartphone screens are way too small and keyboards make notebooks too clunky. Unless its software is extremely badly written, the iPad will be almost perfect for viewing photos.

A sidenote: I like the idea, mentioned in the presentation, of having the iPad act as a digital picture frame when its not otherwise in use. But because the dock connector is on one of the narrow sides, the picture frame will always be in portrait mode, which

Maybe a third party will come up with a better way to use the iPad as a digital picture frame.


Let’s start by stating the obvious: watching video on the iPad will not be better than watching it on a big screen TV or in a movie theater (if you can find a theater with a reasonably quiet audience). But the iPad isn’t supposed to be better than a TV or a theater, it’s supposed to be better than a smartphone or a notebook computer. And I think it is, because it has a better balance of size and portability.

The 4:3 aspect ratio has some people puzzled, and some are scoffing at the letterboxing of wide screen movies. But let’s say Apple was limited to 1024 pixels in the long direction, perhaps by the economic constraint of delivering a $500 product, perhaps by the geometric constraint of making a handheld device that’s less than 10″ in the long direction. Either way, your movie isn’t going to be more than 1024 pixels wide. Should Apple make a skinny device with fewer pixels in the short direction—1024×576 would give a 16:9 aspect ratio—or should it fatten up the device to be more usable for other applications and letterbox the movies? I think the right answer is obvious, and that’s what Apple did.

Update 1/29/10
Take a look at the specs for the 16:9 JooJoo (née CrunchPad).1 Yes, it’s 1366×768 pixels, but it’s also nearly 13″ long, more than three inches longer than the iPad and nearly a pound heavier (2.4 lb vs 1.5 lb for the WiFi-only models). That’s a big reduction in portability, a reduction that Apple clearly didn’t want to make.


As with photos, I think this one isn’t even close, except this time I’d say the clear winner is the smartphone, and there’s no way a larger device could be better. A music player needs only enough screen space to help you navigate your collection; everything beyond that is a waste. The 250 million iPods Apple has sold so far is proof of that. Are you going to walk around town or work out at the gym listening to music on your iPad? Of course not.


I’m not the right person to judge this one, because I’ve never really gotten into playing electronic games. I was in college before video games took off, and I think the mania has to take hold of you when you’re in your early teens at the latest.

I’m not even sure a winner can be declared in this category, because games can be designed—and are designed—specifically for the platform on which they run. For games that fit perfectly on the iPhone screen, the extra real estate of the iPad will mean nothing. The iPad, in turn, will certainly be able to play games that wouldn’t fit on an iPhone. I tend to think the direct manipulation available on touchscreen devices makes them superior to notebooks, but there may be games where the clicking of a few tactile buttons is essential to the experience.


The iPad wins this category in a rout. It is the same size and shape as a book (in fact, its height, width, and weight are a very close match to a particular book on my shelf: the first edition of Matt Neuburg’s AppleScript: The Definitive Guide from O’Reilly), which will make it very comfortable to read. I use Stanza on my iPhone, and I like having a few books in my pocket at all times, but there’s no way it can compare to the iPad.

Final score

For me, the iPad would be the winner in 5 of the 7 categories. For a lot of other people, it would win in 6 of the 7. Given that there was really no chance of it being a better music player (what was Apple thinking when they added that category?) this is a damned good score.

Does this mean I’ll be running out to get an iPad in a few months? No. The 7 items on Apple’s list aren’t everything I’m looking for. But they did make a pretty good case.

  1. No, I don’t expect the risible JooJoo to actually be released. My point is that even its vaporous specs don’t look so good when compared to the iPad.