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Five things the iPad is missing

Apple's new iPad tablet is generating a fair amount of excitement, but it could have been so much more than a giant iPhone.

Pardon me while I check out my iPad, people. James Martin/CNET

In case you missed it, Apple on Wednesday unveiled the long-rumored and even longer-awaited iPad, a tablet computer in the same family as the iPod Touch and iPhone. Some of my friends and colleagues are excited about the device. Indeed, it features a fairly amazing design, has a 10-hour battery life, and already has 140,000 apps in the iTunes App Store that run on it. And the inclusion of Amazon's book store is a coup.

But it's not at all what it could have been.

It's not that it isn't cool--it is, technically. But I was underwhelmed. And it's not because of the rampant rumors flying around the Internet in the last few weeks but rather because there are some simple things I had hoped--and a couple I had assumed--would be featured that aren't. Here are just five of them.

The aspect ratio isn't wide screen
When the iPhone was introduced, Steven Jobs specifically said it was a "wide-screen iPod." People had been clamoring for one for a while, so Apple delivered it as an iPhone component. Sure, it wasn't the actual 16:9 many wanted, but it was better than the standard definition 4:3 that the current crop of iPods was sporting.

And the latest versions of the Nano are also wide screen. Apple TV supports 16:9 natively, so why is the iPad--with 1,024x768 pixel resolution--stuck in the world of 4:3? Apple says it plays back HD video, which technically it does, but with down-converting. HD video at 720p, which is what the iPad supports, is 720x1,280. With a maximum width of 1024 pixels, the iPad really plays back true 720p--which uses 16:9, anything else isn't truly "720p"--video at 576x1,024. That's not much better than 480p.

There are LCD screens out there in the same relative size range as the iPad that are true HD-proportioned. Why didn't Apple use one of these?

Video output is supported but only at 480p
I could have forgiven the limited screen size if the device offered true HD output. It doesn't. Again, why not? The new proprietary Apple processor seems powerful enough to power 720p video, yet it's restricted.

It may be to keep from cannibalizing sales of the Apple TV, a device that Apple is somehow still supporting and one that truly does output crystal-clear 720p video. And it ties to the iTunes video store, which is one reason I have and love mine--just like the iPad does. So the reasoning makes sense. But what about other apps the Apple TV doesn't support that the iPad does that would look good on your 46-inch LCD? It's a disappointment.

Apple does include A-GPS (Assisted GPS) via Wi-Fi and 3G in the 3G-powered model, but the size of the iPad means that a simple, low-powered real GPS receiver could have been built in to the device, yet wasn't.

That could lead one to assume that this isn't a device for those on the go. No, Apple seems to want to keep the MacBook for these people. The iPad, like the Apple TV, seems to be a device set to live in your house or apartment.

Indeed, when presenting the device, Jobs sat in an easy chair very similar to the ones many of us have in our living rooms. He crossed his legs and used them to prop up the device. If this device was meant to go on the road, it seems it would have had a GPS chip included, just like the iPhone.

No USB ports
I understand Apple's desire to firmly establish the iPad as part of the iPhone/iPod family, and leaving out USB ports in favor of a single Dock Connecter sends that message loud and clear--you know, for those who think the design cues are too subtle.

CNET News Poll

iPad appraisal
What was your initial reaction to Apple's new iPad?

Rocked my world
Waiting till I see it in person to decide
Like the device, hate the name
Disappointed me (no phone, camera, wide-screen aspect ratio)
Too busy playing with HP TouchSmart tx2 to care
Don't understand the hype

View results

But for something with the photo-editing abilities shown off, as well as iWork and other apps that work on larger screens, I would have expected more keyboard support. (Bluetooth built into the iPad does support an Apple wireless keyboard, according to the iPad site.)

A way to plug my cameras into the device to directly off-load my images should be included if it's to be considered a serious contender as a photo editor. Clearly, it's not. The lack of a real way to run things like Photoshop doesn't help any, either. But again, this is clearly a home device, not a professional device.

But Jobs did offer a (fairly awesome looking) new keyboard dock made just for the iPad, but it's not very ergonomic. I'd like to be able to use one of the many excellent keyboards I've acquired over the years so that when I work with my iWork, my arms aren't too weak to pick up a beer after.

No camera
One killer feature that would have made this a must-have for many people would have been a forward-facing Webcam for iChat-like video chatting. Sure, MacBooks and iMacs have them already, but that's more to the point. A mobile, anywhere-in-the-house device like this seems much more video chat-friendly than a laptop or desktop. It seems that Apple could have used this opportunity to really introduce the video phone appliance as a reality but for some reason it didn't.

Services like Skype are already in the App Store. Including a forward-facing camera would give users many choices as to which VVoIP (Video and Voice over IP) provider they'd use with their family and friends. As more people started using these services, it would attract more buyers of the hardware. If the son or daughter at college had video chat on his iPad then the mother or father back home would be apt to buy one for themselves.

And the design of the iPad, especially with the iPad Dock, makes it a much more attractive solution than a laptop or desktop for video chat. Video chat needs a killer appliance, the iPad could be it. The iPad needs a killer app, and video chat could be it.

It's not a Netbook killer
Jobs mentioned in the opening of his presentation that in his opinion "the problem is Netbooks aren't better at anything." But--and I'm sorry to disagree--they are. They're more portable than full-size laptops, have a longer battery life, and run the full versions of most apps. They have user-facing Webcams. They have closer-to-16:9 screens. They have USB ports for connecting cameras and keyboards and other peripherals. And they cost less.

I'll agree that Netbooks aren't perfect. The majority of them have too-small keyboards, janky mousepads, and shoddy construction. And while the iPad looks amazing, and I do kind of want one, I just don't feel like the iPad is a real competitor to a Netbook.

A blown-up iPod Touch is not the same thing as a shrunken laptop. I know a lot of people are going to comment and e-mail saying that I'm missing the boat. It's not supposed to be a Netbook. It's a more casual device. But if any other company had debuted something like this--especially at this price--we'd be making fun of it, not Twittering "OMG I so want!"

Correction at 6:10 a.m. PST January 28: As readers pointed out, Apple's site does note that the "iPad also comes with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, letting you connect to devices like wireless headphones or the Apple Wireless Keyboard."