Debating the merits of Apple's iPad

CNET writers Ina Fried and Josh Lowensohn hash out some of the pressing issues about the iPad: its merits, its faults, and what to look forward to in future iterations.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Ina Fried
Josh Lowensohn
9 min read

There's been no shortage of opinions on the iPad, for sure. Some think it's just a big iPhone that can't make phone calls, while others see it as the tablet of the future. To get into some of these points, CNET's Ina Fried and Josh Lowensohn weigh in on some of the issues.

Also, be sure to check out CNET Reviews' Editor's take by Donald Bell.

Who is this for?/Who will buy this?

CNET senior writer Ina Fried: This is a tough one. I think it is for people who want a second computing device, for sure. It won't replace your laptop. It is good for casual Web browsing in the house--seems like a great way to be even less social while watching TV with the family. I think it is also good for travelers who want to have one device that can replace a stack of magazines, books, and DVDs. Most of all, I think a lot of the killer uses for this have yet to be created.

CNET associate editor Josh Lowensohn: Travelers indeed, and everyone I've talked to about this keeps bringing up how "awesome" this would be on an airplane. I don't spend all that much time on airplanes, but when I do, I'm completely satisfied with using my iPhone.

If anything, the two things that bring that experience down are having to hold on to it the entire time (which the iPad requires), and the smallish screen (which the iPad fixes). Then again, if I do want more screen real estate, a laptop always seems to be a better option since I can just adjust the screen to stand it up, leaving my hands free to grip the elbow rests in terror of the next patch of turbulence.

What about the name?

Lowensohn: I think the iPad makes a lot more sense than the iSlate would have. Everyone knows that a pad is something flat that you write/work on. A slate? What?

Fried: Yeah, I got nothing for you there Josh. But, iPad? Might be another reason for Apple to add a few more women to its top ranks.

How about the size?

Fried: It is a little awkward--too big for any clothing and yet not a full replacement for a laptop. It's between a PC and a phone, and the key question is if people want something that size.

That said, people love this touch interface, whether it is on the iPhone or Microsoft's Surface. The iPad's size gives the opportunity for people to get their hands on something closer to the Surface. It is also just big enough that I think we will see some multiuser applications, which are part of what makes the Surface so cool, but not really practical on the iPhone or iPod Touch.

Lowensohn: I totally agree about the size, and thank goodness it doesn't need to double as a coffee table in my living room.

Up close with the Apple iPad (photos)

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But being the curmudgeon I am, I have one big qualm about the screen. The 1024x768 resolution is great for apps, but less than ideal for the Web. Bumping it up to a 16:9 ratio display would be even better for Web browsing, along with movies and certain types of games.

Fried: I tend to agree about the aspect ratio. I think making it killer for HD movies and TV would have made a more compelling product. That said, there's always the next iPad.

How about the price?

James Martin / CNET

Fried: By having an option that starts at $500, there is some opportunity to get people that aren't 100 percent sure there is a killer use. It also doesn't have to replace a laptop or phone--which is good, because it doesn't. That said, you can easily spend $800 to get more memory and a 3G connection.

Lowensohn: To me, the pricing matrix seems just a tad too complex. Apple took what they did with the iPod Touch and basically doubled it, then added the idea of a 3G model. Did there really need to be six SKUs?

It is, however nice (and un-Apple like) that people can get in the door with a low capacity model that still has 3G. This goes against the grain with what the company has done with the iPhone--which once could only be purchased in white if users got the higher capacity version, and the current generation iPod Touch, which only has the faster processing prowess if you get the more expensive 32 and 64GB models.

I have a feeling a lot of people who get the version with just Wi-Fi are probably going to feel the need for 3G data later on, and won't be able to get it. And that's a bummer.

Is the lack of Flash support a big deal?

Lowensohn: Flash is still an incredibly important part of browsing the Web, but it's also one that is easily lived without on the iPhone and iPod Touch. That said, if I'm paying $500 to $829 for what is basically a portable computer, it's a bummer I won't be able to experience a "full" version of the Web.

The slow roll out of HTML5 video players should be some incentive for those who are worried about it, as Safari can handle those just fine. Where it still grinds my gears is when trying to visit a page where the actual navigation is done with Flash, which can make a handful of sites utterly useless.

Fried: I can't argue too much with you there. Flash is important. I can only hope this falls into the category of things that aren't there on Day 1 but get there over time. I know for a lot of people, if they can't tend to their virtual farm or play with their SuperPoke pet, the iPad isn't for them, not to mention those that want to watch streaming video and other things that the iPad would seem to be well-suited for.

As a reading device

Fried: Much as Steve Jobs pooh-poohed reading awhile back, this is a key use. I'm an avid Kindle user and I still think the Kindle is a better tool for book reading. But, given a little time, the iPad should be a much better tool for reading magazines and newspapers--and even for certain books like graphic novels or travel guides. And, as the New York Times showed, the iPad can also incorporate audio and video, meaning publishers aren't limited to just replicating paper.


There's another area of reading and that is documents. Plastic Logic, for example, has focused its e-reader on being able to take business documents with you. But lots of documents have color and pictures and video that just don't lend themselves to electronic ink devices, even large-screen ones like Plastic Logic's Que. I really like the idea of having lots of my documents on a device, whether they are PDFs, Word documents, or even PowerPoints (I don't like reading them period, but if I have to look at them, I'd just as soon do it when I am on the bus or something.)

Lowensohn: I think you're right about the iPad being better for reading content that requires a more powerful screen. Apple also totally has Amazon's Kindle beat in all the other things the iPad can do, like music, videos, Web browsing, and apps. That comes at the expense of a larger, more expensive device that is harsher on your eyes than an e-ink display.

At the same time, I think Amazon is offering users a more matured marketplace of content, and a richer community of users who write thoughtful, and often helpful, reviews. Of course this argument goes out of the door as soon as Amazon rolls out an iPad-optimized version of its Kindle reading app, which you know will happen. If Apple is going to salt Amazon's game, you know Amazon is at least going to try and profit off it somehow.

As a work device

Fried: This is going to depend a lot on what kind of work one is trying to do. If you are doing a lot of typing, I suspect that you are going to find an on-screen keyboard wanting. There is always that add-on keyboard, but then you are really starting to get into laptop-like size, weight and bulk. To me, work-related reading is probably the task it is best-suited for.

The iPad's mail app. Apple

I think work will be done on the iPad, but it won't be a driver of sales.

Lowensohn: What got me more than the iWork apps in Wednesday's demos was the e-mail client. It looked so much more mature than the one that's on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Things like attachments, and zooming around messages looks faster and more straightforward.

That said, I still think Apple has a long way to go toward making the iPhone, and now iPad OS, do a better job of letting apps talk to one another. Google's Android does a great job at this by letting apps share data between them; Apple made it pretty clear that it's not quite ready for that.

On that same note, another deal killer for people who intend to use the iPad as a work machine is the continuing lack of multitasking. Sure the processor is zippy, and this will have the same push notification system that iPhone apps enjoy, but with a device this size, it's disappointing that we don't yet have a way to keep multiple apps running at the same time, or an easy way to switch between them as Apple's Snow Leopard OS does with Expose.

As a gaming device

Lowensohn: I think the iPad has big potential as a gaming device, but Apple could have taken it a step further. One of the things that's been pretty impressive with the iPhone platform is how far developers have been able to go with that 3.5-inch diagonal, 480x320 resolution screen. Now they have 1024x768 pixels to design for, and a beefier processor too.


Still, Apple missed a big chance to make gamers and game developers just a smidgen happier. It could have gone the extra mile is by adding some touch sensitivity to that huge bezel around the edge of the screen. There were even rumors of Apple adding such a feature, but they didn't pan out.

On the iPhone gaming works well because the screen goes nearly edge to edge. That, and users can just their thumbs or fingers without moving too far. But on the iPad, and it's large expanse of screen, users are going to have to prop it up somewhere to get full use of both of their hands. I can easily see this getting quite tiring depending on the game.

Fried: I think this is one area where you will really see this evolve as a platform over time. As I mentioned earlier, I think the screen may be big enough to see it as a multiuser game playing option. It seems well-suited for couples to play a board game, for example.

Lowensohn: I think you're totally right about things evolving on this front. Yesterday's demo of the Brushes app really showed that off. Oddly enough, the demos of Gameloft's N.O.V.A. and EA's Need for Speed: Shift looked a little ungainly.

What this means for developers

Lowensohn: The move to include backwards compatibility and screen scaling is going to be a good one early on. But I do worry about this having the same kind of splintering that the iPhone 3GS and iPod Touch brought into play.


While most developers have done a good job at trying to create apps that work on all the various generations of hardware, Apple is now splitting up development efforts even further by trying to make everyone happy. I worry that this will keep some really good games that could have been made for the iPhone, get turned into iPad exclusives. Either that or a whole crop of games that are developed to work for both platforms, but don't get the necessary crafting or attention to be amazing on both.

Fried: It is a bummer to have to create for different screen sizes and abilities. I think the key here will be market size. If Apple can sell a bunch, developers will write apps specifically for the iPad. If sales are less than stellar, then I think the developers will stick to writing iPhone apps, perhaps with a bit of optimization for the larger screen.

What's next/what it's missing

Fried: There are plenty of things missing. We've already touched on Flash support. But I'd remind the naysayers that the original iPod was black and white and only worked on a Mac. The first iPhone didn't have copy and paste.

Lowensohn: To me, the biggest thing that's missing is a camera. Apple has done to the iPad what it did to the iPod compared to the iPhone. By not including a camera, iPad users are going to miss out on some really cool apps that take advantage of having one. I'm also a little disappointed that the rumors of a front-facing camera turned out to be false, since using this thing for video conferencing would be great.

Well, that's two more opinions on the iPad. Has either Josh or Ina changed your mind? Feel free to sound off below.

Update: Shortly after publishing this, Josh and Ina went into the studio to discuss the iPad with CNET's Brian Tong. Video below:

Watch this: Apple iPad: Is it for you?