Now that iPad Mania has calmed down just a tad, it's a good time to sit back and take a look at what the iPad actually is. While the initial response from wonksville was that the iPad is nothing more than a novelty-oversized iPod Touch, that is patently incorrect. What Apple has actually built in this device is infinitely more interesting. You see, when Steve Jobs stood up on that stage in San Francisco, he introduced Apple’s very first netbook. Coincidentally, that same device is the first netbook that I’m actually interested in owning. Think I'm nuts? Hit the jump before you call me a dumbass.
Let’s break it down. The iPad has all the hallmarks of the crappiest of crappy netbooks. It’s powered by a woefully underpowered ARM CPU? The iPad has it! What about a crappy, low-resolution screen? The iPad has that too! And the very worst netbooks use a custom OS, with a simplified (read: half-assed) front end that you can’t run “real” applications from your desktop on, just like… (wait for it)… the iPad.
So why am I suddenly interested in a netbook? I don’t like traditional netbooks for a two reasons. First, the machines don’t have the horsepower to run a real OS, and the alternative OSes lack robust app ecosystems and just plain suck. The bigger problem is that these machines need to be extensions of my “real” computers. That means sync. I need something more than a crappy PC with a web brower, I need a device that’s an extension of my other computers, not yet another fully fledged machine to maintain. Apple has addressed both of these things in a way that, as an iPhone user, I’m already intimately familiar with.
The reason I’m excited about the iPad is that it runs on Apple’s iPhone OS. That means that it includes a simple to use interface that anyone can pick up in no time, fully featured syncing capabilities, which awesome (albeit somewhat limited) OS that comes with a reasonably robust sync solution. Sure, it requires iTunes, but the only time I connect my iPhone to iTunes is when I need to update the firmware or dump some new tunes on it. The stuff that’s really important to me—you know, my data—syncs over the air using technology built into Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Contacts, Dropbox, and Flickr using a combination of functionality that’s integrated with the phone and third-party applications.
Even better, because the iPhone OS is designed to run well on the gimpy ARM Cortex A8 processors that power the iPhone, it’s really peppy on the Apple-designed ARM A4 processor, which is rumored to be based on the newer ARM Cortex A9 core clocked at a full 1GHz. So, although the machine is wildly underpowered to run a real OS, like OS X or Windows 7, it’s crazy-fast for the iPhone branch of OS X.
The bad news is that it looks like the Apple’s wunder-netbook will inherit all the flaws of the iPhone OS. That means that you shouldn’t expect multitasking on your iPad, you won’t be able to run third-party apps that aren’t blessed by Apple, and you’ll have to use iTunes to sync (and probably set up) your iPad.
When will we know if the Apple iPad will be the Best Netbook Ever? Not until they ship the first units on April 3rd.