There's been a lot of hubbub about the Apple iPad. For a lot of folks, it's hard to see what the fuss is about. The iPad is, Apple says, a revolutionary new device. If that's true, it's apparently a revolutionary new device that does things that a number of other devices have been doing for years.
But that misses the point. If we've learned anything from Apple over the years, it's not necessarily what something does but how it does it.
My iPod Nano music player is a case in point. It's a nice little music player that's stylish and easy to use. When we bought our son a Christmas present, however, we bought him a Sansa Fuze, a player that does everything the Nano does plus has a built in FM radio and voice recorder, plays a lot more file types than the Nano and is a lot cheaper to begin with. The Nano, for the record, is a huge sales success. The Fuze does just okay. That's because people want the Apple product more, not so much for what it does, but for how it looks and how easy it is to use.
And in all fairness, the way that Apple integrates features is pretty cool. The iPhone is a case in point as is, to a lesser extent, the iPod Touch, a very cool, underrated device that shares much in common with the iPad.
Indeed, its style and its usability will be the iPad's main selling points. Based on the video--Steve Jobs must have forgotten to send me a demo unit--it looks as though the iPad is a paragon of silky smooth software/hardware integration. Unlike a computer, which it essentially is, you don't have to wait for it to get started. Turn it on and you're doing something. It's got wifi and Bluetooth and will be able to make use of 3G on some models, too, so you can be online even when you're not near a wireless internet connection. That's a huge plus for aviation use. For the record, though, my netbook will do all those things, too, with the addition of a plug in 3G card.
But the iPad will make it all easy and seamless. That ease of use and overall optimizing of the product's functions, I'm certain, are going to be enough to guarantee its huge sales success despite the fact that it doesn't do anything new and it won't be able to do a lot of things that existing devices can already do. It won't have a camera, at least not on the first go around, it won't have expandable memory, and it won't have a user replaceable battery (though its 10-hour-life lithium cell sounds great). Lots of folks will bitch about all these omissions, but when push comes to shove, most of them will still pony up the dough to get one.
For non-aviation use, I'll probably stick to my netbook--the virtual keypad on the iPad looks awful. But for flying, the iPad sounds like a dream chart reader. It's going to be quick to turn on, it's going to have a brilliant display, and it's going to be supremely easy to use. Charts, especially IFR approach charts, are a natural.
And don't discount the unit's potential as a moving map unit too. It's already got built in GPS and accelerometers, though details on them are still lacking. Something tells me it won't be long before somebody's making moving map/flight planning apps for it. In fact, I'd be shocked if it weren't already happening.
Note: The illustration is a quick and dirty Photoshop mockup based on Apple's press release image.