Do you still own iPad?

iPad slanted

The question is meant for people who bought or received the original iPad since its release in April 2010. See, I keep meeting people who gave up iPad -- and not because they're preparing to buy its successor, which geekdom expects will be announced tomorrow. I consistently hear giver-uppers say they no longer used Apple's tablet much, or at all.

I sold my iPad in December, mainly because my smartphone, the Google-branded Nexus S, proved to be good enough on the go and the 11.6-inch MacBook Air otherwise was light enough and offered more capabilities (granted reading ebooks or from the browser is more enjoyable on iPad). I know of at least two other MBA users who ditched iPad for similar reasons. Disclosure: I'm not exactly feeling good about the Air quality today. After several days of ongoing program crashes, the laptop locked up and won't bootup past the grey system check screen. If there wasn't flash memory in the thing, I would assume it was hard drive failure. But that's topic for another post.

Back to topic, last week, I met several more people who had sold or passed along their iPads. "I gave mine to my sister," one woman attending a Sony event told me. Like most other people I hear about abandoning iPad, she is a gadget geek and early adopter.

Perhaps iPad wasn't challenging enough, as she basically described using it as becoming boring. Maybe it's the "next-best thing syndrome," something I see often among gadget geeks. Today's hot toy is tomorrow's throwaway. Whatever the reason, I am observing more tablet exhaustion that reminds of the netbook craze. That small, light netbook appealed to many geeks before they slammed smack into long-term effects of living with its limitations.

It's a contextual thing really. A smartphone is great for playing games or surfing the web when there's nothing else. In the context of having nothing better, the device is good enough. But back home, you choose the PC to surf the web or play games or fire up the game console. The same can be said about iPad, and even Android tablets. What's good enough in certain contexts is tiring use long term when there are other choices, like PC with mouse and keyboard.

This is where someone rushes to comments and cries "Wait! You wrote 'The PC era is over.'" I wrote that the era is over. We've entered the cloud-connected device era. But I clearly stated and reaffirm here that the PC won't go away any time soon. In the "mobile context," the smallest, most versatile device is the most valuable, and that could be smartphone or tablet. But, as I posted last week: "iPad is not a PC." The device is not a PC replacement, particularly when the user is accustomed to something more (e.g., the personal computer). The smartphone is better choice in the mobile context, because of its utility there -- and it's always with you and always connected. The PC is the more satisfying choice in the home or work contexts for reasons I shouldn't need state -- it's what most people are used to. The tablet falls somewhere between smartphone and PC, contextually. For me, the iPad wasn't good enough at anything.

Two Different iPad Views

Last week, at Ars Technica, Ben Kuchera and Jon Stokes divided over iPad's usefulness. in respective posts "Why I care about tablets: iPad offers huge opportunities for competition" and "Why I don't care very much about tablets anymore." Stokes exactly makes my point about the importance of context. He writes:

Here's a list of things I either do or expect to do on a tablet:

  • Watch video
  • Read books and papers
  • Surf the web
  • Listen to music
  • Play games
  • Light productivity (email, document editing, calculators)
  • Social networking

I'm sure I could add a few things to the list if I thought longer, but the tablet isn't really the best gadget that I have for any of the above -- at least in terms of the overall experience (cost and convenience aside). For watching video, my TV wins. I prefer to read books and papers on either the Kindle or as dead-tree color printouts and books. Surfing the Web is easier on a computer, especially if you leave a lot of tabs open. I've yet to have a tablet gaming experience that really surpasses a good console or PC game. And so on.

What the tablet is valuable for is for letting me easily cram a downsized version of all of those experiences and functions into a single, lightweight, compact, long-battery-life gadget. So it's great for traveling light. But if I'm at home it's just not the richest or most productive way for me to do anything that I do.

Kuchera begins his post: "The iPad was one of the most interesting computers I've bought for personal use." Stop right there. He doesn't start by calling iPad a tablet but a computer, which states something important about his attitude. Interestingly, his post title doesn't fully match the text, where he often mimes about what iPad could be rather than what it is. For example:

The iPad is a wonderful example of what can be done with tablets, and it has found a permanent place in my home, but its functions are limited by Apple's arbitrary content and hardware restrictions. There is so much it could do, but it can't fulfill its full potential because of how Apple runs its business. This should get everyone else frothing at the mouth to remove those walls while releasing hardware that can do more with existing equipment and peripherals.

My opinion is more in line with Stokes: "While I look forward to more tablets from Apple, Google, RIM, HP, and the rest of the tablet class of 2011, I'm just not jazzed about any of them. Because in the end, a tablet is really just a modestly sized screen, and there's only so much you can do with a modestly sized screen, regardless of how many fingers you can use on it at once."

So now we come back to you. Do you still use iPad? If answer is no or not much, then why not? If so, then what for? For iPad users, please explain what the tablet means to you. Post your responses to comments or send email to joewilcox at gmail dot com.

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