When Apple introduced the iPod in 2001 it was clear that the iPod was destined to be a mobile extension of your music library. As time went on Apple continued to add multimedia capabilities to it including TV shows, movies and more. For the most part it still makes sense that you would use a computer to manage your media library and only sync the content you want onto your iPod. I guess it also still makes sense that you would do the same for an iPhone. However, do we really need a computer to use an iPad?
The woman who tried to buy an iPad
By now most of you have heard the story about the woman who is disabled and on a fixed income, who saved up her money to buy an iPad as her "first computer", only to be turned down because she wanted to pay with cash. I'm not here to get into that debate right now about how paranoid Apple is about someone potentially buying several iPads just to sell re-sale them. So they restrict your method of payment and quantities as a deterrent. Nope, i'm not here to talk about that at all. 🙂 The one thing that I haven't seen anyone mention is what if she was allowed to buy it? Then what? She gets home with the iPad she saved up for month after month only to take it out of the box and not be able to use it. That's right. When you take an iPad out of the box and turn it on you can't do ANYTHING until you connect it to a modern day computer running iTunes to set it up. The question in 2010 is Why?
What reason does the iPad "need" a computer?
Don't get me wrong. I know the benefits of having a computer to sync your existing content over to an iPad. My question revolves more around a potential market that Apple is missing/ignoring. In Apple's defense the iPad was never billed as a computer. It was never billed as the ONLY device you'll need and it was always positioned as a device that would fit in between your computer and your smartphone. So Apple has no obligation to make it work any other way.
After getting my first iPad I quickly realized that "this would be perfect for my mother-in-law". She is retired and has a very old PC. She only does web and email for probably 99% of the time with the occasional spreadsheet and game. However, even if I gave her an iPad, her computer doesn't meet the minimum specs to even set the iPad up.
Other missing "Apple" technologies
Let's say that I was to get "mom" and iPad and set it up on one of my computers. She would then be able to take it home and use it. Each time she visits we could do a sync, do updates and back it up. So far so good. However, what if she wants to use an Apple AirPort Base Station or Printer. Apple doesn't yet make an AirPort Setup Utility or provide native Bonjour printing services for the iPad (or iPhone). So again, someone who only wants an iPad and an AirPort to get online with would still need a computer to do the setup. Sure there are Apps that print and Apple/Steve has said that "printing" is coming to the iPad, but I would bet $100 that you'll still need a computer to set it all up. The weird thing is that once you "activate" an iPad you can pretty much live on it without syncing to a computer (barring the backup concern). You can buy and download Apps right too it. Same goes for media such as songs, TV shows, audiobooks, ebooks, movies, and podcasts. You can configure your email accounts and Safari bookmarks right on the device. So since Apple seems to let you do just about everything on the iPad itself, what's the computer for? Even as far as Backup goes, couldn't there be a MobileMe iPad backup/restore service? Better yet, how about a Time Machine to Time Capsule iPad backup?
At the end of the day I would dare guess that this is all about cannibalization and that Apple wants the iPad to be a success, but not at the expense of the Mac line. It's already currently outselling Macs and I would bet that probably doesn't make the Mac team to happy from a revenue perspective. I would also bet (no I don't have a gambling problem 🙂 ) that many of these iPad sales are in fact going to people that already have a Mac or PC desktop and the iPad is going to be their second device INSTEAD of a laptop. On the one hand that's great because some of these buyers may have wanted a laptop all along, but just didn't want to spend $999 on a MacBook. So Apple's not really losing out. On the other hand, it may have caused some buyers to rethink the MacBook purchase and they got iPad's instead. It's just a shame when "business" gets in the way of progress. I got the first 16GB WiFi iPad for testing and review purposes. All along I planed on and ordered the 64GB WiFi+3G model. So when my new one arrived, my wife had already claimed the 16GB WiFi model. Keep in mind that she has a 27" iMac and a MacBook Air. So why did she want an iPad? To REPLACE the MacBook Air! For what she does, the iPad is perfect as a second device and she hasn't touched the Air since! So yes, Apple does have a legitimate cannibalization concern and if the iPad worked 100% without a computer I could see a percentage of buyers walking in and buying one as a replacement or upgrade from an older "computer" and not looking back.
Oh by the way
Apple did reverse their "no cash" policy and they gave Diana Campbell an iPad for her trouble. A nice happy ending, but I wonder if they also activated it for her and then how does she now continue to update/back it up it if is her only computer?