The iPad Initiates The Tablet Tsunami

Dec. 9, 2010
Apple's iPad is not the first or the last tablet but it has been the most notable for the vast majority of user. The hardware is great but it is the combination with software and media distribution that made the difference.

Apple's iPad
Android tablets

If you haven’t heard about Apple’s iPad, then you must be a hermit who doesn’t have any contact with the outside world. The flood of iPads from Cupertino continues to mount (Fig. 1). A matching flood of alternatives, many based on Android, are expected during the holiday season (Fig. 2).

The iPad was released to praise and criticism. Its 9.7-in., 1024-by-768 touchscreen offers higher resolution (132 pixels/in.) than many LCDs, but its 4:3 aspect ratio doesn’t match HDTV’s 16:9.

There also was some discussion about its peripheral complement—most conspicuously, it’s missing a camera. There are plenty of other features, though, including audio support, a microphone, an accelerometer, a digital compass, and an ambient light sensor. Versions are available with up to a 64-Gbyte flash drive.

Connectivity was one place Apple got everything right. It has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and, optionally, 3G support. Also, the 25-W lithium-polymer battery provides nine hours of runtime using 3G and up to 10 hours using Wi-Fi.

Software Key To iPad’s Success
Apple’s iPhone and iPad share many features, including software (see “Inside The Apple iPad"). The iOS operating system runs on both platforms. The native programming language is Objective-C, an extended version of C. Macintosh developers are familiar with Objective-C as well.

Likewise, the software frameworks provided by Apple allow developers to target the iPad and the iPhone (see “Success Of iPad Is All About Software”). They tend to differ only by screen size, though some application developers will encounter subtle differences.

The positive response to the iPad and the iPhone was due to Apple’s focus on the user interface on the bundled applications as well as on how the framework was structured so developers could provide the same kind of look and feel.

Software Distribution
Hundreds of thousands of third-party apps are available for the iPad. Most are available to users through the Apple App Store. Multimedia content is also available from iTunes.

The ability to select and add apps and multimedia content is now second nature. Downloaded material is expected to work without question. It is changing how content is being distributed as well as who is controlling distribution.

The iPad is taking a toll on many of the alternative form factors like netbooks and even laptops (see “With iPad Sales Soaring, Are Netbooks Dead?”\). Tablets are often complementary to these devices for many users. For others, the functionality of a tablet is sufficient.

These days, the overwhelming amount of hardware has been overtaken by the number of apps available for the iPad and other platforms like Android. Next year, designers and users alike will scramble to identify and manage all these apps.



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