Rhodri Marsden: What can we learn from the iPad's launch in America?


If January's announcement of the iPad hadn't resembled a smug magician revealing the dénouement of a baffling conjuring trick, it's possible that technology bloggers would have been a little less eager to put the boot in this weekend with a clutch of critical articles to coincide with its launch. In Britain, we're going to have to wait for at least three weeks before we can play with one, but that does put us in the enviable position of being able to learn a thing or two from early adopters in America.

Gripes tend to fall into three categories. Firstly, there are those who have ideological objections to the iPad. Apple dictates what we can and can't do with it by controlling the App Store, the only channel that delivers applications to the device. Software developers find jumping through Apple's hoops irritating, while geeks who dream of an unrestricted technological utopia would consider an Etch-A-Sketch to have more creative possibilities than the iPad, which is why it took one of them less than 24 hours to "jailbreak" the device and circumvent the restrictions.

Then there are the issues that everyone knew about before Saturday: it doesn't have a camera, the battery isn't replaceable, and it doesn't have any USB ports. Oh, and it doesn't support Flash (admittedly more to do with shortcomings in Flash than the iPad) so certain web attractions are out of bounds.

But the real test of a gadget is when non-geeks (who, thankfully, make up the majority of the population) get their hands on one. Their criticisms may be more mundane than the philosophical discussions surrounding the device's possible impact on print media, but they're no less valid. The back of the iPad has such a polished sheen that it tends to slide off your lap; as a result, one of the more unusual discussion topics has surrounded the stance you're supposed to adopt when using one.

Tying into that is the fact that its weight (more than double that of Amazon's Kindle) seems to make it less of an attractive e-reading proposition than some analysts previously thought. But the most fundamental question being asked is: "As this doesn't seem to replace my phone, or my laptop, or my Kindle, what is it for, exactly?" Apple's genius, of course, is having managed to persuade 300,000 people on Saturday alone that they needed one, and that the tablet computer is the future. The onus is now on the rest of the technology industry to take note of all the above gripes, and to come up with something better.

Email any technology gripes to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk