Op-Ed: Apple's iPad Unnecessary, But Awesome

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hide captionA customer clutches his new iPad at the Apple Store April 3, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.

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iPad

A customer clutches his new iPad at the Apple Store April 3, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

After months of anticipation, Apple released the iPad over the weekend.

Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist for Slate.com, got his Saturday morning. He spent the weekend relaxing with the tablet computer, and falling a little bit in love.

In his review, "You Don't Need An iPad," Manjoo acknowledges the device is expendable, writing, "If I were to run into a kind-hearted mugger tomorrow who forced me to give up only one of my gadgets, I'd throw him the iPad without hesitation."

Still, Manjoo finds the iPad incredibly appealing and easy to use. "It has an advantage over electronic book readers, like the Kindle," he says. "It has a color screen, so you can look at a lot of content that you can't on the Kindle," things like children's books and cookbooks.

Beyond reading, calls the iPad's easy-to-use interface a "major breakthrough" for Apple. "All of the frustrations that we're used to with our desktop and laptop computers," Manjoo says, "things like knowing where a file is or having to back up all your data, and worrying about viruses — none of that is a worry on the iPad." Manjoo thinks future, traditional computers might work the same way.

Still, some users complain the iPad, like the iPhone, doesn't support Flash. Manjoo explains a number of content providers, like the New York Times online, are working around that limitation. "I imagine, over time, we'll get more and more websites that will be able to work on the iPad."

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Now it's time for the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page.

This weekend, Apple released the iPad, a new tablet computer with a trademark fanfare. The company encourages and thrives on the buzz of expectation. On Saturday morning, devotees lined up outside Apple stores across the country. At a bar in New York City, there was an iPad party. For many months, tech geeks, gadget lovers and newspaper and magazine publishers speculated about what the device can and can't do. Will it replace laptops? Will it give new life to the Grey Lady and The Wall Street Journal?

Farhad Manjoo, technology columnist for Slate.com, got his hands on an iPad and will share his review in just a moment. We want to hear yours, as well. If you waited in line to get an iPad this weekend, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And joining us now from the studios of KQED, our member station in San Francisco, is Farhad Manjoo. You can find the link to his review of the iPad at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And, Farhad, nice to have you with us back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. FARHAD MANJOO (Correspondent, Slate.com): Hi. Good to be here.

CONAN: Did you have to wait on line?

Mr. MANJOO: No. I preordered it, so there wasn't - so I got one pretty quickly.

CONAN: And does it live up to the hype?

Mr. MANJOO: I think it does. I mean, I think it's pretty good. It - the thing to remember about the iPad is, you know, a lot of people had been asking me before it came out, kind of, what - what's this for? Where - what role does it fit into my life? And a lot of people, you know, thought, you know, they have a computer and they have a smartphone, and this seemed to be a sort of an in-between device. And if you already have those two things, why do you need something else?

So I think that - you should think about the iPad as a luxury device, as something else you would use in addition. You don't really need it. Nobody really needs it, I think. But it's fun to have. And so you use it kind of in your leisure time to use the Web, to read books, to watch movies, to play games. It's not really a device to kind of be productive with. It's more a device to have fun with.

CONAN: And you said in your review that it's - if you're sitting on your couch or lying on your bed, it's the perfect-sized device for that.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah. I think it's perfectly matched for that kind of scenario, where you want to watch something or you want to read something and you kind of just want to, you know, relax while you're doing it. And in those situations, a laptop doesn't really work well. It's too bulky. And the phone is too small. And so this is kind of the perfect size. And it also has an advantage over electronic book readers, like the Amazon Kindle, which...

CONAN: I was going to ask how it compares to the Kindle, yeah.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah. So it, you know, it had - it has - sort of performs the same function. It can get books from the Kindle store or from Apple's own iBook store, but it has a color screen. It has - and so you can do a lot of - you can look at a lot of content that you can't on the Kindle, things like cookbooks, children's books, animation and newspapers with sort of the graphic design that you expect from print newspapers, not kind of the list format that you see on the Kindle.

CONAN: Now we're talking with Farhad Manjoo of Slate.com. His review of the iPad is out today. If you got on line and got yours, we'd like to know what you think, too. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

Farhad, 300,000 of them were sold over the weekend, according to Apple, which I guess is pretty good.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah, it's pretty good. I mean, it certainly - it's not a surprise, because we know Apple is able to sort of create this buzz around new products and, you know, in a crazy way, get people to buy products that they haven't even seen or haven't even had a chance to touch. No other company in the technology business, really, can do that.

But I - when I heard the number today, I wasn't really surprised, because people seemed extremely enthusiastic about it beforehand.

CONAN: Well, let's see if some of those enthusiasts are on the line. They could be critics, too.

Chris is joining us, Chris from Corvallis in Oregon.

CHRIS (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: How do you like your iPad, Chris?

CHRIS: I am in love with it, and completely addicted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CHRIS: It - I picked it up first thing Saturday morning, and it's been hard for me to even put it down, to be completely honest.

CONAN: What do you most like about it?

CHRIS: I would say the ease of use, its size, and it basically means I don't have to travel with my laptop for work anymore. This has really made - it's going to make things a lot easier for me, kind of in that regard.

CONAN: Well, it's interesting. Farhad was saying in his review that if you had to write a long report or something like that - it's fine to respond to email and that sort of thing, but that virtual keyboard is kind of a problem if you need to type a lot.

CHRIS: Sure, I can understand that. But, you know, for, you know, for someone in my position, it's going to work great because, you know, I don't really write a lot of reports on the road, I just need being in touch with clients and coworkers and that sort of thing. And, you know, the long battery life, it's really something else. I mean, I've charged it once, and its far exceeded my expectations as far as the battery goes. So it now means I can watch an entire movie on an airplane while travelling or, you know, use the apps without having to worry about the battery going dead on a flight, which is really nice.

CONAN: That's interesting. Farhad, the complaints - this is the first device that Apple has made where I'm not hearing a complaint about the battery.

Mr. MANJOO: It's true. The battery life, you know, for most gadgets, the company has advertised the battery life and it's extremely - it's pretty much unlikely, you'll never get that advertised battery life. But for the iPad, everyone I've heard has said that, you know, it exceeds the advertised battery life of 10 hours. So - and I think I found that, too. I haven't had to charge it at all since I got it on Saturday. So I think, you know, this is one area where everyone is surprised.

CHRIS: One thing I will add is, you know, I put this in the hands of my four-year-old niece yesterday and just gave her a little bit of guidance. And within probably half an hour, she was navigating it by herself. We downloaded the Labyrinth game. And she was playing it all by herself, and she would - could hardly put it down. So, you know, it's - you can see where the ease of use of the iPad is really going to be a selling point for a lot of younger users, as well as a lot of probably older users that don't need the functions of a complete computer.

CONAN: Chris, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate the review.

CHRIS: Yes, yes.

CONAN: Bye-bye. You said the ease of use, you agreed with that, Farhad, and indeed, that - even if you've never used an iPhone, it's quite similar to that, you'd figure it out in 30 seconds.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah. I mean, I think this is the one of the major breakthroughs. Apple has managed to create kind of a fully functional computer here that is extremely easy to pick up. I mean, all of the kind of frustrations that we're used to with our computers, with our desktop and laptop computers, things like knowing where a file is or having to back up, back it up, all your data, having to save files and worrying about viruses and things like that, none of that, you know, is a worry on the iPad.

And, you know, this could be, I think, kind of a metaphor or a way for us to have easier computers, even desktop computers, they might work in this, you know, easy-to-use way.

CONAN: Let's go next to Jim, and Jim is calling us from Akron.

JIM (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, you're on the air. Go ahead. How do you like your iPad?

JIM: Well, you know, I was going to be really happy with it, I thought, and no, I'm not.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JIM: It's really just a large iPhone, so it still suffers in the same limitations. You know, it doesn't support Flash, and the majority of the Web sites and videos that you find online are Flash-based. And it's not going to replace a laptop or a Web browser or anything like that.

CONAN: Wait. When you say it doesn't support Flash, almost - isn't YouTube all Flash?

JIM: It is. Now, there is a special function just for YouTube where you can you watch YouTube videos. But almost any other site that you go to that has Flash, you get a little blue box. And, you know, a lot of sites that are (unintelligible) just do not look very good on an iPad.

CONAN: Farhad, this has been one of the criticisms - not just Jim is complaining about his.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah. I, kind of, disagree though. I mean, I - so what happened was Apple announced this device a couple of months ago and then in that time, a number of Web sites have tried to accommodate this upcoming device. And in my browsing of the Web, I noticed, you know, I did notice that there were some sites that, you know, you couldn't use all of their functions because it doesn't run Flash. But there are number of sites that have already kind of accommodated this. The New York Times' video kind of all works on the iPad and various other sites have released, you know, iPad-only applications.

So, for example, I was able to watch streaming movies from Netflix on the device, even though it - that kind of thing won't work on the iPhone or other, you know, other appliance-type machines like this. So I...

JIM: Yeah but...

Mr. MANJOO: ...you know, I think that it's a worry right now and - but I imagine that over time, we'll get more and more Web sites that will be able to work on the iPad.

CONAN: Jim?

JIM: You know, I have another criticism, if I could. The actual shape of the iPad, the back has a very slight curve to it. So you can't lay it down flat in type, you end up pushing the iPad across the table.

CONAN: Hmm.

JIM: And, you know, if they included rubber feet or something, that'd be fine, but of course that's not as cool as the slick device that they came up with, so...

Mr. MANJOO: I noticed that, too, and the way I solved that was using the - a case for it that Apple sells separately for $40, which I thought made it much more usable and easier to handle.

CONAN: And presumably, somebody else will manufacture something quite similar for less than $40 quite soon.

Mr. MANJOO: Yes.

JIM: If I could mention one more criticism...

CONAN: Yeah, go ahead.

JIM: I'm full of them today, I got to tell you. The other one is the way it looks outside. This is where the Kindle, I think, actually does a much better job with its black and white screen.

CONAN: In direct sunlight, Farhad, you said that was a problem with the reading function.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah, I agree with that. It's very glossy, the screen, so it's hard to see when you're outside. On the other hand, you can look at it in the dark, which you can't do with your Kindle. So, you know, you pick your poison.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Okay. Jim, thanks for the criticism. Appreciate your review.

JIM: Thank you very much.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's a question from Heather(ph). Do you wish or do you foresee wishing that you had waited for a 3G iPad?

Mr. MANJOO: It's a good question. And so you only have to wait a month or so for the 3G version. I didn't think I needed that. Well, first I needed to get one for my job as early as possible.

CONAN: Yeah. He could write it off his taxes.

Mr. MANJOO: Right. And so - but also, I didn't foresee myself using it outside very much. If I were a regular commuter or something like that, I might see myself using it more often. But I think that it's pretty useful just using it at home for me.

CONAN: And you use it with your router that - the same Wi-Fi connection that you have for your laptop?

Mr. MANJOO: Right. Yep, it works with that.

CONAN: And the 3G version costs more, but you could be able to take it and get connected wherever a cell phone could be connected?

Mr. MANJOO: Right. That's right. But you do have to pay a service fee for that. It's $20 a month or so for a set number of megabytes per month. But then, right, you get to use it anywhere where AT&T provides coverage.

CONAN: We should also point out that we, too, have an iPad app. NPR launched it over the weekend. It's similar to the NPR iPhone app but bigger, with links to NPR shows, member stations, streams and news stories. You can still browse and listen at the same time. Details on our home page at npr.org.

We're talking to Slate.com tech columnist Farhad Manjoo. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go next to Justin(ph), Justin from Houston.

JUSTIN (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

JUSTIN: I have a iPad that I get on Saturday, and I will use it - I shoot freelance photography and I'll use it to take my photographs with me wherever I go and be able to show them off to people to sell photographs.

CONAN: And they look, I'm told, very good on that screen.

JUSTIN: Oh, they look as amazing as on a giant screen that I edit them on on my computer at home. So the gentleman had said that it's not useful, that it's just for entertainment, I totally disagree with that. If you can look outside the box and, you know, doctors are going to be able to use it to take notes in. There are all kinds of options that'll come out of this. It'll change what people use laptops for and people will transition to this.

CONAN: All right, Farhad, you've been dissed.

Mr. MANJOO: I, you know, I dont disagree. I think that's true, and we saw that with the iPhone, too. I mean, it was released for sort of specific tasks, but they have, you know, an app store available for both devices. And that gives these devices all kinds of new functions and kind of lets them do things that none of us have imagined yet. So I imagine that'll be true.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Justin.

Here's an email question from Phil(ph) in St. Paul. I went to look and play with the iPad. I wasn't impressed or unimpressed. I thought the Mac people will love it and everyone else will say it's neat. But let's wait and see. Will the iPad change the tablet PC market, and is it the last Steve Jobs' product.

Mr. MANJOO: I don't know if it's the last Steve Jobs' product. But I will say -I do think that it's going to change the tablet PC market. I mean, we're already seeing it happening. A lot of other manufacturers have announced plans to release devices like this. And if this device is popular, which it seems like it's going to be. I mean, there's obviously a market here and other companies are going to rush in, you know, which has happened with phones. After Apple released the iPhone, weve seen a number of smart phones, touch screen smart phones and also happened with the iPod. So that's kind of the general trend.

CONAN: There are some online reviewers who have been less than enthusiastic. The - quote one, this is the Old Choir Seecha(ph) - I hope I'm not mispronouncing that too bad - who said the iPad actively resist the urges of people to make things.

Mr. MANJOO: Yeah. So that criticism is, I suppose, based on this fact that there's not a great keyboard in it and the device is meant mostly for kind of watching things or reading things. I think it's valid up to a point, although as your caller mentioned, some people will imagine great uses for it. And there are forms of creativity on here that are available that you can't really - that aren't easy to do on your desktop computer, like there's a painting application where you can paint with your fingers.

And an artist has actually used that application to create cover - paintings that ended up as the cover image for The New Yorker magazine. So people can do great things on this. So I disagree that it sort of actively resists the urges of creative people.

CONAN: Let's get Rachel(ph) on the line, Rachel with us from Horsham in Pennsylvania.

RACHEL (Caller): Hi, guys. I'm a teacher and - elementary school, specifically. And I bought an iPad on the day it came out. And the first thing that comes to my mind is how much this is going to be used - how well this can be used in the classroom, especially for elementary school kids. Because, you know, in high school, in the middle school, laptops are very prevalent. But in elementary school, they really need a focus on manipulatives.

And just think about how textbooks can be used and be read on an iPad and how well they can be updated instead of having to buy an $80 textbook every time you need to update a textbook, you can actually just download a new version of the textbook onto the iPad. And I think that this can be a great tool for teachers, not just in elementary school classrooms, but primarily because of the fact that kids need that hands-on interactivity.

CONAN: At 500 bucks a pop, though, at minimum, that's going to be an expensive tool.

RACHEL: Of course. So, you know, youre looking for a school - a classroom that has a lot of funds available. But in the same perspective, like, if they were to be able to get this out for classrooms, it could just revolutionize classrooms in general.

CONAN: And Rachel, did you have to wait on line for yours?

RACHEL: Actually, my husband waited on line. And he said that he got to the Best Buy at, you know, 9:00 and it was about an hour before the Best Buy opened and there was only about seven people in line, so.

CONAN: So it was not too horrible for him to wait?

RACHEL: No.

CONAN: All right. Rachel, thanks very much. We appreciate your contribution.

RACHEL: No problem.

CONAN: And Farhad, thank you very much. And again, you can go see his review if you go npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Always nice to have you with us.

Mr. MANJOO: Great. Good to be here. Thanks.

CONAN: Farhad Manjoo joined us from the studios of KQED, our member station in San Francisco. He is technology columnist for Slate.com.

Tomorrow, still bruised after the long fight over health care, Congress could soon take on another hot-button issue: immigration. We'll talk about what's at stake. Plus, avoiding red lights? Turns out there's an app for that, too.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

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