The iPad is awesome. I love my iPad 2. I think it’s the single greatest mobile device ever sold. There’s just one problem: The iPad is a dandy fancy boy.
The iPad is for indoor use only, for the most part. Some of us want to go outside and take our iPads with us.
Apple needs to give its millions of users the option to fully integrate the iPad into their lives by making it safe for outdoor use.
(I’ll tell you how I think this could be accomplished at the end of this post.)
No, the iPad isn’t fragile, per se. The front glass is incredibly hard to scratch, and the iPad can take some impressive abuse before damage.
Cases help. My new Speck PixelSkin HD Wrap for iPad 2 (arrived this morning!) adds a huge amount of protection. It functions like Apple’s Smart Cover for iPad 2 in that it has a three-segment front cover that doubles as a stand. But it also covers the back and edges. It’s cheaper, too. The PixelSkin Wrap is necessary in my case, because I would definitely scratch the wimpy iPad’s soft backside with everyday use.
The iPad’s preciousness is a problem because iPad dominates the market so completely that it effectively IS the touch tablet market.
I think I’m a pretty typical example in that I really don’t want to buy any another tablet. Yet my lifestyle requires me to leave my iPad at home when I’d really like to bring it with me.
I do CrossFit, which is a form of exercise too hazardous for the iPad. Yet, the iPad would be great for tracking progress, keeping time and other functions that would really enhance my workouts. But no, I leave it at home because it’s too fragile for CrossFit.
I like to sail, surf, scuba-dive and go to the beach. There is no way I’m bringing my iPad along. It’s not water-proof (although it’s more water resistant than most users realize), and it’s not sand-proof. An iPad would be an incredible device for scuba diving. As a camera, the iPad would be the only one I know of with a sufficiently large viewfinder for diving. It could be used as a communication device between divers, a timer, a fish identification database and a backup dive computer. Why not? Just make it water-proof to 100 feet, and the iPad would become standard equipment for recreational divers.
I like to go on long bike trips. But one spill, and my iPad screen could shatter. Right now I have to leave it at home.
I like camping and adventure travel. But to take my iPad on such a trip, it would need to be rugged, water-proof AND have solar power.
That’s just me. Millions of other people have their own reasons for a rougher, tougher iPad with solar power: children, construction workers, delivery people, sports coaches, military troops — the list goes on and on. (The US military alone will probably purchase a million touch tablets over the next five years.)
Apple will dominate no matter what. But millions of people who want an iPad will be forced to buy an alternative because the iPad is just to much of a wuss for outdoor use.
Topping the list of alternatives is Panasonic’s recently announced Toughbook tablet, which runs on Android. The tablet is shock-, dust- and water-resistant and has a matte-finished XGA display for high readability in direct sunlight.
Another option is a — gasp! — netbook, which is (contrary to Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ framing of the category) more than “just cheap.” The Samsung NC215S, which ships July 3 for $399, features a solar panel on the lid! You get an hour of use for every two hours the lid is exposed to sunlight. The company also claims that it tops out at 14 hours of battery life — better even than the original iPad. I hate netbooks, but even I have to admit that a fully charged netbook is better than a battery-dead iPad.
Motorola is rumored to be working on a ruggedized, water-resistant 7-inch Android tablet for the Enterprise — one optimized for barcode scanning.
Although we geek pundit types tend to focus obsessively on the consumer electronics market, there’s an enormous market for in-vehicle computers and ruggedized tablets of every description, which tend to run some version of Windows and cost thousands of dollars. A rugged iPad could destroy this market without even trying. But first the iPad would have to grow a pair.
When the iPad first shipped last year, there were no outdoor alternatives. But by the end of this year, there will be many.
I’m no Charles Atlas, but I think I can help Apple turn the iPad into a device that can handle rugged, outdoor use.
First, the iPad could be made rugged, shock-resistant, water-proof and even solar powered with the right case. Nobody has built such a case to date, which is strange. Most of the water-proof options are little more than zip-lock baggies. There are some vaguely ruggedized cases, and some solar power options. But I’m not aware of any that offer both ruggedness and solar power in the same case.
Apple should design and build the ultimate case, which would not only be great to buy, but it would inform and inspire copycat cases that could make minor modifications and improvements. A dozen or more case makers (including, presumably, the maker of my own case) were “inspired” by Apple’s Smart Cover, for example.
Second, Apple needs to do something about the iPad screen’s horrible performance in direct sunlight. I don’t know what the solution is — whether it could be fixed with a simple mat finish, a direct sunlight mode with a turbo-boost for the brightness or if some entirely new technology is in order. I have the feeling that Amazon’s Android tablet is not only going to be great in direct sun, but will emphasize that fact in TV ads. The iPad’s weakness here is becoming glaringly obvious.
The combination of a rugged, water-proof and solar powered case with a screen that can be read in direct sunlight would truly make iPad ready for the beach — and for the gym, the mountains and the rest of the outside world.
It’s time for the iPad to stop being such a wimp.