One more reason to avoid the iPad: No set standards

Breaking down the problems of the iPad

The Apple iPad has been an undeniable success since its release in April. Currently it is the must-have gadget for a legion of first-adopters all over America.

However in the halls and computer labs of Elon University’s Interactive Media graduate program, short of Robert McChesney there hasn’t been a greater source of scorn and derision. Discussion about its ability to only  run one program at a time, to its awkward size, to Apple’s refusal to incorporate Flash have permeated our classes. If a straw poll was taken at any point this semester asking if iMedia students were considering purchasing one, somewhere between 99% and 100% would have responded with an emphatic NO.

What is interesting about this vitriolic reaction to the iPad is that we, as the new breed of techno-geeks, are Apple lovers. All but 2 of the 36 students in the program have Macbook Pro laptops. Elon outfitted our on-campus computer lab with 25 Mac desktops. Nearly all of us sport iPod Touches (which came free after rebate when we purchased our iMacs). We are undeniably in the wheelhouse for Apple’s stereotypically young, hip Mac user. But overwhelmingly, the idea of the iPad has seemed misguided and unnecessary to us.

Critics have also givien the iPad a somewhat underwhelming response. A PC World review lists the major problems as follows:

  • No multitasking
  • No Adobe Flash (yet)
  • No camera or iChat capabilities
  • No HDMI port
  • 4:3 aspect ratio
  • Still dependent on AT&T’s 3G service
  • Dependence on adapters

On the heels of these critial reviews, this week Dr. Jakob Nielsen, hailed by some as “the king of usability,” published a 93-page report evaluating the iPad’s usability. Based on feedback from seven users who tested 34 different apps and websites, the report argues that iPad apps suffer from inconsistency and poor “discoverability,” due in large part to a new user interface with undefined design standards.

With the emergence of the nearly buttonless, multitouch iPad, these new usability problems have become glaring. First of all, because each app is different, the user never goes through a single usability learning curve. Instead the user is forced to re-learn how to navigate the iPad whenever running a new application. Flying in the face of standards for desktop-based platforms that were created over the last quarter-century, the iPad apps do not follow established and refined interface guidelines.

In addition, Nielsen states that since developers of the initial apps did not have possession of the device prior to launch, the majority of the first generation apps were essentially coded in the dark, which is why interfaces vary so much.

What this study tells me is that like any device the iPad is going through its initial buggy faze and will work out many of these interface problems over the next year.

However, even with set standards, the iPad simply seems like a device that does a great deal without really doing anything. All sizzle without any meat. More to the point, it seems like and a waste of $500 dollars.

Maybe I’m not the target demo.

Maybe I am being a techno-snob.

Either way, you won’t see me lining up outside an Apple store for the new iPad any time soon.

Now the new MacBook Pro on the other hand… when I can I get my hands on one?

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