Jan 27

After watching the highly anticipated presentation of Apple’s latest creation, here are my initial impressions from a developer’s point of view. Apologies in advance for the very long post and the somewhat random order of information. My mind is in hyperdrive thinking about all the new possibilities.

The iPad and the iPhone are very different

The iPad is not portable in the same way that the iPhone and iPod Touch is. You will not pull out the iPad from your back pocket and interact with a 2-minute app while you’re waiting in line at Starbucks. When thinking about apps for the iPad you have to think about how this device will be used.

The iPad is the new home computer. I see it being shared among members of a family to surf the web, consume media or look up information while watching a show. Or even interacting with the show in real-time. You don’t walk to another room to “use the computer”; it’s always laying around in your house, ready to be picked up and used where you are. Of course much of this applies to the iPhone as well. But one big difference is that the iPhone is very personal in that the screen is too small to share. The iPad screen seems big enough that you can have shared experiences around it. How about sitting around an iPad and playing a board game, where the computer takes care of the boring parts like keeping score and enforcing the rules?

I can also see a big role for the iPad in schools and educational settings. Schools that today have a computer in the classroom often have it shoved off in a corner or a special computer area, where students go to do “computer tasks”. An iPad can be integrated into the classroom and with the teacher-student interactions in a much more natural way. Given Apple’s long history in the educational market, I’m a bit surprised there was no mention of this. Maybe they’ll do a special school related event later with iTextbook and some other features targeted directly at the educational market.

As an app developer you need to realize that the iPad is not an iPhone. The same apps, user scenarios and UI designs that make sense on the iPhone, probably don’t translate well to the iPad. While there is sure to be an initial flood of iPhone apps “adapted” for the iPad, I think that in the long run the really successful iPad apps will be those that really take advantage of the unique characteristics of this device.

App development

Apple is really encouraging developers to create universal binaries that will run on all devices and that adapt to the current run-time environment. This has some interesting consequences. On the positive side for developers is that you only have to maintain one build. For customers this approach is also a good thing because they don’t have to manage different versions of the same app for their array of devices. (You know people will want an iPad in addition to their iPhone.) The economic drawback of this for us developers is that customers who have already purchased your iPhone app will get the iPad upgrade for free.

The bar for apps is going to be much higher on the iPad than the iPhone/iPod Touch. A silly app that just does one simple thing might be a fun gag on a device that you can pull out of your pocket and show your friends. But it’s going to fall flat on the larger capabilities of the iPad. I think people will expect more. However that doesn’t mean that app developers won’t try.

Relying on pixel doubling is not going to cut it. You need to adapt your apps to make use of the larger screen and the new SDK features. This may lead to a natural segregation of apps in the App Store: those apps where the developers actively invest in upgrades, and those that are more or less abandoned. Personally I think that would be a good thing.

Also, the bar for app developers is going to be much higher on the iPad. The learning curve for getting into iPhone development is not that steep. And if you don’t want to learn Objective-C and Cocoa Touch, then you can outsource development for a reasonable cost. Creating an app that works well on both the iPad and the iPhone is a whole new level. This requires that you have given separation of concerns some serious thought, you have a solid model-view-controller design, etc. Of course you can ignore this advice and forge ahead anyway. But given the conditional coding required to adapt to the two device classes, you are very likely to end up with a big pile of spaghetti code.

The new SDK 3.2 comes with a new NDA, so I can’t talk about any new features. But at a first glance there is a lot of new stuff to learn. It’s going to be an intense 60 days to master this new SDK.


The iPad screen resolution is 1024 x 768. This is a 4:3 aspect ratio, instead of the 3:2 ratio of the iPhone and 16:9 for HDTV sets. So when you play HD content in landscape mode you’ll get black bars above and below the video. This is something to keep in mind when you create full screen video content for the iPad. The new SDK seems to support video playback that does not take over the entire screen, (finally!), so another option could be to play videos in portrait mode at 768 x 432 (=16:9) and leave the bottom half of the screen for other content. I’m guessing that the reason for the iPad screen size is that a more elongated device would feel awkward in your hands.

The lack of a camera is disappointing. The focus of the iPad seems to be on media consumption. And there’s plenty of new territory to explore here to keep us busy for quite some time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple included a camera in a future model. That would make the iPad a real communication and collaboration device. But then again, maybe they’re reserving that for the iPhone. Remember the fuss around the “missing” camera in the latest generation iPod Touch.

The Apple A4 processor is a big deal. Reports from people who got to test the iPad after the presentation say that the iPad is blazing fast. How could you even consider writing a suite of productivity apps for the device if it didn’t have the necessary horsepower. This bodes really well for app developers. How many times have you been hamstrung by the lack of CPU power in the iPhone? Now whole new horizons open up. And for the 4th generation iPhone coming later in the year, would you be surprised if it was powered by the A4 processor (or a close sibling)?

And since Apple designed the A4, they own it. How many other mobile device manufacturers have their own chip design company in-house? How are they going to compete? The iPhone showed that it’s all about the software. After almost 3 years competitors have yet to achieve the same usability and supreme user experience as the iPhone. Now add in a super-blazing-fast CPU (that nobody else can get their hands on) and the type of applications you can create on Apple’s devices just took another huge leap forward.


By not including Flash on the iPad (no surprise in that) Apple has put another nail in the coffin of proprietary web technologies. If the iPad is the new home entertainment complement that sits on a kitchen or coffee table, people will avoid web sites that rely on Flash when they search the web for entertainment or information related to the show they’re watching. Before, you could maybe get away with a web site that did not support mobile devices. But with iPad media consumption devices that number in the millions that is no longer an option.

I’ve spent a lot of time building ebook and comic book readers for clients. So I can speak with some authority when I say that Apple has spent a lot of time and money building iBook. It is by far the best presentation of traditional books on an electronic device that I’ve seen. Kindle and Nook look very pale (literally) in comparison. I consider this to be state of the art for Book 1.5. The next step is to take books to another level: Book 2.0. Now that we have the hardware device, it is time to really innovate.

There was no mention of DRM for ebooks, but I assume that Apple will add an additional layer of Fairplay in the EPUB files that you purchase from the iBookstore (as allowed by the EPUB specification). DRM is a huge concern for people who buy a lot of books. Traditional books are compatible with almost all readers (=humans). But when you buy DRM locked ebooks for your Kindle, Nook or Sony device, you are tied to that vendor forever for reading your ebooks. Apple actually has a leg up in this race because there is a Kindle app for the iPhone. So if you have purchased Kindle ebooks in the past you can read them on your iPad. It will be interesting to see if Amazon will create an iPad version of their reader. My guess is that they will. In the long run it has to be more attractive for Amazon to deliver digital content vs. being in the hardware business competing with Apple and Sony.

I’m a little bit surprised that Apple just focused on traditional books. No mention of magazines, newspapers or textbooks. If the NY Times demo was any indication, then Apple will leave this area to individual publishers. That’s good for us developers since we get to build apps for each one.

The new gold rush

The work Apple has done with creating iWork for the iPad is nothing short of amazing. It’s hard to tell how useful productivity apps will be on a tablet until you get your hands on a device for a longer period of time. But I’m disappointed in the price level and the expectations Apple sets by “giving away” the iWork apps for $9.99 each. That means we remain stuck in dollar-app mode. (I’m convinced that Apple really likes dollar-app pricing. More on that in a future blog post.)

At $499 this is a mass market device. Apple will sell a lot of these devices. Dedicated ebook readers like the Kindle and the Nook will have a tough time to justify their existence. Kindle recently announced a SDK for their device, and Nook is built on Android so there’s a theoretical possibility that they’ll come out with and SDK too. Meanwhile Apple has over 100k developers with current skills and who are just itching to dig in and build new apps for this device.

I fully agree with Scott Forstall: This is going to be another app developer gold rush. It’s going to be fun!

written by Nick \\ tags:

21 Responses to “iPad – First Impressions”

  1. Marty Says:

    Great read. Thank you for your this.

  2. maniacdev Says:

    Personally I’m happy about how some are complaining about the software the iPad is lacking such as Flash. This creates opportunity for developers.

    As far as ebook readers go, have you seen the video of the blio reader? http://blioreader.com , it will be coming on the iPhone/Mac too (despite the MS guys calling it a “Windows reader” at CES) and the book display looks better than iBooks. Not to mention 1.5 million books.

  3. Nick Says:

    @maniacdev: The blio reader looks very nice on their web site, and I heard good things about it coming out of CES. Anybody who’s claiming more than a million book titles for their reader is including about a million public domain titles. That seems to imply that blio will read EPUB files, although there are no references to this on their web site.

    An interesting question is if Apple will allow competing readers to read the EPUB files downloaded by iBook. For DRM protected books I’m assuming that the answer is a definite no. But for public domain works it would be nice not have download the same file several times as you switch reader apps.

  4. maniacdev Says:

    Yes, blio does support ePub, and PDF too according to their FAQ, although those probably look alot plainer than the interactive textbooks and childrens books they show. I’m sure they were including public domain books in the reference as they mentioned “1,000,000 free books” in an interview.

    What’s really great is that we’ll see all these book apps on the iPad.

  5. TerryG Says:

    First of all, I have followed your blog since last year and I enjoyed it very much…nice work & keep it up!

    A word about Flash. I’m rather dissapointed but on hindsight, it’s a business decision rather than a technical one. Let’s hope HTML5 be finalized soon and Safari to support it…then proprietary RIA will not be an issue.

  6. Ray Wenderlich Says:

    I agree that there are going to be a lot of these things sold, despite a lot of complaints from people around the net these days.

    And the increased size for a popular touch-enabled device is HUGE for new possibilities for apps. We are going to see some amazing things come out from this I bet!

  7. Daniel Says:

    Thank you very much for this article. It was by far the best analysis of the iPad I’ve read so far!

  8. Bas Says:

    The iPad is indeed a new category that will escape the projections of older categories. You like your iPhone? How about your fax? iPad is accessible yet will bring us unprecedented depth!

  9. David Howard Says:

    Great piece – summarises iPad in a clear and helpful manner

  10. Brian Says:

    I thought Apple’s stance was to reject apps that compete with the baked in capabilities of their devices? (e.g. Podcast apps on the iPhone when it was released.)

    If this remains the case, who’s to say that Apple will even *allow* Amazon to publish an iPad Kindle app?

  11. Bob Says:

    The iPhone screen isn’t 16:9, it’s 3:2.

  12. Naoma Cramer Says:

    Lots of of bloggers aren’t too pleased with this new iPad.There was just too much hoopla over it and alot people got turned off.Thing is, I can actually see lots of the awesome potential of this device. Third-party apps for working with music, games, newspapers and magazine and books, all kinds of cool stuff, but IMHO they failed to sell it right (excluding the books). It smells kinda incomplete.

  13. Brian Says:

    @Naoma: It’s defintely incomplete. Early prototypes had room for a camera and the omission of proper GPS is… annoying; particularly from a developer point of view. This device smells of being cut down to get it out the door sooner and at a lower price point.

    I know people have commented that a camera wouldn’t be useful, but term “Skype” has been being thrown around a lot, so a front facing camera would make a lot of sense. We’ve all heard of “video chat with the grandkids” being used as a selling point in the past, but this device has the UI that could actually pull it off.

    Viva la iPad 2.0.

  14. Anthony Moody Says:

    THANK YOU for this thoughtful, well reasoned write up. I’m 1000% with you that “the iPad is the new home computer.”

    So convinced of this am I that I’ll be using my iPad as my primary device and retiring my MBP on Day 1. (Shameless plug: I’m even blogging about the thought process at iPadAlone.com)

    Many thanks.

  15. mr fish Says:

    Another gold rush for developers? Im not so sure.

    The absolute control apple has over the applications that can be sold via the app store combined with their random nonsensical secretive approval/rejection policies actively limits the investment made in any software product for their devices.

    As an individual developer or company intending to see a return on their development effort/investment it makes sense to write small feature light applications, so that if they are met with a random rejection they minimise their losses.

    This device demands a greater level of investment. With the app store approval process the way it is today I don’t see any individual developer or company will be prepared to make the kind of investment required to create the applications this device needs to succeed, just to see the work thrown away on the whim of some nerd in their review department having a bad day.

  16. Kim Says:

    “keeping score and enforcing the rules” – boring parts? Come on! Thats the best part, next to winning.

  17. TL Says:

    I played with it and am not yet fascinated. The question is, why buy it?

  18. Freek Says:

    Thanks for the very interesting article!

    I still don’t think I will be able to explain to my grandmother why her new iPad (if she would buy one) won’t show all kinds of websites correctly (because they use flash of course; on a iPhone the screen is so small that surfing in a less than reasonable way can be excused: but this looks like the real thing, so it not *being* the real thing will hurt much much more!) For her the web is “magic” and a distinction between different technologies to have it work doesn’t mean anything to her. She’ll just understand that “this thing that cost me so many dollars doesn’t work right”. Bad.

    Similarly I have friends who just bought a new mac ask me “why doesn’t it play wmv movies?” And really, having to install that *stupid* Flip4Mac thing, it just is not right, Apple, believe me! (It recently broke the trailers in my FrontRow too, so I kicked it off, with a big sigh of relief. I have VLC, thank you very much! But VLC probably wouldn’t get by Apples app store? Would it? This non-openess is *evil*… If I pay for hardware why can’t I make it run whatever I like?)

    And then *my* pet peeve with the iPad is the no webcam thing. I had imagined a “videophone” that I would be able to carry around. That would have been very cool. So I *am* disappointed with the iPad.

    Also it’s too small, storage-wise. Apple always claims to be amazing, but in this respect it is feeble. I own a 160G iPod. The iPad won’t hold my video library. Which means: no iPad for me right now.

    Conclusion: I’ll wait until it has a camera and the storage to hold what I carry with me already now. And then I’ll start considering it.

    But I’m not sour at you, once more many thanks for the wonderful article! I’m just a bit sore at Apple. They are a bit fascist. Like always, really.

    Although they *do* make nice stuff.

  19. Hasan Says:

    The problem is the already existing titles being ported to the App Store is going to be met with a flurry of existing apps that will be scaled to the iPad. Although it’ll be nice to work with more screen space, the problem is still going to be the same issue as mentioned about the approval process. The lack of multitasking is aggravating as well. It’s not a small chunk of change that you’re throwing out for the device, it’d be nice to get it to do more than one thing at a time.

    We’ve critically analyzed the iPad and talked about the missing components that Apple needs to address here – http://www.tkxel.com/blog/2010/02/01/the-ipad-%E2%80%93-tablet-computing-gets-new-life-from-apple/

  20. Steve Says:

    I haven’t seen this discussed anywhere; perhaps one of you technical guys will know the answer: will the iPad’s multi-touch screen be able to accomodate a stylus, so that with the right app you could (e.g.) take handwritten notes at a conference?

    I now use a MBP; but a few years ago i used to tote a ThinkPad x61 and it had a BEAUTIFUL touch screen. The sensation of using the orange “digital ink” in One Note to take notes, was a blast.

    I suspect the iPad’s screen won’t have the resolution for writing with a stylus? I know that only the ThinkPad models had a “really great” touch screen for writing (capacitive? resistive?), all the other brands of PC touch screens that I tried (Fujitsu, HP, etc) seemed to use lower-quality touch screens that didn’t produce the same kinesthetic experience.

    If you could take detailed notes and make sketches on an iPad using a stylus, i think that could be a huge winner for Apps based upon it. Most people think that character recognition of notes is very important; but it turns out that is often NOT the case. Those who have used touch computers often come to that realization. It’s the note-taking and sketching that engages your thinking and memory, and being able to refer back to it, that’s more important. For some of us.

  21. Nick Says:

    @Steve: I haven’t tried using a stylus on an iPad, but I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work for the use cases you describe. The iPhone capacitive screen is very accurate, and I would assume that the iPad is just as good.

    I completely agree with you that for note taking OCR is not important. As long as you can accurately see your scribbles and diagrams afterwards, that will be a much faster and compelling user experience. And as you point out it gives you a physical memory of the notes as well. Imagine being able to make notes in your digital textbook this way, without having to bring up the keyboard (you can’t type on a touchscreen keyboard without looking at it) or figuring out how to add diagrams and figures.

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