Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has had great success in the Tablet market with its iPad. Tablet market share estimates for the Apple iPad are in the 90% plus range. I have to say I was impressed with iPad. All the neat things about the iPhone/iPods were preserved and the larger screen made new things possible. Book/magazine viewing on the iPad was now attractive and because the iPad is so portable one could really see the demise of physical newpapers , magazines, and books becoming a reality. As a developer of iTunes apps (you can see my Investment Return and Retirement app in my Seeking Alpha profile) I can report that the transition to iPad from iPhone/iPod was seamless. My app just ran on the new iPad platform and no new compiles or releases were required.
As competitive Tablet announcements come out from RIM (RIMM) , Sony (NYSE:SNE), and others it behooves Apple to think about turf snatching from laptops and netbooks to keep sales of the iPad robust. What I want to address is whether the iPad can become, or is, an all purpose computing platform. To get a feel for an all purpose computing platform, imagine a 7 centimeter by 4 centimeter by 1 centimeter box that you carry around with you. This box has all your software, files, music, videos, etc. contained on it. Maybe this box is even a phone. As you come into different environments you apply different peripherals to get your desired outcome. If you want to watch a movie you plug your all purpose computing platform into a television screen and watch your movie. If you want to do some heads down word processing or spread sheeting you plug your all purpose computing platform into a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and printer and have at it. The question this article wishes to address is whether the iPad is, or has potential, as an all purpose computing platform. (Aside: the all purpose computing platform is very different than a “Cloud” approach. With a Cloud approach your software, files, music, videos, etc reside on the web and you use thin clients(a device with a web browser and little else)/specialized access devices to get to your resources.)
The fact that a docking Keyboard was quickly offered as an accessory for the iPad shows that Apple feels the iPad has potential as an all purpose computing platform. Apple offers the iWork suite that competes with MS (NASDAQ:MSFT) Office with Pages for word processing, Numbers for spread sheeting, and Keynote for presentations. iWork was offered almost immediately on the iPad as an app. Interestingly enough the price of iWorks is less on iPad than it is for a Mac. As an app developer I have to say there is kharmic symmetry in the fact that even Apple suffers from the downward pricing pressure on the iTunes App store. So you can fire up your iWorks on your iPad with a docking Keyboard and do some heads down word processing or whatever but you will quickly notice that you don’t have a mouse. You have to tap, squeeze, and pinch to navigate around your word processer and select icons on a screen that sits vertically in front of you (knocks over easily). I think the iPad came close to an all purpose computing device that could replace laptops/netbooks from Dell (NASDAQ:DELL) and HP (NYSE:HPQ) but I think it needs a mouse to be fully competitive with Windows laptops/netbooks as an all purpose computing platform.
So let’s address the question of whether an iPad has a mouse. If you walk into an Apple retail store they will quickly tell you the iPad doesn’t have a mouse. It appears that the aggressive and clever Apple fan club of techies has jail broken (bypassed or worked around Apple Operating System interfaces) to allow a Bluetooth and some other kinds of mice to work on the iPad. Most Apple users don’t want to deal with all the technical vagaries of jail breaking their iPad and don’t wish to void their warranty by doing so. So we will say that generally an iPad doesn’t have a mouse.
There are two other areas that can/will reveal Apple’s ambitions to make an iPad into an all purpose computing device. One obvious difference between a Mac and an iPad is the lack of the Finder (File Manager/Windows Explorer for the Windows literate) application on the iPad. Apparently Apple feels that general file management is unnecessary on an iPad. The App development approach for an iPad seems to be that each App manages its’ own files and that general file management is unnecessary. Many laptops/netbooks are augmented now in primary work areas by connecting them to larger video screens, keyboards, and mice. This will be a problem for the iPad as its slim profile would be interrupted by the current bulky interfaces for auxiliary video screens and other peripherals. One could argue a netbook has an accessory mouse, why not an iPad.
The question of whether an iPad needs a mouse if obviously one of degree. There are certainly people that will put up with a little inconvenience to have one platform that they can use for everything. The authors’ contention is the addition of an accessory mouse would make that leap a lot easier for a lot more people. Hopefully this article gave the reader a feel for the exciting things that are happening as the convergence of hardware platforms, Operating Systems, communications protocols, and the Worldwide Web becomes a reality. One would certainly hope that the company that made a commercial success of the pointing device (mouse) could make a mouse work on the iPad.
Disclosure: Author long MSFT