Washington Apple Pi

A Community of Apple iPad, iPhone and Mac Users

Fingerprints: Why you care about the iPad

© 2010 Lawrence I. Charters

Washington Apple Pi Journal, reprint information

Within a day of Apple’s announcement of the iPad, there were dozens of news stories on why it would fail. The January 27, 2010 announcement was preceded by years of speculation, some of it dating back to the day Apple killed the Newton in 1998. In fact, the speculation had reached such a frenzied pitch that Apple was fated to disappoint millions when it showed off the iPad for the first time. Apple had promised nothing – and it wasn’t enough.

Now, keep in mind that, at this point, nobody had an iPad, except those within Apple working on the project. No consumers had purchased one; no reviewers had one to review. All the criticism was based on what Apple demonstrated during the January 27 announcement, and on what could be gleaned from Apple’s Web site,


In many cases it was obvious that the critics had neither seen the announcement nor read the Web site.

The criticisms:

Why the criticisms are silly:

The iPad doesn’t need to fit in a shirt or jacket pocket; the iPhone and iPod touch do this quite nicely. It is hard to say if it is too fragile, since nobody has had one to torment yet. Since digital cameras and video cameras and phone cameras are ubiquitous, does the iPad need a camera of its own? And if it did have a camera, what kind of photo could you take with a book-sized slab of aluminum and glass?

As for supporting external speakers, it does come with a built-in speaker and a stereo headphone jack. If you really wanted to hook it up to external speakers you could, although that does present a somewhat awkward picture. You would definitely draw stares sitting on the Metro listening to Lady GaGa with your portable external speakers. Wouldn’t headphones or earbuds make more sense?

Regarding the lack of USB and FireWire and Ethernet ports, and the lack of an SD slot or CD or DVD drive, do keep in mind that an iPad has “system requirements.” Apple says that, to use an iPad, you need a Mac running Mac OS 10.5.8 or better, and iTunes 9.0 or better, or a Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 computer, also with iTunes 9.0. In either case, you also need an iTunes Store account.

In other words, an iPad has whatever ports – Ethernet, USB, FireWire – your computer has, and it has access to any memory slots, CD or DVD drives, or other peripherals, too; It doesn’t need to haul all that baggage around. Steve Jobs spent a decade turning your Mac into a “digital hub.” He was successful, so why recreate it? The iPad weighs all of a pound and a half, and is designed to be portable. Leave all the heavy stuff at home on your desk.

One of the most bizarre criticisms is that the iPad won’t do HD video because it doesn’t have a 16:9 aspect ratio. Instead, it has the same aspect ratio as a printed page, and the surface area is the same size as a hardcover or trade paperback book. But just because the screen doesn’t have a 16:9 aspect ratio doesn’t mean it can’t display a 16:9 movie; Apple did so, during the introduction.

Also bizarre is the criticism that 3G versions do not support Verizon, Quest, Sprint, or some other telecommunications vendor. Since the 3G versions are not bundled with any kind of communications plan, you are free to use it with any phone company that wants your business. At the introduction, Apple mentioned that AT&T had pay-as-you-go monthly plans for the iPad, but there are no barriers to any other telecommunications company offering something similar.

A related issue has to do with allowing corporate control over the iPad by making it part of a Windows domain. The claim is: this can’t be done. And it may well be true. Much like the Apple II in 1977, the iPad makes no pretense of being a corporate citizen. If the Apple II gave computing power to those outside the mainframe Ivory Tower, the iPad gives portable computing and telecommunications power to those who are spurned by the Network Thought Police. You can sit at your work desk and, using 3G telecommunications, add things to or remove things from your iPad according to your wants and needs, not according to what is on the Approved list. The Apple II tunneled under the corporate walls of the 1970s; the iPad parachutes over the new corporate walls of the 21st century.


One of the more amazing criticisms is that the iPad is too large to type on with your thumbs. Admittedly, having an opposable thumb puts humans high up on the evolutionary ladder, except in Kansas. But the thumb was never the most expressive digit in typing; in traditional touch-typing, the thumbs are relegated to pressing the space bar. Would anybody but a Blackberry addict think that “too large for thumb typing” was a problem?

Those wishing for a stylus are similarly delusional. When Adobe Illustrator was introduced in 1986, it outraged artists, who complained that there was no way they could draw with a mouse or stylus. Now, in 2010, there are artists who complain they can’t draw without a mouse or stylus, though most artists throughout history have used: just their fingers.

Fingers, in fact, are the key to the iPad, just as they were to the iPhone and the iPod touch. If you look at the screen of almost anyone’s computer, you will see fingerprints. It is perfectly natural to reach out and point at something you like, or don’t like, or wish to change, or wish to keep. Fingerprints are the key to the spectacular success of the iPhone and iPod touch; there is no keyboard permanently taking up space, no scroll wheel or knob to figure out, just a sheet of glass. Tap here, stroke there. If the context changes, the screen changes, too: tap there, stroke here.

This is not a new revelation, by the way. Washington Apple Pi published an article with the same argument back in 2007:


Why you care about the iPad

The charge that the iPad is nothing but a big iPhone or iPod touch, and offers nothing new, is to some degree true. And deliberate. As noted at the iPad’s introduction, the iPhone and iPod touch proved that tens of millions of people have no trouble at all operating these devices. Washington Apple Pi, for example, gets almost no requests for help with them.

Yet no matter how successful the iPhone and iPod touch have been, they have definite limitations. You can use them as portable video players, but the small size of the screens limit the experience. Several book reader apps exist for the devices, yet at any given time you see only a fraction of what you’d see on a standard book page.

But with an iPad, you have a book-sized screen that can be:

Apple’s introduction suggests that the iPad will be the richest, most flexible mobile E-mail client around, and the richest, most flexible Web client, too. Apple’s demonstration of iWork for the iPad suggests a complete rethinking of how a word processor works. This is only fair, as the word processor was a rethinking of how a typewriter works, and a typewriter was a mechanical rethinking of how you write: with your fingers.

My spouse made me promise to buy her an iPad even before Apple admitted to making it. After reading all the technical details and giving it some thought, I’ve found no reason to even consider backing out of that promise.

While we wait for the iPad to go on sale, look at your monitor. See any fingerprints?