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The Wiki Man

The Wiki Man

A fortnightly column on technology and the web

30 June 2010

12:00 AM

30 June 2010

12:00 AM

In the end I ignored my own advice and bought an Apple iPad, purely, as I explained to my wife, ‘for the purposes of research’. The very same ‘research’ that has by now filled two or three desk drawers with a ridiculous assortment of electrical chargers, the devices they once charged mostly lost, burnt out or forgotten.

Weeks later, my verdict on the thing is curiously complicated. What I mean by this is that the Apple iPad is a magnificent, life-enhancing device, which in many ways lights a future path for technology… and I really do like it: but I’m just not quite sure that you should buy one.

What Apple has undoubtedly proved is that a monolithic, connected, large touch-screen tablet with a wide choice of applications may be the ideal future format for personal computing. That’s the good news. However, I still don’t believe there is any reason why Apple should have a monopoly over this idea. You see, the really impressive bit about the tablet isn’t what’s inside it — it’s the tablet shape itself.


What this device has shown me — for the first time — is the incredible limitations of a laptop. I have suddenly realised that, unless you have a level surface of just the right height, a laptop is almost unusable without some kind of physical contortion. The seat-back tables on trains and aircraft are almost all the wrong height (the tables on aircraft are nastily placed at groin level, as though you are a child in a high chair) and most public areas have no normal tables, or only coffee tables at knee height. Despite its name, unless you are of an unusually simian body shape, the one place you certainly can’t use a laptop is on your lap.

The situation at airports and stations is often so bad (and don’t get me started about power points, either) that often the only solution is to find two empty seats next to each other, place your bag on one and perch the laptop on the bag, then twist yourself round to face it. At Dublin airport once, unable to find two seats spare, in a cynical act of Protestant nastiness I headed over to the gate where the direct flight to Lourdes was advertised. ‘They won’t need so many seats there,’ I thought, ‘they’ll be in wheelchairs.’ I may go to hell for this, but I did get my adjacent seats.

So the genius of Apple is to produce a device which you can comfortably use in a deckchair, a rocking chair, on a train, at someone else’s house, in a car, in a box, with a fox. It is the Green Eggs and Ham of media devices. This is an important achievement. The only problem is that, because it’s made by Apple, it is too damn expensive to take to a lot of these places (I certainly would not use it in a boat or with a goat, to give two clear exceptions).

So what I’d do if I were you is wait for cheaper alternatives to come out using the Android operating system from Google, which is frankly just as good, perhaps better. After all, a £250 tablet isn’t only £250 cheaper to buy than a £500 one, it’s also £250 less upsetting when you spill your beer on it.


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