WHILE APPLE'S IPAD announcement yesterday hardly came as a shock, what was surprising was its rather lacklustre feature set.
Many industry watchers were predicting a quantum leap from the Iphone and its current user interface, with massively improved multi-touch and gesture support.
Instead we've been shown a large Ipod Touch. Really, that's the Ipad in a nutshell - a larger screened version of a product first released in 2007.
With the extra screen real-estate, simply put, the Ipad is a highly constrained netbook from Apple. It's a cheap netbook without a keyboard - except as an added-cost option - that you can use for browsing the web and to play a variety of media.
But it has serious flaws.
If it's designed for media playback, why doesn't the screen have a wide-screen format? Instead users have to suffer intolerable black bands while viewing movies, which wastes part of the already limited screen area.
The lack of any multi-tasking removes any notion that this is a serious tool for productivity and is a major let-down. Surely in this day and age people will want to annotate an email whilst viewing a document. This can't be too much to ask for a $499 (and up) device with a 1GHz processor in 2010.
Not that there's anything you'll be able to run on it except for what's supplied at the App Store. Apple's closed software environment means there's little possibility of your favourite office tools being made available any time soon.
Fortunately for purchasers, its WiFi access - and 3G, if you pay the extra for it - allows all the wonders of the cloud, including Apple's own new Iwork 2010, however otherwise you might be completely stuck.
But don't expect all web applications to work. Unbelievably Apple still doesn't have a working Flash client available for the Ipad. This is almost acceptable on an Iphone, but for a net-centric tablet, the lack of Flash support is just unforgivable.
Maybe the Ipad could at least be used as a video conferencing device, but no, Apple didn't see fit to include a camera on the back, let alone a front-facing webcam.
Even the micro SIM support left people wondering exactly who else on the planet uses the new diminutive standard. At least there's a slot for this - you won't find any SD or USB connections on the Ipad.
Sure, the added Ibooks application will appeal to a select few who want to peruse a book for up to a maximum of 10 hours before being tethered to a wall, but this is hardly a killer feature. Competing e-book readers are readily available, and there are already e-book apps on other Apple devices such as the Iphone.
Plenty of Mac zealots have already brushed all of these concerns aside, saying they're unimportant and people should not presume to judge the Ipad until after they've used it.
But these are not minor issues - they're critical. People expect limited functionality and features on a phone, but they don't expect it on a $499-plus device, especially when competitors are offering much more for substantial discounts to the Ipad's price.
And let's face it - anyone who's used an Iphone or Itouch has already used this device. They're all the same thing. This is nothing new.
We can't gauge what the actual target market is for Apple's Ipad.
Apple has massive support from designer types, yet it's too underpowered for any reasonable design use, and without mouse or stylus support little in the way of graphics designs can be produced.
Office types won't want to drag around a separate keyboard, either. Though Apple has been touting the virtual keyboard, the immediate option of the additional keyboard doesn't fill us with confidence. And the majority of people won't want to be constrained to use only web-based Iwork applications.
Gamers were allegedly targeted by Apple in the run-up to the event, inviting the likes of Kotaku, yet few other than Iphone games have been demonstrated.
It's also doubtful that the Ipad has enough CPU and graphics processing power to handle current PC games at playable frame rates.
No one yet knows how Apple's proprietary CPU/GPU combination will perform. Presumably it won't be up to the likes of Nvidia's Tegra 2, which allegedly will be utilised in many other tablets.
So exactly who is the tablet aimed at? We can't understand who's going to want it, let alone buy it. We realise there's a segment of die-hard Apple fans who've been holding out for an Apple-branded netbook, and this might fit the bill, if not perfectly then at least well enough to make the fanbase happy for awhile.
But for the mass market, unlike some others, we simply can't see the appeal. µ