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iPad early adoption: a risk too far

Steve Jobs wasn’t kidding when he said that the “technology road is bumpy”.

Those familiar with my initial thoughts about the Apple iPad won't be overly surprised if I waste no time in doing a little more "Apple-bashing", since the army of iPad early adopters are already reporting major hassles with their shiny new devices.

Don't get me wrong, I do have sympathy for those who rushed out to get their hands on the iPad the very first weekend it went on sale, only to find in many cases that its wifi was iffy, to say the least. Others have complained it takes an age to charge it up. But although I'm sympathetic, they were always likely, like any early adopters, to pay a price to be first with iPad bragging rights.

Just like the early adopters of the iPod, who went up in arms when Apple dropped the price from $599 to $399 within weeks of it going on sale, the purchasers of iPad 1.0 should keep in mind the words of Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, when he attempted an apology of sorts back then. As Jobs said, had those iPod buyers been "in technology for 30-plus years", like him, they would have a better understanding of how the "technology road is bumpy", and appreciate that "this is life in the technology lane".

Perhaps he will make a similar statement to appease the customers who have flooded Apple's discussion boards to complain that their iPad is struggling to get a strong wireless signal, despite other devices nearby working normally.

"I have rebooted the iPad three times, doesn't help. My MacBook is running on the same wifi network just fine. Not spending $500 on something I can't even use. It's going back tomorrow," said one user on a forum.

But I'd be surprised if Jobs gets embroiled in such "petty" complaints about his beloved tablet. Talking about early sales figures which showed that Apple managed to shift 300,000 units on the first day of the gadget's release and has sold another 500,000 since, he said: "It feels great to have the iPad launched into the world. It's going to be a game-changer."

Sweat sensation

For those with complaints about the device, it may feel like far less of a game-changer (though I suppose they can always play games on the thing even if they struggle to download books and audio, or surf the net, the purpose for which the device was primarily intended).

Nor are they alone. Buyers of the third-generation iPod Shuffle were staggered to discover that a device marketed as small and light enough to be ideal for gym workouts would break down spectacularly, should any sweat get near the headphone jack. As one of hundreds of commenters on a bulletin board wrote of the debacle: "I would have been SHOCKED if Microsoft was boneheaded enough to have released a product for exercise that was obviously not tested for its primary intent. For Apple, it is inexcusable."

So what does Apple have to say about the iPad wifi issue? Will it be able to do a software patch, or will it have to recall the faulty devices? You'll have to ask the company yourself. I asked what its response was to all of the third-generation iPod Shuffle failures a while back, and the press office failed to respond to my two emails and a phone call.

It seems that because I don't exclusively peddle positive messages about Apple and its gizmos, the company won't talk to me.

Compare and contrast: when I called Microsoft recently to ask about its thoughts on open source in local government, the company hooked me up with its national technology officer within hours. Yet many of the Apple faithful still call Microsoft the Evil Empire!

Anyway, as far as the iPad is concerned, the niggles over wifi haven't changed my mind: I still don't want one. As one commenter on my recent article wrote: "A completely stupid device . .. it's just a fashion statement if anything. It's really not competition for any other device . . . so the makers and supporters say, 'Oh, that's because it's a revolutionary new device' but I say '. . . that we didn't need.' "

For the sake of balance, another commenter said: "I love my new iPad. It's only $500, people, use it for what it does and not bash it for what it doesn't."

Damn, I've failed already.

Jason Stamper is technology correspondent of the New Statesman and editor of Computer Business Review.

Tags:iPad