Why No iPad?

I don’t own an iPad, nor am I likely to get one… at least, not yet.

Now, for some people that’s not saying anything, but many people who know me are more than a little surprised by this. I like tech toys, I like Apple toys in particular, and they aren’t prohibitively expensive. Also, I travel a fair amount, and travel seems like one of the better applications for an iPad. So why, I’ve been asked numerous times, don’t I have one?

The primary reason is that I don’t need one… OK, I can’t type that with a straight face. “Needing one” has never been a criterion for me. I’ll wipe the smirk off my face and try again.

The primary reason is that it’s a first-generation Apple product. I didn’t buy a first-generation iPod; I waited for the 3rd generation when the software got better and it supported AAC encoding (which was, at the time, much better at 128 kbps than MP3 encoders). I didn’t get a first-generation iPhone; I waited until the iPhone 3G, precisely for the 3G and third-party applications. (Note that I also skipped the 3GS, though I am, of course, getting an iPhone 4, as previously mentioned.)

So, by extension, what am I waiting for on the iPad? What feature is it lacking that prevents me from buying it?

There are a few things that I expect the 2nd generation iPad to have that I’d really like to see. For one, iOS 4 for the iPad would be really nice. But that’s just software. If I bought an iPad now, I’d have that when it shipped.

It’s not applications, as there are already some cool apps. However, what I would like to see before I commit is better integration between desktop and iPad applications. I’d like syncing a Pages or Keynote document between my iPad and my Mac to be a little more seamless. Note that Dropbox would be perfectly acceptable for this. (Incidentally, I’m with John Gruber on this—why hasn’t Apple bought this yet? Dropbox rocks!) But again, that’s just software, presumably. I could get an iPad now and it would just get better when this happened.

So it must be hardware. What in the hardware do I think will be there in future iPads that isn’t there yet?

Two words: Screen resolution.

The iPad is not huge, but it’s good-sized; the screen is 9.7” on the diagonal. However, the screen is a mere 1024 x 768 pixels, which is just over 130 pixels per inch. Frankly, when Steve announced this number up on the keynote stage, I was flabbergasted. I was really surprised that Apple would go with this.

Now, for lots of applications, that’s plenty. A typical ripped DVD (done with anamorphic scaling) produces a video file that’s something on the order of 850 x 360 pixels, so it’s plenty dense for movies. So, what’s the stumbling point?

Reading. As Apple’s own ads for the iPhone 4 note, the human eye can discriminate right around 300 pixels per inch. More than that makes very little difference, but up to that, your eye can still see the pixels. This is not a big deal for watching movies and standard applications, but for really serious reading, this matters—rather a lot, too, in terms of things like reading rate and eye strain.

So, what I’m hoping is that the second-generation iPad has a display that’s inspired by the iPhone 4. I realize that it might be prohibitively expensive to produce a 300+ ppi display at 9.7” size (the iPhone’s is only 3.5”). That’s fine—I’d settle for a split of the difference, around 230 ppi. I think that’d be high-res enough to make it actually tolerable as an e-reader.

I guess a camera would be nice, but mostly videoconferencing sucks anyway, so I don’t really care that much. Lack of one certainly wouldn’t prevent me from buying a future iPad, but I think enough people want this that it’s highly likely in the next revision anyway. (See also the front-facing camera in the iPhone 4.)

So, when Apple releases an iPad with 230+ ppi, then I’ll buy one. Hopefully by then the software will have caught up, too.