Former Apple exec says iPad too big, "smarted out"

Maker of Frankenstein-esque Modbook; Mac tablet dishes on Apple's iPad

The iPad is too big and lacks communication capabilities, argued the former Apple executive who oversaw the demise of the company's iconic-but-flawed Newton more than a decade ago.

And it's no tablet, no matter what people say.

"The iPad is not a tablet, it's another addendum to the iPhone, the iPod Touch," said Andreas Haas, the CEO of Axiotron, a small El Segundo, Calif. company he founded in 2005. "It's the Newton reborn."

Haas, who left Apple in 2001, knows tablets: Axiotron sells conversion kits that transform MacBooks into pen-based tablets dubbed "Modbooks" that retail for $700 when the customer provides the notebook, $1,650 when they don't.

Haas also knows Newton. While the head of Apple's Newton Systems Group, he wound down Newton sales in Europe. But he kept the Newton fire stoked, and always thought there was room for a tablet based on the Mac.

Not that Apple could afford to dabble there. "I always wanted to see the pen come back," Haas said. "But the market niche is too small [for Apple]. At 2.5% of all portable systems, when you run the numbers of Mac laptops you get a ridiculously low number. Apple is just not going to do a tablet."

Which was why he came up with the Modbook, even though investors questioned the move. "Someone always asked, 'What if Apple does a tablet?' If they did, my business would go away. So I had to contend with this 800-pound gorilla in the room, that Apple could bring out a tablet."

Now that the iPad has been unveiled , Haas feels vindicated -- and believes his company is safe. "It's not a tablet, it's an extension of the iPod Touch," he contended, saying what many analysts and pundits had voiced the day Apple CEO Steve Jobs held up the new device. "It has some new kinks, but generally speaking it's using the iPhone OS. It's more like a smart phone than a personal computer. It's the Newton reborn."

But the iPad's connection to the Newton, especially the last in the line of Apple personal data assistants (PDA), the 1997 MessagePad 2100 that Haas said was the best of the bunch, doesn't include some critical comparisons in Haas' mind. And that's where he has some words for his former employer.

"The iPad was exactly what I thought it would be for the last five years," said Haas. "It's a media pad, a media consumption device. It's not a tablet, it's not a media creation device. And it's a little too large."

Haas was hoping for something smaller, something closer to the 8-by-5-in. MessagePad 2100's dimensions. "I expected that Apple's pad would be in the 7-in. size," he said, primarily because of the power that a 10-in. LCD requires from a battery, a point made before the iPad's launch by others. "The Newton offered portability. This doesn't. I can't put it into my back pocket, like I might be able to do with something with a 7-in. screen."

It's possible, perhaps even likely, Haas said, that the iPad is only the first of a family of devices, a tactic that Apple typically turns to with products. The MacBook Pro line, he pointed out, ranges from notebooks with 13.3-in. screens to one with a 17-in. display. But out the gate, heft and bulk of the iPad was a disappointment.

"I'm also disappointed that I won't be able to replace my iPhone," Haas continued. "I have an iPhone and a MacBook Pro and a Modbook, but the iPad is not designed to replace either the Modbook or the MacBook Pro." It would have been better, Haas argued, if the iPad was able to replace a device rather than add yet another to the ones consumers carried.

Of course, some people will find the iPad a suitable replacement for, say, their notebooks, Haas acknowledged, citing his spouse as an example. "She has a work computer, but at home she does e-mail, consumes content, reads, browses the Web with her MacBook Air," he said.

The other wrong move by Apple with the iPad, Haas continued, was its lack of any communications capabilities. "What's missing most is the communications aspect. I was very surprised about that," he said. While he didn't expect that Apple's iPad would be a cell phone per se, the lack of a camera means that video chat is impossible. And it's unclear whether VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) will be supported on the iPad via something like Skype.

"I think [the iPad] needs to be not only a media platform, but a communications platform," Haas said. "Of course, there could be a few things that Apple adds to the iPad before its [March ship date], something that would put the 'wow' into it."

Some have speculated that Apple will add a user-facing camera to the iPad, based on reports that the device's aluminum frame includes a cut out that's the same size as the on in the bezel of the MacBook, which does include a camera.

Even with its flaws, the iPad is a great move by Apple, said Haas. "It's a first step into this arena, to get people started thinking about how to consume media," he said.

"That's where Apple did the right thing," Haas said. "Dumbed down netbooks use the same type of OS as a more powerful notebook, but on underpowered hardware. Apple's providing the right-sized operating system on the right-sized hardware to do the right-sized tasks."

But it's not a tablet, and never will be. "I wouldn't say it's 'dumbed down'," said Haas, "but it is 'smarted out.'"

Tags Appletablet PCsiPad

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)

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