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March 10, 2010

Will the iPad replace my iPhone?

I wrote this column for the blog at iPhoneLife Magazine, a terrific resource for iPhone owners (or anyone interested in the iPhone) that's published by my old friend Hal Goldstein who used to be a friendly competitor when we published the print version of Pen Computing Magazine.

The article really has nothing to do with rugged computing, but I think it's relevant here anyway because a) the fate of the Apple iPad will have a big impact on how tablets are viewed in the coming years, and b) because of the mobile industry's never-ending struggle to find form factors that are really right for a given job.

So here's what I contemplated:

This week I will order my iPad. Though I know it'll take a bit longer, I am aiming for the 3G model with 32GB of storage. When I get it, I will sign up for the unlimited data plan, forking over an even larger part of my disposable income to AT&T every month. What I do wonder is whether the iPad will replace my iPhone.

Silly question you may say. The iPad is not a phone, so how could it replace the iPhone? True, but I really don't consider my iPhone as primarily a phone. It is, in fact, a pretty crappy phone, with voice quality worse than virtually any cellphone I've ever had, going back to the original Motorola "brick." But I do need a phone for the few calls I make, and it doesn't make sense to carry a much more convenient little fliphone in addition to the iPhone, and so, yes, the iPhone is my phone, too. But if I checked the number of minutes I use my iPhone as a phone versus for everything else, everything else would account for about 95%, at least.

That's because the iPhone has pretty much become my information and entertainment device of choice. Before I leave the house I check the weather and temperature on the iPhone so I know what to wear. I get my news from the iPhone's USA Today and CNN apps (and even a couple of local and foreign newspapers), and more detailed news from the NY Times on the iPhone. I keep in touch with my Facebook friends on my iPhone. I read e-books on it. I play games on it. I use it when I go running and want to keep track of my time. I use it to check prices and read reviews while shopping. I check sports scores, the load on my servers, new messages on websites I post on. I do all that on my iPhone because it's so darn handy and convenient, and because it is good enough to do all those things. Had anyone told me a few years ago that, yes, it WILL be possible to use the web on a tiny device not as just a technology demonstration, but because it really works, I probably would not have believed it. After all, everyone had tried and it just didn't work. Until the iPhone.

So now the iPad will do everything the iPhone can, but on a much bigger screen. No more squinting, no more screen rotating to make columns more easily readable, no more constant pinching to zoom in and out. That will all be a thing of the past as what we have all been waiting for is now here with the iPad, the book/magazine reading experience in an electronic device. Because that is the one remaining hang-up that keeps print newspapers and mags in business; they are more convenient than reading on a laptop computer.

But now I wonder if the iPad will do everything the iPhone can, and do it better. Will I appreciate the much larger screen, or will it simply make the iPhone experience big and unwieldy? Will I have much higher expectations from a "real" computer like the iPad than I have of the little iPhone? For example, will I still tolerate the lack of Flash on the iPad? Will iPhone apps still look so terrific and clever on a much bigger screen, or will I expect real computer functionality? Will I start whining about the lack of "real" software? But most importantly, will I be able to use the iPad like I use the iPhone, just whipping it out wherever I am? Because if not, it may not work, and the new big iPhone will be something else that'll have to fly, or fail, on its own merits.

Posted by conradb212 at March 10, 2010 10:36 PM