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Will Apple's iPad Define Slate Computing?

While there's no shortage of opinions as to whether Apple will catch lightning in a bottle for a third time with its new iPad, there's a good case to be made that the initial entry could be a boon to those developing PC-based slates.

As media critic David Carr reports today in The New York Times, the iPad "is a device for consuming media, not creating it." That's not to suggest that future releases won't raise the bar, but as many observers suggest, Apple also has to make sure not to offer too much and risk cannibalizing its MacBook product line.

Ironically, this is the same issue Microsoft faced in its initial hesitation to embrace netbooks. But the real potential of the iPad and similar Windows 7-based devices, such as one anticipated from Hewlett-Packard, is for them to let individuals consume content as a companion to one's computing experience, not a replacement. That's where the concept of the iPad and Windows 7-based slates could shine.

Among the biggest criticisms of the iPad is that it can't multitask and won't support Adobe's Flash (nor are there known plans for it to support Microsoft's Silverlight). In a Wired magazine report, Apple CEO Steve Jobs was reported to have told employees in a profanity-laden rant that Flash is too buggy and that Adobe is lazy. "No one will be using Flash," Jobs reportedly said. "The world is moving to HTML 5."

Adrian Ludwig, general manager for Adobe's Flash platform product organization, suggests in a blog post that he believes Apple's real motive is control over content. "It looks like Apple is continuing to impose restrictions on their devices that limit both content publishers and consumers," Ludwig wrote. "Without Flash support, iPad users will not be able to access the full range of Web content, including over 70 percent of games and 75 percent of video on the Web."

Several content producers tell The Times that the stalemate could indeed hasten acceptance of HTML 5. John Gruber, author of the popular Mac blog Daring Fireball, wrote that it "used to be you could argue that Flash, whatever its merits, delivered content to the entire audience you cared about. That's no longer true, and Adobe's Flash penetration is shrinking with each iPhone OS device Apple sells."

Meanwhile, as Windows 7-based slates come out this year, it is possible that OEMs will play both sides of the coin. Those that support Windows 7 already effectively support Flash, Silverlight and other runtime environments, presuming they don't strip those capabilities out. Because of the broader ecosystem of devices, some will purely access content, while others will both create and view it.

But regardless of how you view the iPad or slate computing in general, Apple has put a stake in the ground for a class of devices that potentially can redefine how we consume content, advancing on what Amazon has done with the Kindle.

Let's see what HP and the rest of its Wintel brethren bring out.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 02/01/2010 at 1:14 PM


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