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How Apple Can Fix The iPad In 2012

Apple's iPad and similar tablets could possibly replace traditional Windows-based PCs and Macs as the mainstream personal computing devices used by consumers. But that can't happen unless Apple makes some changes and improves the iPad's functionality while retaining its famed ease of use. Is it possible? Here's what I recommend.

Last year, I wrote about how Apple could fix the iPad in 2011. This type of thing is blasphemy to Apple's empty-headed fanatics, who believe that everything Apple does is perfect. Curiously, however, Apple answered some of my suggestions and complaints with the release of the iPad 2 this past year. So let's take another look: Here's how Apple can fix the iPad in 2012.

First, of course, we should take a look back at last year's suggestions. These included:

Pricing. Apple lowers prices on its products every year in one of two ways. First, it literally lowers the price on equivalent products year-over-year. Second, it holds the pricing line but bumps up the capabilities in the next go-round, giving consumers more value for the dollar. But Apple's iPad is incredibly expensive: it starts at "just" $500, but the average selling price of this luxury tablet is a whopping $665, which is more expensive than the average Windows-based PC. So I argued that Apple desperately needed to lower prices.

Apple would have none of that. And it held the line on its $500-and-up product line throughout all of 2011, and certainly didn't add enough functionality to the iPad 2 to justify doing so. Every single Android tablet that came along and aped this price point failed. And it wasn't until the amazing Amazon Kindle Fire--at just $200, less than one-third the price of an average iPad 2--came along that normalcy came to this market. Between the Fire and Kindle Nook Tablet, which costs an also-reasonable $250, consumers can now see that the iPad isn't just expensive, it's egregiously expensive. And Apple desperately needs to lower prices. Again.

Form factor. Last year, I argued that Apple should release an iPad that was "the exact same size and weight as Amazon's Kindle if possible." Apple didn't, but Amazon did, with its $200 Kindle Fire, which features a 7-inch widescreen display. Well, guess what? Apple still needs to release a Kindle-sized iPad, and one with a 7-inch display would be perfect. So much so that I earlier wrote an editorial about this called How Apple Can Beat The Kindle Fire.

Storage. Last year, I argued that 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB were too small and that Apple should offer its iPad in offer 32 GB, 64 GB, and even 128 GB versions. That didn't happen. But now I'm not so sure it's necessary, thanks in part to iCloud, which provides cloud-based copies of your content and more pervasive connectivity options. I've been happily using a 32 GB iPad 2 for a while now, and I'm pretty sure the current allotments are good enough, not because our needs have changed, but because the technology has changed.

Cameras. The original iPad had no cameras, and I argued that the new version should. And it did. End of story, though these cameras should only be used for video chat, not for taking pictures out in the world. Get a life, people.

Screen. The iPad's screen was too glossy and reflective, I argued, and Apple should make a non-glossy screen available as an option. They never did that, though Apple did supposedly work to make the iPad 2 screen less reflective. (It's still pretty bad.)

Expansion. I argued for integrated USB, SD, and HDMI ports, and Apple somewhat obliged with SD and HDMI adapters. But at least one third party is also offering storage expansion via the dock port, so we're getting there.

In addition to the suggestions noted above, I'd like to see the following changes to the iPad in 2011. Hold on to your hats, because this is a big list, from a conceptual standpoint. That is, it's a Big list. Not a big list.

It's time for another iOS revolution. The iPad's OS was a revolution in 2007, but it's looking dated next to Windows Phone, in particular, and even compared to Android. Apple needs to rethink its mobile OS as clearly now as it did five years ago, and fend off attacks from not just new mobile competitors but from Windows 8 as well.

Computer. In tandem with the previous suggestion, Apple should make iOS the basis for its standard personal computer operating system in 2011 and slowly phase out Mac OS X. It can do this by further evolving iOS to fill in the gaps, adding it to traditional laptop-style devices like the Macbook Air, and by making current iOS devices--the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad--more easily adaptable, if desired by the user, to content creation tasks. That latter bit means formally making mouse/trackpad and keyboard first-class input devices, and creating a version of the Macbook Air that is basically an iPad with a clip-on keyboard + battery.

Apple would have to keep Mac OS X around for a bit for so-called "Pro" apps, but as with the transition from "Classic" Mac OS to Mac OS X, this is something the company could do over a few years.

High resolution, high DPI. While rumors are rampant that Apple will release a so-called "Retina" version of the iPad in 2012, I'd like to throw my hat in the ring and recommend that this happen sooner than later. I don't have any wishes/recommendations around the resolution, but hopefully it will be an easy bump up from the current version (1024 x 768) so that current apps just look and work correctly, automatically. A 7-inch version of the iPad could retain the original devices' resolution.

Simplify the product line. Apple currently sells far too many versions of the iPad--there are 18 different models in the US alone--thanks to two colors (white, black), three storage allotments, versions with just Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/3G, and 3G choices from two major carriers (AT&T and Verizon). Given the device's dependency on connectivity, I recommend killing off the Wi-Fi-only versions and making a single device that would work on any wireless network. That would reduce the choices from 18 to 6.

While some people react in an overly emotional way to these and related suggestions, I can see a future where simpler devices like the iPad take over for more complex, traditional PCs and Macs. But it's not going to happen until and unless the iPad matures into a more capable product line. It's possible to combine simplicity with functionality, and while Apple doesn't always get it right--the creeping complexity of iOS highlights this--this company is, perhaps, the best positioned to make it happen.
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