What the iPad means for sportswriters and sports fans: not much right now

The big day has come and gone with the landscape of print media staying exactly the same. Shocking, huh? While others focus on how the iPad has been a colossal letdown to all of humanity, I'll choose to focus on the segment of that audience who is interested in sports.

I'm bummed. I had big expectations for how this could affect the daily life of a sports fanatic like myself. While some of those expecations were a bit unrealistic and others may even be met, I—like almost everyone else—come away from the announcement disappointed.

To be fair, the iPad does do some things that make it a valuable device, but are those really all that great? Let's look at what the device can do and where those abilities fall a bit short.

  • Mainstream media outlets will have iPad-specific applications. Not entirely surprising but it'll be interesting to see how newspapers utilize said applications. The mockup of the Sports Illustrated application seems cool but does it offer enough for you to pay for it over going to CNNSI.com? Same with the New York Times, does a new layout make me all that much more interested? Also, are small local papers going to be able to fund the design and development for slick iPad applications? Almost more importantly, what kind of prices are we looking at for the applications? Are they subscription based or a one-time fee? How do they work? Do I need to be connected to the web in order to read them or is the data downloaded and stored? There are a lot of important questions that need to be asked.
  • You can watch live sports. This isn't entirely new as the iPhone already has applications for the MLB, NBA and soon the NFL. Now, the larger screen not only gives you a slightly better look at things but also opens up the potential for displaying other items (stats, replays, etc) but at the same time, what are games streamed over 3G going to look like on a 10" screen. Sure they'll look great over WiFi but if you plan on using WiFi to watch games, why not just use a computer, where you can have multiple windows open, perusing the web or glancing at Tweetdeck during downtime?
  • You can read books on it. No surprise here. While screen won't be quite as friendly on the eyes as the Kindle, some still hail it as the the Kindle-killer. Great. We were expecting to hear much more on deals Apple may have struck with publishers. So far, no such luck.
  • It has a slick onscreen keyboard and the ability to attach traditional keyboard. The goal with this is getting it close as possible to being a serviceable computer in times of need. You can write emails, tweets, blog posts and documents. Just not at once. Say you want to follow Tweetdeck while writing a post? No way. Listen to Pandora while browsing? Nope.
  • Games! Not only can it run every iPhone App/game but the improved hardware will no doubt see several iPad-specific games geared to take advantage of the machine's ability. However, will these be able to stack up with products produced by Nintendo and Sony? Because, honestly, where are you going to be playing the tablet version of Madden? It's not ideal to pull out and play at random moments like the iPhone. And if you're at home you'd much rather be playing the Xbox 360 or PS3 version. It may be good for longer road trips or flights but the available games—until we see how great they can be—are not a major selling point right now.

So, what gives? How did Steve Jobs let this happen? My take: this isn't the OS the tablet is really meant for. It has the speed to handle multitasking but the software is absent without reason. Is it not ready yet? Possibly. Or maybe it's other hardware. ReadWriteWeb's Sarah Perez sums up—approximately—what I've been thinking since the presentation.

So why not let the iPad multitask right out-of-the-gate then? Because Apple wants to push the multitasking update to all its iPhone OS 4.0 devices at the same time. That means cramming a smaller version of the A4 into the power-hungry iPhones and iPod Touches then announcing that those people with the new devices can multitask thanks to the new technology. Speculation? Sure. But possible? Definitely. Of course, you probably won't need new iPad 2.0 hardware for this - the feature will come via a software update and likely even sooner than iPad 2.0. It will just sweeten the deal when you get ready to buy the second generation tablet device.

The intiial disappointment of the tablet won't last forever. Once the tablet's true ability is opened up, we'll get a much better look at how this can influence the lives of sports fanatics.

Photo credit: New York Times

The Apple tablet and how I'd use it as a sports fan

January 2010 appears to be the month of 'The Tablet' as online journalism and tech chatter shifts from summarizing the 'aughts' to speculating what Apple's rumored tablet could mean for this year and beyond.

Some claim it will save print journalism while others struggle to see where it will fit in amongst the smartphones and laptops. I have to say I fall somewhere in-between. Apple's tablet certainly has the potential to be a game-changing device but do I really need one? Not quite yet but it isn't impossible to imagine a time when Apple tablets become very prominent, not only as an e-reader or some other kind of middle device, but one that could compete with traditional laptops.

It's hard to get an exact feel for what the tablet could be capable of with most speculation revolving mostly around the hardware. However, The Wonderfactory and Time, Inc. put together a great video showing what Sports Illustrated could be like on a tablet.

An Apple Tablet would have the ability to present traditionally 'print' content in a completely new way. Could this device—combined with Apple's App Store model—go a long way towards changing the layout of print journalism? Yes. But there's more to it than that.

Much of the recent discussion around the Apple tablet or iSlate or whatever was sparked by Joel Wilcox's claim that the world doesn't need an Apple tablet because it'd be a niche device stuck between much more useful laptops and smartphones.

In response, Robert Scoble points out that tablets are already everywhere and could be very affordable and useful in a few years time. With tablets already being used in a variety of fashions, John Gruber's point that Apple could be going after something much bigger than a glorified e-reader or an iPod Touch with a larger display could be spot on. Here's his take, summarized in a few chunks:

But how much room is there between an iPhone (or iPod Touch) and a MacBook (or other laptop computer, running Windows or Linux or whatever)? What’s the argument for owning all three?

“I’d use it on the couch and lying in bed” is not a good answer. You can already use your iPhone or MacBook on the couch and in bed. It strikes me as foolish to market a multi-hundred-dollar device that people are expected to leave on their coffee table.

“It’s a Kindle killer” is not a good answer. If you think Apple is making a dedicated device for reading e-books and articles, you’re thinking too small. [...]

And so in answer to my central question, regarding why buy The Tablet if you already have an iPhone and a MacBook, my best guess is that ultimately, The Tablet is something you’ll buy instead of a MacBook. [...]

If you’re thinking The Tablet is just a big iPhone, or just Apple’s take on the e-reader, or just a media player, or just anything, I say you’re thinking too small — the equivalent of thinking that the iPhone was going to be just a click wheel iPod that made phone calls. I think The Tablet is nothing short of Apple’s reconception of personal computing.

So where does this fall into the sports world? Let me jump three, maybe five years down the road and try to envision what my day, as a sports fan, would be like with the ideal all-encompassing Apple tablet:

  • As I roll out of bed I grab my tablet, which would likely be charging on a table beside my bed. While charging, it was still connected to WiFi and downloading today's content from my chosen apps. Roll from my bed to my couch/coffee table where I eat cereal before work. While doing so I pull up the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's app—which has a slick UI modeled after the successful Sports Illustrated app—on the tablet so I can see the latest analysis from Sunday's Packers game.
  • From there the tablet is loaded in a small case in my backpack with its charger and taken to work as my primary computer. I pull it out on the short bus ride there to pick up where I left off in David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game, which is no longer in print but I was able to buy last week in the App Store.
  • When I get to work I set the tablet on my desk in my cube. I fire it up and it connects wirelessly to my keyboard, mouse and large monitor (okay, maybe that's wired) operating much the same as my Macbook with an evolved version of OSX. The tablet sits aside during the workday, used as a separate screen for iTunes,Tweetdeck or jotting down random notes.
  • I walk from work to the gym where, on the treadmill, I catch the day's The Basketball Jones, which was automatically downloaded while I was at the office. That fills the first half of the run while a live football game fills the second as a device at the athletic club allows them to wirelessly broadcast their TV service to tablets. The tablet is stashed away in favor of the iPhone for listening to music while lifting.
  • From there it's a walk home from the gym. Once at the apartment, work is done for the day. I set the tablet on the coffee table in front of my couch. It connects with my Vizio TV wirelessly. I don't pay for traditional TV via satellite or cable and instead fire up the NBA League Pass app I bought for $150 on the App Store. The TV shows the games while, on the tablet, I slide between different 'Spaces' (already on OSX): one for monitoring NBA chatter using Tweetdeck, another for conversing with friends on Google Chat and a third for perusing Facebook. The tablet's onscreen keyboard isn't ideal but works for limited personal use at home.
  • From there, it's bed. I pull something up on the Netflix Instant app available for free with a Netflix subscription, very similar to how it works on XBox 360 and Playstation 3.
  • After watching half of that it's set back on the night stand, where it charges and syncs up overnight with the day's publications.

Are any of these things unrealistic? I honestly don't think so. Maybe it will be a couple iterations before the tablet has the processing power comparable to today's MacBook but maybe not. There are certainly some complex issues that would arise in developing a tablet capable of running what would essentially be two operating systems but it can't be impossible. As a sports fan, a do-it-all tablet capable of handling tasks I've seen many other devices already do is something I'd certainly be willing to purchase as my primary computer.