15 iPad mysteries remain

When can you buy one?

Steve Jobs is such a great salesman that he can actually give us a sense of familiarity with something we don't know anything about. Apple's iPad tablet is a perfect example. But huge, fundamental questions about the device remain unanswered.

Such as...

When can you buy one?

Jobs said in his big announcement that the non-3G iPads would hit in a couple of months. He didn't give a ship date, but the implication was that we'd all be able to buy one by the end of March. Meanwhile, FCC has not yet even approved the iPad for sale in the United States. Will [[xref:http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9137163/Apple_Update|Apple Update]] surprise us and ship early? Will it be months late? Nobody knows.

When can you pre-order one?

Rumors that you could [[xref:http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9149844/Apple_No_iPad_pre_orders_for_you_|Apple: No iPad pre-orders for you!]] starting Thursday, February 25, intensified right up until the big day -- at which point they vanished with a whimper. The rumor was false. That leaves us with a big, fat question mark about when we'll be able to pre-order an iPad.

Will AT&T delay the 3G version?

Jobs said the 3G wireless version of the iPad would ship about a month after the Wi-Fi only version. Of course, the most recent iPhone announcement promised tethering for the iPhone, and AT&T just never delivered it. Will the carrier fail again?

Where will the missing iPhone apps show up?

When Apple [[xref:http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9149861/Image_gallery_Apple_s_iPad_has_landed|Image gallery: Apple's iPad has landed]], a few iPhone apps were missing. Weather, Stocks, Voice Memo, Clock and Calculator were nowhere in sight. We don't know if these apps will be excluded from the shipping iPad, but it seems unlikely. If they do show up, where? And how? Weather and Stocks are front ends to Internet-based data. One possibility is that these will exist in the 3G version, but not in the Wi-Fi only version. Yet another is that some kind of real-time alert system for this information will be built into the interface at top or bottom somehow. Regardless, the fate of these iPhone standards is a big mystery.

Will there be new 'gestures' we don't yet know about?

Touch UIs like the iPhone's (or, say, the one on Microsoft Surface) rely on gesture vocabularies to replace the functionality of mice. iPhone supported minimal gestures. Will the iPad have more? Likely candidates for the gesture treatment include deleting things, closing applications, copying, pasting and other mundane tasks.

What does that blank key on the iPad keyboard dock do?

Apple plans to sell an accessory for the iPad that serves double duty as both a keyboard and a dock. the keyboard is pretty standard. But a mysterious key has iPad watchers baffled. A function key right above the number 6 on the keyboard has no label or graphic on it, and its purpose or function has not yet been revealed. One possibility is that it launches some yet-unannounced function on the iPad. But nobody knows.

Will Apple censor TV, movies and magazines?

Apple famously [[xref:http://blogs.computerworld.com/15645/apple_some_bikini_babes_are_more_equal_than_others|Apple: Some bikini babes are more equal than others - Computerworld Blogs]] for sexual, violent and other content. However, this same kind of material exists in TV shows, movies, books and magazines that Apple will be also offering through iTunes. If the depiction of certain categories of human behavior are unacceptable to Apple in the app store, will that same kind of thing be removed or banned from the iTunes media store?

Will Apple stop censoring apps?

If Apple allows R-rated content in TV shows and movies, will it also stop filtering or censoring app store content? Will the iPad and iPhone come to resemble the wider Internet?

Will Apple set up strong parental filters for the iPad?

The most likely solution to the objectionable content problem is for Apple to set up parental filters that enable parents to gift junior an iPad, but one locked down for content. If rolled out also for iPhone, that would mean app developers would be freed from current content restrictions, and Hollywood would be free to peddle the usual smut and gratuitous violence on the iPad, but with parental filters. iPads could even ship with these filters on by default, and the user would have to prove legal adulthood before gaining full access to all content. But at this point, we have no idea what Apple is going to do.

Will Amazon's Kindle app for iPad offer newspapers and magazines?

Amazon says it will offer [[xref:http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9128972/Kindle_iPhone_app_is_huge_says_analyst|Kindle iPhone app is 'huge,' says analyst]] for iPad, which means current Kindle owners should be able to buy and access their Kindle book libraries like they can on the iPhone. The question is, will Kindle users be able to access their newspapers and magazines like they do on the Kindle? Or will periodicals be inaccessible, as they are on the iPhone?

Will iPhone apps run side-by-side on iPad?

Jobs mentioned that iPhone apps will run on iPad. Fine. But how, exactly? Will you be able to run three of them side-by-side -- dare we say it? -- in [[xref:http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9154938/iPad_needs_to_focus_on_multitasking_multiple_users|iPad needs to focus on multitasking, multiple users]]? Will some of them show only an iPhone-size display in the middle of a dark screen? Will they run full screen, with giant icons and oversized menu text? Nobody really knows.

Will the iPad have free-floating windows?

The iPad is reportedly capable of running free-floating windows (windows you can move around on-screen like a PC's, rather than windows fixed it place like the iPhone's.) But, will that be a standard way to view apps? Will you be able to re-size any windows on the iPad?

Will iPad crash the mobile Internet?

iPhone users now gobble up the lion's share of mobile Internet data. But what happens when iPhones are supersized on the iPad, possibly millions of people sign up for unlimited data plans and people start downloading high-def content by the petabyte? Nobody knows.

Will free Internet content cost money on the iPad?

Publishing companies such as Hulu and a wide range of media companies are apparently mulling the idea of charging for content delivered to iPads that they give away on the Internet. The Associated Press announced that it's developing an iPad app that will enable them to charge for newspaper stories. Will there be an "iPad tax" for content?

Will we see Microsoft Office for iPad?

A Senior Microsoft executive told a British publication that Microsoft was "looking at" offering Microsoft office for the iPad. Will they? Won't they? Should they? These are unanswerable questions.

Thanks to the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field and the Apple Hype Machine, we all feel an uneasy familiarity with the iPad. In truth, many people are -- ironically -- fed up with a device they've never even seen.

However, the reality is that iPad remains a device of mystery. We really don't know all that much about it.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and global tech culture. Contact Mike at mike.elgan@elgan.com, follow him on Twitter or his blog, The Raw Feed.

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Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Computerworld (US)
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