HP’s Board of Directors: Redemption or More Insanity Ahead?

HP’s Board of Directors has accumulated an impressive record of bad judgment calls, the latest being the lame lawsuit against their recently deposed CEO, Mark Hurd, who quickly joined Oracle as Co-President and Director.

The History

Once a revered Silicon Valley icon, HP was arguably the first worldwide success to emerge from pre-war Stanford where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard studied under the illustrious Frederick Terman. Unfortunately, the insiders who were groomed to replace “Bill & Dave”—first John Young, an HP lifer (1968-1992), followed by Lew Platt, another long-termer (1966-1999)—presided over the company’s long slide into comfortable bureaucracy and middling financial performance.

In 1999, HP’s Board was seduced into giving the CEO mantel to Carly Fiorina, a gerontophiliac sales exec from AT&T/Lucent…only to fire her in early 2005. Known for her posturing and opaque pronouncements, Fiorina antagonized and mystified insiders and industry observers alike. John Cooper, CNET’s Executive Editor and longtime tech writer, characterized one of her more frustrating talks as “a Star Trek script” containing “enough business-babble to reduce even the most hardened McKinsey consultant to a state of dribbling catatonia”. Nice.

To succeed Fiorina, HP went outside again and, this time, managed to snare an experienced and accomplished CEO: As head of NCR, Mark Hurd had led the company through a successful turnaround.

About a year after Hurd’s election, HP’s Board became embroiled in the Pretexting scandal. Board members spied on employees and journalists—and even on each other—in an attempt to track down leaks of confidential strategy documents. This ugly episode led to several Board and executive departures: Chairwoman Patricia Dunn was thrown under bus; HP’s General Counsel, Ann Baskins, “took the Fifth” at a Senate hearing; another director, Tom Perkins, and several employees left as well. What Mark Hurd actually knew or did in relationship to this episode has never been clarified.

Despite the scandal and the departures, Hurd made good on his reputation as a turnaround CEO and, through carefully crafted acquisitions and cost-cutting, put HP back at the top of the computer industry in just five years. His wizardry with numbers, his sober talk, and his attention to execution left the impression that HP had finally found the right helmsman.

But then disaster struck. As discussed in our August 29th Monday Note, HP’s Board unceremoniously fired Hurd, publicly berating him for conduct unbecoming a CEO and barely stopping short of accusing him of fraud. And then, after pillorying him, the company inexplicably paid off the “disgraced” Hurd to the tune of $30M to $40M. HP shareholders sued the directors and the media roasted them.

Enter Ellison

Larry Ellison and Mark Hurd have known each other for several years. They’d been business partners when HP and Oracle allied themselves in serving large government and enterprise clients—and they’re tennis buddies as well.

After harshly criticizing HP’s trustees for firing a star executive, Ellison hired Hurd. In keeping with his leadership style, Ellison made room for the new lieutenant by summarily chucking the previous tenant, Charles Phillips, who, ironically, had also become embroiled in a “relationship contretemps” with an ex-paramour. I’ll hasten to say that I prefer Larry’s summary and clean manner to HP’s: Chuck Phillips had a successful career at Oracle, Larry wished him well on his way out, the money flowed, and everyone moved on to the next stage of their lives. More

Nokia’s New CEO: Challenges

by Jean-Louis Gassée

Here we are, back from last June’s Nokia science-fiction romp. The company has finally elected a new CEO to replace OPK, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo. 43-year-old Stephen Elop’s bona fides are in order: As President of Microsoft’s Business Division (since January 2008) he was in charge of the Microsoft Office money machine and was part of the company’s “Leadership Team”. He was well-paid (the 2009 proxy pegged him at $4.8M, excluding longer-term items) and rumor placed him at the top of the short list to succeed Ballmer…

So what possessed Elop to take the Nokia job?

The answer must be that he’s been given the opportunity to make his mark. Having seen Microsoft from the inside, he must have realized that he was being groomed to be no more than a competent caretaker. He might even have decided he wouldn’t get, or wouldn’t want, the big prize, the CEO crown. So, I speculate, he went for the challenges of a turn-around situation.

The goal is clear: Restore Nokia to its former glory as the ne plus ultra of smartphones. But the path to this renaissance isn’t a straight shot—it’s an obstacle course.


Mr. Elop’s most immediate challenge lies in Nokia’s financial performance. During the last three years of OPK’s tenure, Nokia lost 75% of its market cap, plunging from $40/sh in 2007 (the year the iPhone came out) to less than $10 today, although with a nice 2% uptick following the CEO announcement:

A more direct way to look at the numbers challenge is a single datum: Today, Nokia gets about €155 ($196) per smartphone, down from €190 last year. In the meantime, Apple gets more than $600 per iPhone. (See the June 2010 Financial Times story here.)

It gets worse when the total average number is considered, smartphones and not-so-smartphones together. That average now hovers around €60, which means Nokia sells very large numbers of low-end phones that yield very little profit. They’re in great danger of being squeezed by the incoming low-end Android horde.

But the numbers are a mere proxy for the bigger trial: The product itself, the smartphone.

Once the category leader, Nokia is now struggling to catch up with HTC, Motorola, Samsung and, of course, RIM/Blackberry and Apple. Pugnacious Nokia die-hards adhere to the company’s sisu, but the market has spoken—and it enunciates more distinctly every quarter. See this Business Insider chart:

Given today’s market turbulence, one can’t help but admire the charter’s ability to “see” as far as 2014—but the trend is obvious. Will upcoming products such as the N8 reverse it? Early reviews are mixed. For Nokia, the N8 isn’t likely to do what the Razr did for Motorola in 2003 or what the latest Droids are doing now. Motorola’s conversion to Android seems to have righted the ship and Sanjay Jah, the Co-CEO in charge of the company’s mobile business, is on his way to leading a self-sustaining entity, one that could finally be spun off as planned.


Today, Nokia pushes devices that use older Symbian S60 stacks, newer Symbian^3 and Symbian^4 engines, as well as a mobile Linux derivative: Meego. Imagine the chuckles in the halls of Cupertino, Mountain View, and Palo Alto. Even with plenty of money and management/engineering talent, updating one software platform is a struggle. Ask Apple, Google, or HP, and the chuckles quickly become groans. Nokia thinks it can stay on the field when it’s playing the game in such a disorganized fashion? More

Smartcameras in our future?

I have two cameras in front of me: My smartphone and a Canon’s S90. And I wonder: Why isn’t there an app store for this neat compact camera?

I can download any number of third-party, post-processing photo applications to my smartphone. I can crop, filter, stitch, frame… And there will be more applications tomorrow. With my “real” camera, I’m stuck with yesterday’s features.

As the saying goes, the better camera is the one you always carry. (By the way, “Better Camera” is the name of a smartphone application…) In that sense, smartphone cameras have a major advantage, they’re always at the ready.

But…smartphones cameras have tiny sensors, tiny lenses, tiny flashes. While the technology improves with each new generation, smartphone cameras will always lag behind the resolution, speed, and depth of single-purpose compact cameras, with their better lenses and bigger sensors. And, yes, compared to even “realer” cameras such as DSLRs, the compact cousin has much to learn, but try stuffing the callipygian Nikon D3s in your pocket.

Wouldn’t it be neat to have the superior picture taking capabilities of the Canon S90 (or other competitors such as the upcoming Panasonic LX-5) and the benefits of downloadable third-party applications to perform more in-camera processing and editing, to say nothing of smartphone-like communication capabilities?

Technically, such a hybrid is easier said than done. Add the circuitry (processor, memory, communications) of a smartphone to an existing compact camera and, done poorly, you’d get a “feature-rich” monstrous contraption that does more than either donor product, but that does none of them as well. Cost would also be a challenge.

But the idea is in the air.

Years ago, enterprising geeks found a way to break into and modify Canon’s DIGIC, the camera’s on-board image processor. More

iPhone 4 Antennas: The Fun Side

We’ll leave serious industry matters aside this week. (If you must, you can wade into Apple’s Q3 numbers here, or luxuriate in the impending ouster of Nokia CEO OPK and consider the list of possible replacements.)

Instead, we’ll look into the fun side of Apple’s antenna, or antennas (not antennae, a solecism from last week. A reader reminded me that antennae is reserved for actual bugs, as in insects.)

As they always do, savvy entrepreneurs immediately saw how to convert a problem into an opportunity, how to spin an unintended “feature” into $$.

Tongue-in-cheekiest of them all, we have Antenn-aid:

Nothing more need be said.

Etsy’s offering is a bit less subtle:

(and the pricetag is $4, not the $29 shown in the picture.) The label is a intentionally contradicatory: Placing the sticker over the gap will prevent involuntarily dropped calls, but the humor (and the product) works.

Let’s talk bumpers.

I like the sleek industrial design of the iPhone 4 but because the bumper and the charging dock are mutually exclusive, I’ve remained defiantly “unprotected.” I should have known better. One small slip of the hand, one bounce off the concrete and… More

Antennagate: If you can’t fix it, feature it!

…and don’t diss your customer, or the media!

Rewind the clock to June 7th 2010. Steve’s on stage at the WWDC in San Francisco. He’s introducing the iPhone 4 and proudly shows off the new external antenna design. Antennae actually, there are two of them wrapped around the side. Steve touts the very Apple-like combination of function (better reception), and form (elegant design).

And now we enter another part of the multiverse. Jobs stops…and after a slightly pregnant pause, continues: The improved reception comes at a price. If you hold the iPhone like this, if your hand or finger bridges the lower-left gap between the two antennae, the signal strength indicator will go down by two or even three bars. He proceeds to demo the phenomenon. Indeed, within ten seconds of putting the heel of his left thumb on the gap, the iPhone loses two bars. Just to make sure, he repeats the experiment with his index finger, all the while making a live call to show how the connection isn’t killed.

It’s not a bug, it’s a feature! It’s a trade-off: Better reception in the vast majority of cases; some degradation, easily remedied, in a smaller set of circumstances.

Actually, it’s a well-known issues with smartphones. Steve demonstrates how a similar thing happens to Apple’s very own 3GS, and to Nokia, HTC/Android, and RIM phones. Within the smartphone species, it’s endemic but not lethal.

Nonetheless, adds Apple’s CEO, we can’t afford even one unhappy customer. Buy in confidence, explore all the new features. If you’re not satisfied, do us the favor of returning the phone within two weeks. At the very least, we want you to say the iPhone didn’t work for you but we treated you well. If you fill out a detailed customer feedback report, we’ll give you an iPod Shuffle in consideration for your time.

One last thing. Knowing the downside of the improved antennae arrangement, we’ve designed a “bumper”, a rubber and plastic accessory that fits snuggly around the iPhone 4’s edges and isolates the antennae from your hands. The bumpers come in six colors—very helpful in multi-iPhone 4 families—and costs a symbolic $2.99.

The antenna “feature” excites curiosity for a few days, early adopters confirm its existence as well as the often improved connections (often but not always—it’s still an AT&T world). The Great Communicator is lauded for his forthright handling of the design trade-off and the matter recedes into the background.

If you can’t fix it, feature it.

End of science fiction.

In a different part of the multiverse, things don’t go as well.

Jobs makes no mention of the trade-off. Did he know, did Apple engineers, execs, marketeers know about the antenna problem? I don’t know for sure and let’s not draw any conclusions from the way Jobs avoids holding the iPhone 4 by its sides while showing it off to Dmitry Medvedev:

There’s a more telling hint. Apple had never before offered an iPhone case or protector of any kind, leaving it to third parties. But now, for the iPhone 4, a first: We have the bumper…at $29, not $2.99. (And which, by the way, prevents the phone from fitting into the new iPhone 4 dock.)

As usual for an Apple product, the new iPhone gets a thorough examination from enterprising early adopters, and many of them discover the antenna gap “feature”. As one wrote Jobs:

It’s kind of a worry. Is it possible this is a design flaw? Regards – Rory Sinclair

Steve’s reply:

Nope. Just don’t hold it that way.

Steve, No! Don’t diss your beloved customer. No tough love with someone who’s holding your money in his/her pocket. More

Science Fiction: Nokia goes Android

OPK, that is Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia’s CEO calls his new head of mobile devices, Anssi Vanjoki in his office, hidden inside the company’s research center at 995 Page Mill Road, in Palo Alto, California. On his desk, three devices: a Nokia N900, a Motorola Droid and an iPhone.

‘Anssi, we’re hosed.
I assumed the dumb customer position and bought these three devices all by myself.
For our N900, I had to order on-line, the locals don’t carry our Maemo device. See what happened…’
He turns to his iMac, [this is science fiction, remember], types Nokia in the search window and gets this:

Now, a click on the “sponsored link” gets this:


A blank window. [This is not science fiction].
Anssi protests: ‘This must be a problem with Apple’s browser!’ But, no, the bug repeats itself with Chrome, Firefox, even with the Nordic Opera.
OPK continues:
‘We pay for this sponsored link and it gets us to a blank page.
Either Google is after us, or we’re incompetent, or both.

Anyway, I found our on-line store, a bit too complicated for a user like me. So, I saved time and a few dollars buying my own N900 from Amazon, one click, much simpler. By the way, Anssi, what are we doing selling, or trying to sell, or trying to give away a Windows 7 netbook? Don’t answer.
Then I needed to get a SIM for my $459 unlocked N900. I went  to the big AT&T store down the road. Boy, these guys make it too complicated and they don’t fully support the N900. Fortunately, things get better on University Avenue, I’ve done all my shopping there. First, the friendly people at T-Mobile got me a SIM, installed it, checked everything, even the micro-SD card I bought.
Next block: Verizon, a little less friendly, a little slower but they got me a Droid under 30 mins. Three blocks down, the Apple store. They were a little surprised I wanted an iPhone as their new device was coming out “Real Soon Now”. The manager came out, a Turkish engineer who recognized my name on the driver’s license, smiled and set me up in less than 15 minutes. You should see their portable sales terminal, all the sales people carry one on their hip, an iPhone with a scanner and a credit card reader.
How come we don’t make one? Don’t answer. More

Thus spake Steve Jobs: The PC isn’t dead yet

Daniel Lyons, the Newsweek tech writer notorious for his Fake Steve Jobs blog, penned an epistolary piece last week (R.I.P., Macintosh) in which he asks and answers the question: “Is Apple ignoring its signature line of computers and laptops? Yup.”

The columnist claims that with the iPhone and the iPad as the Dear Leader’s new pets, Steve Jobs has kicked the Mac to the curb (or kerb for our British readers). Lyons backs his claim with the following evidence: Apple’s 2010 WWDC was focused on the iPhone OS only; there were no Best Applications awards for the Mac, only for iPhone/iPad apps; and, drum roll, the iPhone OS was renamed iOS (the name is licensed from Cisco, just as the iPhone moniker was).

Lyons may be onto something, but in his desperate quest for page views at Newsweek (itself kicked to the curb by its soon former owner, the Washington Post Company) our columnist has yielded to the crass motives and hyperbole he loves to lampoon.

Yes, Steve Jobs said the PC (including the Mac) isn’t “the future”, but he didn’t go on to euthanize it.

Let’s go back to the evening of June 1st, 2010. We’re at the D8 conference discussed here last week. Steve Jobs is interviewed by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher; you can find the entire 95-minute video here.
(Sorry, iPad users, it’s Flash…but, wait…nevermind. Although the interview shows up as Flash on my antique personal computer, when I watch it on my iPad, behold!, the site detects the iPad client and spews an H.264 video stream. We can take this as a sign that the WSJ doesn’t want to miss the advertising revenue of 100 million iPod Touch/iPhone/iPad devices out there, and as a preview of what other sites will do, as well. And perhaps it’s a problem with my old desktop machine or older eyes, but the video look better on the iPad than it does on my PC.)

I’m watching the video as I write this. It completes and, in places, corrects my recollection of the event. Whatever one thinks of Steve Jobs—and the video won’t change many minds—the conversation contains a number of gems, such as Steve’s pithy view of the enterprise market (between 28:30 and 29:15), his take on the Adobe controversy, his pronouncement of carriers as “orifices” (that was a few years ago, recalled by Walt for laughs), the importance of editorial functions (Jobs doesn’t want us to “descend into a nation of bloggers”), how he looks at his job (around 59:00), and more. I know an hour and a half is a lot, but pay attention to what’s said and not said and, just as important, the face and body language.
The bit about the future of the PC comes between minutes 45 and 51. There, Apple’s CEO lays out his vision of the post-PC era in a string of very carefully weighed statements, interspersed with personal insights into the changes in user interaction brought about by the new very personal devices.

As Apple unties the software platform from the iPhone, one can imagine a number of iOS-powered devices in its future. Apple won’t necessarily follow HP’s example, but the latter has made it clear that they’ll use the newly-acquired Palm WebOS in devices such as printers. This is a high volume business, one where the traditional embedded software is user-hostile. Just imagine a Palm Pre screen grafted onto a printer. More

Very Personal Computing

The center of financial gravity in the computing world—the Center of Money—has shifted. No longer directed at the PC, the money pump now gushes full blast at the smartphones market. One of my colleagues, Bob Ackerman, calls smartphones the very personal computers. Measured by size and potential, they’re both smaller and bigger than today’s PCs.

The Math

Consider the numbers: HP, the world’s foremost PC maker, sold $10B of “Personal Systems” in its last reported quarter:

(turn “on” display image in your mail reader
to see the graphics)

Despite their premier position, HP isn’t making much PC money: $500M, 5% Operating Profit. (The full HP Q1 report in PDF can be found here.)

Now let’s turn to Apple’s most recent quarter. Smartphones constituted 40% of the company’s revenue:

When we add up the numbers, we see that the iPhone = Mac + iPods. And this rough calculation “misunderestimates” the weight of the iPhone OS. In the more mature iPod category, the iPod Touch (the iPhone without a phone) grew by 63% year-to-year according to Apple COO Tim Cook in the most recent earnings conference call. (Full Q2 2010 SEC filing available here.) More

iPad: Which way do you lean?

The iPad is a strange animal—we don’t know where it fits, yet. Is it a laptop replacement? Is it an entertainment device? Can I do “real work” on it or is it merely a brobdingagian iPod Touch, a more colorful Kindle with better email and Web browsing?

Spiritual traditions associate the angle of the spine with the state of mind. We use the phrases “lean back” and “lean forward” to differentiate between “production” and “consumption” activities. When I write, I lean forward; when I watch The Fugitive, I lean back in my airline seat. Laptops are mostly lean forward devices, even if we watch the occasional movie on the road. Is the iPad a lean back device?
Apple’s ads for the new product, on TV and Silicon Valley billboards, depict lean back use with (insufferably clean-looking) models in lounge attitudes as they surf, flip pages, and select videos. And their posture doesn’t change when they tap their way through the iWork for iPad productivity suite. What, I’m supposed to do work while reclining like the models in the ads? It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation that illustrates the tablet PC’s uneasy positioning. If you don’t offer an office suite you’re pilloried: This product is useless! But if you deploy the obligatory word processor+spreadsheet+presentation triad your ergonomics/UI contradictions are exposed.

(The apps in the iWork suite—Pages, Numbers, and Keynote–show great promise, which is a way to say that they’re imperfect. See last week’s comments on file sharing.)

Apple’s properly black microfiber iPad Case accessory valiantly struggles against the posture incongruity. It folds into a lectern and offers a better typing angle than when the device rests on your thighs:

The lectern works reasonably well in landscape mode, but shows its kludgy side when you rotate it to portrait. The raised top side becomes the left side, still raised. Ah well…

My occasional frustration with the iPad’s shortcomings is partly due to their contrast with the device’s shining qualities. For me, the half skeptic/half enthusiast, the charm hasn’t worn out after three weeks. The iPad is fast, the touch UI is very well executed, the battery lasts forever, and I can fly through “office tasks” such as pruning, reading and replying to email, or traversing the fifty or so blogs I follow on a daily basis.

When we turn to printing, however, we see another illustration of the iPad’s unsettled position. At home or in the office, I’m on a WiFi network that lets me see the printers on my PC or Mac. Windows 7 and OS X can find and connect to them quite easily so I’d expect to see my printers from my iPad, as well. But no. If I want to print from my iPad, the simplest solution—and trust me, I’ve tried many—is to email my file to a PC and print the attachment.

Just as on the iPhone, peripherals aren’t part of the picture. It’s part of the iPhone/iPad ethos: No peripherals, no need to get the right driver. Move right along, sir, nothing to drive here. But that hauteur hasn’t thwarted enterprising geeks. On the iPhone they came up with a number of file sharing and printing workarounds. I bought a few and wasn’t too impressed. On the iPad, I tried PrintCentral and Fax Print & Share Pro.

They both try to bridge the device’s limitations but, in my certified klutz experience, they create more problems than they solve. Network connections break, documents don’t print or else print gibberish, to say nothing of instructions such as “Enter your iPad’s address on computer:” Right…so much for simplifying computing.

PrintCentral asks you to install a software module (WePrint Server) on your PC or Mac so it can take your iPad document and print it “normally”. And so it does, if you can manage your way through a forest of menus and settings. On the other hand, PrintCentral does provide file sharing. I can download a file from a server (I tried both Word and Pages files), open it in one of the applications the iPad supports, and then edit and save it. This is in contrast with the iPad’s native file sharing where I can click—pardon—tap on a document residing in (remote) file server, such as iDisk, and view its contents, but nothing more. Better than nothing but not good enough for production purposes.

The other app I tried, Fax Print & Share Pro (beware of longish names on anything, cars, banking services, software) is even more ambitious. It purports to print directly to my Brother 2170W wireless networked printer, but no deal—it prints gibberish, even if I carefully re-install it (I’ve been trained on 12 years of Windows) and select the recommended “IP Printing” variant.
(As a side note, I’m partial to Brother printers. They’re made by a Japanese sewing machine company, thus the delicate mechanics of moving paper inside the beast tend to work. Further, they don’t insist on installing hundreds of megabytes of self-serving crapware on my machines, and the drivers are updated nicely via Apple’s Software Update channel.)
The Fax part of Fax Print & Share Pro comes with four free fax transmissions. I used up three of them trying to get it to work. On the first try, it faxed the cover page but not the document. Second attempt: No cover page and the app told me that the file couldn’t be faxed. Finally, I tried a simpler .rtf document. It worked, but the impression had been made. Third time wasn’t a charm.
I haven’t tried the app’s Fedex Online Printing module. Click on the link and you’ll see that “strange” file formats aren’t supported. As we say in America: Some restrictions may apply.

The diversity of supported and unsupported file types gets us back to the driver problem, one that bedevils normal humans—and could $$pell an opportunity for Apple and others. The printer driver converts your file’s contents—what you see on the screen—into instructions that the printer understands. The problem is that files are built in a bewildering but necessary variety of ways, and there’s no real standardization in printing.
When you see a printer on the network and say Print, the document ought to print. It’s almost as simple as that on a personal computer, even if the chain is sometimes fragile and a link breaks. The iPad isn’t there yet, but if I can see a network printer on the device, “driverless” printing for The Rest of Us can’t be too far behind. I’m not assuming the iPad will ever offer all the printing capabilities that we “enjoy” on a PC/Mac—that would ruin the simple (too simple, some say) iPad user experience. However, I believe the day isn’t too far off when I’ll be able to open and save a document from/to MobileMe’s iDisk without a third party app. (Today’s iDisk app works on the iPad, although it’s still the small screen iPhone version.)
The next step for Apple or an enterprising developer would be to take my file, convert it somewhere in the cloud, and then send it to my printer without asking me to deal with the plumbing. It’s more complicated than I make it sound but, as the PrintCentral example shows, we’re already doing it locally. Replace my local PC acting as an intermediary between my iPad and my printer with a remote server and we have direct printing. Present tense used with poetic license.

As for the iPad’s louche identity, nothing that a couple of million units won’t make taxonomically correct.


iPad Second Impressions

I’m “stuck” in Paris (poor me), volcanic ash from Iceland has closed the airports. Stranded but not ignored. I have my iPad. In business meetings, in cafés and restaurants, the iPad is, as I reported two weeks ago, an all-around guy- and-chick magnet. Sit down, stroke the screen, and Parisians, not normally the easygoing sort, admire and strike up a conversation. Norway’s Prime Minister, stranded as well, used his iPad to govern remotelytrès chic. I’ve never seen anything like this.

I gave myself two weeks to form an opinion of the iPad. (And note well the my and opinion: I may let a fact sneak in here and there, but I intend to convey my personal impressions. (As we say on-line: YMMV. You might come to a different conclusion.) I carried my brand new iPad everywhere, and I mean everywhere: From the smallest room in the house to the office, out to the coffee shop, into the 747 cabin and then on, to a magazine industry conference in Paris. I wanted to know if this dog would come back to the pail after a fortnight. Call me a skeptic, but I’ve spent too much time inside too many sausage factories to trust a demo, a first impression.

I’d pre-ordered two iPads and was given an appointment on launch morning at the Palo Alto Apple Store. In and out in a few minutes, then back home for the unveiling. Initial setup was easy, although you should learn from my mistake: I’d forgotten to prevent iTunes from synching automatically. I have thousands of pictures in my iPhoto library; this was going to take hours. My suggestion: Get the apps you want from the App Store and start enjoying your new iPad right away. Sync your media while you sleep. With more than 3,000 programs, most of them written for or adapted from the iPhone, the App Store is a pleasant and welcome surprise. My existing iPhone apps look a bit dwarfish on the bigger screen and pixelated when blown up in 2X mode, but they’re serviceable.

So how does the iPad feel?

I purchased the iWork productivity apps: Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentations). This isn’t the iPad’s strongest suit. When you transfer a document to the iPad, the hyperlinks are “unfolded”. Here’s the original…

…and the same file on the iPad:

I hoped the URLs would somehow fold back “under” the linked words when re-imported into my Mac, but no.

The trouble doesn’t stop there. On a networked PC and Mac you can drag-and-drop a file from one machine to another by using a shared folder arrangement. Here, the desktop metaphor breaks down because the iPad (and the iPhone) doesn’t have an explicit, exposed file system. To ship my Monday Note draft from my Mac to my iPad, I have to email it to myself as an attachment, or use a convoluted iTunes service. The email method is simple. I click—sorry—tap on the attachment and the iPad automatically offers to open it in Pages.

The iTunes method, slightly more complicated, uses the File Sharing section in the Apps tab that you see when you connect your iPad:

This is, in effect, a folder. You add your PC or Mac files and they’ll show up in My Documents on your iPad after the next sync. When you’ve finished tapping your Great American Novel, you can sync it back to your desktop computer through the same mechanism.

Applications such as Air Sharing HD and GoodReader help, but not completely. With Air Sharing and a WiFi connection, your iPad can show you the files on your PC or Mac, but you can’t use them—you can’t open them in your iPad apps.

There’s also a Mac app called PhoneView. Once your iPad is connected, you’ll see “everything” inside. Proceed with caution.

Geeks can go here to see more details about the promising doc compatibility and sharing features…and “promising” is the right word. I’m disappointed. I can’t perform tasks such as writing (or editing) a real-life, hyperlinked document on my iPad. Let’s hope the iWork software updates will quickly make the promise a reality.

Very nice. Fast, easy to set up, easy to use. For me, it’s fully functional; not much to say beyond that. I hear we’ll get a “unified” mailbox some day.

Web Browser
Browsing shows off the iPad’s speed and smooth finish. It has the Apple design “touch”, literally. Scrolling and pinch-zooming are well-tuned and convenient. The browser doesn’t have tabs, but bookmarks sync with my Mac through MobileMe.

Speaking of scrolling and zooming, the Maps app (in collaboration with ex-friends at Google) is spectacular on the iPad. Treat yourself to a satellite view of your favorite city, move around with one finger, zoom with two. I just sent myself this iPad screenshot; you push the Home and Sleep buttons to take it, just like on the iPhone:

As on the iPhone, the iPad’s built-in Safari bookmarks show a User Guide, very nicely done. Enterprising geeks have discovered that Apple uses a specific framework, dubbed AdLib, to create a “desktop-like” Web application. They speculate that this augurs well for more high-quality Web apps from Apple.

Everything works well–even very well. I’ve loaded iTunes movies, rented one, I’ve used Netflix and the ABC app. Same for the iPod function and its CoverFlow. “Nothing to see, here”, by which I mean no trouble, no disappointment, the iPad does a spectacular job.

I have nothing to say about games; I’m simply the wrong customer. Out of curiosity I loaded Smule’s Magic Piano, and Korg’s iELECTRIBE, Accordio and miniSynth Pro. Very impressive although, again, I’m not the target. As food for thought and extrapolation, I typed “iPad game” into Google: 112 million hits.

After two weeks, Apple’s iBooks and Amazon’s Kindle still look good. I hear the debate about e-ink versus backlit screen. I don’t mind reading on a computer screen, but I also like paper. I can load a math textbook from the Kindle bookstore on my iPad, and solve exercises using pen and paper. As an investor, I’ll be watching what the iPad (and its competition) does for–or to–the textbook industry.

Turning to newspapers and magazines, I like the agitation surrounding the iPad. The presentation I gave to the Presse Magazine conference in Paris last week confirmed the  enthusiasm and the anxiety. There’s much skill, energy and €€ in play.

I’ve tried the New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Popular Science, GQ, the Zinio magazine distribution app, Paris Match and Le Monde. They’re all promising but they show that the genre still needs work on both the UI side and particularly with the business models. I have an aversion to subscriptions that make it difficult to cancel, and only Le Monde lets me buy a single issue using their in-app purchase mechanism.

Regarding the UI, the gold dust needs to settle for some, while others need to lose their East Block smell. The former (names withheld) enjoy the new UI toys a bit too much. They’re tiring, distracting. The latter need to do better than a timidly sexed-up screen replica of the paper-based product.

Still, I’m hopeful. There’s no good culture without bad taste; the excesses prove that designers are pushing the envelope and conquering uncharted territory. The medium has yet to coalesce and find its sui generis place, but I’m optimistic because there’s enough competition, interest, and customers to make “it” happen—a thriving electronic newspaper and magazine industry. As for Apple’s role as an advertising platform (iAd?), that, too, will be worth watching.

Keynote, Apple’s PowerPoint-compatible superset app, shows us the iPad idiosyncrasies. I brought the official iPad-to-VGA adapter with me to Paris, hooked it up, and hoped for the best. Zero setup, as we have come to expect, with no fiddling with F-keys or Desktop Properties. The projector displayed the presentation while my iPad displayed a (limited) presenter’s console. But, wait, switching out of Keynote, there’s no way to display the main screen. The iPad manual says I can display photos using a projector, but there’s not a word about a general replica of the iPad screen. At the conference I tried to show a movie but got an “Unauthorized” message, instead.

The conference organizers had insisted: Don’t forget the VGA adapter for the iPad. I didn’t. But, while I brought two machines for friends, I forgot to pack mine. No problem…almost. My configuration automagically resurrected itself on one of the spare machines when connected to iTunes. This gave me the opportunity to use MobileMe’s Find My iPhone service. It found my two iPads, the one left behind in my office and its freshly minted clone. The one in it found in Paris is shown below:

I could lock it, display a message on it, or remotely wipe its content. I chose the latter, I’ll see the results when I get back. In the meantime, as advertised in the screenshot above, the one left behind is now “dead”.

Conclusion and memoriam
Has the long-suffering tablet device finally emerged? The iPad isn’t perfect but, for me, it’s more than good enough, and extrapolating from the iPhone trajectory since 2007 we’ll see a steady string of improvements, especially if competitors such as HP and (the now-disliked) Google spur Apple and drive investment and creativity.
A final word…for Bill Gates. In 2001, he predicted that within five years, the Tablet PC would be the most popular form of PC sold in America. The timing was off, but he might end up being right, even if he might not enjoy the fruits of his vision.

Being a visionary is a bitch.

Bill’s prediction was only one of a long string going back to Dynabook, Newton, Grid, Go and other prophecies. The iPad might be the real thing, finally.