Back in 2004 or so, I desperately wanted a 8-10” tablet from Apple. Something that would let me browse the web and check my mail while I was away from my desk, without forcing me to lug my laptop around. Something that would let me play with new ideas over lunch. Something that could use to build cool stuff.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that it was never going to happen. There just wasn’t enough of a market for it, and the form-factor requires UI that is drastically different from desktop OS X. They’d have to start from the ground up to build it. It wasn’t going to happen.

So, every 6 months or so, when the Apple Tablet rumor popped back up, I just ignored them–they were obviously bunk–and they went away on their own.

That is, until a few months ago, when the rumors shifted dramatically, and it became clear that Apple really was building a tablet. So yesterday morning, I was watching 3 live streams of the launch to see what magical thing Steve and company were working on. And now the rumors and the hype have cleared, and we’re left holding the iPad. Which is more or less exactly what I was looking for in 2004.

And I’m amazed to discover that I don’t want one. Not now, not in 2010.

It’s not like I’m immune to iProducts. I mean, I was literally in a car, on the way to the Apple store halfway through the iPhone announcement. We had to turn around when he announced that it wasn’t going to ship for 6 months. As a family, we’ve bought 9 iPods and iPhones over the years, including the very first model.

So why doesn’t the iPad work for me?

  1. It doesn’t do anything that I can’t already do. I have a laptop. I have a phone. I have a Kindle. The iPad can’t replace the phone or the laptop, and my Kindle doesn’t need replaced right now. Sure, it’s a better web-browsing platform than the phone, but not really all that much better.
  2. It’s too closed. I switched from an iPhone 3GS to a Nexus One a month and a half ago, and I don’t really want to go back. The iPhone is prettier, and Apple has more useful apps, but the N1 is much more useful for me. It has a dramatically better interface to Gmail and Google Calendar. It multitasks, so IM works right. When the browser is too slow loading a page, I can go check my mail and then flip back to check on the page loading later. Random third-party apps sync in the background on their own. Apps can extend the core OS experience trivially; install a Flickr uploading app, and the ‘Share’ button in the existing camera app suddenly knows how to upload to Flickr. Heck, I even replaced the default home page/app browser with Slidescreen, just because it fits what I want out of my phone better. None of this is possible with the iPhone, and none of it will be possible with the iPad.
  3. I think this is really the killer for me: the iPad is really just a media consumption device. I agree with almost everything Tim Bray has to say on the topic–the iPad is 98% oriented towards consuming existing content. Which is nice, sometimes. I mean, that’s all the Kindle is good for, and I love my Kindle. But it’s not what I want in a portable, always-with-me computer.

So what do I want in tablet-like device, or really any mobile computer, PDA, tablet, or phone? I want it to make my life better in some meaningful way. I want to build things with it. I want to look at how I do things in my life and create tools to make myself more powerful. And I don’t believe I can do that with the iPhone or iPad. They’re too tied to Steve’s View Of The World, and I’m not Steve. Almost everything that I’d like to have a device like this automate for me requires some sort of background processing, syncing with services online, and the iPad can’t do any of that right now. Maybe that’ll change in the future. Maybe iPhone/iPad OS 4.0 will fix that. Maybe the second-generation iPad will be able to do some of that. Maybe they’ll be able to convince me to fork over $100 just to write software for my own device. Maybe.

For now, though, I’m planning on sticking with my Nexus One, and I’ll probably keep an eye open for mid-sized Android tablets with high resolution screens. Android absolutely lacks the polish and shine of Apple’s products, but it’s moving amazingly fast, and it finally seems to be Good Enough for me. It’s reached a sort of critical mass, and it’s developing into a viable ecosystem of its own. At this point, the only thing that I really miss from my iPhone is the Kindle reader app, and I assume that Amazon is working on one for Android. Android’s not perfect, but it’s getting quite good. And while it lacks Apple’s polish and shine, it doesn’t have the same shrink-wrapped, pre-packaged, plastic feeling that so many interactions with Apple have these days.