iPad Missed Opportunities Part 1: Docking Station

So in the last post, I talked about some of the iPad complaints that I thought were unfair. There are a few that I think are quite fair, such as the fact that you’re locked into Apple’s iTunes store and can’t install software from other sources. Also, I’ve read that it’s a bit of a pain to get documents on and off of the iPad.

However, what I find most interesting are the missed opportunities for making the iPad even more useful, including improvements that could still be made post-launch.

The first big missed opportunity in my mind was that Apple didn’t make use of this patent:

For years I’ve thought that my ideal computing experience included something roughly like the iPad: a small lightweight tablet about the size of a standard sheet of 8.5×11″ paper with a highly refined touchscreen interface.  However, the problem with a device of this form factor is that working on a small touchscreen for a long time isn’t as comfortable as working with a nice big monitor, keyboard, and mouse.  So in my ideal computing experience, I would be able to dock this tablet to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for projects that require more intensive computer use.  Ideally I would have access to all the same documents and applications whether I was using the computer in touchscreen-mode or docked-mode, but I would always be presented with an interface that was optimized for whichever mode I was in.

Of course, this concept presents a lot of complications.  Not only would the OS need to host two totally different context aware user interfaces, but application developers would need to create two interfaces for each application as well.  The tablet would also need to be powerful enough to run a full desktop operating system and full desktop applications, while being energy efficient enough to allow several hours of battery life while in tablet mode.  The technology isn’t there yet.

However, what Apple could probably do is allow the iPad to be used to host user profiles.  Technologically, this would be a very different approach, but it could achieve similar results.  The idea would be that you permanently store all of your documents and media on your iPad, and when you dock your iPad to your computer, instead of syncing, your computer automatically mounts the iPad’s filesystem and uses it for your home folder.

You computer’s iTunes wouldn’t store all your music on the hard drive and then sync your music to the iPad, but instead it would store all of your music on the iPad.  When you ran iWork on your computer, it would read the Pages document directly from your iPad and edit it on your iPad’s internal storage.  When you disconnected your iPad from your computer, you would have access to the same exact document through your iPad’s copy of Pages.  When you looked at your task list in your computer’s version of Things, it would be reading and altering the same database that your iPad’s version of Things would alter.  This would also allow you to dock your iPad to any number of computers and essentially take your whole home folder, settings and all, from computer to computer relatively seamlessly.  If Apple really wanted to, they could even get fancy by supporting automatic backups of your iPad through Time Machine.  Or they could even allow you to store a cached version of your iPad on the computer so that you could work when your iPad was disconnected, which would automatically sync when the iPad was docked or connected on a local network.  Or perhaps an even crazier idea: the iPad could automatically sync all of its contents online via MobileMe’s iDisk.

I believe all of this is possible with current technology.