iPad Missed Opportunities Part 2: Remote Handset

One thing that bothers me about the prospect of buying an iPad is that it means I’ll be carrying both an iPad and an iPhone, and there’s a lot of overlap between the two devices in terms of functionality. Worst of all, even though I already have “unlimited” data service through AT&T with my iPhone, I have to pay $30 for an additional “unlimited” data service for the iPad. Otherwise, I’m reduced to hunting for WiFi hotspots.

Thinking about this problem lead me to consider the following question: if I had an iPad, what would I use my iPhone for? It occurs to me that the iPhone really has 2 advantages over the iPad. The first advantage is that you can make voice calls over AT&T’s network. Though I think this is a big deal, it’s only a big deal because of circumstance. Right now, cell phones support voice much better and much more widely than they support data. If you were to have a robust, ubiquitous, and fast wireless data network, you should be able to make all of your voice calls using VoIP. Of course, you don’t want to hold your iPad up to your head like a phone, but you could easily get a Bluetooth headset or even a Bluetooth handset.

The second advantage that the iPhone has over the iPad is that it’s small. Of course, the advantage the iPad has over the iPhone is that it’s big, so being small isn’t absolutely better. However, in many contexts, being small is an advantage. The chief advantage of the iPhone being small is that you can stick it in your pocket. This means it’s much easy to take it everywhere with you, and just as importantly, it’s easy to access in any situation. When you’re standing in a crowded subway car, it’s much easier to reach in your pocket to pull out an iPod than it is to dig through your bag and pull out a notebook. Relating this back to the first advantage of the iPhone, you probably don’t want to have to pull out your iPad when you’re running around in the world and you need to make a phone call.

To address both of these problems, I think it might be good if Apple were to create a small Bluetooth iPad remote. I imagine that hardware-wise, it could look quite a bit like the iPhone but smaller and thinner. It would only connect to the iPad, so you wouldn’t need WiFi or cell connectivity. You could ditch most of the internal storage as well. The handset would retain the speaker, mic, touchscreen, battery, and perhaps a headphone jack.

The controls of the handset would expose 2 main functions: making and receiving phone calls and browsing through the media library on your iPad. The handset interface would have a dialer which would control the VoIP calls placed through the iPad’s data connection, and the handset would also “ring” like a handset when the iPad’s VoIP received an incoming call. During calls, you would talk through the handset like you would with a normal cell phone. Your voice would be picked up through the mic and sent to the iPad via Bluetooth. Incoming audio from the call would be sent to the handset’s speaker via Bluetooth as well.

The other use for this remote/handset would be to allow a user to store all of his music on the iPad and listen to the music on-the-go without actually needing to pull out the iPad every time he wants to change songs or adjust the volume.  The menu system could look identical to the iPhone’s normal music playback, but instead be controlling remote playback of the iPad.

Actually, the idea of a iPhone-like remote control for the iPad isn’t too far removed from features that Apple already provides.  One of Apple’s early iPhone applications was one which allowed you to use the iPhone as a remote control for an Apple TV or even any computer running iTunes.  It wouldn’t be much of a stretch for Apple to expand this application to allow remote control of an iPad.