iPads In The Wild

April 22nd, 2010

In John Gruber’s excellent analysis of the Gizmodo iPhone theft, he touches on something obvious in retrospect: that prototype iPhones have to leave Apple campus sometime before they are available to the public, because it’s impossible to thoroughly test a phone without moving it around in the real world. You have to know how it will react to changing signal strengths, to lost calls, perhaps even to changes in network carrier and how the roaming modes do or don’t work.

When the iPad was announced, Apple made it clear that plain iPads with WiFi connectivity would be available first, while the iPad 3G, offering connectivity through GSM mobile networks, would be available some weeks later.

There are many potential reasons for this. Perhaps the 3G hardware was developed on a slightly later schedule than the base model. But it seems more likely that the base model is more or less identical to the 3G’s hardware, with a few conspicuously missing chips (the GPS and the GSM), and perhaps a missing antenna.

The vast majority of functionality for both the 3G and base models could be verified within Apple’s walls. It’s just that question mark next to the 3G connectivity that would have to be verified once and for all out in the real world.

So, how do you do this final sanity testing without drawing attention to your “magical” 10×8 inch tablet, the likes of which nobody has ever seen before? By peppering the world with exactly lookalikes.

Once the iPad shipped, they began to show up in cafés, on subways, in public parks, everywhere! These few weeks have been Apple’s opportunity to send employees out with 3G iPads, completely undetected by curious onlookers. Nobody knows that the 3G iPad on the table at Starbucks is doing anything special. It’s connecting to the internet like all the other iPads in the room, no doubt delighting its user, but also performing valuable last-minute testing for Apple.

If everything goes well in those few weeks, the iPad 3G ships on schedule as promised. But if something really hairy becomes evident, it’s Apple’s chance to prevent the public embarrassment. They stop the factories in China, work out an engineering solution, and adjust the ship date accordingly.

8 Responses to “iPads In The Wild”

  1. mgetzski Says:

    The 3G does have that awkward black bar at the top where the antenna is located. I would assume that the testers would cover that with a case. But this brings me to another point. Why black plastic? Couldn’t Apple find a different color plastic to cover the antenna that more closely resembled the aluminum casing? The black bar at the top really takes away from the asthetics of the otherwise beautiful piece of hardware. To most companies this is not important, but with Apple asthetics is one of the selling points.

  2. Stephen Moore Says:

    Like this guy who used to work at Apple and seems to have friends in high places?


  3. rd Says:

    “excellent analysis”

    hardly, how come if phone can be wiped remotely
    that it can’t be found using GPS. the employee
    doesn’t need to call the bar franticly.
    It doesn’t pass basic test of logic.

    So it is either a plant or employee is lying.

  4. Daniel Jalkut Says:

    rd: It’s a fair question (though frankly, not fair enough for you to be so snarky about my assessment that Gruber’s analysis was excellent).

    Presumably Apple suffers the same limitation that we customers do: once you wipe the phone it can no longer be located with GPS. I suppose there might be some top-secret means of them continuing to track it even after the phone is wiped, but presumably they built this stopgap measure in as a privacy protection insurance for people who buy used phones.

    So, given the choice of wiping the phone or continuing to track it, Apple has to decide based on the sensitivity of what is on the phone. I imagine they calculated the risks (or just made a gut choice) and decided to wipe the phone first and ask questions later.

  5. DDA Says:

    “Perhaps the 3G hardware was developed on a slightly later schedule than the base model.”

    The reason given at the announcement is that it requires more regulatory approval what with having a cellular modem inside. Given the pace that these agencies seem to work at (why would it take 60+ days to approve the WiFi radio in an iPad?), I’m not at all suprised that it would take an additional month to then approve the cellular radio in the 3G version.

  6. joachimm Says:

    The iPad was announced and shown in January. It hasn’t been a secret for several months. The only reason not to test it outside the doors of Apple was to not get hassled by onlookers.

    The iPhone HD on the other hand (probably) sports a radically different look from the other iPhones and it contains various unannounced features. All things that Apple wants to keep secret.

    So while I agree that Apple is happy that they can hide their iPad testing in plain sight. I think that is just a curious circumstance. If Apple thought it important to have simultaneous release dates of both iPad models, they would have done so, without camouflaging the iPad as a MacBook Pro.

  7. Tino Says:

    It’s not as if you would need to conceal a 3G iPad now anyway; the existence and capabilities of the thing are not exactly secret. I imagine if I met someone using one, the conversation would go something like this:

    ME: Oh, wow, a 3G iPad! Neato keen etc.!

    GUY: Yeah, I work for Apple and we are testing them in the field.

    ME: Wow, spiffy, etc.! What does it do?

    GUY: Exactly the same things your iPad does, only it has this black patch on the back, and data service everywhere. Or everywhere where AT&T works, anyway.

    ME: Golly!

    I suppose i could knock him on the head and sell his iPad to Gizmodo, but they probably wouldn’t even buy it. What’s the story? Well-publicized product set to be released in a few days exists, is tested by manufacturer? 3G iPad connects to Internet without wires, wifi: witchcraft suspected?

  8. Jon H Says:

    I haven’t actually seen many iPads in the wild, though family in CT have two.

    On the other hand, in the days immediately following the release, people kept asking if my Kindle DX was an iPad.

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