8 Apple iPad questions Apple just won't answer

What we don't know about Apple's upcoming slate PC

As the smoke clears from Steve Jobs launching the Apple iPad, missing details suggest there's less to Apple's tablet than meets the eye.

It's just over two weeks since Apple unveiled the iPad, however details about the device still remain sketchy.

If history is any guide, Apple's ongoing silence may mean the first-generation iPad will not be as compelling or as useful as many of us had hoped.

I've asked Apple a set of questions about what Jobs and Apple have not revealed about the iPad over a week ago. However, Apple's PR has yet to get me the answers or receive permission to relay those answers publicly.

Others in the press and analyst community are also getting the silent treatment regarding the iPad capabilities that matter to many prospective users.

Famously tight-lipped, Apple often views the press as an extension of its marketing effort, treating all but a favoured few to a sadistic game of hard-to-get.

When Apple extends this silence beyond a product's razzmatazz unveiling, it's usually meant that the product in question could not deliver the functionality journalists have asked about.

With that in mind, unanswered queries about the iPad may imply that the iPad is less "magical" and "revolutionary" than Jobs suggests.

Here are the questions Apple has not yet answered, and why the 'silence = no' implications diminish the iPad's value.

Can you save and transfer documents to the iPad?

Anyone who uses an iPhone or iPod touch with an office productivity app such as Quickoffice knows how frustrating it is to access Office documents.

You have to set up a wireless connection over a local Wi-Fi network, enter the IP address, and transfer the files, or you send the document via email on an Exchange account so that it can be opened as an attachment.

Apple says its 'no save' restriction is meant to prevent malware from being placed on the iPhone or iPod touch.

I've never bought that argument, as the iPhone and iPod touch allow you to save images to what is in essence a folder and sync those images via iTunes - so why not other file types?

Of course, that may be a loophole Apple is closing: the iPad's Photos app (a photo gallery), like the iWork for iPad app, appears to do away with saved photo files altogether, instead embedding them into the app itself.

Yet it doesn't appear that the iPad will let you transfer files in folders via iTunes, email attachment downloads, or wireless networks. (I do, however, expect some of the Wi-Fi file-sharing hack apps will enable you to transfer files, though it is unclear whether Apple's iWork productivity app will be able to see them.)

Given that Apple will offer a version of its Mac-only iWork suite for the iPad, it would make sense to be able to transfer files to and from the iPad.

Unfortunately, Apple's website only mentions access to iWork and Office files from email and avoids any claim of saving the file to the device.

The implication is that iWork for iPad can open email attachments, edit them in memory or within protected cache in the app itself, then send out the edited version in email.

It's also apparent that iWork can read both Office and iWork documents, but only send back iWork or PDF documents. Again, Apple remains silent on this discrepancy, one that essentially restricts document editing to Mac users who have iWork - an extremely tiny sliver of the world.

Does the iPad support Microsoft Exchange email?

Apple mentioned several web-based email providers that would work with the iPad's Mail app, such as Gmail and Hotmail, but Microsoft Exchange was conspicuously absent. I first assumed that the iPad would support Exchange and the same handful of Exchange ActiveSync security policies as the iPhone and iPod Touch, but now I'm not so sure.

My colleague Jason Snell, editor-in-chief of Macworld, would be surprised if Apple removed Exchange from the iPad, given its place on the iPhone and iPod touch, but he too can't say for certain.

Analyst Chris Hazelton from the 451 Group noticed the Exchange omission back on January 27 and said the iPad categorically won't support Exchange.

He acknowledged that this was a supposition on his part, not a confirmed fact, but that Apple has not responded to his inquiries.

Apple hasn't responded to me on this, either, and neither he nor I can fathom why Apple would not clarify this simple fact immediately.

If you, like me, see the potential of the iPad as a laptop surrogate for short business trips, the lack of Exchange support kills that potential, and it signals that the iPad is not a dual-purpose business/consumer device as the iPhone and iPod touch are. Instead, it is, as has been suggested by some, just a big iPod.

Apple's announcement of the iWork productivity app for the iPad led many of us to see the iPad as a lightweight laptop for email, web access, and basic document work - but the lack of Exchange, coupled with iWork for iPad's inability to save files in Microsoft Office formats, would mean that the only business users who could harness the iPad for work would be that tiny portion of Mac-based professionals who don't run Exchange email.

Does the iPad support VPN and configuration management?

If the iPad doesn't support Exchange, I can't imagine it wouldn't work with VPN and configuration management, two capabilities that the iPhone and iPod touch can claim.

Although the iPhone and iPod Touch doesn't support over-the-air management of the device or its security capabilities, they do support these capabilities using emailed or web-downloaded configuration files.

This management approach is nowhere usable for enterprises, as it gives no assurance that users have the right configuration, but small businesses with local IT staff can deal with it. (Yes, several vendors such as Good Technology now offer more enterprise-class management tools for the iPhone.)

If Apple has pulled these capabilities from the iPad, then almost no business can seriously allow an iPad on to its network. Apple won't say.

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