Terrific web browsing experience
Amazing battery life
Bluetooth accessory support
Support for 170K+ apps at App Store
Who/What’s it for?
Only acceptable text entry
No multitasking (yet)
Not enough native apps (yet)
WiFi only: US$499-$699
Apple trumpeted the iPad, its first tablet, as being both “magical” and “revolutionary.” This first-generation model isn’t quite either of those things – yet. Instead, it’s a terrific luxury device that takes the first step towards fulfilling Apple’s revolutionary promise.
As we’ve come to expect from Apple, the iPad is a physically beautiful, highly usable gadget refined to a state of excellence. The iPad is light – just 1.5 pounds (or 1.6 in the 3G model) – and feels great held either with one hand or two.
Its 9.7-inch screen is a joy for practically everything, especially games, video, and the web (the only drawback is that non-native apps don’t always look great in fullscreen mode, but that will change as those apps are updated), but isn’t so big as to be unwieldy.
While the screen is great looking, it’s also a magnet for fingerprints and smudges – even moreso than the iPhone. Apple applied an “oleophobic” coating to the iPhone 3GS screen (which I don’t love, but that’s another matter). Why it didn’t do the same with the iPad is puzzling. Apple could have at least including a cleaning cloth like it used to with iPods. Looking at smudges on the screen is unappealing.
Solid Software, With Better Yet to Come
The iPad runs a modified version of the iPhone OS that’s been tweaked for the iPad’s bigger screen. It offers all of the strengths of the iPhone OS, but adds new features like drop-down menus that present more information and options in the bigger space. These changes will be welcome to anyone who’s tried to work with long lists or large amounts of data on the iPhone’s screen. They also move some options out of a setting panel and into the app, and smooth the overall process of working on the iPad.
But, along with the strengths of the iPhone OS, the iPad also has its weaknesses: no multitasking, support for tethering, unified email inbox, or powerful business features. Many of these drawbacks (with the exception of tethering. We may need an end to the AT&T/Apple relationship to get that) will disappear with the release of iPhone OS 4.0 this fall.
In some respects, the iPad feels like a large iPhone. But with the addition of the new OS, it will become more like a robust handheld computer that can challenge desktop functionality for many standard apps.
Because it runs the iPhone OS, the iPad gets the thing that contains its greatest promise and potential: App Store support.
The built-in apps range from acceptable to great and include the things you’d expect – web browser, media player, calendar, photos, etc. – but the nearly limitless options in the App Store are what make the iPad so exciting and fun.
The apps that got the most attention at the iPad’s launch – the Netflix and ABC video players, Marvel Comics’ reader and online store, the iWork suite, iBooks – demonstrate the versatility and potential in the App Store. With it, users will only be limited by the imagination and skills of developers (well, that and Apple’s app approval system and technology restrictions, which are not insignificant factors).
The iPhone platform has already gained substantial momentum as a gaming platform; the iPad won’t slow that down. In fact, given its bigger screen, multitouch features, and motion sensors, games are likely to get more sophisticated, immersive, and impressive.
A Great eBook Reader
Among the many other things it does, the iPad is a strong – possibly superior – competitor to dedicated eBook readers like Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s nook.
Core eBook functionality is delivered via Apple’s free iBooks app, which is backed by an online store.
The feature of iBooks that has probably gotten the most attention is its well-executed page-turning animation (so sensitive that you can move the page minutely, back and forth, and it doesn’t blink). But that’s mostly eye-candy.
Using iBooks is pleasant enough. Pages look good, can have their font, text size, and contrast customized, and I haven’t experienced any eyestrain yet.
When it comes to features – bookmarking, dictionary integration, links – iBooks works well and much like other eBook apps. But it’s a little sluggish sometimes, especially when turning pages, so here’s hoping Apple refines that in later versions.
The iBooks Store is a little sparse right now. Hopefully the selection will grow there the way the iTunes Store’s music library grew – steadily at first, and then exponentially, such that nearly anything you could want is available. The risk is that the iBooks Store instead follows the path of the Movies section of the iTunes Store, which has never had enough titles to gain real momentum. If iBooks meets that fate, Apple’s foray into eBooks will likely fail.
But, thanks to the App Store, the iPad isn’t limited to iBooks for reading. Amazon’s Kindle app is available, as it Barnes and Noble’s Reader (along with many other eBook readers). Comics fans are also in luck, with numerous great reader/store combinations from Marvel, comiXology, and many others. In all cases, the iPad’s screen provides a lovely reading experience.
Browsing in Bed (and On The Couch, and In The Bathroom)
One advantage that books continue to have over eBooks (in addition to pure, tactile pleasure) is their portability into places you wouldn’t bring consumer electronics. Recent eBook readers have solved this issue for bathroom reading, but they’re still not for reading in the tub (which is a shame).
In most other rooms in the house, though, the iPad is perfectly pitched. This is likely to be the best web browsing experience you’ve ever had in bed or on the couch, and it may be up there in the mobile gaming and entertainment departments.
Whereas browsing on the iPhone in bed requires positioning the iPhone at just the right angle to prevent its screen from rotating, the iPad’s screen rotation lock switch ingeniously solves this problem.
These areas are where the iPad’s industrial design really shines. It just feels good in your hands, in your lap, resting on your knees – better than any laptop, certainly.