Not Quite a Mobile Office
Though the iPad looks like it could function as a mobile office tool – after all it’s got email, web, word processing, spreadsheets, and many productivity apps – it’s not quite developed enough for that.
The onscreen keyboard is an improvement over the iPhone’s, especially thanks to its larger size, but typing is a choice between going slowly or incurring lots of errors. Multi-finger typing is a challenge and locating punctuation marks in separate screens frequently breaks up typing and thinking momentum.
The iPad supports external keyboards through its keyboard dock accessory and via Bluetooth, but carrying yet another item along with the iPad isn’t appealing.
Surprising Battery Life
Apple iPod and iPhone products haven’t exactly been renowned as battery powerhouses, but the iPad breaks that trend. Apple promises 10 hours of use on a fully charged battery and that’s borne out in my testing. On a full charge, over 3 hours of movie playback consumed just 20% of the battery, indicating that Apple’s 10-hour figure is perhaps a little conservative. Similarly, nearly 9 straight hours of music playback hardly dented the battery – again, about 20%.
Given that most of us won’t use the device continuously, expect to get day’s worth of use before needing to recharge. The iPad battery is also a wonder on standby. Expect days, maybe even weeks, of standby battery life.
Not Without Its Problems
All that said, this is a first-generation product and it has first-generation problems. Users have reported a variety of problems, from unclear battery charging messages to difficulty waking the device from sleep, from slow syncing to overheating.
Perhaps the most widespread problem involves the inability to maintain WiFi connections and signal strength. Apple’s addressed that in support documents, but if that problem becomes more widespread, it could dramatically impact the iPad.
One small bug that I noticed is a tendency for the iPad’s system time to lag behind the real time. I’ve observed it losing up to about 20 minutes over the course of a few days. Syncing corrects the time, but this shouldn’t happen.
Who’s It For?
Despite all the very good things about the iPad, I can’t yet conclude that it’s great, primarily because I can’t quite figure out who it’s for.
It’s not – yet – a laptop or desktop replacement (more on that in a minute). It’s not a replacement for an iPhone or iPod. I know that Apple’s trying to create a new category with the iPad, but in doing so, there may be a period of time where that category, and how we’ll use the devices in it, is hazy.
The iPad is really a lot of fun to use, but in my house, which already has a laptop and an iPhone, how necessary is it? It may be a good portable computer for trips where a laptop is too much, but how much better will it be than my iPhone? If I love mobile gaming, does what it offers justify paying more than double to get an iPad instead of an iPod touch?
Right now, I’m not sure it does. But I think it will.
We’ll begin to see the first glimpses of that this fall with the release of iPhone OS 4.0. That will allow the iPad to include the good aspects of a traditional computer, while leaving limitations behind. It will also equip developers to create even more powerful and useful apps. When that happens, the iPad will be much more compelling.
It’s in future revisions of the iPad that its true potential will be unlocked.
Most computer users tend to have a fairly limited and basic set of needs: email, web, music, video, games. Most users don’t need to run Photoshop or page layout software, or video editing tools. For those power users, desktop and laptop computers will continue to be useful tools.
But, for users with limited needs, won’t a future version of the iPad make as much, or more, sense than a traditional computer? Add more memory, a camera, an improved means of storing local files, maybe a USB port (though I’m not sure that’s absolutely necessary), and a few other tweaks, and the average computer user will have everything they need in a portable, affordable, exciting package.
In fact, users who have the iPad as their main computer may find computing easier, less prone to errors, and more fun than with their old desktops or laptops.
And that’s when the iPad’s real potential is likely to be fulfilled. But we’re a few years away from that.
Will It Succeed?
The iPad’s success really isn’t in question. With sales of over 450,000 in the U.S. in its first week alone, it’s another hit product for Apple. The question isn’t whether it will succeed, but rather whether it can live up to the promise of being magical and revolutionary.
As the device and its software stand now, I’m not sure it will. But, with the upcoming changes to its software, and revised hardware we can certainly expect, it may.
For now, the iPad is a product for early adopters, tech and gadget enthusiasts, and those interested in luxury items. That doesn’t detract from its status as a well-conceived, fantastically executed device, though. Those who do purchase it are likely to be well satisfied.
In the coming years, though, I suspect the iPad may be the device that we look back to as a turning point in computing.