Don’t post that often, yada yada, etc etc. Anyway, the iPad was finally released on Saturday to a sea of fanboys and scorn, and maybe even some in-between. Some great battles have been fought over the years. Coke vs Pepsi, Yankees or the Mets, Democrat or Republican – and finally iPad, it’s great or it’s the cancer killing computing. Or at least, if you read the blogs and listen to the podcasts, that is what you might have heard. After getting to spend a bit of time with it, the one thing I can say with certainty: Most of what you are hearing is overblown.
The thing is fast. Like, wicked fast. Scrolling is smooth. Zooming is quick and effortless. When you touch the device, it responds. To be honest, I was a bit blown away by how quick it feels. When you touch the screen, you can almost feel something happen. Scrolling through photos is almost as tactile as picking through photos in a real album. I get the real sense that from the time the first computer scientist punched a card with 0’s and 1’s, this is what he intended and wished it would feel like.
The device is also beautiful in it’s simplicity. If you open the box, it’s worth noting the minuscule amount of documentation. Legal notices and a description of buttons. That’s because a child could figure it out. This is not a device that will ever need to be managed. You won’t worry about crashes, spyware, file system organization, and the other problems with regular computing. The built-in apps are incredibly simple to use and I get the feeling that even the most novice of computer users will take to the iPad like a duck to water. Smooth aluminum, a simple black bezel, a shiny apple, and all screen.
The other thing you will notice is that it feels like an extension of the iPhone. That’s nothing that is too surprising, but if you like the iPhone interface, you’ll probably love the iPad interface. It feels a bit like a grown-up iPhone. If you are like me and have found yourself sitting on the couch thinking “Gah, I wish the screen was bigger!”, then you will probably be pleased by the iPad.
Safari, Mail, iBooks, and iPod.
Safari is excellent. You really notice the scrolling and quick zoom while browsing. I checked a few sites and found that it renders really well. There is definitely something about browsing on the iPad that you won’t notice until you have your hands on the device. It’s really comfortable, and the display looks great. I also found that the screen is large enough that you don’t really have to do a lot of zooming like you would with an iPhone. The top sites-esque version of page management doesn’t quite replace real tabs, but is adequate for casual browsing. I still really hope to see tabs in a future version.
But what about Flash? Well. this is hit or miss. A lot of popular sites have opted to create an HTML5 version of their pages, which looks great. I went over to Vimeo and the NYTimes site, and both looked very good. However, I was sadly disappointed to see that Hulu just gives you a big “You need Flash” logo. I personally use ClickToFlash on OS X because Flash on everything but Windows is awful, so I personally don’t have much of a problem. Still, given Flash’s prevalence on the web, it’s a bit annoying to run into the lego of doom.
With Mail, there is really nothing to write home about. The dual pane view in landscape mode is great, but it otherwise works about the exact same as the iPhone and iPod Touch equivalent. For light email, it’s great. As a device for your personal mail, I think you will be okay with the iPad. Email power-users will be predictably disappointed, just as they were with iPhone mail.
Perhaps one of the big question marks surrounds iBooks. Personally, I found iBooks a pretty competent replacement for casual readers. The display here is crisp, but the fonts aren’t quite as sharp as on the Kindle. Likewise, the glare can be a bit annoying in high light situations (outside on a bright day, for example), but in doors it works great. The Kindle (hardware) should be worried. Since the Kindle app should be coming to the iPad soon, Amazon doesn’t necessarily have to worry about selling books, though. For ebook variety, the iPad probably ranks supreme. For hardcore readers that will spend hours and hours reading books at a time, the Kindle’s e-ink display still slights the iPad a bit.
The iPod app is closer to desktop iTunes than it is to iPhone iPod. The feel of the iPod app is very similar to iTunes. Genius and playlist creation are included on the iPad, so you won’t really miss much from the iTunes desktop version. Music playing isn’t a tough task to nail, but still, the iPod player does a great job of it. The weird omission here is coverflow, but my guess is that Apple decided that the flash from coverflow was unnecessary. Personally, I don’t really use coverflow on iTunes or the iPhone (nor does anyone else I’ve talked to), so I didn’t miss anything.
Another big question mark with the iPad is how the keyboard works. Sadly, you will still miss a hardware keyboard. Fortunately, Apple has allowed you to work around this buy using either the Keyboard Dock accessory, or a standard Apple Bluetooth Keyboard. While the size here works well, there is no tactile feedback, so I don’t expect to be composing any dissertions on the iPad. It’s perfectly adequate for a bit of email, some quick edits to Pages documents, typing in URLs, and other quick tasks. I imagine that extended use with the iPad will speed up typing quite a bit, and this may become less annoying, but for now I still long for a hardware keyboard.
Movies and Games
Movies on the iPad look very good. Some question the lack of a true widescreen display (looking at you, Paul Thurrott), but holding the device makes it easy to see why they chose the dimensions for the display they did. A typical widescreen display would feel elongated and awkward, while the iPad feels like what you’d want for a variety of tasks. Turning it to landscape and watching a movie feels comfortable, even with the large letterboxing on the top and bottom. The speaker is surprisingly adequate, at least comparing with a standard laptop speaker. If you really enjoy bass, you’ll still probably want a good set of headphones or speakers.
Games on the iPad are another matter. I’m a bit torn on the gaming aspect. On the one hand, it makes all those games on the iPhone a bit more comfortable and feel more natural. On the other hand, they don’t seem significantly better than the iPhone counterparts. Perhaps because most developers are just getting their own iPads, the games don’t quite set themselves apart from the iPhone. They feel like the same games from the iPhone, but with better resolutions. The other concern is that they are significantly more expensive (Plants VS Zombies is $2.99 on the iPhone, but 9.99 on the iPad.) Nothing I played could quite justify the cost increase. The launch of the original App Store suggest that the prices may come down (average prices were higher at the original launch, so hopefully they’ll come down for the iPad.)
The Future of Computing and the App Store
Pundits across the internet are basically siding a couple different ways, as I hinted in the introduction. Many proclaim that the closed nature of the App Store might have dire consequences for general purpose computing, while others claim that computing should be done the way the iPad has done it. Fortunately, both sides are alarmist, and largely wrong.
The reality of the situation is that the iPad is not going to replace computing for most people. For example, want to print something? You can’t do it without a computer. Same for firmware upgrades, or getting non-iTunes music and movies on to the device. As I said earlier, the keyboard is not nearly adequate enough for heavy content creation. The content creation apps, like Pages, Numbers and Keynote, are note adequate for complex documents. The iPad is good for edits and arranging documents and things, but I certainly don’t see anyone giving up their laptop for this. I also certainly don’t see businesses replacing their workstations with iPads any time soon. The iPad might replace a netbook, but we’ve already decided that a netbook is a companion device to a real laptop or desktop.
Likewise, the closed nature of the App Store makes it unlikely that the iPad will ever usurp a Windows or Mac OS X computer any time soon. The fact is that too many people like customization. While the ease of use with the App Store is nice, it will fall down as soon enough people want to get porn or a Google Voice app on the iPad.
Could this be be a change in how we think of computing? Perhaps. This iPad is most definitely not the change itself, however. An evolutionary version of this device might be something we use, and I have a feeling that this class of device will most definitely find a home with many of us (as the iPod has), but I think there are enough caveats that there is no real possibility of the current iPad replacing anyone’s computer. Remember that the original iPod didn’t take hold until the second or third generation. I can easily see that happening, but not the current version.
So should you buy it? Maybe. If you already have an iPod Touch or an iPhone, find yourself using it all time and wishing it was bigger or had better battery life, then probably. If you are in the market for a netbook, the iPad is worth considering. If you are thinking of buying a Kindle (especially the DX), you should probably buy the iPad instead for the versatility.
Still, the iPad really achieves little that your current gear won’t already. A laptop or desktop still easily crushes the iPad for most tasks, and a smartphone (the iPhone in particular) will still handle most mobile tasks well enough. We are still in the very early days of the App store, so I fully expect that there might be some (or many) apps that come out that move this device from a “maybe” to a “must.” In fact, this idea is most definitely worth repeating. The game changing apps have yet to be released. Look for the real iPad-defining apps in the next 3-6 months.
What the iPad does really well is casual tasks. In the morning, I grab my iPhone and read some RSS feeds during breakfast. The iPad would most certainly make this task more comfortable. Likewise, during the evening, commutes, or quick jaunts to the coffee shop, I watch some video or read a little. I think the iPad could easily replace the notebook or the iPhone for these types of use cases. In fact, the iPad really excels in these situations. The iPad does well to augment your current computing devices, but I doubt that it can fully replace any of the devices you are currently using.
The interesting thing, though, is how this device might shape future computing. Expect the responsiveness, speed, and polish in the future. The draconian App Store polices and lack of features, not so much.