The Big Picture
Although it will not quite replace your laptop (for now), the Apple iPad establishes the market for affordable tablet computers.
You would be forgiven for assuming that the Apple iPad, after emerging as a hybrid of your laptop, iPod, smartphone, and gaming system, would also be able to cure disease or give you the meaning of life. With its sleek new iPad, Apple has once again set the market precedent for what will surely become a wave of new tablet devices.
As if anticipating the inevitable queries, Apple has posted a cross-section of online videos that will answer potential concerns, such as why someone would want an iPad or what they can use it for. After hearing Apple tell it, the question is why you haven’t already gone to the store and gotten yours yet. From its universal appeal to all ages and features geared towards everyone from the businessman to someone just looking to rent a movie or download the newest book, the iPad has it all. Also, with developers constantly fine-tuning and releasing new apps, the iPad itself has the ability to change significantly from its initial incarnation.
As was true of the Death Star, even a seemingly infallible device has a few flaws. Without Flash support, some websites will come up understandably scattered. Also, with no integrated video camera in the device, video chats ala Skype are out of the question. However, in the scheme of things, these flaws pale in comparison to the device’s formidable usefulness.
The iPad is a touch-screen tablet computer, similar size to a spiral notebook, with models that come wi-fi only as well as others that integrate AT&T 3G and wi-fi.
Folks familiar with the popular iPhone and iPhone Touch will recognize the software on the iPad as being the same. In comparison to normal PC operating software, focused around use of the keyboard or mouse, Apple’s iPhone OS software, as this is known, is designed exclusively for touch input and as such only capable of one application at a time. Furthermore, iPhone and Touch users will be familiar with the handling as well. Nearly all of the iPhone’s capabilities are present, including web browsing, e-mail, photos, interactive maps, photos, music, video, YouTube, and etc. Current apps purchased for iPhone or Touch can be transferred to iPad as well. Also, more apps can be added by using the App Store that comes with the iPad, or by connecting the iPad to your iTunes using the included cable.
Just like the iPhone 3GS’, iPad’s screen is made of oleophobic-coated glass, easing the ability to wipe away the inevitable fingerprints and smudges. The screen itself is LED-backlit, with the same rotation-sensitive technology pioneered by earlier Apple devices. Much like every other tech wonder in its arsenal, the IPad has that same sleek, seductive design that has made its gadgets so popular.
The iPad measures 7.47 inches wide by 9.56 inches tall by 0.5 inch thick, and weighs 1.5 pounds (or 1.6 pounds for the 3G model). Held in your hands, the device has a natural feel. The right edge sports volume control and a switch that can disable iPad’s automatic screen rotation, in case you want the screen frozen when looking at it sideways. A 30-pin dock connector sits along the bottom, along with a small integrated speak. Much like the iPhone and iPod Touch, the Home button is located below the main screen, allowing you easy return to the main screen from any app.
While the feel and look of the iPad are old news to longtime Apple aficionados, they give off an elite feeling in comparison to other tablets or Netbook computers. It is precisely this look, especially given its affordable price, that makes it seem eminently superior to competitors like the Amazon Kindle. While looks may not matter to all, when seeking differentiation between all these products to pass the living room looks test, the iPad takes the cake.
One of the only major drawbacks to the iPad is its heft, which is not quite portable enough. While similar in size to a book or magazine, the iPad, at $500 to $800 a pop, requires one be much more concerned with its well-being. If not carried in a bag or in one of Apple’s plethora of protective cases, it can be a bit inconvenient, unlike many other portable Apple products. However, when considering your desired use for the iPad, the size is perfectly adequate for the use of web browsing, reading books, or watching a movie rental. In that sense, the size is a necessary evil.
To show Apple’s further commitment to the iPad’s adaptableness, the company is encouraging developers to create apps that may be uniquely used on the iPad. The App Store does offer universal apps that are compatible to their older products and the iPad, especially marked when viewed in the store. However, these are a minority in comparison to the vast overall number of apps, and not a surprise given Apple’s history of giving away the apples, but not the whole orchard with its products.
Lucky for users, the iPad is superiorly designed to enable usage of apps. Older iPhone or Touch apps are either fitted to screen or presented at their initial resolution and centered. This is good news for anyone who has committed to apps on their iPhone or Touch that they’d like to continue using.
One noticeable difference is that the iPad’s speakers do carry a bit fuller sound than other Apple models. Apple doesn't include earbuds with the iPad, ensuring that you might as well make another trip to one of their ever-expanding number of company stores for a pair.
Just like other recent Apple products, the iPad includes wireless Bluetooth audio capabilities. The audio quality is definitely comparable to the third-generation iPod Touch. Pairing the Bluetooth was also convenient and free of issues. The iPad's Bluetooth capabilities allow peer-to-peer networking for gaming and wireless keyboard support for compatible writing applications. Also, when using the music player, a small Bluetooth icon appears next to the player controls so you can toggle the audio back and forth.
Perhaps the most significant advantage the iPad has over its competition is the use of Apple’s popular iPhone OS. This plays right into Apple’s singular advantage of its groundbreaking App store, something that will at least for now keep it significantly ahead of its main competitors in the smart phone and tablet fields. Furthermore, it makes it far superior to the OS used by most of its competitors, which rely more on traditional Windows and Linux-type systems.
In contrast to a folder-based OS, iPhone OS was designed exclusively for touch-screen integration. In that sense, it makes it a natural fit for a touch-based tablet computer. Instead of headaches like a disorganized desktop or having to install drivers for outside hardware, the iPad lays out your apps in a grid of visible icons that respond to a single touch. Downloading images from e-mail or web pages will immediately make them appear in your photo library. Also, the Spotlight search feature covers nearly every aspect of the device, allowing you to easily search for anything. The easy and efficient interface is a welcome difference from the majority of the iPad’s competitors.
As is common to other Apple products, purchasing software and media through the iPhone OS can be frustrating to a wider audience. The iTunes store is used exclusively for the purchase and download of music and movies, much as the App Store is the only way to add applications. In comparison to the Windows Netbook, which allows for more freedom in acquisition of new media, the iPad caters to the user searching for convenience at the cost of personal control. One upside to this, though, is that Apple’s top-down control structure of content also limits the iPad’s vulnerability to viruses.
For those of you who do not appreciate Apple’s complete control over the iPad’s OS, you may be faced with a frustrating situation. If you prefer using command lines, your reaction may be less than enthusiastic. However, for the vast majority of commercial users, the simplistic and reliable interface should be a welcome change from the more cost-minded personal computers.