I’ve read scores of reviews, critiques, rants, love poems and salacious gossip about the Apple iPad, but believe me, all of these preconceived notions dissolve once you get the device in your hands. You forget the hype and just experience what it does for you. It embodies user-friendliness.
Although I only got the chance to play with the 16GB Wi-Fi-only iPad (without dock) for an hour or so, it was long enough to realise that as every week passes I may not only want it more but I may also have more use for the device. It’s like Apple has jumped ahead to how I use the web and decided to mold the ideal product to make that experience as easy and pleasing as possible.
I mean, who uses their computer for computing anymore? Or the mobile phone mainly for making calls? They are both bending towards some middle ground that the iPad alone stands upon.
The first thing I do when I get my hands on a new smart phone or netbook/laptop is get my web on, get app happy and put my favourite multimedia on there. This is pretty much the purpose of the iPad and it does it in such a glorious manner.
You cannot overestimate the power of a shiny 9.7-inch multitouch screen. This much screen real estate changes the game because everything that looks nice on the iPhone looks superb on the iPad, plus there’s the added functionality this affords.
The iPad web experience
If you browse the web – and you do – on your smart phone, you’ll know that sites never look quite as good as they should, whether you’re zooming in and out of a full page or looking at a mobile web-friendly version.
The iPad presents web pages in a way that they can be properly browsed, perused and absorbed without having to resize and move about, but what clever media companies like the New York Times have been doing is creating iPad apps that present the material much like a magazine or compact paper.
If online has not killed dead tree publications before the eventual ubiquity of the iPad and its ilk will, traditional media that ‘get it’ such as the New York Times and the Guardian are moving rapidly in this direction as a new model of creation and consumption is evolving.
As has been pointed out, the only downside is that it does not display Flash. This won’t stand in Apple’s way as far as getting great apps from developers but it will be disappointing for the user who navigates to a favourite site only to find that the video or Flash application will not display. If you’re addicted to FarmVille or any other Flash-based games on Facebook you can also wave goodbye to this.
The iPad as an e-book reader
Speaking of the new publishing model, one of the main selling points of the iPad is the iBooks app and accompanying iBookstore. With a solid mobile payment model through the iTunes Store and App Store, this has a ready-made market, but how much reading of books that will actually take place will depend on the individual’s tolerance for shiny screens.
While I love the iPad screen, I wasn’t sure that I could comfortably read entire books in this manner. Sure, it is ideal for web browsing, but a book that reflects light isn’t exactly a book. There is, however, an auto-adjust built in to combat the surrounding lighting conditions, which is a plus.
The iPad user experience
Everything from Mail to Google Maps and iTunes is improved with a bigger screen: because there is more room, extra functionality can be fitted in so there’s a lot less back and forth as menus are overlaid to the left of the screen and it feels like you’re using something in between a large desktop widget and the regular iPhone app.
Of course this experience is meant to be even better with special versions of Apple’s productivity suite but we didn’t get to try this out, or the dock complete with keyboard; something that journalists, students and busy business people will no doubt make good use of as long as they don’t mind carrying the wireless keyboard around.
Third-party apps on the iPad
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to download many third-party apps for the iPad, but ones that would be used quite often, such as Tweetdeck, really showed the strength of the iPad.
All from one screen it was possible to check out your Twitter stream, @replies, DMs and so forth and like other iPad apps, there are plenty of scrolling panels to give the user a new way of accessing more functionality within one screen.
For those worried about the limitations of a tablet device running on a smart phone OS 4.0 – judging by the little things that have been worked in already – this won’t be a problem.
On a side note, games like Plants Vs Zombies are a bigger experience, because the quality of image is better and there’s more space to really immerse yourself. Gaming will only continue to get better with a 1,024 x 768 screen with IPS (in-plane switching) for optimal viewing angles.
The speaker on the base of the iPad is quite powerful for such a discrete location and small size. If you’re not plugging your earphones into the 3.5-mm jack you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the volume and timbre of music issuing forth.
To place an emphasis on how important the iPad will be in terms of consuming video, there is a separate video app that stands apart from iTunes and this is where all of your downloaded videos sit.
Whenever Apple decides to bring some TV series and movies to the Irish iTunes Store is when I’ll be most definitely be buying an iPad. Video and music come alive, and when the OS 4.0 update with multitasking for apps that play audio, etc, comes along later this summer we’ll really appreciate the iPad as a mini productivity device as well as entertainment one because it will be able to deliver both things at once.
The iPad is not restricted to the busy tech enthusiast, the web-hungry teen or young adult, or the Apple fanboys and fangirls. Now that the netbook market is well and truly developed, we can see the appetite for lightweight web-friendly devices and you can’t get more aesthetically pleasing or easy to use than Apple’s creation. If the popularity curve of the iPod and iPhone are anything to go by, the iPad represents a new branch in the evolution of personal computing.
Right now, the Wi-Fi-only iPad is available in the US with several European countries to follow at the end of April. Ireland is not on this list, so for now, the release date is not yet decided. With a price tag of US$499 we can expect a similar price point here.
By Marie Boran
Photo: The Apple iPad