We got our iPad on Saturday.
There was a line around the block at the SoHo store, which the Business Group was good enough to let us bypass, and we walked to the glass staircase through a phalanx of lively, blue-shirted Apple employees who cheered us exuberantly. Apple, they’ve got style.
Within a few minutes, we had our iPad, dock, and slipcase. The dock is a simple charging connector which also has line out for a stereo, and otherwise props up the iPad at an angle. We haven’t yet used it, because physically, it’s incompatible with the slipcase, a black rubbery sleeve which protects the iPad and also can prop it up when desired.
The iPad box is disappointing; the usual luxury factor which Apple imbues even in their packaging is absent. The iPad is a regal black, but the box is white, making it look ordinary; and for some reason, the iPad is situated directly under the top — there’s no “reveal” — making it appear that any impact would damage the screen. Under this is a white plastic tray covering three inches of air between it and the bottom of the box. Not very Apple-like.
But what about the iPad? It’s cool. Really cool. We’re not 100% sure all the ways we might use it yet, but it’s clearly cool. It looks gorgeous. It feels good to hold. You could just put it in your home as an objet d’art.
I think there will be two reactions to the iPad — from those who have used an iPhone or iPod Touch before, and those who haven’t. For the former category, the iPad will quickly present itself as a much larger version of those products, and using it will be instantly familiar. For those who aren’t already using Apple’s touchscreen mobile devices, I think the iPad will in fact live up to Apple’s “magical” hype — you kind of feel like you’re entering a new world.
There are two substantive differences between an iPad and an iPod Touch. One is that it’s fast. Even iPhone 3GS users will be delighted at its responsiveness. The iPad is Apple’s first product to use their homegrown A4 CPU, and it is a clear sign of good things to come for the iPhone. The increased speed increases the pleasure factor.
The other major difference, obvious though it may be, is the size. The size of the iPad — slightly smaller than a sheet of paper — makes it something entirely different than a pocket device, even if it has an otherwise familiar interface. You instantly appreciate this when you run an app created for iPhone which hasn’t been updated for iPad — it runs in the middle of the screen, and it looks tiny and confining. (You can blow it up to double size, but then it looks cruddy.)
Some apps have been updated, or newly created, for iPad already. Annoyingly, the App Store doesn’t clearly indicate this when you look at an app description — it will show what an app is “compatible with,” but that could still mean a small-screen iPhone app. Some of the new apps are awesome. Crosswords on the big screen is a whole different experience. MLB At Bat, which lets you watch live (out-of-market) baseball games is enough reason by itself to buy the iPad for a baseball fan. Netflix streaming movies — very cool. The movie is just there in your hand, on demand.
And then there’s the e-Books. We can now prepare for Kindle vs. iPad wars, which we’ll try to stay out of, at least for now. We can say that the experience of reading books on an iPad is really nice; we enjoyed 2 hours sitting outside reading Sherlock Holmes on it. This might be the iPad’s killer app.
Is the iPad a 1.5 pound laptop replacement? It depends. If all you use a computer for is web and mail — and many do — you could arguably get by with an iPad alone. (It must be noted, however, that its lack of support for Flash disqualifies a significant number of web sites.) But for most people I think it serves better as a secondary device. If you spend a lot of time in iPhoto, or iTunes, or Word or Excel, the iPad can’t replicate that experience. The iPad is best for browsing content, not working with it. Read email, watch videos, look at photos, play games, read an online newspaper or magazine, read a book.
Which iPad is the one to get? The basic $499 WiFi model is, I think a perfect “coffee table” device — that is, you leave one or two of them lying around your house, and then you pick it up, read something, watch something, play with something, put it down. You don’t need to take it with you, though you could always load it full of books and video and music when you go on vacation. But for those who want to get content wherever they go, then the 3G model, soon to be available, is what you want, though it has both additional upfront cost as well as an AT&T data plan (which, happily, has no commitment).
Is the iPad revolutionary? If the iPhone and iPod Touch hadn’t already existed, the answer would be an unqualified yes. But using it is such a familiar experience — even the chirp when you first plug it in is the same — that it comes off as a meaningful evolution of the iPhone OS platform. The proof will really be in the apps — as developers come up with new and exciting ways to really leverage the screen size and CPU speed, we may start to see the iPad come into its own, and perhaps for some it will replace their laptops. It certainly has great potential, limited only by the imagination of application developers.
As it is now, we see the iPad as a device that almost anyone can use and enjoy, but by occupying some middle ground between their phone and computer, is unlikely to change their life. But that doesn’t mean it won’t make it more fun. If the idea of having Apple’s newest toy is appealing to you, definitely go get one!