Large screen, enhanced performance, great apps, and more.
For the Apple faithful, the announcement and first public demonstration of the iPad on January 27th, 2010 was both a taste of the future and a bit of a quandary. Was this really a "magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price," or just an oversized iPod touch?
The answer was revealed on April 3 with the U.S. release of the Wi-Fi version of the iPad. Sales figures for the first weekend were estimated at over 300,000 units, and sales are sure to skyrocket as more of the public gets a chance to touch and hold this amazing device. In addition, many surveys indicate that a surprising number of potential owners are waiting for the Wi-Fi+3G version of the iPad, expected to be released in late April.
This review is the result of extensive hands-on testing of the iPad over the first week of ownership. The iPad is easily the most compelling device Apple has ever created, and the relatively bug-free rollout of the iPad indicates that the company expended a lot of effort in perfecting the first generation of a new class of computer.
Building upon the iPhone's success
The iPad builds upon the success of the iPhone by incorporating the simple gesture-based touch interface and thin, sexy profile. However, it expands upon it with a bright and compelling display that is four times the size of the iPhone's screen.
While the iPhone is meant to be a pocket-sized device for voice and data communications, the iPad is designed for easy consumption of media, including text, video, still photographs, and audio. The iPad measures 9.56 x 7.47 x 0.5 inches (242.8 x 189.7 x 13.4 mm)— it's about as thick as a deck of cards and just a tad smaller than a standard piece of letter-sized paper. The lightweight, 1.5 lb. (0.68 kg.) aluminum and glass construction shows the continuing influence of Apple's senior vice president of industrial design, Jonathan Ives. Unlike the iPhone and iPod touch, the iPad cannot easily be held in one hand, and the design of the device lends itself to being placed on a table, a lap, or any other convenient surface.
The iPad retains the single home button on its front face, with nothing else to mar the 9.7-inch diagonal LED-backlit glossy display. The screen is surrounded by a black bezel about 3/4 inch wide, which seems large until you realize that it is designed to keep your fingers from accidentally interacting with the Multi-Touch display while you're holding the iPad. The display has the same oleophobic coating as the smaller touch devices in order to repel fingerprints, but in practice it does not appear to be very effective. This reviewer has taken to carrying along a cleaning cloth to keep the screen shiny.
Around the aluminum edges of the iPad are found a small number of ports and switches. On the bottom edge is the dock connector port, used for docking the device to computers, keyboards, and other peripherals. Also found on the bottom edge is a set of small openings for the built-in speaker. A 3.5-mm stereo headphone jack and a microphone are located on the top edge of the iPad, along with a power on/off switch. In this location, the 3G version will feature a micro-SIM card tray and a black plastic insert covering the internal cell antenna. The right side sports a volume rocker and a switch for locking the screen in either portrait or landscape mode.
Under the hood
Inside this glossy exterior lies a powerful system-on-a-chip; a custom-designed Apple A4 clocking in at 1 GHz. The combination of that hardware and the latest version of the iPhone OS has created a device that sips battery power. People who are accustomed to having their iPhone battery sucked dry after a few hours will marvel at the efficiency of the iPad. In testing, this reviewer was often able to run the iPad 10 to 12 hours on a single charge in constant usage.
Both the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 3G editions of the iPad come in three versions with varying flash memory storage capacities: 16 GB (Wi-Fi only: $499 / with 3G: $629), 32 GB (Wi-Fi only: $599 / with 3G: $729), and 64 GB (Wi-Fi only: $699 / with 3G: $829).
As with the iPhone and iPod touch, apps and media can be loaded into memory directly from iTunes using a Wi-Fi connection or from a Mac or PC using a USB connection. Apple's iTunes application is used as the channel for synchronizing data to the iPad.
After a few days of use, I found the device to be excellent for the consumption of media. The size makes reading or watching video comfortable, although you probably don't want to hold the device while doing so—it's much more comfortable to place the iPad on a surface like a desk, table, or lap.
Although video isn't displayed in true HD on the iPad's 1024 x 768 pixel display, it still looks amazing. Viewing movies or TV shows that have been downloaded or transferred from DVD is a pleasure. In a quiet room, the iPad's speaker is perfectly adequate for listening to music or a soundtrack, although you'll want to use your favorite set of headphones in noisier environments.
The virtual keyboard that appears in many apps is much easier to type on than its tiny counterpart on the iPhone. Turning on the key clicks for the keyboard provides aural feedback as the keys are being touched, which seems to make up for the lack of tactile feedback.
The iPad feels quite fast in all operations. After initial activation, the iPad starts instantly with a push of a button, and apps launch immediately with a tap. Since the device supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, those who own the faster wireless routers are rewarded with speedy Web browsing and e-mail experiences. Some early adopters have had issues with Wi-Fi connectivity. Apple has acknowledged those issues and is working on resolving them for the users affected by the problems.
In use, the iPad feels cool to the touch, without the intense heat that is often associated with laptops. Some users are experiencing shutdown issues when ambient temperature is high— another early problem that Apple will have to address prior to the arrival of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
What is the iPad's target market?
This is a question that many people have asked. It's apparent after a few days of use that the device is marketed to those who want a very portable computer that they can use for general everyday applications and Internet work.
It's not going to replace a 17-inch MacBook Pro for on-the-go video editing work, but it's conceivable that an iPad could be used to trim and edit short, low-quality video. An iPad won't take the place of a 27-inch iMac for the businessperson who needs to crunch numbers in Excel, but it will easily fit many instances of light spreadsheet work done in the field. And for medical or education applications, the iPad may become the mobile device of choice due to its slim profile and light weight.
Almost everybody who has seen the iPad has wanted one, and touching an iPad seems to infect a person with the desire to pull out a credit card. In the same way that the Mac revolutionized personal computing, the iPod revolutionized music, and the iPhone changed the world of communications, the iPad is sure to have a significant impact on the way that humans use computers in their everyday lives.
(Note: A discussion of the operating system and software environment for the iPad follows this article.)