With the iPad due to launch in the UK on the 28th of this month, I thought I’d give my two cents on what it is and isn’t good for, if you haven’t already read everything there is to read about it elsewhere.
I’ve been lucky enough to acquire one unexpectedly through work :) and have been playing with it for about 3 weeks now. It’s the 16GB, WiFi (no 3G) version. And I still don’t like putting it down. What follows is a brief(ish) rundown of what I like and what I don’t like about it.
What I like
The very first thing you notice when you fire it up is the quality and resolution of the screen. It boasts a “138 PPI high quality screen” which quite frankly, is nothing short of sensational. You can zoom…and zoom…and zoom some more into just about anything and it will still look pinpoint crisp. Try it with any text that has a dropshadow and you’ll be amazed at the clarity. Viewing photos and videos on it is especially satisfying.
For me this is one of the the key selling points of the iPad. Picture this: you’ve just stepped into the office of an important potential client and he/she asks to see some websites that you think might be similar to what they need. What follows is an excruciating 10/11/12/more minutes of impatience while you both wait for your laptop to startup, find your profile, load all of its proprietary applications, load your antivirus software, load any custom applications you use such as Gtalk or iPlayer, find your Mobile wireless device and connect to a network, before finally allowing you to open up your browser. Of course, since it was last closed with 25 tabs of websites your potential client might like open, you have to wait a further 5/6/7/more minutes for it to load. Ouch.
Break out the iPad and in less than 10 seconds, assuming you have wifi access, you’re ready to roll. No exaggeration. The iPad loads websites ‘on click’, basically when you go to the tab. It doesn’t bulk load them all together as soon as you open up the browser. Ok so it’s not quite as powerful as a laptop or standard computer, but it’s a mobile device. It’s not meant to be. Everything is geared towards speed and agility. This is a smart move.
This thing is surprisingly light and comfortable to hold. In fact quite pleasing to hold. I find myself picking it up more often than I need to and just flicking it on for a casual browse. It’s just nice to use. My consumption of online media has increased since I’ve had it as well. Mostly in bed. I’ve lost the desire to allow my laptop time to load (and heat) up so I can flick through some RSS feeds. The iPad is perfect for this. Pick it up, have a read, put it down. Over and over again. It’s the perfect device for consuming media. Fast, comfortable and easy. Big pluses.
In landscape mode, a thing of beauty. Works perfectly and as hoped for. Allows multi-touch so you can move up and down in your inbox (left hand sidebar) and main content area (right section) at the same time. However, when switching to portrait, things feel a little cluttered and thrown together. You can only access the inbox by tapping a link to bring up a modal box. This just doesn’t feel right. You need a permanent list of your emails somewhere on screen to make it easier to jump about. That extra action of having to open up the inbox gets a little tiresome. I can’t realistically complain about this though. Easy solution – stick to landscape mode. Overall, nice to use.
I can’t leave this out. It’s too well put together not to include it. Those of you that own an iPad or even an iPhone will most likely have your favourite apps that you can’t live without. Instapaper is a firm favourite of mine. On the iPad’s 9.7 inch screen it gives you the perfect platform to read through your favourite blog posts online or offline (!). Plenty of the content fits on the screen in portrait mode, which is extremely aesthetically pleasing, and in landscape you have all the options you could possibly need to get to from the sidebar. If that wasn’t enough, from within any article you can edit the visual settings – font type, font size, background colour, line spacing etc until the content is as readable as you like. The iPad was made for apps like this. It’s worth paying the $5 for the pro version, believe me.
What I don’t like
Without WiFI – it does become a bit of a brick. Once you leave the comfort of your house/office and its familiar, steady connection, you’re at the mercy of your surroundings. The majority of good apps for the iPad require some form or other of internet connection, so if like me, you don’t have 3G, it can be frustrating. However, there is a small device that is making its merry way into the market as you read this – Mifi. With it, you’ll be able to connect your iPad, laptop and up to 3 other devices simultaneously to the interwebs. Very helpful.
The fundamental problem I have with the email client in particular, but really any apps that require textual input – is that you need to lay the iPad down in order to type with both hands. With a mobile phone people have come to accept that the only way to type quickly is with both thumbs. This is a bit more of an issue with the wider iPad. So unless you want to lay it flat somewhere, your only option to type comfortably is to do it one handed while holding it up…suspended in mid-air. That’s fine if you’re tweeting. But knocking up long emails or writing blog posts? It just doesn’t feel natural like a keyboard. The iPad isn’t heavy, but after a while it’ll get uncomfortable and slightly frustrating that you can’t use both hands. Small price to pay, however.
I like the way tabs are displayed with the iPad. There are 3 columns and 3 rows showing a maximum of 9 tabs. That however, is a slight issue. If I was sitting at my computer or laptop, on any given day I’ll have somewhere between 10 and 40 tabs open. The iPad only allows 9 at most and after that it starts to overwrite your other pages with whatever you open next. Ideally, the thumbnail screen would either be paginated or they would shrink to fit more in. While I’ll admit, most people probably won’t need that many tabs open, there are some that do, namely designers and developers. Arguably those more likely to purchase an iPad.
“…the iPad has filled a niche that didn’t previously exist”
The iPad is bullying its way into the market. It’s not quite powerful enough to replace a laptop and it’s not quite small enough to replace a mobile device. But it is so intuitive to use, so aesthetically pleasing to hold and so beautiful to look at that somehow you keep going back to it. After a couple of plays with it, you’ll find yourself wanting one even though you may not actually need one. So in that sense, the iPad has filled a niche that didn’t previously exist.
Like the iPhone, the iPad has the app store. And like the iPhone, this means the functionality of your device will exponentially increase. If there’s something you find it doesn’t do by default, there’s a good chance somebody has thought of it and built an app for it, so your device will get better with time. There really is an app for everything.
For those of you that are worried about the rendering capabilities of the built in browser…don’t. Initially, I was intrigued as to how it would display websites. With the option to view websites in both portrait and landscape modes, I had visions of having to re-design my sites to make them fluid width in order to compensate for the extra screen real estate that landscape mode offers. But having visited a truckload of sites, there appears to be no/very little difference in the how sites are displayed on the iPad compared with a regular computer. After all, it is essentially Safari – a webkit browser. It was always going to do a good job.
If you buy an iPad expecting it to revolutionise the way you work and play, you’ll end up disappointed. It never promised to oust the laptop. It never promised to cover every aspect of your daily computing needs. But given time and the introduction of the right apps, I think the iPad will become strong enough to all but eradicate the average netbook. It has a lot going for it with its ease of use, speed, instant access and portability. It’s agile, it’s flexible and with the app store, it’s getting better.
It is what it is: a luxurious, web and email browser with fantastic portability, charming good looks and the sexiest interface known to man. I keep going back to it. Whether I need to or not is another question. But for now, it’s a question I’m not too bothered about answering.