For those of you still living in caves, Apple released its iPad last week.
My original opinion of the iPad, upon hearing of the announcement, was that I absolutely did not want one. I have plenty of experience with Tablet PC's and I did not see any sort of reason to repeat that experience with the iPad. Tablets are excellent for annotation, art, and not much else. The stylus is a horrible mode of interaction for a mouse based computing environment.
The turning point for me came when I decided, around early March, that I wanted to subscribe to some magazines and newspapers. Not being a particularly paper sort, I decided to try getting them on the Kindle. It quickly became apparent that there was no way that the content was going to look good on a regular Kindle, so I looked at the Kindle DX. At 489 dollars, the Kindle DX offers a 9.7" e-ink screen over the standard 6" Kindle, and decidedly more screen space as a result.
That price point drove me to look at the iPad. The iPad is infinitely more flexible … serving as a web browser, media player, mail station, and running thousands of different apps in high color and resolution. And the base model costs just 499. The only thing the Kindle has going for it is the e-ink screen, and even the usefulness of that is debateable as reading in white text on black backgrounds on the iPad is quite easy on the eyes. The supposed battery life advantage of the Kindle also does not exist. The Kindle aggressively drains its own battery over the course of a week, meaning that it is most likely dead if you don't pay attention to it for a while. The iPad actually lasts for 10 hours of usage … and it lasts far longer in standby mode that a week if you actually do leave it undocked or charged. And you are more likely to have it charged because it is useful for other things.
I chose to get the 16GB model. I just couldn't perceive what I would want out of the larger storage models.
The iPad succeeds mainly on the strength of the software. The hardware is just what you would have expected … it really is just a large iPhone minus things like the camera. Where it stops being just a "large iPhone" is that Apple took the time to redesign all the apps for the large screen. Books look like actual books with bindings and pages sitting on wooden shelves. Contacts and Calendars have the appearance of large pages flipping and bookmarks and wooden tiling. Entire photo albums can be previewed and thrown back by pinch/zoom gestures. The software does just well enough to make you feel like you're playing with a bit of those magic computers you see in all sci-fi movies and tv shows.
With all that said, I have little use for contacts or calendars on an iPad … those belong on my phone. Photos … not a big deal. I can check mail on my phone very easily, although mass replying is a different story. In short, the iPad is still a fancy toy and not entirely practical for most. But there are no lies about what it does … it is certainly an excellent and well thought out product that should not have to apologize for what it is.
The iPad does enough actually productive things for me to keep it. These four things are as follows.
One, it is a very nice book reader due to iBooks and the Kindle app by Amazon. I intend to get rid of my actual Kindle now.
Two, it has exceptional battery life … literally 9-10 hours of continuous mixed usage.
Three, the remarkable lightness makes it a palatable alternative to carry to the coffee shop or a lecture or a friend's house where you might not want to bring a laptop due to bulk and/or battery life.
Four, it does make for an excellent bed/couch surfing companion.
I am not going to count the picture frame functionality, which might appeal to some but not to me.
The unspoken fifth thing here is that the form factor itself, I believe, has tremendous hidden potential. For use in ambient interfaces where keyboards are not desirable … kiosks, information wall hanging, vehicular control interfaces … the iPad could revolutionize the way we interact with our world. I believe we're just scratching the surface of what's to come. But please note that I don't think releasing new apps for the iPad willy nilly just because it has a bigger screen is going to amount to much for most applications. Sadly, I suspect that is what will happen for a while. Mark my words, tho … more innovation with the interface mechanics is the key to real progress.
The last thing I want to mention is that the battery life of the iPad points to something fundamentally wrong with today's laptops. The iPad is pretty damn close to being a useful device for me doing actual work. With some better native software and web apps, I would have in the iPad an incredibly sleek, instantly responsive, and exceptionally durable and long lasting portable computing device. Why do laptops last 2-3 hours and feel slower and heavier? The computing world is doing something wrong here. I look forward to the day when I feel comfortable doing all my portable computing from the iPad (or an equivalent).