I've reviewed a few pieces of hardware in my time, but never before have I held something in my hands that was so thought provoking as the iPad. It's without doubt the closest we've come to a device like Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide or Neal Stephenson's Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.
The initial software load out is underwhelming to say the least - but I suspect that this is a deliberate Jobsian maneuver. The iPad is a blank slate - for content consumers and content creators. This dynamic is shared by the minimalist industrial design, with the entire focus of the device being placed on the expansive touch screen, and by extension, whatever application is displayed at the time.
Gizmag has long been searching for the next big thing in computer-human interfaces, and the iPad is a significant development. Your pokes and strokes interfacing directly with an application is a thing of wonder that evokes memories of playing a musical instrument, or dare I say, sex. So while the iPad is not the future of computing in and of itself, and I won't be dancing on the grave of the mouse and keyboard until I'm writing a review of the first total immersion virtual reality experience, touch is here to stay, and I think that's a good thing.
- It's a beautiful thing to hold in your hands. After spending the better part of a week with it, my iPhone 3G feels almost toy-like.
- The dedicated orientation lock switch on the side is a welcome addition, making the iPad usable while lying down.
- Surprisingly readable in sunlight, but that's not to say it's an ideal device to take to the beach.
- Battery life is the real surprise here - it wipes the floor with any other portable device I've used. We're talking heavy, all day use for anything other than 3D gaming.
- It's incredibly responsive, though HTML rendering is its Achilles' heel.
- Absolutely no fan noise or heat.
- Bluetooth keyboard support.
- It's just too heavy to use without holding it with two hands or propping it up on something.
- It's too fragile to throw around like a magazine. You'll want to show it off, but will have trouble turning your back on a clumsy or inebriated friend using it.
- The iPad's pixel density of 132 pixels per inch (ppi) is noticeably less than the iPhone's 163ppi.
- At night, the eyestrain factor is there, regardless of brightness.
- The lack of a USB port is just inexcusable when even Microsoft has just released an update for the Xbox 360 that allows it to store data on commodity USB drives (and you can bet they were making a killing on those proprietary hard drives).
- The built-in speaker is horrible - a real shame.
Software developers and UI designers are still catching up with touchscreen mobile phones, and they will be catching up with the iPad for some time. Even Apple's UI team is slipping up - I really don't like where they're going with these real life metaphors like notepads for Notes and book cases for iBooks.
Developers are having a field day with pricing while hundreds of thousands of people are eager to fill their shiny iPads with new apps. The App Store is already impossible to navigate - a minefield of sloppy, rushed apps and games - plenty of them with prices of over $10. Apple should consider forcing developers to have demo versions, much like the brilliant Xbox Live Arcade model - I've gone from being trigger happy to incredibly cautious about spending money after paying over US$10 for apps that have unashamedly lied about their capabilities, and over US$10 for games that were clearly released without being tested on a real iPad - that's no good for anyone.
Don't let that turn you off though - we'll be cataloging the best and brightest of iPad software here on Gizmag. Here's the first lot of recommendations...
The Killer Apps
Install a "Read Later" bookmarklet in your browser of choice, which sends a copy of the web page you're reading to Instapaper. Just open Instapaper before you leave, and it'll suck down a copy of all those documents for your perusal later - even without a Wi-Fi connection. It looks absolutely gorgeous too.
An RSS reader that syncs with your Google Reader account. Nothing fancy, just snappy and very usable.
TweetDeck was already my Twitter client of choice on the desktop and the iPhone, but the iPad version has made fantastic use of the extra space in portrait mode, and it's as close as I've got to a dashboard to the web.
Free from the App Store
Turns your iPad into the poor man's Jazzmutant Lemur, capable of sending Open Sound Control messages to any capable music software. Think: Daft Punk and Kanye at the Grammy's.
Elements: A Visual Exploration
I can still remember trying (and failing) to learn the periodic table for a science exam in high school. With something as engaging as this, I might've stood a chance.
US$12.99 from the App Store
Geometry Wars: Touch
Bizarre Creations' hat tip to when games were hard, Geometry Wars, feels right at home on the iPad.
US$9.99 from the App Store
The iPad's potential as an education tool is massive. This video of a 2.5 year-old using an iPad says it all.
If you work with computers or in the media in any way shape or form, you're doing yourself a disservice not to sit down and use one for a decent period of time - whether or not you have any intention of purchasing one. As I said before, this is not the future of computing in and of itself - but it's a very significant stepping stone.
A very interesting side effect is that all signs point to the web going portrait - and that's a good thing.
Who's this for?
If you've already got (or got your eye on) a MacBook Air or a similar ultraportable laptop, this will likely be a hard sell for you.
The Cory Doctorows of the world will likely be repulsed by the closed nature of the device and steer well clear, waiting for the myriad Android-powered tablets on the horizon.
Mac fanboys and early adopters alike will already have theirs, and will unlikely be reading this review.
Here's what I can say for the rest of you:
Had Gizmag not purchased the iPad, I would've personally waited until at least generation two hardware before jumping in. Now that it's been in my house for a week, the rest of the team will be prying this thing from my cold, dead hands.
Don't bother with a 3G model. You've likely already got your smartphone for use on the go, and paying another exorbitant monthly fee for data access on a device that you'll be using mainly while stationary and near a Wi-Fi signal is just crazy.
The iPad is not ready to be your only computer - it's too limited, and the first thing you'll need to do is introduce it to iTunes. I still read emails on the iPad and flag them for dealing with when I'm in front of a real computer.
The iPad is, without doubt, the ultimate couch computer. Those of you who engage in Twitter backchannels while you watch TV shows will never look back...and those of you who hit your RSS reader over a bowl of cereal in the morning won't either.