Ash Burton

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So, what's the point of the iPad then?

iPad_mainWhilst I'm mildly reluctant to admit it, I was one of those sad people so excited by Apple's scheduled July 27th announcement that I stayed behind at work so as not to miss the Engadget live-blogging coverage and despite the fact that every man and his dog will be blogging about the iPad over the coming weeks (and yes, dogs blog), as bonafide Apple fanboy I thought I couldn't resist tossing my opinion into the fray. My first sight of the thing was of Steve Jobs holding it up and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was about the size of his head, 10" screen and bezel included.  I appreciate that this is an odd feature to look for but many of the rumours I'd read were touting a 7" screen which to me (more later) would have been utterly pointless but 10" is a good approximation of a page from a book or a small magazine.  Sadly, along with this first sight came the bitter realisation that the thing was to be called the iPad, something I'm really going to struggle getting used to since it's a crap name - please excuse my use of 'the thing' when referring to the new device.

The design is very similar to that of the iPhone, except with a proportionally much larger bezel, making it look a lot more like a digital photo frame and though I'd bet money that this proportional imbalance will be reduced in future versions I also acknowledge that it may be intentional since you're going to have to rest your thumbs somewhere whilst you're not pawing at the capacitive screen.  The weight is hard to gauge from presentations and so on but 1.5lbs seems weighty but maybe appropriately so, since you'll want it to feel solid in your hands, I look forward to getting my hands on one to see what it really feels like to hold.

iPad_calIn terms of actually using the device, the demo shots of browsing the web, watching films and thumbing through Google maps all look absolutely superb, very slick, very iPhone, very Apple.  I was especially impressed by the look of the calendar since the iPhone has been a godsend in terms of managing my personal life and anything that can help me remember where I'm supposed to be and when is a real boost for me!  Despite being a gamer I really wasn't that interested in that part of the presentation, there seems to be an obsession with trying to present the iPhone and now the tablet as hard-core 3D gaming platforms when I'm quite sure that they're both rubbish for racing sims and first-person shooters.  I'm not saying that games don't have their place in a mobile lineup but the physics-based genres are far better enjoyed on the XBox 360 or PS3, the real strength of a touch-screen mobile platform is for genius-like casual games such as Geared, Wurdle and Flight Control.  I'm also not really interested in drawing, writing or doing spreadsheets on the thing since I can't draw and I've got a proper (read: desktop) computer for doing that sort of thing.

iPad_browsingThe biggest leap forward provided by the iPad is by far and away it's use as an e-book reader and for reading newspapers, whilst the rest of the features are stunning by themselves the real revolutionary change that this device (and devices of it's ilk) will bring is in how we consume 'print' media.  Steve's presentation really made me feel sorry for Amazon's Kindle, seeing a photo of the chunky white keyboarded 1980s-style device followed by as shot of a Jonathan Ives masterpiece must have ripped the heart out of the Kindle team at Amazon.  That's not to say that Amazon as a whole lose out here, their app will most likely work on and compete with Apple's own iBooks offering and that sort of competition can only be good for end users - my only big worry with the e-book future is that so far all of the major stores are using DRM, meaning that if you bought a book on one store you won't be able to transfer it to another.

The price is an open verdict still since I'm in the UK but the dollar prices look pretty reasonable in my opinion, $499 for the 16GB WiFi version seems like a steal, though I'm sure I'll end up getting the $829 64GB WiFi + 3G model since I'm highly likely to stick a tonne of video on it.  If the UK pricing ends up being towards the harsher end of the scale (the British always get screwed but it's usually by our own government so we've no-one to blame but ourselves) I may be tempted by the $699 WiFi-only version since I'm pretty sure I'll be using it primarily at home.

iPad_sitSo, what's the point of the iPad then?  I've heard a few people saying that they really don't see the point and that's it's nothing more than a big iPod and to an extent they're absolutely right, it's not portable like a phone and it's not as functional as a laptop.  I don't even think Steve's cheap shots at the netbook market were quite warranted since I've no doubt that the iPad would be useless if I were trying to work remotely from a Starbucks typing emails and using a VPN client to remote control my work desktop.  This is something I have done on little Dell Mini 9 many times and it really does work, the tablet market isn't meant for people who want a laptop and it isn't for people that want a netbook.

The iPad is for people who want to grab their tablet off of the coffee table, quickly check their emails, see what's in their calendar for the weekend and maybe pop open IMDB find out whether the guy in the film they're watching is the same guy that was in Black Hawk Down and Enemy of the State*.  A lot of people still have a PC situated at a desk which may be upstairs in a barely used room and unless you've taken the step yourself it's almost impossible to express how your life can change when you go portable.  It may sound overly dramatic but my life literally changed when I bought bought my Macbook, having my laptop constantly on standby down the side of the sofa means that any time I'm at home if I have an idea I can execute on it it, I can answer a question, book some tickets, contact my friends, etc.  Through having the Internet by my side I've ended up in all sorts of adventures including Storm Chasing in the Midwest, discovering new music, attending festivals, going to gigs, exploring abandoned buildings and even meeting my girlfriend.

Most people, especially families, warrant having a desktop - there are times when you need to sit at a desk and write essays, edit photos, etc. and because they've already got a desktop many people are put off buying a laptop as well and this is where the iPad comes in.  Sure, you could have a laptop but this will be better at its core functions without any need for the complicated side of using a PC such as installing software, worrying about viruses and spyware, etc.


* Tom Sizemore BTW.