Apple iPad review: The future is in your hands

Apple iPad review: The future is in your hands

Apple iPad next to Apple's Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard - Photo: Fabrizio Pilato
Apple iPad - Photo: Fabrizio Pilato

Apple’s mysterious new “magical” device has created a big stir across the world.  What are we supposed to do with this thing? Is it going to replace my desktop? Probably not.  How about my laptop or netbook? Still no.  So what is it good for? Well, that’s the magic of it.  It does many things, but it’s not here to step on anyone’s toes.

The name iPad is strangely clever.  It probably took Apple an entire 5 minutes to come up with the name.  It’s clearly not a notebook computer, and we already have the iBook.  How about that other relative, the notepad.  Ideas went around, and voila – Apple’s latest thing is the iPad.   Names aside, what the heck is this thing good for anyways? What am I supposed to do with this iPad?

The iPad Hype
Ever since the Apple Newton was put to rest in 1998, the world of computing has been anticipating Apple’s next move in the tablet department.  Will another Message Pad surface? Or is the iPhone all we get?   My family owned the Message Pad 2100, it didn’t; get a whole lot of use. The few times anyone did use it, the green screen lit up our eyes.  Inputting data to the Newton was a smooth experience.  Handwriting recognition was of the best anyone had ever seen, but there wasn’t a whole lot you of “family” stuff for it.  My mom would use it from time to time to write her notes on, but as a 17-year old kid, I don’t think so.  Writing notes, keeping dates, or contacts was not important to me.  The rest of the world was in the same boat, so Apple killed it in 1998.

Fast-forward a decade and some.

Eyes began to grow wide in late January.  Magically, images of some prototype of what appeared to be an Apple tablet surfaced on the Internet.   This got the hamster wheels spinning.  What does Apple have planned for us? As market makers and shapers, rather than players and chasers, Steve Jobs and his crew have peered into the crystal ball once again at the Infinite Loop headquarters.  The mothership if you will, where technology is spawned and deployed, where secrets are kept, and sometimes lost.  This is the breeding ground for the latest, what you don’t know you will need, but will ultimately succumb to. The iPad in its own right, is just that – offering much more than we presently know it is capable of.  Some have called it an ill-named electronic device akin to a feminine hygiene product, or an oversized iPod at best. Apple’s iPad is the gateway to the future of computing, and I plan to tell you why.

The iPad Arrives
Apple’s iPad arrives at my local post office.  I grab the box, throw it on my handlebars and bike my way through 5 o’clock traffic.  Only if all these youngsters I pass by knew what was hanging by some clear packing tape off my one hand as I signaled to turn.   iPad’s are not something you see yet on the streets in Canada yet; it’s still a foreign import in the hands of very elite few.

Unpacked, jacked, strapped to iTunes, it’s already here with a 91% charge.  I connect to Wi-Fi and I’m surfing with Safari.   Rotate to landscape, switch over to YouTube.  Ok, now what?  I set it down scratching my head.  This isn’t all that it can be.  There’s no way.  But it is, simply that.   A brick or shell, devoid of any use that is beyond our existing repetitive flows.    I go on the hunt for apps.  It appears awfully familiar this iPad thing.  Where have I seen it before? Hmmm.  Ok, at first it does seem to be one giant freaking iPod – minus the annoying jog wheel.  But this iPod is different, it’s jacked on steroids, it’s got something else going for it.  Speed, clarity, fluid motion, this is the iPad people.

DJ Rana gave me some thoughts.  So I first load up some audio apps.  GrooveMaker was the first.  It has an interesting interface, manipulating a virtual synthesizer is fun, even though it’s on a cheesy bundled pack of samples.  I’m dying to load up something from Korg or Roland – especially if these smaller companies are putting out half-decent stuff like this.  This gets me thinking.  What if the iPad is indeed a canvas, they teased us with this word in the press invitation, “come see our latest creation.”  With a paint pallet canvas colorfully covered in blotches of paint.  I thought this device was going to be for artists, but I’m learning now that this canvas is for not for artists.  It’s for the developers.  Apple has done it again.  Yes, they have single handedly created a new platform where developers will flock to.  To create wild and expressive tools, to make us work, play, and manipulate data in a fun new way.  Not just because the iTunes app store is so lucrative for selling apps on, and sure it has its developmental drawbacks that many would argue contain restrictions up the yin-yang.  But this iPad is really going to open up an entirely new world of computing before we even realize it.

What Apple has done here is created a new foundation.  A platform for the world to explore, create, and enable us with our hands.  The iPad has much more potential than an iPod on roids.  It actually does have a bit of magic behind it.  It’s still early to see it’s greatness yet, but once we realize that there is almost any place on this connected Earth it can go, our eyes will open.   Look at it as this open canvas Apple implied on.  Soon to be filled with wonderful and amazing things to do almost anything you can imagine – and you’re doing it all with the swipe of a couple fingers.

The Hardware
Weighing a bit more than I first imagined (1.5lbs), the iPad is solid.  The best way to use it I found was to just let it rest on your leg, the aluminum back allows you to spin it and rotate easily between portrait and landscape mode. It’s truly one solid piece of equipment.  It continues with Apple’s consistent quality of manufacturing seen in all their previous devices.   The iPad starts at $499, that’s with 16GB, and climbs to $829 for the 64 GB unreleased 3G version.  Check Apple’s site for your local country for availability and pricing.

The 9.7-inch LED backlight screen is exceptionally bright, the resolution is sharp, and colors vivid and clear.  The capacitive and multitouch touch response is very accurate. It has a sweet spot I guess you could say, but once you figure the way it wants to be tapped and swiped you can get around very quickly.  You tap icons and navigate through screens and pages by swiping with speed – this surpasses a traditional mouse and click.   With a mouse you are scrolling, then clicking, with your finger, your just aiming and hitting the screen on the iPad.   When the iPad is resting, or off, the screen shows an incredible amount of fingerprints and smears.  It looks horrible, but when those LEDs kick on you don’t see a thing.  It’s so bright and clear that the smears just disappear. You can develop OCD if you plan on having a clean iPad screen all the time. My suggestion is to just go with the flow, let it be marked up and you will not even notice it anymore, and eventually someone will make some anti-fingerprint screen skin layer for it.

The Home button has a slightly recessed bevel; it’s also pretty small.  Dust tends to get trapped around the circumference of the button.

On the perimeter we have a screen position lock switch (locking you in landscape or portrait mode), a power/sleep button, headphone jack and a dock connector.  A speaker is on the same side as the dock connector.  This feels a bit off when listening to music, only one speaker means sound only coming out of one side.  Depending on how you’re holding the iPad, sound can bounce off and create a stereophonic effect.

Internals on the iPad tested are the plain-jane 16GB Wi-Fi model.  It’s equipped with the 1GHz Apple A4 custom-designed, high-performance, low-power system-on-a-chip.   The battery is a non-removable 25-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer providing what Apple claims is up to 10 hours of use.  I don’t think so.  Running Mirror’s Edge for 3 hours dropped the battery from 99% to 30%.  If my calculations are correct, that would mean 4 .3 hours of life for gaming.  The 10 hours is for “surfing the web on Wi-Fi, watching video, or listening to music,” so keep that in mind.  Complete tech specs available at Apple.

Apple iPad next to Apple's Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard - Photo: Fabrizio Pilato

iPad OS
The OS is a modified iPhone OS. The iPad makes everything familiar and easy to find for Mac and iPhone or iPod users.   You have all your apps laid out in a grid; you can swipe to different pages, or tuck 6 of your favorites in the dock.

Sadly no multitasking is available in the first version of the iPad.  We can expect an update in the next release, but for now, the one thing you are doing on the iPad is the one thing you are doing on the iPad.  Apple’s Safari, Mail and iPod are able to remain in their last used state and continue running while checking out other apps.  Some third party apps will try to send you to a website, if they don’t have an internal browser you will be kicked out and that app is shut down, it’s an annoyance.   Some people may not realize this, or even need to multitask, but for the rest of us, no multi-tasking is like drinking salt water on a hot sunny day.

The keyboard is almost full sized.  It’s hard to use with one hand, I found it super responsive and accurate when using in landscape mode on my lap.  It quickly becomes natural.  The keyboard in portrait mode feels off and I won’t even bother using it that way.

Apple iPad Interface - Photo: Fabrizio Pilato

Software and Applications
The web is slightly limited – you get a less flashy experience – but still the best according to Jobs. “The best browsing experience you’ve ever had.”    It is a good experience. Mobile Magazine’s new iPad-optimized home page looks really sharp on the iPad.  Websites are quick, and smooth, just what you need in a web browser.  Scrolling is not jittered; pages come to a nice slow stop when you let up on your swipe scrolling. I really like browsing the web this.  It’s an entirely different game.   Even with bookmarks, tabs, and dropdown menus, its got most of what you need at this stage.  Apparently recent data is showing the iPad is being used heavily among online shoppers.  I gave it a whirl and found that it’s pretty cool as a catalogue to browse shopping sites.  You can flip through pages and pages of information easily, hand the iPad off to a someone next to you quite easily, “hey check this out”, and continue shopping.  I’m looking forward to a FireFox iPad browser, or Opera, but Safari is great as it stands.  Apple’s support for HTML5 will allow for creative new web applications to be available on the iPad, so the whole Flash deal may be forgotten soon enough.

iBooks is a great app.  It’s destined to take on the Kindle and others.  I found it quite similar in appearance to that of the Kobo eReader software.  You have a virtual bookshelf of your ebook collections just a single tap away.  Flipping through pages is done with a swipe of the finger; you get brightness controls, font adjustments, and even the ability to search the book all from the iBook toolbar – even while reading which many apps do not include.  Thanks for the free Winnie the Pooh book.

Contacts and Calendar are always good to have on a device.  The split-screen style makes it more like an agenda, easier to manage.  Syncing with your desktop is what really counts, keeping you up to date on your iPad.

Mail was not tested.  I’m a strictly GMail only user.  I’ve used everything from Mail, Thunderbird, to Outlook in the past and just find it annoying to backup and move email.  It looks like it would work for checking email on your lap, but not something I would personally choose to manage a heavy flow of messages from multiple accounts with, the lack of filters and rules is the killer.

I wish there would have been a bit more focus on file management.  You literally have none, and I don’t want to entrust my documents to an online fly-by-night company who will stream my docs to my iPad.  I would rather just have them on the iPad itself, or at least on my network.  I think Apple’s Pages app will take care of this, but that’s an extra investment that I have not had a chance to look in to at the moment.

iTunes is the control software, it lets you sync just about everything you would imagine.  Sync your apps, music, photos, videos, TV shows, books, contacts, calendar, mail, safari bookmarks, etc, etc.  Syncing is the name of the game, and that’s your doorway to fulfilling your iPad’s potential.

I would go into more about apps here, but those reviews will be coming in the future, and this is really about the iPad itself.  Apps are the big deal for the iPad, without them it’s dead, you will soon see it’s potential in reviews to come.

Apple iPad Reflection of Calgary - Photo: Fabrizio Pilato

The iPad and the future
I believe the iPad is preparing us for the future. Many people are wondering what’s the point of the iPad? It’s such a stupid thing; a laptop can do everything an iPad can, and better! You are just getting ripped off by more Apple crap. Well, yes and no. If you think of it as a giant iPod and can’t see past that, then it’s probably not going to do much for you because you’ve got those horse blinders on that never want to come off. If you look at the iPad as a gateway to the future, preparing us for bigger things to come, enabling a new method of interaction with technology, then you will see it’s potential.

Interacting with a large touchscreen display is not widely done these days, at least by every day consumers. Sure it’s used in retail and food industries, but we’re talking about POS, that’s not the same thing. Apple is bringing a new wave to the masses. Touchscreens are essentially gesture-based technologies, the big deal here is your gestures are free to manipulate what’s on your screen, first hand, in real-time. Let’s look at Hollywood for this one. The Minority Report. A sci-fi film with advanced technologies, computers and interfaces. The massive dream machine used was gesture based, you move your hands to manipulate the computer to respond in the way you need. If the iPad was 5 feet wide you would have a similar effect, and this is where I think this type of user interaction is going. In a couple years we can expect these devices to go beyond Microsoft’s Surface, and when the hardware is available, there will be a market for it. All these eager iPad waving, handheld manipulating gesture masters will be very familiar with using their hands to manipulate the interface of computers, the next step is to amplify it.

Bottom Line
Apple’s iPad is indeed revolutionary.  Not simply because of what it is now, but because what it will be.  It’s a platform created to show the world how to evolve in a way computing was barely imagined to be.  Sure others have attempted the “tablet” in the past, but all they basically did was remove the keyboard from the laptop and sent you on your merry way.  Apple shines where others have failed; ingenuity is the iPad’s pulse.  The iPhone couldn’t do it simply because we think of it as a phone, and it’s restricted entirely by screen real estate.  The iPad is an extension of mobile computing, a gateway to another level of manipulating the technosphere.  Soon this new level of computing will be second nature to us, and the iPad will have taken us there.

Apple iPad Photo Gallery