TECHNOLOGY Apple’s iPad: is it all it’s cracked up to be?

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Steve Jobs holding an iPad at Apple's launch event
Steve Jobs holding an iPad at Apple's launch event. Pic: dianagavrilita

Apple’s iPad: is it all it’s cracked up to be?


Fergus Kelly

Torn. Absolutely torn. Wavering. Vacillating. In two minds. I just can’t decide whether this new Apple touch-screen device, the iPad (probably the worst-named product in history), is so brilliant that I’ll have to get one immediately, or whether I can wait for next year’s inevitable improved version.
It was the biggest product launch of all time, possibly Steve Jobs’ last . It was covered extensively by every TV and radio station and every newspaper and news website (including this one). The buzz was enormous. The reaction varied from unabashed glee to outright vitriol.
John Gruber is a respected writer on all things Apple. “If you’re thinking the tablet is just a big iPhone, or Apple’s take on the e-reader, or a media player, or just anything, I say you’re thinking too small,” he said on the daringfireball.net blog. “I think the tablet is nothing short of Apple's re-conception of personal computing.”
I agree wholeheartedly. This device is a game-changer for the computing industry. It makes the computer work in a much more human way. You use your fingers to directly interact with the screen, not a small piece of plastic on your desk or a trackpad that moves an on-screen arrow. It looks to me like a re-definition of what using a computer can mean. It’s almost impossible to explain, you just have to see the videos.
But it has a few … issues:

No stylus input or handwriting recognition: A big one for me – I carry several notebooks around and I was hoping that I could ditch these, make notes on-screen with some sort of pen and have them automatically converted to text for editing or e-mailing. Apple seems to want us to use an admittedly impressive pop-up on-screen keyboard for everything. I’m sure that app developers will add handwriting functionality in the very near future.

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No SD card slot or USB: So you can’t attach your thumb drive or a 3G dongle or your camera or any other peripheral that you may want to use without an optional extra, but why not have it as standard? And, cunningly, Apple have produced a beautiful keyboard-cum-dock that will charge your machine as you type. More sales for Apple then.

No Flash: Most people won’t mind not seeing the animated ads that appear on most websites, but they might miss other things which use Adobe’s technology, YouTube chief among them. I saw a tweet last week which linked to a most interesting page. YouTube has started a very small project, hidden to all but the most inquisitive of visitors. It’s testing a Flash-free version of the site using new web standards and it works well on all current Macs.

No camera: I’m amazed at that Apple have omitted the ability to make Skype video calls, something I thought would have been an obvious inclusion.

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How do you print? I need to be able to print my flight confirmation and e-ticket. How do I do it?

No phone: I can see the business logic – Apple want you to buy an iPad and an iPhone (and probably a MacBook too). But wouldn’t it be handy to send an SMS or take a call without pulling out another device?

No HD video: HD video is 1080 pixels wide. iPad is 1024. Why?

No multi-tasking: Yes, it can only do one thing at a time. Most of the net’s tech geeks dismiss it for this reason (and even Hitler is upset about it if YouTube is to be believed). But for most people it'll have little impact. Most people only want to do one thing at a time. Apple wants to conserve battery life as much as possible and multi-tasking uses battery power.

So what does it have? Everything else. It’s a lightweight aluminium and glass machine with a gorgeous screen. Its processor is powerful enough for most people. It boasts ten Apple-hours of battery life. And it has possibly the best human-computer interface ever constructed.
At the launch, Stephen Fry was a little under-whelmed – until he touched one. “Hold your judgement until you’ve spent five minutes with it. No YouTube film, no promotional video, no keynote address, no list of features can even hint at the extraordinary feeling you get from actually using and interacting with one of these magical objects.… The moment you experience it in your hands you know this is class,” he says on his blog.
Mr Fry is a Mac lover, but he is a true techie and will criticise fairly. To read him gush makes me even more excited about the ‘experience’.
To the geek, the iPad may be an underpowered, if pretty, device that’s just one step up from a smartphone. To the rest of the world I think this device is exactly what they want in a computer – a beautiful, intuitively easy to use, small, cheap and practical device that does what they need it to do: Browse the internet, check e-mail, view photographs and videos and write the odd document.
Apple is being clever. It is leaving out what appears to be crucial equipment to sell you extras. It is releasing the iPad at such a low price point that it’ll sell in millions and Apple’s rivals will have to do something special to compete. Apple already have the credit card details for 125 million customers, all ready for 1-click purchases of the music, books, movies, TV shows, games and applications that they sell. This is how Apple will make its money. It is now a media company that makes computers to access that media – at a price.
So, after all that I’m still torn, but I haven’t touched it yet. To buy or not to buy, THAT is the question ...

More info Click for more about the iPad’s launch and features, including video of the launch event and hands-on videos of the iPad

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