iPad: The News Today (Oh Boy!)
To almost nobody’s surprise, Apple announced the birth of its newest product at a press conference on January 27, 2010. The announcement caught some pundits off guard, as they had predicted Apple would call its new product the iSlate. Apple, however, had another idea. It has had tremendous express with “iP” names , such as the iPod and the iPhone. (One can’t help but wonder if that has a double meaning, as many people use the letters IP to refer to intellectual property.) Anyway, Apple chose to continue with its iP formula and name its new baby the iPad.
As the iPad has not shipped yet, I have not had the opportunity to see it or try it out. Accordingly, this commentary will deal with the theory of the iPad to help you decide whether you want to consider adding one to your technology tool chest, once they are released. All things being equal, the first wave of iPads should ship right about the time you get the chance to read this column.
Many of the comments I have seen about the iPad have criticized Apple for not making it a full-fledged tablet computer. True, Apple, does not have a tablet computer in its stable of laptops, but Apple never intended the iPad to compete with its laptop computers. Apple designed the iPad to fit in between the iPhone/iPod Touch and the laptop. More than the former and less than the latter, it gives users a functional Internet appliance with a screen much easier to use than that on an iPhone or an iPod Touch and a device that packs up easier and weighs less than a laptop.
Many (most) of the iPhone apps will work on the iPad. Apple’s website claims that 140,000 apps will work on the iPad. That number may be somewhat misleading because some of those apps will likely require modification to take full advantage of the iPad’s technology and screen size. Apple intends for the iPad to provide productivity functions for business and personal use. It has created a special mobile version of its iWork applications Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, each designed to work with the iPad and take advantage of its features.
A number of those applications provide reading material or the ability to stand-in for an eBook device such as the Kindle, Nook, or Sony eBook Reader. Interestingly, many people speculated whether Apple’s new device would answer the ebook reader niche with an Apple product. The iPad, in fact, does that. Numerous apps function as book readers (including the Kindle app). The recently released Zinio app allows you to read electronic magazine subscriptions. Although books have proven quite readable on the iPhone/iPod Touch, a larger screen would make things easier. The Zion app does a nice job presenting electronic editions of magazines, but the screen size of the iPhone makes it hard to read the magazine without expanding it and looking at the page in sections. Again, a lager screen alleviates the problem. Simply put, the iPad should serve nicely as an ereader.
Not wanting to miss a profit opportunity, Apple has announced a new app for the iPad to turn it into an effective ebook reading device. It has named the new app iBook (there’s a shocker) and announced it in conjunction with plans to expand the iStore to include a book department. The iBook app will let you acquire electronic books from the iStore, just as you can now acquire apps, music, audio books, and video files. Pricing for Apple’s electronic books is not yet known, but expect them to sell for prices about the same (or perhaps a trifle less) than those available from Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Amazon. Time will tell whether Apple establishes its own inventory or partners with one of the major booksellers for inventory, but expect to see a good selection of reading material in the iStore.
Since Apple’s announcement of the iPad, I have seen what I consider to be silly criticism of the iPad as a reader for its failure to employ the e-ink technology used by Sony, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble in their readers. While the e-ink technology has proven itself functional and has the advantage of a lower power draw than the screen on the iPad will enjoy, the e-ink devices lack the ability to display color, while the iPad will do so beautifully. Moreover, the e-ink devices require a supplemental light source to allow the reader to see the text in the dark. The iPad has its own lighting built into it.
I have used the e-Ink technology as employed by Sony, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. It works just fine. In truth, however, I am just as happy with the display of text on the iPhone/iPod Touch; actually, I prefer it. Additionally, reading magazines and the like has proven much more enjoyable in color, and the iPad display allows for that capability.
The iPad’s screen size, 9.7 inches diagonally, will also make it much better than the iPhone or the iPod Touch for watching movies, television shows, podcasts, and the like. The larger screen size will also save on eye strain when using your calendar, reading notes, and doing many of the other tasks we have started doing on our iPhones. The fact that it offers up to 10 hours of battery power makes much more useful for a variety of tasks than the iPhone with its charge-life issues. The multitouch display (like the iPhone) will make for an excellent interface and the 1024 x 768 pixel resolution will make for an excellent viewing experience.
The fact that the iPad will be about the same size as most of the eBook reader devices (9.56" x 7.47" x .5") makes it very easily packable in a brief case or even a large purse. It weighs in at 1.5 (WiFi only) or 1.6 pounds (WiFi plus 3G), making it a very portable package.
Apple has announced that the first iteration of the iPad will actually come out in early April instead of March, as originally announced. That version will operate on WiFi only and will not have 3G cell capabilities. In April an updated version will come out that will have both WiFi and 3G cell capability. Pricing for the 3G versions is about $130 more per unit than the WiFi only versions. The other price variation relates to internal memory (it will come in 16, 32, and 64 GB versions). Like the iPhone, what you buy is what you get, because you cannot add memory to the iPad.
Like the iPhone, the iPad comes with a virtual keyboard built-into its operating system. It has no physical keyboard. Apple reports, however that the iPad will connect with its wireless keyboard, and you can use that with it if you like. In fact, the Apple website lists a keyboard docking station as a to-be-available accessory.
Although the iPad will do most of what the iPhone does and some of what a laptop does, the simple fact of the matter remains that the iPhone does things that the iPad cannot and so does a laptop. In other words, Apple figured out how to cut features that leave the iPad wanting in comparison, while leaving enough in and adding enough to make it desirable, thereby creating a new niche.
WiFi + 3G
Speaking of what it does not include, my list of things that I will miss in the iPad follows:
- It has no built-in camera. I consider this a mistake. If Apple intends the device to serve as an Internet appliance, it should have a built-in camera for videoconferencing and iChat. Having to add an external camera makes no sense for the user.
- The absence of even a single USB slot may prove problematic as all accessories will have to have a wireless connection. That includes the missing camera and any printer used with the iPad. Alternatively, when it comes to printing, you can move documents off the iPad to a computer and print from the computer.
- I would like to see Apple add a memory slot to the iPad (and, for that matter to the iPhone and the iPod Touch). Alternatively, I would like to see Apple make a 128GB version available. I have found that 64GB doesn’t cut it for me, and I am constantly shuffling things on and off to stay within that limit.
Now, for the bottom-line question: should you buy an iPad. My answer to that is “yes,” and I intend to put my money where my keyboard is and get one. For many trips I will no longer need to take a laptop, and for use around town and in court, I believe it will prove its worth and serve me better than my iPhone (which I will continue to carry for telephony reasons as well as to give me the option of its various features and apps).
Whether you think of the iPad as a glorified ebook reader or a new level of technology makes no difference; the simple fact is that it will prove a useful device for many of you.
Having made the decision to acquire the iPad, only two decisions remain: which memory size and whether to get the WiFi only or the 3G versions. For me, memory size is a no-brainer; I want the 64GB version. If you have a 32 GB iPhone and have only used 5–10 GB of the memory, you might find a lower memory version satisfactory for your use. The answer to that question will depend on the size of your music library, how much additional media you want to add to it, and how many apps you want to put on it.
The question of whether to get a WiFi only or one of the 3G versions may prove more difficult. Most of us will find ourselves in situations where no WiFi network exists or is available to us from time to time. The lack of a WiFi connection will limit the use of the WiFi only iPad to whatever information you have stored on it and preclude you from accessing email or the Internet. I have been told by Apple that the iPad will come under the rubric of its partnership with AT&T. That means that 3G connections for the iPad will require an account with AT&T unless and until someone figures out how to jailbreak the iPad. If you live and work in an area that does not get good AT&T reception, you probably won’t want the 3G iPad. If you have an iPhone and it works satisfactorily, the iPad should too, but it will mean another account with AT&T. The actual cost of the account is uncertain at this time, but likely will be in the same range as the iPhone accounts. Accordingly, I recommend that you do one of two things with respect to the purchase of an iPad.
- Either wait until Apple releases the 3G version and see what requirements come with it respecting network affiliation and contracts for 3G services; or
- Get the WiFi only version and set up an account with Verizon or Sprint using the MiFi modem/router that sets up a hotspot for you anywhere that you get the provider’s signal. I use the MiFi and a Verizon connection with my laptop and my iPhone and have found it quite satisfactory. This approach has some cost efficiency for you as well, as you can use the MiFi with computers, iPhones, iPod Touches, and other wireless devices. Having only one wireless data account (two if you have an iPhone) and sharing the data account with all your compatible devices will certainly cost less than having several accounts.