Apple Inc.'s amazing new iPad is a fantastic consumer device that'll quickly supplant your MP3 player, eBook reader, Filofax and a dozen other things. And, it'll only get better.
On the other hand, if you're thinking the new device, with a price ranging from $499 to $699 in its Wi-Fi only version, will fully replace a notebook computer, you might be disappointed. The iPad is a very, very good device, but it's not (yet) a true laptop killer.
What the iPad is, of course, is a multimedia wonder that impresses in many ways. It's thin, relatively light at 1.5 pounds, and sports a battery that probably delivers the 12 hour lifespan Apple claims. (While I did not "run down" the battery, it was a good two days after I first got the iPad before I had any desire to charge it.)
The 9.7-inch (diagonally measured) display screen is bright, colorful and a joy to read. The touch interface all-but-eliminates the need for a separate keyboard, even though an attachable keyboard/docking station is an available accessory. And the applications already available for the iPad show much of the promise this device holds.
Out of the box, the iPad will give you Web browsing via a version of Apple's Safari browser, e-mail, music (via an iPod application) and an address book and calendar. Anyone who's used an Apple iPhone will be familiar with all of these programs and their operation. Of course, on the larger display, which automatically swivels to match the machine's orientation, you can see more, and see it better, than on the iPhone.
For now, however, you do need to have Wi-Fi access to the Internet for these programs, and for many other iPad applications, to function properly. Few programs for the device work as well "off line" as they do when connected, but there are several. In any event, this challenge should be eased somewhat by the end of April when models capable of accessing a 3G wireless data network AT&T's, to be specific arrive in stores. The hybrid Wi-Fi/3G versions of the iPad cost $130 more apiece than the units available now, and the data service is sold separately. Unlike the iPhone, however, 3G data service can be purchased on an ad hoc basis, which is an advantage for users, especially business travelers, in my opinion.
This brings me to some of the qualms I have about the device. When I first began using the iPad, it seemed a great tool to give the folks known as "C-level" executives: chief executive officers, chief operating officers and chief financial officers, among others. Packed in a sleeve-cum-travel case, the iPad is the kind of device a top exec could carry into a meeting and look comfortable with.
But when that C-level person or any of us start using programs that are the iPad's answer to Microsoft Corp.'s Office suite, there may be problems. For example, Apple's Pages for iPad, a word processor available for $9.95, is a very good, visually oriented program that lets you integrate photos into your text with ease. What it won't do, however, is let you look at the comments a Microsoft Word user might have placed in a document. Those comments are, of course, viewable across the various platforms on which Microsoft Word runs, and on the desktop- or notebook computer-based versions of Pages found in Apple's iWork 09 Suite. But Ms. C.E.O. will be at a loss searching for those comments on the iPad. That's a bummer, to say the least.
On the other hand, sound quality is excellent, especially via any decent set of headphones. The screen will ably show a movie or TV episode with ease, and that makes this a great traveling companion.
Are you more of a reader? Well, Apple's "native" iBook application free, but not preinstalled on the device or Amazon.com's Kindle for iPad (ditto) will have you reading and flipping pages in no time. In fact, Kindle for iPad is exponentially better than the Amazon Kindle's reading experience. Go figure.
There's far more about the iPad than one column can contain. Expect to read more about this device, from time to time, in the coming weeks. For now, I'm very pleased, am happy to recommend it, and am just hoping for more, for the sparks that'll ignite the iPad as a true notebook replacement.
In the meantime, wanna buy a couple of Kindles? Seriously, I've got two for sale. Good prices, lightly used.
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.