Apple’s iPad: The future in your hands
January 28, 2010
Apple has finally announced its tablet computer.
It will be available in 2 flavours: WiFi and WiFi + 3G. The WiFi version will obviously be able to connect to 802.11* wireless networks, and the 3G model will have WiFi connectivity as well as 3G cellular data access, which will enable you to use the iPad nearly anywhere where there is a 3G cellular network.
At first, my response was what everyone else has been saying… that it’s just a big iPod touch. This may be so, but think about what an iPod touch is. It’s a computer. In your pocket. At first, it, as well as the iPhone that came a few months before it, had only the very basic applications that Apple shipped with it: the Safari web browser, a notes application, a stocks application, a calculator, a weather app, a mail app, a YouTube client, and a clock.
Then came the jailbreaking scene, which opened up these devices and gave us a preview of what they’re capable of. Then, on October 17th, 2007, Apple released the iPhone Software Development Kit (SDK). The SDK opened up development to anyone who wanted to give it a shot, and many multi-million dollar companies have had huge success creating applications and content for the App Store.
75,000,000 people already know how to use the iPad.
I see the iPod touch and the iPhone as Apple testing the waters for what would be their entry into the ultra-mobile computer market. They wanted to see what worked and what didn’t in terms of touch gestures and applications. Don’t get me wrong… the iPod touch and the iPhone are both huge products for Apple, but I really think they were testing out people’s reaction to a touch interface.
They have absolutely nailed it now, with the iPod touch and iPhone software reaching version 3.1.2. The level of refinement is unparalleled.
So, Apple is now in a position where about 75,000,000 people know how to use the iPhone and iPod touch software. Their multitouch technology has been implemented in their notebooks as well, and you can use familiar iPhone and iPod touch gestures within Mac OS X itself. Their new Magic Mouse (which is absolutely the best mouse I’ve ever used) also uses multitouch technology. I believe it has the same touch processor as the iPhone.
So, what does it do?
… aside from the obvious
The iPad is first and foremost a computer. You can do word processing, web browsing, watch media, and play games with it. It’s more than the sum of its parts. It is a real media machine, and makes use of Apple’s App Store, which has sold over 3,000,000,000 applications since its inception about 18 months ago.
It also functions as an eBook reader. Apple will launch the iBook store, alongside the launch of the iPad. eBooks will be a joy to read on its 9.75 inch, nearly 25 centimeter diagonal screen. I don’t know how it will fare in the outdoors, because of its glossy glass display, in comparison to Amazon.com’s incredibly successful eBook reader, the Kindle, which uses a 6 inch, or 15.5 centimeter display. The difference, aside from size, is that the Kindle uses a grayscale display with a matte finish, which makes it much easier to read in the sun.
The iPad also features the same hardware accelerated OpenGL support that the new iPod touch and iPhone 3GS use. This allows for awesome video performance in games and other graphically-intensive applications, such as presentation applications. During the introductory keynote, EA showed off an awesome demo of the iPad in action playing a new version of Need for Speed. They didn’t give any technical information, but it looked to be running at a good 30 frames per second, at least. I don’t know, I can’t count that fast. It looked awesome, and took advantage of the accelerometer built into the iPad to facilitate steering.
Mobile web browser
Apple promises that this will be the best web browsing experience around. Judging by the keynote, it will definitely deliver on that promise. The iPad uses a slightly modified version of the mobile Safari that’s included with the iPhone and iPod touch. All of the reviews I’ve seen marvel in its speed and ease of use. With iPad’s custom 1GHz processor, I can imagine it flies. It still seems to lack Flash support. For me, I don’t really use Flash much, so it’s not a big deal. For others, this is a pretty big deal breaker. I can’t really see why, because I find Flash to be a resource hogging pile of crap, and I find it’s over-used in web advertisements. So a lack of Flash support to me means that I won’t be seeing many ads. Nice.
Just as with the iPhone and iPod touch, you can navigate a webpage through a combination of intuitive touch gestures, such as pinching and swiping. It behaves exactly the same as the iPhone and iPod touch do, but on a much larger screen. It looks pretty awesome to use the full reach of your fingers to navigate a webpage. This is the stuff I dreamed about when I was a kid. Which brings me to the next part…
When I first played with the Maps application on the iPod touch, I was damn impressed… almost giddy. Now we’ve got Google maps on this thing, and it looks absolutely incredible. One of my disappointments with the iPad is the lack of a true GPS chip in it. What’s the deal with that? They certainly could have fit it in there. The WiFi + 3G version does include assisted GPS, which can be pretty darn accurate. Still, there’s no real reason for them not to include a GPS chip, unless they don’t want to step on TomTom’s toes.
Word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets
This is a big deal. Apple announced iWork for the iPad. It looks absolutely awesome. Some will argue that the virtual keyboard won’t allow for fast and comfortable typing. However, this has long been an argument against the iPhone… and again… over 75,000,000 people are already comfortable using this kind of keyboard, so I can’t foresee it being an issue. I was at first a bit skeptical about the virtual keyboard on my first iPod touch, but I quickly grew accustomed to it, especially its autocompletion and automatic spelling correction. I can type a lot faster on an iPhone than on a Blackberry. I think I would be quite comfortable using the iPad as a note taking device in class (if I had classes). Touch keyboards are good for some, bothersome for others. Luckily I’m one of those who doesn’t have much of a problem with them.
The word processing aspect of the iWork suite is pretty self-explanatory. I wondered how they would implement a presentation application on this thing. Much to my delight, the demo that Phil Schiller did during the keynote sold me on the fact that this is a very capable piece of software that can do anything that the desktop version can. It uses intuitive gestures to add and arrange content. I was very impressed at the cleverness of the way they implemented touch gestures into this. The spreadsheet application is also pretty awesome, both on the desktop and iPad versions. You can easily tell that Apple spent a lot of time and attention to getting this just right, as they always do to every product.
It’s clear that this piece of hardware is the brainchild of Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Senior VP of design. It’s as minimalist as it gets. As he put it… there’s a display, and then… nothing… or something like that. The whole thing is based around the awesome screen. There is a power on/off/sleep button, a home button, a volume rocker, and a mute button. That’s it.
The iPad has an accelerometer built in, meaning it’s orientation-aware, so you can use the iPad in portrait or landscape mode, and the device will organize the screen content to fit. It uses a 4:3 aspect ratio, so landscape orientation may be more suitable for times when you need a wider view, such as watching movies or reading a book.
I’ve read a few complaints that the aspect ratio isn’t 16:9, or another widescreen configuration. This wouldn’t make sense as a device that’s designed to read webpages as well as be portable. I’ve also read some criticism about the bezel, the black area surrounding the screen. I have one thing to say about that:
Humans and higher primates have been blessed with opposable thumbs. We use them to grasp things such as tools, beer, and the iPad. If I’m holding it, I don’t want my thumb to activate that part of the touch sensor and mess up my input. The bezel is there for a reason; to allow us to hold it. Imagine it had no bezel:
Actually that looks pretty awesome. But imagine holding it. Your thumb would definitely interfere.
Its dimensions are as follows: 9.56 inches (242.8mm) tall, 7.47 inches (189.7mm) wide, 0.5 inches (13.4mm) thick (!!) That’s as thin as an iPhone.
It weighs about 1.5 pounds, or ~.7 of a kilogram. I think this is the ideal weight for something like this. I wouldn’t want it to be too light, or it would feel cheap. Too heavy and it would be awkward to hold.
Many people are going to doubt this, but I think that the iPad will change the way we look at portable computers. Netbooks have made some great progress, but as Steve Jobs himself said, they’re not really good at thing, aside from being portable. They’re generally outfitted with small, low-quality displays, cramped keyboards, and run Windows. Apple has made an effort in the ultraportable world with the MacBook air, but this is by no means a true ‘ultraportable’ in my eyes. It’s still got the same footprint as a regular MacBook.
The iPad is a good product to sit between a full-sized notebook and a smartphone. One major gripe I have is the fact that it doesn’t run Mac OS X. I can understand the need for a mouse in such a situation though. I can’t imagine how I would make OS X work without a mouse, but I’m sure Apple can figure out a way.
The iPad doesn’t offer the flexibility of a netbook, and is locked down by Apple’s ungodly DRM (to what extent we will soon find out). One big selling point for me would be its ability to be jailbroken, open wide so that I can install any application I want on it, and do other things that Apple would deem inappropriate, such as WiFi wardriving. The controls that a company has over its devices are ultimately the weakest point of a device.
Apple has dropped a bombshell on the computing world. The iPad is about 10 years in the making, and it shows that Apple has spent every minute carefully calculating and designing this product to be the best in its class. What else is in its class, actually? I can’t think of anything.
This will change the way we interact with computers, and will popularize the use of touch technology. This device is the culmination of much experimentation with the iPhone and iPod touch, and I see the iPad as a stepping stone to the ultimate introduction of touch screens in Apple’s future desktop and notebook offerings.