iPad Review

So here it is, my obligatory iPad review (which I think every ipad owner makes). I feel like I have a pretty unbiased opinion (I’m a Windows guy), but I guess I will reveal my disclosures: I do want the iPad and Apple to do well. But only if it’s deserving of success. Oh, and I’ll spare everyone the details and break it down to general topics, and then address a smorgasbord of random specific thoughts. If you want a super-thorough review, then look elsewhere. So let’s begin, shall we?

General Thoughts: The Tablet Is the Future!

As I wrote in my last post, I continue to believe that the iPad will usher in the era of tablet computing, and I am convinced more now than ever. Before, tablets were clunky and only popular in niche markets because they ran operating systems that were optimized for desktop pc’s and keyboard/mouse interaction. By starting with an OS that was designed for touch interaction in the iPhone, the iPad proudly demonstrates the unique benefits that such a tablet can provide:

  1. Web Browsing – ask Michael Chung or Steven Hong: my first few hours with the iPad were unremarkable. But that completely changed when I started browsing the web later that night. When you browse the web on your computer, you primarily are using your mouse to point and click on different objects spread out on the screen. There’s not a whole lot of typing. Now imagine you can do that with your finger, AND the ability to zoom in/out with the pinch of a finger.  The iPhone browser was just a glimpse of this, because even though it was possible to browse “full” websites on the phone, it was inconvenient on such a small screen and had slow rendering times. Browsing the web on the iPad is FAST and intuitive.
  2. Media Consumption (Video, Books, Music, Photos) – this is also where the ipad shines. With netflix and the ABC TV Show app, you can stream full-screen videos instantly! You can carry around hundreds of books in something thinner than one hardcover book. Found out your friend’s going to be a little late? Watch an episode of Modern Family, or read the most recent book that your pastor suggested (you can even buy it right then!). Just like smart phones transformed your times in the bathroom or waiting in lines or long walks in the parking lot, the iPad shines in other times you never realized you had: killing time at your friends’ house, waiting in your car, running at the gym, lying in your bed, etc.
  3. Form-Factor – every time I look at the iPad and hold it in my hands, I am reminded of how unique of a form-factor it is. Often overlooked in the iPhone’s success is how it overcame the dilemma that plagued mobile phones for years: how do you have a sleek size, large screen, and a qwerty keyboard? Before the iphone’s touchscreen, you could only have two of those at a time. With the iPad, you are able to have the full screen ratio, keyboard and thin profile that netbooks and previous bulky tablets could not provide. At just over a pound, it’s portable, and its thinness makes it fit anywhere a legal pad would.
  4. Instant-On: with no bootup time, knowing that the web, my email, and my apps are only a finger swipe away is a beautiful thing.
  5. Battery Life: Unlike using a laptop or netbook, I don’t have to worry about plugging in on the go. With the 3.5 hours of battery life that my laptop has, I always try to plug in so that I can feel comfortable keeping my screen bright AND having enough power for later.  The iPad can go 10 hours on active usage, and can be kept on standby for DAYS! I don’t even carry around a charger for my iPad.  (Well, i do carry around that cable that connects the iPhone/iPad to any computer’s USB port just in case, but it’s so small)

But iPads Might NOT Be (The Future)

The reality is that the iPad has many limitations (which I will detail soon), and other companies aren’t going to sit around and skeptically wait-and-see like they did with the iPhone. The current players in the smart phone market will take their battle to the tablets soon. Android tablets have been announced, and HP recently bought Palm and will design tablets running Palm’s WebOS. I would assume that the competition will hit the market between 6 months and a year.

But before I go into the iPad’s limitations, it’s important to remember that this is a first generation product, and is first of its kind. The iPhone did not even have an app store and any third party apps until it’s second year of life. The first two or three generations of iPods did not play videos, could not create any on-the-go playlists, podcasts didn’t even exist, and they had black and white screens. While it might be easy to criticize the current iPad and talk about all the potential features that it’s competitors can theoretically bring, the reality is there is absolutely no competition right now and when the competition finally hits, the iPad will at least have it’s first software update (slated for the fall) and could possibly even have new hardware.

Specific Positive Thoughts on the iPad:

  1. Speed – this sucker’s fast! Whether it’s web browsing, switching between apps, or anything else, everything flies! My only fear is that future updates and feature enhancements might bog it down.
  2. Silent – in the bathroom, you can always tell who uses a blackberry because you can hear them pressing keys. In the church, you can hear who is using a laptop because you can hear them pounding away. The iPhone/iPad users are silent ninjas.
  3. Screen – the screen is absolutely beautiful. At even the widest angles, the screen remains crisp and visible. Vivid colors.
  4. Keyboard – the keyboard works surprisingly well. In landscape orientation, I can type essentially as fast as I can on a normal keyboard. On the flip side, the big difference is in error correction (see post below).
  5. Screen Real Estate – this is the term that refers to the amount of stuff you can fit on a screen. This is the reason why calling the ipad a bigger ipod touch is not true. No matter how close you hold your phone to your face, the reality is it can only display so much information. The bigger screen on the iPad allows web browsing to seem natural, and many of the apps (like calendar and many third party apps) have been redesigned to fit much more on one page. One simple example is a crossword puzzle app. Instead of having to zoom in to the proper portion of the puzzle and only being able to see one clue at a time, you can see the whole puzzle and all the clues. It makes a big difference, no?

Specific Negative Thoughts On the iPad:

  1. Typing Error Correction: i can type just as quickly on an iPad as I can on a keyboard, but I’m still much slower overall.  Why? Because when a person naturally types, they constantly make mistakes and want to make edits here and there.  On a desktop, you can use your cursor or use the arrow keys to quickly go to the necessary spot. On the iPad, you have your fat finger and no arrow keys, so you have to use that magnifying glass thing. It definitely slows you down.
  2. No multitasking: the iPad really suffers from this, and this is a potential dealbreaker. Want to chat and browse the web at the same time? Not possible (or at least easily possible – you can use tabs in a browser app). Thankfully, this is slated to arrive in the form of a software update in the fall, and I’ll be counting the days.
  3. No Flash Support: while I actually agree with apple ideologically in not including flash support (Flash is incredibly buggy and poorly designed, and unless a big name stood up to it, there would be no change in the market), the reality is that many websites still run Flash, and it’s a shame to not be able to browse them on the iPad. (this includes Hulu, Ninjavideo, etc)
  4. Mis-apps (get it? A pun!): many apps are not fully utilizing the unique strengths of the iPad, and instead are just making bigger iphone apps with better graphics. Apps that I would love to have are a solid textbook app (imagine replacing all your textbooks with your iPad, and they’d be searchable too!) and Hulu.  Better apps should come with time as the market evolves.
  5. Multiple Tab Browsing: I actually made a big stink about this when the ipad was first announced. The good news is it actually is available in a simple option (an app called AtomicBrowser), and it works really well, but I just wish it was included in the default Apple Safari browser. To clarify, Safari offers multiple windows (in the same way that the iPhone does), but when you switch between them, it sometimes refreshes the page, defeating the purpose of using multiple windows.
  6. 3G is SLOW: This is not Apple or AT&T’s fault.  On smartphones, the bottleneck in speed of web browsing is the browser because it has to present a normal-sized webpage on a tiny screen.  On the iPad, the bottleneck is with the speed of the connection because web browsing on WiFi is lightning fast, but it lags a LOT on 3G.
  7. No Easy Printing: there is no easy way to print from the ipad, but the good news is that Steve Jobs has confirmed that it’s on the way.
  8. Poorly-executed Video Output: The iPad has the ability to output using a VGA converter cable, but the downside is that it does not simply output what’s shown on the ipad’s screen. Rather, it only outputs what an app is specifically programmed to output. This is fine when using apps that are designed for this (such as Keynote, which is a PowerPoint equivalent), but does not work for Netflix or ABC’s video player.
  9. Self-Consciousness: there are many times where i find myself wanting to whip out my iPad, but i don’t do it because i don’t want to be that guy with the iPad.  Examples would be when i was in line waiting for Iron Man 2, or when I go running on the treadmill at the gym.  This is totally just my self-consciousness, but it’s still real (at least to me).
  10. Closed Nature: this one can potentially be the iPad’s downfall, since it represents the philosophy that Apple has employed. By closed nature, I am referring to two things: 1) you can only install apps using the official app store (giving Apple 30% of every purchase), 2) apps can only control things within its own program. To clarify this second thought, you can’t change things such as the sound a text message makes (outside of the few options they provide), or you can’t have anything that takes advantage of all the open space on the lock screen (such as display your calendar, new emails, or missed calls).

Conclusion/Summary

Let’s start with the big questions people ask me are:

  • What do you use it for?
  • Personally, I use it to take sermon notes at church. I use it to have easy access to the “real” internet and my apps at my fingertips (whether in my car, at church, at a friend’s house, or at work, theoretically). I will definitely use it as an ebook reader the next book I buy (which I think will be The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love), and I have full confidence that it will function excellently in this way. I plan to use it as a laptop replacement in most circumstances (see next point).
  • But does it replace a laptop?
  • I think it does, in approx 80% of my usage. Web browsing is no problem.  Neither is chatting, media consumption, light document creation (if necessary, you can also use any bluetooth keyboard), PowerPoint and Excel document modification.  It currently has two potential dealbreakers in its current form that limit its ability to replace a laptop’s everyday usage: no multitasking (but this will be fixed in the fall via software update), and no flash support (which severely affects tv show viewing. ABC shows are currently compatible, CBS shows will be available soon, but hulu has not announced support yet). Other than this, it can replace any eBook, netbook, and most laptop functions except for heavy video/photo/music editing and heavy document creation.

To sum it up, the ipad is a magical device ushering in the future of tablet computing, with lots of potential, but quite a few blemishes too. It shines brilliantly when it comes to web browsing and media consumption. Its light-weight design, sleek profile, long battery life, and instant-on nature make it a unique and innovative device. However, it still has a ways to go before it becomes a must-have device.  Thankfully, significant upgrades are on the way (software update in the fall will bring multitasking), and the sky is the limit with apps. With over one million iPads sold in under a month, it has shown that it won’t be an immediate bust. However, stiff competition will be coming and Apple will need to continue to upgrade and evolve the iPad in order to stay ahead.

I wish the iPad was slightly more refined and fully-featured in it’s first iteration, but I fully expect it to improve along the way with software updates.  As a consumer, i think it’s best to wait until then for Apple to iron out its kinks and to check out the competition.  But for an early-adopter or Apple fan with deep pockets, i think it’s fairly safe to jump in now as most of the future upgrades will be available via software updates.

PS: (on a side note, I predict that the fall will bring more of a distinction between the iPad and iPhone OS. The iPad currently runs a modified iPhone OS, but my prediction is that it will eventually run it’s own iPad OS that fully caters to its own strengths and weaknesses)