The store was packed and they had roughly twenty units on display for people to play around with. It only took about five minutes of patient waiting to get my hands on the real deal and bask its warm glowing warmth. The iPad itself is very solidly constructed, perfectly balanced, and seemingly very durable. The screen panel looks and responds just like an iPhone. The accelometer responds a lot better than the iPhone (in my opinion), but Christine was having a hard time getting the iPad to be 'right side up' for her. I have no idea what was going on there for her. The weight of the iPad is a bit heavier than most would be looking for in a pure eBook reader, I think. However, compared to my Macbook Air or most netbooks, it'll feel light and nimble.
The screen itself is very rich, very vibrant, and overall a real joy to look at. Images from the Photos app are stunning and media looks great on it, at least the items on the demo unit for you to see. Items encoded specifically for the enhanced resolution should be a joy to watch on trips, in bed, on the couch, or anywhere for that matter. The revamped iTunes for the iPad is a really nice interface and Apple continues to set the bar for a media player well above what anyone else has in the pipes.
Web browsing with Safari is everything that is good about the iPhone in a much larger format. I absolutely love it. As more and more sites switch from the power hungry, poor performing, Flash in favor of HTML5, the web experience will continue to get better. I'm sorry for all the naysayers, the no-Flash thing is a complete non-starter in terms of complaints. It'd kill the performance, kill the battery life, and expose the OS to more malicious items. Safari on the iPad is faster and more responsive than its counterpart on the iPhone (although, I have a 3G, not a 3GS). As a device for browsing the web, reading blogs, visiting forums and everything else, the iPad will quickly find its place in a lot of living rooms.
The iBooks app is simple, powerful, and intuitive. Books look great on the iPad, especially in landscape mode (side-by-side pages). You have quite a few options with the fonts (6 different ones, I think) and sizes. I know the Kindle is hyped by the e-ink, but since my eyes are as adjusted to reading text on the screen, I saw no issues with reading on the iPad. I'd have to really sit down and read a full length novel to really gauge how it would be, but flipping through some pages of the latest Steve King novel felt natural. There are plenty of converters available on the web to convert pdfs to the epub format for import into iBooks, so places like Project Gutenberg will become a treasure trove for the public domain works.
The iWorks apps are a real shining point for the launch. Pages, Numbers and Keynote are almost as fully functional as their OS X counterparts. In terms of content creation (in apposition to the consumption side), this might be one of the most under talked about aspects of the iPad. Even with just the on screen keyboard, typing in Pages felt entirely natural. In fact, inserting images, shapes and tables is easy to do and with the touch screen, makes it cake to reposition on the screen. I was very impressed with the job they did with the initial release of the iWork suite. For students, this could be a very strong selling point.
Alright, so now we come to the part of the review where Kevin's hopes and dreams are dashed by the limited functionality of the iPad. Since my intentions for the iPad are not so much personal use (although it would see a lot of use in that arena) but instead as a replacement device for my laptop in the classroom, I had some very specific questions about how the VGA-out adapter works with the iPad. All the literature on the official site talks about the video out with Keynote, but nothing more. I would need the iPad to do three things in addition to Keynote in order for it to truly serve the role that I would like it to serve. It would need to do video out on Pages, iBooks (or the PDF Previewer), and Safari. In my classroom I use my laptop (with the limited tech that we do have at our school) for projection of Latin text on the whiteboard to mark up and diagram. Now, ideally I'd love to see tablet-like drawing right on the screen for this purpose (whiteboard markers are expensive!) but I knew going in that wouldn't be likely at the launch. However, after talking with the quote "geekiest" member of the Apple staff at Westfarms (their terms, not mine), I found out that the iPad does none of these things.
In the end it wasn't the lack of Flash, or USB, or a front-facing camera for conferencing, or a full fledged OS X that did me in. It was something that seems (to me anyways) a no-brainer if Apple really wanted to see these fall into the hands of educators. To handicap the video-out capabilities of a device as revolutionary and amazing as this one let me down substantially. The Apple store employees couldn't believe that single reason was why I wouldn't be walking out of the store with an iPad in tote.
And some of you make wild claims that I'd buy a bag of turd if Steve told me to ;)
Will I have an iPad at some point? Absolutely. Will it be sooner rather than later? Most likely. Is this the future of personal computing? Absolutely. They need to clean up some quirks (I assume iPad OS 4.0, rather than iPhone OS 3.2 will do a lot of great things) and drop the price about 100 bucks to make it mass market. For most people in the world, the traditional desktop interface as we know it is finally on the way out. Will there be individuals that need that type of machine? Sure, about one computer per household will still need to look like computers as we know them today. Everything else? Less is more.