Being a bit of a gadget freak, I decided to pick up an iPad on Saturday when they went on sale. My wife and I went over to an Apple store near her father's place in Michigan and while there had been an early morning line up by mid-day you could stroll in and get the model of your choice in under 10 minutes. That's assuming you were willing to go with what they had in stock, which was the slightly more expensive 32 or 64 gig models. While 16 gig is probably fine, I figured more memory is never a bad thing, especially since there's no SD slot. At any rate, what follows is my somewhat rambling review following 3 days of usage. No doubt things will change in the coming weeks, but these are my initial impressions. And for kicks, I'm writing this review from the iPad itself using Typepad's crappy mobile site --hence no formatting or links for now.
When you get your iPad it's fully charged, but you still need to connect to iTunes on a PC or Mac. I'm not sure why this is, but it felt weird. I mean, isn't this supposed to eliminate my use if a laptop? And what if you're a devoted Linux head? No idea. Still, the process worked quickly and getting wifi working and access to the Apple store was simple. While there are 150,000 apps for the iPhone that run on the iPad, the bad news is they look about as ugly as you can get. I mean Java-desktop-app ugly. You can run them in standard iPhone size dead center of the screen against a black background or double pixel, making the app look like some CGA resolution relic blown up on a VGA screen. For games or apps you can't live without that may be fine, but these things are so ugly you're gonna be embarrassed to show them to anyone, especially after paying $500 or more for your iPad. The good news is this is likely a temporary situation and most of the popular iPhone apps are being re-written to take advantage of the larger screen real estate. And native iPad apps are gorgeous.
About the Hardware
The iPad is slightly smaller than the size of a standard magazine and weighs about a pound and a half (under 1kg). It feels pretty sturdy in your hand and is heavier than a Kindle but lighter than just about any laptop or netbook. The screen is absolutely gorgeous, especially when browsing or watching video. That said, you can see every fingerprint smudge. Overall, apps feel fast due to Apples optimized ARM processor called the A4. Battery life is also impressive 12 hours continuous use, with wi-fi on. That's enough to get through a decent day of work, conference or travel and certainly better than the iPhone and most laptops. While I would really like to have a real slide out keyboard, the on-screen version works better than I expected given it's propensity to correct my mistakes. It's especially good in landscape mode. You can also use an optional Bluetooth keyboard or Apple's forthcoming keyboard dock.
There have been some reports on TechCrunch of wi-fi flakiness, and I've seen that at my father-in-law's place, but I've had no problems elsewhere. Update: Here's a link to proposed fixes described by PCMag if you're impacted by these issues.
Out of the starting gate there are more than 3,000 native (e.g. High res) apps for the iPad available on Apple's app store, with new ones coming out daily. While that sounds like a lot (and is certainly more than Palm, Win phone 7, Symbian etc) by iPhone or Android numbers it's still slim pickings. There are some nice apps out there from Apple and others, but I expect it will take a couple of months before we see the depth and breadth that the iPad warrants. Apple's iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) sets a high bar at a reasonable price ($10 each). The New York Times, USA Today, NPR and eBay apps are innovative, good looking and free. Wikipanion, also free, is great. If you play guitar, you should buy Tab Toolkit which is awesome; basically an iPad-optimized tab file player that works with standard Guitar-Pro as well as ASCII files. There are tons of games from the latest 3D driving simulators to retro 80's style text adventure via with the truly outstanding Frotz Z-machine interpreter.
The iPad's built-in browser is excellent, so that lessens the need for native apps in some cases. If you don't want to use a dedicated app for viewing the New York Times, just go to the web site. Which is great except if you're offline. Or if the site uses flash. Or if you want multiple tabs. You can have multiple browsers, but for now the iPad is pretty fundamentally single-tasking. So you can only view one site (or app) at a time.
Notably, Apple did not include 5 basic apps from the iPhone: the calculator, voice recorder, compass, stock quotes and weather apps are all missing. You can download equivalent free third party apps, but it's rather perplexing. My hope here is that by summer Apple will provide some form of multi-tasking that enables you to pull up simple applets like this while not totally ruining the simplicity of the user experience. There are some rumors / conspiracy theories about this, but who really knows?
Update: Earlier this week Apple announced multi-tasking will be available in OS 4.0 in the summer on iPhones and in the fall for the iPad.
Best eReader Ever?
I travel a fair amount and always seem to be lugging 3 or more books and half a dozen magazines and newspapers. While I've been jonesing for a Kindle for quite some time, I always came away feeling like the speed of eInk page refreshes were going to drive me nuts. Not to mention the fact that web browsing would be limited. The iPad, on the other hand, has a built-in iBooks reader and also offers a native iPad Kindle app. While these are still closed systems (you have to buy your books from Apple or Amazon respectively) at least you've got two choices. And since Apple's iBook reader supports the open ePub format, you can add third party books from other sources easily. For now the iBook selection of 60,000 titles is a fraction of Amazon's, but both have a fair number of free eBooks from Project Gutenberg. If you're dying to read some out of date public domain Sherlock Holmes, HG Wells or Jane Austen, its all there for the taking. Or if you want something from this century, you can download creative commons Science Fiction from Cory Doctorow who apparently hates the iPad.
I used the GoodReader $0.99 app to load up and view PDF articles from management gurus Peter Drucker and Clayten Christensen as well as some old Mad Magazines from the "Absolutely MAD" DVD. (Yes, it does fold-ins.) So with a little bit of fiddling, it's a very versatile reader.
While the iPad is not perfect, it is pretty cool and depending on what you need, it may or may not do the job for you. It's annoying that it doesn't include some form of multi-tasking, an SD slot or a USB port. A camera might be handy for some folks. My guess is some of these deficiencies will be addressed in the future. But as cool as the iPad is, it's very much a closed system and that takes some getting used to. You don't have access to the underlying system as you would on a regular computer. While that makes for a simpler experience, it can be frustrating. Doing something simple like adding PDFs to the iPad requires working around the system. Luckily third party apps (in this case the aforementioned GoodReader) can help.
For me, the iPad provides an additional tool --an instant-on eReader, browser, email system and media player. But the iPad, like the original Mac, also paints a picture of where computing is heading: a multitude of devices with different form factors that access data, applications and media in the cloud. Five years from now today's Windows laptop experience will be completely obsolete, replaced by iPads, iPhones, Super Kindles, Androids and Courier devices. For developers, this is a great time to dive in and invent that future.
How cool is that?
I have added some formatting, links and updated info based on Apple's announcement of OS 4.0. Unfortunately, TypePad from SixApart still doesn't let you access the full functionality from the iPad itself, so I made these edits in a web browser running Windows. If anyone has a workaround to access the full typepad app from Safari on the iPad let me know. SixApart claims they are working on it, though I see no evidence of that so far.