Apple iPad – Home Run or Strikeout? Part 1

Now that I’ve had time to study the iPad, read comments by others, and contemplate it all, I am ready to give my thoughts and opinions on this “magical device”. Because I have a lot to say, I will be breaking it down into at least three articles to make it a little easier for you to digest. I will begin with talking about the iPad from a hardware and software standpoint and how I think it will fare in the marketplace.

As usual, I will not go into a lot of detail on the features of the iPad. All the features and tech specs are available at Apple’s iPad website, which if you haven’t taken a look at, I recommend you do so right away. Instead, I will discuss some features which are the most important to this device. The iPad is in some ways a brand new type of device. In other ways, it is an improvement on previous tablet computers. There are a few main differences between the iPad and previous tablet computers which are critical to note.

The first is that the iPad’s main interface is a touchscreen that can be used without a stylus. While the iPad can be used with a keyboard attachment or a wireless keyboard, the majority of interfacing with the device will be by touching the screen with one’s fingers. Previously, most tablet computers required the use of a stylus, which was inconvenient as they could be easily lost. The iPad requires no such accessory for its use, keeping in line with Apple’s goal of creating products that are as simple to use as possible.

The second and most important distinction is that the iPad uses the same operating system as the iPhone and iPod Touch (which I will henceforth refer to as the Touch OS). Most previous tablet computers used the Windows operating system and some custom tablets used the Mac OS. Either way, these operating systems were designed for desktop computing. Desktop computers, and by extension, laptop computers have a keyboard and mouse as their primary interfaces. As evidenced by the lackluster sales of previous tablet computers, operating systems and software designed for desktops did not translate well to devices that used touch interfaces. Apple’s approach with the iPad was the to take an operating system that was designed for a small touchscreen and scale it up to a bigger screen. It appears that this approach will be a success from a usage standpoint. The ease of use that the iPhone and iPod Touch are known for seem to carry over to the larger iPad.

The final differences revolve around the size and battery life of the iPad. Previous tablets were the size and weight of laptops and often were laptop/tablet hybrids with keyboards and a pivoting screen. The iPad is only 1.5 pounds and is only half-an-inch thick. While the smaller size and weight may not seem like a big deal, the reduced size and weight of the iPad will make it very easy to carry around. As well, the 10 hour battery life means that the iPad will spend less time on a charger. All this will result in the iPad being more accessible to their owners which will result in much greater overall usage of the devices. The more they are used, the more their owners will become accustomed to and then attached to their devices. I’ll speak more to the “impulsive” appliance-like nature of the iPad in my next article.

So will the iPad be useful for most users? Realistically, most computer usage today revolves around the core functions of the iPad: web browsing, e-mail and digital media (photos, video, music). Throw in contacts, calendar, notes, and mapping capability and it is a well rounded device up to this point. The next big feature is the iBooks app and store, basically turning the iPad into an electronic book reader like an Amazon Kindle. This is a potentially “killer app” and one I will write at length about later. Finally, the iPad can run virtually all the apps from the Apple App Store.

Even before it hits the market, the fact that the iPad already has a very large pre-existing library of apps gives it a solid start. I think most users will find the iPad very useful and it will likely become a hit like the iPhone and iPod Touch have. But the iPad is a new type of device and it will not replace the personal computer – at least not yet. I will talk about this more in part 2 of this series so stay tuned.

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