After its release in the US in April, you’ve probably read about everything the iPad does well all over the web. The bright, crystal clear screen is beautiful and sliding your finger back and forth to switch between pages and manipulate applications is seamless. The App environment is user friendly and (like the iPod did with digital music players) has set the benchmark for everyone else to follow.
As a media consumption machine it has few rivals, occupying the long-mythologised sweet spot between a computer and a handheld device (at 242 x 189mm). Watching movies, for example, is a viable proposition on the 9.5′ screen — more than it ever was on the iPod.
But here’s what the iPad isn’t — think of it as a small computer and you’re going to be disappointed. Rather, think of it as an overgrown iPod Touch. You can’t do nearly as much on it as on a Mac or PC, and you’re rigidly locked in to the way the operating system (based on the iPod Touch and iPhone) wants you to work. That means, for instance, that you can’t have more than one application open at a time.
Like the Apple handhelds it’s only accessible through iTunes, where it creates a copy of your data every time you sync from songs to emails, movies to podcasts. Creating documents on it is possible and typing on the screen keyboard is comfortable (this review was written on one), but the process of saving and finding them on the device and then transporting them to your Mac through iTunes when you connect can be fiddly.
You might have also heard about the niggles that have the blogosphere up in arms. For a device that’s intended to let you enjoy media, not including an onboard camera hovers somewhere between curious and stupid. The ability to take photos right on the device and then have them sync back to your computer would be the logical digital photography environment with your Mac. Instead, you can buy an adaptor that allows you to connect your digital camera to the iPad — and the $39 price tag seems all the explanation Apple needs.
The fact that you need a USB adaptor highlights the second problem — there’s no straight USB connector, just the same cable you’d use for an iPhone or iPod. If the iPad were a traditional tablet computer it would be a legitimate gripe, but iTunes and the Web adequately manage any files or content you’d ever want on it.
The biggest problem is the lack of support for Flash on websites. A quick search online will reveal the war between Apple and Adobe (who owns the format) over Flash support, but while so many websites still use Flash it was an unforgivable – if tactical — move by Apple to drop it.
If you have an iPod touch or iPhone the iPad will be an expensive and mostly redundant trinket, but like everything Apple, it’ll make you look just so cool — you and the other 2 million iPad owners worldwide.