What is the Apple iPad?

Category: Gadgets

After months of rumor and hype unrivaled since Windows Vista was conceived, Apple finally revealed the final form of its iPad tablet computer on Wednesday, January 27, 2010. What's it all about, and what does it mean to you?

Apple iPad

Apple's iPad - Filling a Gap?

The iPad falls into a category that's being called a tablet or slate device. Is it a Really Big iPod Touch, a Macbook Lite, or something else? Let's take a look at this new gadget, it's capabilities, and the drawbacks.

Physically, the iPad sports a touch-screen display 9.7 inches across, diagonally, surrounded by a metal frame that is sure to come in many colors. The device is sleek, less than an inch thick. Its color LCD display is based upon in-plane switching (IPS) technology for wider viewing angles and brighter colors. (Many tablet computers display only grayscales.) The screen is coated with the same oleophobic substance that makes skin oil bead up on the iPhone 3GS for easier cleaning.

The display resolution will be a spacious 1024x768. By contrast, the iPhone/iPod resolution is only 480x320. Clearly, Apple intends bigger things for the iPad. Web browsing and email will be much easier on the eyes, and you will be able to view more content at once without scrolling. The iPad has great potential as an e-book reader, too, in competition with Amazon.com's Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony eReader.

The iPad has an on-screen QWERTY keyboard and an accelerometer to detect when the device is being held in portrait or landscape mode; the displayed image will rotate to remain right side up. There will also be a rocker-style volume control and a mute button - just like the iPhone - and a "home" button to jump lost users back to the operating system's main screen. A 30-pin connector provides access to a docking station.

Inside the iPad

Inside, the iPad will be powered by a custom Apple CPU running at 1 Ghz - although the chip's clock speed is meaningless because there are no similar chips to which it can be compared. A WiFi adapter will be built in. Flash memory storage will be available in 16, 32, or 64 GB capacities for $499, $599, and $699, respectively. But if you want cellular phone service with your WiFi, it will cost you more.

Apple will sell another version of the iPad that includes a WiFi adapter and a 3G cellular modem. Phone service will be provided by AT&T, Apple's partner for the iPhone, at either $15 a month for up to 250 MB of data traffic or $29.99 for unlimited service. The prices with the aforementioned memory capacities will become $629, $729, and $829 with 3G capability.

The iPad can display HD video content at 720p; barely enough to qualify as HD but a large step beyond current handheld or tablet computer standards. Unfortunately, video output to external devices is limited to 480p, which doesn't qualify as hi-def. Apple says the iPad will be able to play up to 10 hours of video, the same as the iPhone. Battery-wise, this translates into about "a month" of standby time, according to the company.

All of Apple's in-house apps have been re-written to take advantage of the iPad's larger display. Apple's Mail app, for example, sports a two-panel layout with a preview of the selected email in the viewing pane on the iPad. About 140,000 existing App Store apps will run on the iPad, and developers will have a lot more screen space in which to amaze, amuse, and hypnotize us with more.

Perhaps the greatest impact of the iPad for most consumers will be the competition it offers to Amazon's Kindle e-book reader. Apple will open its iBook online store when the iPad starts shipping later this year, with titles from HarperCollins, Hachette, Penguin, Macmillan, and Simon & Shuster.

So the iPad will be a phone; a portable media center; an email app and a Web browser; and an e-book reader. It will also be harder to lose than its predecessors, the iPhone and iPod, but then again, it won't fit into your pocket.

Criticisms of the Apple iPad

I'm sure the iPad will appeal to many consumers, and that Apple will sell a ton of them. But personally, I don't find it appealing. Here are some reasons why:

  • I've already got an iPod Touch, and from what I can see, it does pretty much everything the iPad does, just on a smaller screen.
  • There's no Flash support, and that means a lot of websites will not play well with the iPad.
  • No USB port or SD slot. If you want to connect a digital camera or memory card, you have to use a big funky adapter that plugs into the docking port.
  • Also, I'm really surprised that the iPad doesn't have a built-in camera or webcam.
  • Oh, and there's the name... See this MadTV iPad spoof from 2006. Seriously, Apple marketing gurus, this didn't even cross your minds?

And as a replacement for a laptop or netbook, the iPad doesn't quite cut it, for these reasons:

  • The iPad, like it's cousins in Apple's portable device family, doesn't do multi-tasking. Because it can run only one program at a time, you can't browse the web or read a book while listening to music. You can't do Twitter, Facebook, or chat at the same time as your email, and so on. Without multi-tasking, the iPad feels like DOS with a pretty face.
  • Unlike a MacBook laptop, the iPad doesn't run the Mac OS X operating system, so it won't run Firefox, Office, Photoshop, or other apps you're currently using for school or work.
  • And let's face it... doing anything other than sending a quick text message is cumbersome on a touchscreen keyboard. This is actually made worse on a larger device, because it becomes more of a stretch to reach keys in the middle of the keyboard, like T, Y, G and H, while trying to grip the edges of the device. You can't lay it on a flat surface and type easily, either, because the back of the iPad is curved, so it wobbles when you peck at the virtual keys. There is an adapter for a real keyboard, though.

For those who want a portable media device that offers email and web surfing on a decent sized screen, the iPad looks great. But there are competing devices that are, or will soon be, in the marketplace. Before you run out and buy an iPad, you might want to check out the HP Slate, the JooJoo, the Archos 7 and others in the field. Are you planning on buying an iPad? Post your comment or question about the Apple iPad below...

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Most recent comments on "What is the Apple iPad?"

Posted by:

Dave in Indy
29 Jan 2010

Heh. I'll wait for the Google / Android version :)

Posted by:

Benjamin A. Berryhill
29 Jan 2010

Small, too Small yet again, then it's Small again. If I could get one with no borders 11" x 17", USB(for attachments), HDMI(for presentations), SATA (for backup), and Wireless Servers for info storage/distribution, you could get doctors, hospitals, municipality’s, to improve dissemination of information to specific and general dispersion to the media.

Posted by:

Jim Swan
30 Jan 2010

Your assessment seems balanced, except that you ignored gesture recognition. The Mac apps Numbers, Pages, and Keynote are said to have been reworked not merely to fit into the screen, as you stated, but to recognize gestures. This is a crucial omission, I think. If Apple has its way, it looks like the physical keyboard will be following the flight trajectory of the dodo.

One point about virtual keyboards that doesn't seem to be much mentioned in the English-medium press is the fact that you can switch language input with a mere keytap. Maybe monolingual users don't care about something like that, but it's a great boon for multilingual users. Here in Japan, when I order a new computer, I am offered the choice of a US-layout physical keyboard or one with a Japanese layout. Both are USEABLE with the other language, but neither is really optimal for the other.

The Japanese iPhone's Japanese input options, on the other hand, include a mode that is totally unlike any western language keyboard -- and immediately intuitive for Japanese users. This is where the iPad will shine, just as the iPhone and iPod Touch do -- one machine for all international markets, thanks to its intelligent text input.

Posted by:

30 Jan 2010

Excellent review. You covered pretty much everything for a geek.

I guess Apple will fail on this product of theirs but plenty of foolish people out there who will run to buy this crap.


Posted by:

30 Jan 2010

Thanks! This is the 1st honest, intelligent review of the iPad I have seen. My 1st impulse upon seeing the iPad was that it was too big! If it won't fit in my pocket, then I might as well carry a netbook or a notebook. Now I see that there are other reasons to hesitate on purchasing an iPad.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2010

It sounds good except for the limitations you said but give it a year or two and what will that bring.

Posted by:

31 Jan 2010

I've been waiting for the iPad ever since rumors starting popping up late last year. However, after browsing the specs....I'm definately not looking forward to it.

I do not own a singe Apple product. I was very close to purchasing the iPhone 3G but due to some shortcomings (software related) I said no. I thought maybe the iPad might be the answer...but not now.

Maybe the 2nd generation iPad might be better and worth the price tag.

Posted by:

Joe Hathaway
03 Feb 2010

The iPad may join the Nook-E-Book in product name infamy--along with the Nova (no-go in Spanish) and Enco (stalled car in Japanese).

Posted by:

Walter Hansen
12 Feb 2010

Did you see the full size newspaper flexible kindle like display that LG is working on in Korea?


EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, I mentioned that in a recent Geekly Update. Very cool.

Posted by:

12 Feb 2010

It is very likely that a next version of the iPad has a camera. The frame is already manufactured to hold a camera.


Posted by:

12 Feb 2010

You are wrong about multitasking on Apple's mobile devices. I can listen to music and read a book simultaneously on my iPhone.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I stand corrected - you CAN listen to music and read a book at once. The limitation is that you can run only one non-Apple app aimultaneously. So (for example) Pandora + Kindle = NO GO.

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