iPad: first impressions

I woke up this morning terribly excited. Sweaty with anticipation. Delirious with the possibilities.

One of the better App sites I frequent, Touch Arcade, was reporting that the C64 emulator for iPhone would shortly offer up both Wizball and Elite for sale.

Yes, I know. It's exciting stuff, isn't it?

Of course, my elation was short-lived. Checking the App itself, Wizball and Elite were nowhere to be seen. On the plus side, Jeff Minter's rather trippy "Attack Of The Mutant Camels" is now available, for free no less. Joy!

Oh, and in other news, Apple released some sort of product. You might have heard a bit about it by now. Not the Slablet, not the iSlate, not even the HyperMegaThreeToedSlothPodlet. But the iPad. You know, that thing that's been mooted since ... well ... since Apple stopped making Newtons, really.

OK, I've got to come clean here out of the gate. These are my first impressions based on web reporting, Apple's own videos of the iPad and not a whole lot else. I don't have an iPad to hand as I type this. It would be coming out a fair bit slower on the touchscreen keyboard, for a start. Or I'd have to start liking the tiny iMac keyboard in the dock a whole lot more than I actually do.

Still, after all the endless speculation about naming, the rumours about what the specifications would be and what turned out to be a whole lot of lies, Apple's finally announced the iPad in both WiFi only and 3G flavours, "starting" at $US499.

Well, it's announced it if you happen to be an American citizen. Exact details for Australian buyers are still a little thin on the ground and, while it would be an interesting mathematical exercise to work out exchange rates — indeed MacTheMag's editor has already done so — it's not much more than speculation at this stage. My enquiries to Apple Australia so far have yielded nothing more than the comment that there were "no details at this stage".

I really can't go past the name without commenting. Yes, I did comment on the iPad name last week. I still think it's an overly bland name for a product that Apple's trying to get everyone excited about, and as others have commented, it's also dangerously close to sounding like a feminine hygiene product of some type.

As an aside, while cross-tweeting around the launch on Thursday morning, I noticed that the iPhone didn't try to auto-correct "ipad", although it didn't try to capitalise the P either. I tweeted this, and was informed by others that apparently it did on theirs, to "Upas". With credit to @juhasaarinen, Upas is "a deciduous tree that yields latex used as arrow-tip poison". That makes me slightly nervous about my first time using an iPad, frankly speaking. A poison-tipped iPad might make a great anti-theft add-on, I suppose. I'll have to wait and see.

From a capability point of view I'm a little torn. No multitasking is something of a pain, although multitasking here is still a bit of a misnomer. Apple seems to manage it just fine, as my iPhone cheerfully gathers mail and plays back music while I'm running other applications. It's just the third-party ones that don't seem to be allowed to get beyond push status — something that could be better. Then again, the demos (and impressions I've got from those who have handled them) suggest that the iPad's processor runs applications a whole lot faster than the 3GS. If an App can launch and quit in the blink of an eye, will multitasking matter? I'll have to wait and see.

I'm still not sure what the story is with getting my data on or off the iPad, but I've got some guesses. I presume it's going to work like the iPhone/iPod Touch, in that without some hackery you won't have direct file system access. That makes it less compelling as a work tool for my purposes, as I'd have to email or sync my own content out to other devices before making it truly useful. Once again, wait and see, wait and see.

The split 3G/WiFi only models are an interesting choice too. I wouldn't be holding my breath for Australian mobile data providers to offer an "All you can eat" style package — as AT&T are apparently going to do — any time soon. Then again, AT&T's version of "unlimited" data has had limits hidden in the fine print before. It also occurs to me that a clever iPad user could pair up the cheaper WiFi-only iPad with a MiFi-style portable router (Virgin Mobile sells them, as do Internode) for the same kind of 3G connectivity that the more expensive iPads will have built in. Given the daft way wireless broadband is sold in Australia, that might also be a whole lot cheaper, depending on whether iPads end up on mobile broadband or mobile phone style data tariffs. Yeah, I know, the iPad isn't a phone. Doesn't mean the Telcos won't charge for it as if it were.

There are obvious comparisons with existing Apple lines to take into consideration too. A full-priced iPad 64GB with 3G is unlikely to come out with much change from $1200, at which point you could consider a 13" MacBook. Slightly heavier, but with 3.9 times the storage, better processor, true multitasking, an easy way to protect the screen by simply closing it and even an inbuilt optical drive. No need for additional dongles to attach cameras or other devices, as the ports are built in.

OK, so the MacBook's likely to be $100 or more than the iPad. But what about the iPhone 3GS? Even leaving aside a potential price drop, that same $1000 could get you 32GB of storage, the same App store, ebook reading capability. Oh, and it actually is a phone. Clearly there are different target markets for the iPad and iPhone, but due to the common App base, it's undeniably a less compelling option for iPhone users, unless it's revealed that you can pair the two together to share a 3G connection. Expect the WiFi-only model to dominate sales figures that Apple will never publicly reveal anyway if that's the case.

Another thought that arises from this is exactly what happens to iPhone OS development after this? Apple's claim with the iPad is that it's rewritten the core Apps "from the ground up" to suit the iPad form factor. Will we see a retooled calendar/email/Safari to more closely emulate these new App styles, or will the OS stagnate a little in order to push iPad sales?

It's certainly feasible we'll see a drop in the price of the iPhone itself, and I'd say pretty likely that if Apple can get ten hours out of a screen the iPad's size from its battery technology and A4 processor while still running iPhone OS that we'll see an iPhone update with some form of A4 in it mid-year — if only to keep as much of the design (and therefore the profits and patents) in-house at Apple as possible.

So will I buy an iPad? Leaving aside professional obligations (I do write a lot about Apple gear), I'm honestly not sure. You may have noticed the "wait and see" mantra used heavily in the paragraphs above this. That's for a reason. While Apple has let the Pad out of the bag, there's still a tonne of unanswered and untested questions swirling, and no clear confirmation one way or the other. I certainly wouldn't be rushing to pre-order one as soon as they pop up on the Apple Australia online store, not that you can at the time of writing.

Then again, Touch Arcade's just popped up some iPad details, including revealing that Firemint's working on an iPad-specific version of Flight Control. Sigh. Where did I put that credit card again?

Discuss the iPad over at MacTheForum!

Bookmark and Share