The iPad Review

Shortly after purchasing my first iPhone in 2007, I proclaimed the it was the best computer I'd ever used. It was sleek, smooth, and quick. More importantly, it had a fresh UI and a new take on how computer interaction should work. The concept of application was diminished in favor of tasks. Instead of copying and pasting links or phone numbers or photos, one simply told the iPhone to “email this” or “call this number”. My “A-ha!” moment was while visiting a new city, I could email the friends I was visiting, while listening to music, all the while finding directions to their house through the built-in address book and Google Maps applications. This was surely how computers were supposed to work.

And now, not three years later, Apple has introduced a new player to the personal computer game. I've just spent the last two days using an iPad (which arrived via UPS…never again), and I believe it is going to be a game changing device.

Unboxing

A crucial part of any new Apple product relationship. The iPad unboxing is fairly obvious (that is, no surprises yet still entirely delightful), although the box is unusually thick given its contents. While Apple's recent iPhone and iPod boxes have been just short of anorexic, the iPad box is unusually plump. It's not for extra goodies in the box — it's just extra empty space. My guess is this was done so the iPad box could be used as a makeshift prop or stand until a proper one is purchased, but this could be entirely off-base.

iPad ships with a nearly full battery charge (more on that later) but as soon as it is turned on for the first time, the “Connect to iTunes” icon appears onscreen. The device cannot be used until it is tethered via USB to iTunes and activated. While this is a quick and mostly clickless affair, it still seems quite unnecessary. Once activated, you are free to disconnect it and use it as you see fit, or patiently wait for iTunes to sync your music, photos, movies, contact, email, and address book info over to the device. It's a fairly quick process given it uses USB, but it is still cumbersome.

After using an iPhone for a few years, and now an iPad, one begins to wonder why this process of tethering even has to exist. iPad uses a fairly speedy 802.11n networking chip, so instead of the initial experience of the device being marred by a “plug me in!” icon, followed by a sync, why not just do this all over the air? Let me use my iPad straight out of the box. Let me configure a pairing with my local iTunes library, and start syncing that over my wifi network. Sure it will be slower than USB, but it will be asynchronous and this way, I can immediately start enjoying the device, all the while enjoying my media as it arrives. From my couch. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but dealing with hardware syncs to iTunes can be grating after a while (iTunes rant notwithstanding).

Hardware

Next comes the hardware, which you won't even notice unless you explicitly think to do so. To call the hardware understated is still to say too much (I've named mine “Monolith” if that's any indication). That there is little to the design is likely a testament to how much it was indeed designed — there is nothing here which does not absolutely need to be.

The device has a certain Kubrickan quality about it, something futuristic and etherial yet natural and obvious. Fingers glide over the glassy canvas with ease while the brushed aluminum surface of the underside provides the perfect grip (I will always prefer the aluminum-style underside of the iPad and original iPhone to the plastic coating of newer iPhones).

Battery

The battery of this device has so far exceeded my expectations. I have been using the device thoroughly since receiving it, and have yet to charge it once— with over 30% charge remaining!  My guess is one could reasonably use the device for five days without needing to recharge. Sounds great for those intending to purchase the device and leave it on their coffee tables.

Screen

The screen is large and bright, though smaller than expected, though I think it is the perfect size as is. One thing I would like to see improved is the resolution of the display. At 133 ppi, it certainly is not bad, but it does not quite compare to that of the iPhone at 163 ppi (and doesn't even come close to the Nexus One, which I believe is over 9000 or something).

Software

The one major point about the software is just how incredibly zippy it really feels. It is FAST. Not just faster-than-you-thought-possible-on-a-device fast, but why-isn't-my-computer-this-fast fast. Maybe you can chalk it up to the so-called no multitasking “limitation”, great hardware and software or just good old great engineering. But whatever the reason, this thing really flies.

I've especially noticed this while using Safari. While others have said Safari is the only app on the device that feels slow, due to rendering speeds, I find it incredibly fast, even when compared to my MacBook Pro. I believe this is due in part because there are not other apps or plugins bogging pages down, and more importantly the interaction with the page just feels more fluent. Mobile Safari is known for revealing a checkerboard pattern in place of actual rendered web content while scrolling, at times. This is because that content has not yet been rendered in memory, and the checkerboard appears in its place. Rendering is a hefty job, especially for a mobile device, but the checkerboard does more than just act as placeholder — it allows the page to continue scrolling under your finger even if there's nothing to display yet. This may feel like an illusion to some, but it creates a far more compelling user interface than a browser which blocks the UI to render content before scrolling to it (this is why Safari on my aging iPhone 3G still feels much smoother than the browser in the Nexus One).

iPad runs a modified version of the iphone OS, version 3.2 for those keeping score. While it uses this same Cocoa Touch libraries and SDK as its little brother, iPad introduces a slew of new interface elements and interaction models. There is a much enhanced support for multitouch gestures, such as pressing, long pressing, pinching and so on. These are used throughout the system, although somewhat inconsistently. For example, pinching outwardly on a photo in the photos app will zoom in further on that photo, snapping it into the photo detail view, while pinching the other way will zoom out to the photo thumbnail view. The same gesture may be used when looking at the tabs of Safari, one can zoom in by pinching. However, if one attempts to zoom in to the album art in the iPod app, nothing happens. Zooming out from the full screen album art mode is supported, but not zooming in. It's not a major issue, but given how difficult gestures are to learn (they are, on their own, undiscoverable), it would make sense to at least use them consistently in order to attain some trust with the interface.

The iPod app is unsurprising to most, which is really an injustice to the application as it's really fantastic, just obvious. It basically feels like a modernized version of iTunes, running on a mobile device. The only somewhat disappointing part of the iPod app is its sheer lack of CoverFlow (I never thought I'd say that), as the gorgeous screen pretty much begs to have your albums strewn across it. Alas the app works and it works very well. It gets the job done and it stays out of your way.

Homescreen

The iPad’s homescreen looks gorgeous no matter how you look at it. Wallpapers look absolutely stunning (thanks to the IPS display no doubt). There is much more space on the iPad’s screen than say, the iPhone, so application icons are much further spaced apart. This is generally OK until the device is rotated to or from widescreen: In portrait mode, there are four icons in a row; in landscape mode there are five icons in a row. This means when the device is rotated, one icon per row gets shuffled around. This creates a barrier for spatiality, as now the user has to maintain two spatial images of where icons should appear on the screen. This is one of the common gripes of the Mac OS X Dock (as it shrinks and expands from the center as apps are launched and quit), and it’s unfortunate to see the problem show up here as well. Lukas Mathis writes more on the subject here.

One concept heavily used throughout the software is screen rotation. That is, no matter which way the device is held, the content still appears to you in an upright sense (there is also, thankfully, a toggle switch to lock the screen to the current rotation—a necessity for reading in bed or other such tasks). All the built in applications support this method of rotation, along with the operating system itself (for example, the Lock screen). Apple recommends all developers of iPad apps support rotation likewise, unless it doesn't make sense to do so (in the case of some games, widescreen might be the only sensible orientation), going so far as to reject applications not adhering to the guideline.  Suffice it to say, iPad's hardware and software were both meant to be used in an orientation agnostic way.

Keyboard

The onscreen keyboard of the iPad is quite a lot like that of the iPhone keyboard, except it has been expanded to better fit its newfound screen real-estate. While it will never compare to a physical keyboard with tactile feedback, I’ve found typing on it to be quite enjoyable. Typing is quick and generally quite accurate when paired with the built-in autocorrect and spell checking system.

The system-wide spell checking, which may not seem like much, has become indispensable after just two days use. Misspelled words are underlined with those famous red dots, and one must simply tap the word to select it and choose a replacement spelling. Simple, fluid, functional.

One thing I'm having a bit of an adjustment with the keyboard is the arrangement of the keys. As the keyboard is much larger than iPhone's keyboard, the main interface is afforded some extra keys (mainly a comma key, and an extra shift key) in addition to the delete key being moved to the upper row where it belongs (it was previously on the bottom row due to space constraints).  The only trouble this new arrangement is causing me is just battling with muscle memory from the iPhone keyboard. Otherwise, the two are quite similar.

One minor annoyance so far has been my right pinky-finger's tendency to rest upon the right Shift key, thereby engaging it. Not a fault of the system so much as it is a fault of my improper typist skills.

An inconsistency I've noticed with the comma and period keys on the primary keyboard display is if one long presses (that is, clicks and holds) the comma key, a small popover menu is engaged, revealing an auxiliary key (in this case an apostrophe), which saves one from needing to visit the secondary keyboard menu. However, the period on the main keyboard menu does not follow suit. Long pressing on the secondary keyboard's period button, however, reveals the ellipsis (…) character. It's a baffling inconsistency, albeit only a minor annoyance.

The iPad's autocorrect now not only will correct typos but also common spelling errors as well. If one then taps the delete key, the original spelling will pop over, allowing you to override the correction.

One more thing I have to add about the onscreen keyboard is the undo button has proven frustratingly easy to hit at times, resulting in the same paragraph being lost twice in a row (and much cussing on my part). That aside, the undo button on the keyboard will likely be a welcome addition to those previously unaware of the device’s built-in undo abilities (which involves shaking the device, and is as difficult and awkward as you might imagine).

The Magical Device

The most common comment I’ve heard time after time in regards to iPad is “It’s just a big iPod touch”. After using the device for a few days, I can confidently turn this around and say the “iPod touch is Just a little iPad”. iPhone OS introduced some great new user interface paradigms, thanks to its extensive use of multitouch. It’s as if iPhone OS was a small fish swimming in a bowl, but has now suddenly been released into a much larger pond — and it is quickly expanding itself to the new environment.

As I said at the beginning of the review, I found the iPhone to be the best computer I had ever used at the time. I think it is safe to say this torch has been passed to iPad. iPad is not a replacement for iPhone or any other such smartphone. iPad is what the personal computer should have looked like all along. It represents a continuing shift in computer interaction, first introduced by iPhone in 2007. People (and I'm generalizing here) don't want files and folders. People don't want to click and right-click and double-click. People don't want to use computers. iPad does a phenomenal job of disappearing while in use, and I think this will lead the way in the years to come.

Sent from my iPad.

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