It’s not quite what the pundits were expecting, but the iPad has landed and with it Apple has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging all the other PC makers to catch up – if they can. It’s a slick device, offering all of the features and functionality of an iPod Touch, with a larger screen and more powerful processor. Steve Jobs and his colleagues at Apple put on a good show, demonstrating the iPad’s deft handling of web browsing, watching videos, reading publications and running apps such as racing games. But the price for this uber-iPod starts at $499 USD and rises sharply as you add more memory and 3G connectivity, leaving all of us to decide if we really need a device that sits somewhere between our MP3 player and our laptop, a device that offers little in the way of new functionality yet nonetheless occupies a category of its own.
Just how much like an iPod Touch is the new iPad? Let’s take a look at the specs:
The iPad features:
- A 9.7” LED-backlit IPS LCD multi-touch screen (IPS is one of the varieties of LCD technology that uses fewer transistors, but requires more backlighting for an increased viewing angle)
- A 1.5lbs aluminum and glass enclosure
- Built-in microphone, speakers and headphone jack
- 10 hour battery life
- Wi-Fi a/b/g /n
- Bluetooth 2.0
- A custom Apple-built 1 Ghz processor, dubbed the “A4”
- Accelerometer, compass, ambient light sensor
- 1024-by-768-pixel resolution (3×4 aspect ratio)
- Can output 576p and 480p with Apple Composite A/V Cable to a TV
So far, with the exception of the compass, it’s a large iPod Touch, with a fast processor and a not-quite 720p resolution screen. Though it’s hard to tell without benchmark testing, the processor may deliver similar performance to Intel’s Atom platform – the Atom varies between 1.3 and 2 Ghz. In fact, given Apple’s close working relationship with Intel on most of their other computing products, it’s a bit of a surprise that an Atom isn’t at the heart of the iPad. One reason might be cost, but I suspect Apple needed two very important things for the iPad: A need to clearly distinguish it from the netbook category (having an Atom processor would immediately invite comparisons) and the ability to extract every second of battery life possible.
Now for the software:
- Safari (web browser)
- Photos (with an optional dock adapter that lets you read SD cards)
- Customizable home screen
- iBooks (an online bookstore very similar to what Amazon offers on the Kindle)
- App Store
- Video & YouTube, both with HD support
Again, we have a few minor enhancements over the iPod Touch, most notably the iBooks integration, but on the whole, it’s very similar.
Though Canadian pricing hasn’t been announced, here’s what they get in the U.S.:
16GB + WiFi: $499; 16GB + WiFi + 3G: $629
32GB + WiFi: $599; 32GB + WiFi + 3G: $729
64GB + WiFi: $699; 64GB + WiFi + 3G: $829
Since the iPod Touch only comes in 8, 32 and 64GB sizes, let’s take the 32GB model for comparison at $299 USD. The same size iPad is $300 more, or double the price. If you want to compare the iPad to the 32GB iPhone it starts to get tricky given the carrier-underwritten pricing, but it’s still cheaper than the equivalent iPad 3G.
Speaking of 3G, this is one area that will give prospective buyers of the iPad the most difficulty when it comes to deciding on which model. You will need to honestly ask yourself if you want to use the iPad absolutely everywhere or just when in range of an available Wi-Fi network. There is no evidence so far, that if you go Wi-Fi only, you will be able to upgrade to 3G capability at a later date. But because you aren’t tied to a carrier for the 3G model (unlike current iPhone purchasing models) many people may decide to splurge, simply as a way to future-proof themselves.
In the U.S., Apple has partnered with AT&T to offer unlimited data on the iPad for $30 a month which is a great deal if you’re going to use it outside of Wi-Fi network range regularly. For Canadians, who can’t currently get an unlimited data plan on *any* carrier, the questions are: will a similar deal will be struck here, and if not, will the iPad be viable financially when not within range of a Wi-Fi network?
So that’s pretty much it as far as the specs go. If it sounds like the iPad is a little underwhelming from this description, you and I have the same perspective.
However, as tempting as it may be to dismiss the iPad as an overgrown and overpriced iPod Touch, as with so many of Apple’s products, there’s always another aspect – an element that cannot be quantified through an analysis of the specs alone. The iPad is very attractive. It has the same simple elegance that has been a hallmark of Apple’s industrial design since Jobs took back control of the company over 10 years ago.
I haven’t even seen it in the flesh yet but I can hardly wait to get my hands on it – to touch it, interact with it, play with it. Though it may not boast capabilities that any well-equipped netbook couldn’t match and for much less money, its touch-based interface and beautiful, jewel-like screen call to gadget lovers like a siren song. Steve Jobs described it as “magical”. I’m not sure I would call it a magical device given how much of what it can do is already available in other products, but there’s no question – it does exude a magical appeal.
If you ask yourself “Do I really need an iPad?”, the probable answer is “No.” But once you’ve used one, or watched curiously as someone else works with one, then ask yourself “Do I want an iPad?”, I’ll bet the answer will be “YES!”
It is already apparent that the iPad’s strengths are: Surfing the web with a multitouch interface on a screen that lets you really appreciate a full web page; Having access to books and periodicals in full colour with adjustable font sizes and orientation; Watching videos in your choice of letterbox or full-frame presentation, organizing and viewing photos, and of course, accessing the 160,000+ apps in the App Store that not only run on the iPad, but are sync’d with your existing App Store purchases if you already own an iPod Touch or iPhone.
This last point is really the iPad’s greatest strength of all. Not only does Apple already has a superb set of online tools through which users can download anything from apps, to movies, to music to TV shows, the company has fostered an enormous development community who can leverage every line of code that they wrote for the iPhone and iPod Touch and layer-on additional features for the iPad.
As with the iPhone, it will be this dizzying array of creative energy that figures out how to take the iPad to places that even Apple itself hasn’t imagined. I know they had to call this thing an iPad for consistency in branding etc, but I think its unofficial name ought to be “the AppPad”.
On a final note, I’ll share a few disappointments. These weaknesses are more omissions than outright mistakes. There’s no GPS (though A-GPS is available on the 3G models), there’s no camera either on the front or the back, there was no mention of the ability to multi-task or background your apps – something that has been a complaint on the iPhone for some time.
I strongly suspect that all three of these elements will make their way into future versions of the iPad, with multi-tasking being the first to come, with a software update, since clearly Apple’s new A4 processor is more than capable of handling it.
So welcome to the world iPad. You may not be the device that anyone needs, but I doubt that will stop you from winning a place in our hearts.
Update Jan 28, 2:10 P.M.: found this over at gizmodo… hilarious!
Update Jan 28, 2:55 P.M.: Obviously Apple engaged with the accessory community early on for the iPad launch. If you were really bummed out by the absence of a webcam onboard the iPad, the folks over at iLuv have a solution (albeit a clunky one): A dock-adapter based webcam available in 1.3 or 3 megapixel resolutions. No word on price or availability yet.