Test Driving Apple's Game Changing iPad

Ashesh Shah
April 6, 2010

Having used the iPad for a couple of days now, it’s clear that the product is a game changer. I suggested in a recent column that the tablet had the potential to kill netbooks. After bringing the iPad with me on a recent trip, I firmly believe that it will replace my laptop in a number of instances, as well.

Out of the box, it’s immediately clear just how sleek and elegant the device is. No surprise there, of course. When it comes to design, Apple always bests the competition. Once turned on, the brilliant screen reveals the device’s various functions, highlighting the ways in which the iPad will help us re-think portable computing.

The iPad makes content consumption easy and fun. Sitting back in your chair in what I call the “lean back position,” the iPad is perfect for surfing the Web, checking e-mail, watching movies and TV shows, playing games, and reading books. Seventy percent of what we do on a computer already involves consuming content. The lean back is a more natural way to view most of the content we encounter in our digital lives.

The iPad delivers a great experience in each of these areas. This alone will make it hard for competitors to top the device. Add to that a plethora of apps created specifically for the iPad, and it becomes clear that the device is more than simple a giant iPd touch. It’s a new kind of portable computer that could cause a paradigm shift in mobile computing, making the tablet the preferred method for accessing and consuming digital content for many mainstream consumers.

The device is also versatile enough to deliver a solid experience in “lean forward mode.” When we sit at our desk and create content, we’re primarily hunched over our keyboard writing documents and working with spreadsheets. Apple was smart enough to create a new version of Pages, Keynote, and Numbers, specifically for the iPad. With the optional keyboard dock, the device can also be used to create content. Reading e-mail on the tablet is a delight. The screen makes it possible to read long messages on a single page. The virtual keyboard makes it easy to respond to e-mails, even for someone with fat fingers, such as myself. However, if you are working with large documents or spreadsheets or creating a graphics-based project, you’ll probably want to stick to the desktop or laptop.

Apps At launch, there were about 1,400 iPad-specific apps available. By the end of April, I bet that number will be well over 5,000. Even without seeing one in-person, developers understood the device’s potential, lining up to create new and innovative apps for the platform. I downloaded the ABC app, which gave me instant access to many of the network’s most popular shows through its dedicated player. The CNN site has already taken advantage of HTML5, makng it possible to view CNN videos on the iPad. The optimized versions of USA Today, Time Magazine, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, make it clear that the publishing world is backing the iPad in a big way.

The complaints about the iPad’s lack of support for Flash are certainly legitimate, but Apple’s decision to make HTML5 the cornerstone architecture for delivering video on the device could cause the entire industry to shift in that direction. In fact, content delivery networks like BrightCove have created tools to convert Flash video into HTML5 for customers.

There is some real innovation happening in the games space, as well. I downloaded the iPad version of Scrabble and found that it could be played with iPhones and iPod touches through the Bluetooth feature. You place the iPad down on the tablet between yourself and a group of friends. The iPad serves as the board, and everyone around the table uses their iPhones and iPod touches to create words, which magically show up on the iPad in the center.

In fact, all of the games I tested for the iPad were stellar. Racing games come alive, and first-person shooters seem almost like 3D. Casual games like solitaire and Bejeweled are more fun to play on the iPad’s larger screen. A game/learning tool called The Elements demonstrates how the iPad could impact education. In fact, we’re already hearing stories about colleges that are going to make the iPad a part of their curriculum next fall.

Books and Movies

When reading books, the difference between the iPad and the Kindle is huge. With the iPad, books include color images. Reading Winnie the Pooh to my granddaughters, I was able to share all of the full-color images they are used to seeing in the hardcover version of the book. I fully expect publishers to utilize the technology to create multimedia books in the near future.

Reading magazines like Time, Newsweek, The New Yorker is very much like reading their hard copy counterparts. All of the color art, charts, and photos are in tact, and after a while I forgot that I was reading an electronic copy. The experience is incredibly similar.

And if you have ever watched a movie on an iPhone or iPod touch, you know that the devices deliver very good video experiences. I pulled up the Michael Jackson movie, This is it, on the iPod touch and the iPad, watching them side-by-side. Guess which experience was better. I did this little experiment on a flight back to San Jose. People around me stopped to see what I was doing. When they saw the iPad, they all agreed that they would prefer to watch the movie on that device.

Changing the Game

There are some drawbacks, however. The screen is sharp and clear, but it still reflects images in bright light. More than once I could see myself reflected back completely in the screen like a mirror. And since the iPad uses fingers to navigate through programs and menus, it collects smudges fast. I had to carry a glasses cleaning cloth around with me.

Because of the iPad’s weight (1.5 pounds), it can get tiresome if you hold it in one position for a long time. When I was on the couch, I had to hold it on my lap or rest it on my leg. When watching a movie, I put it in the cradle. I did the same when I ate alone and wanted to read. The iPad is a great dining companion.

In the couple of day I had the device, I found it a powerful and natural way to consume digital content. It delivers a great Web browsing, book reading, game playing, and all-around media-consuming experience. The iPad is still a bit pricey for mainstream consumers, but I think it will still manage to pull in a lot of people. And having used it on a trip, I can attest that it would be a marvelous gadget for travels who spend a lot time on planes and in hotel rooms.

It may take some time for the iPad to find its true audience, but it will likely eventually become Apple’s fourth billion dollar business. The halo effect alone will be massive. Millions of people will enter Apple stores this year just to play with the iPad, giving the company a chance to sell them on other Apple products.

I look forward to spending a lot more time with the iPad in the future. I sense that it’s a product I’ll want to use a lot both on trips and at home. And when it’s not in use around the house, it will also function as our family’s digital picture frame. The potential for the iPad seems virtually limitless.


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