Our American readers have probably already played with an iPad – I suspect you can stroll into your nearest Apple store and satisfy your curiosity – but as Apple have yet to reveal the all important date for worldwide availability, the rest of the world don’t have that luxury. I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to spend a short time playing with Apple’s latest gadget and thought I’d share my thoughts.
The first thing that struck me was the screen. I wasn’t even holding the device at the time and the clarity of display, even from the angle I was seeing it, was dazzling. HD videos from iTunes look absolutely stunning, even if the iPad’s 4:3 screen resolution means the video has borders top and bottom. I don’t see this as a big deal: I don’t have a 4:3 TV, but certain aspect ratios still produce borders. It doesn’t bother me there, it didn’t bother me here. The second thing that struck me: the weight. That’s not to say it’s a brick, far from it, but for some reason it’s heavier than you expect. I think it’s down to the effortlessness with which you’ve seen people interact with the device in the videos; there’s a lightness of touch demonstrated and your brain expects the physicality of the device to mirror that. The iPad feels like a solid piece of hardware, well made, and durable.
The iPad I sampled wasn’t crammed with apps, but what was there impressed me. Twitter needs were catered for by Twitterrific and Tweetdeck, and of the two I think I preferred Tweetdeck. Twitterrific is very pretty, but Tweetdeck better demonstrates the step up from phone class device to tablet device in it’s use of the additional width in landscape mode. Whereas the mobile version only displays one column at a time, this feels more like the desktop version and allows three columns on screen at once (with the usual swiping gestures scrolling between extra columns, naturally). I can see iPad Twitter fans loving this.
The Marvel comics app was installed, and it’s beautiful. Viewing comics on such a fantastic screen, at a resolution that doesn’t require zooming in or panning around, really opens your eyes to the implications of a device like this for print. With the right subscription models, I think graphic novels and comics on the iPad could be huge.
I also got to try iBooks, which on first impression is the closest any digital device has gotten to the feel of a real book. The weight of the device feels comparable with a hardback book and little graphical touches, like seeing the depth of the remaining pages, and varying page turn animations depending on whether you turn the page from the top or the bottom corner, all conspire to trick you into thinking this is old school. The only thing missing is some sort of scent attachment to give it that fresh book smell.
The built-in apps are all suitably impressive too: the YouTube app benefits massively from the increased screen size, and the calendar is a really beautiful piece of work.
There were a few iPhone games on the device, and they all scale up quite nicely. Particularly Broken Sword, which looked superb on the iPad. Text-heavy apps really don’t scale so well, but look nice and crisp in their native resolution.
Perhaps one of the most mundane sounding apps, but the one that impressed me the most was Safari. Apple have said “it’s like holding the web in your hands” and it’s very easy to roll your eyes and write this off as hyperbole, but there’s something in it. Seeing a web site filling the iPad’s gorgeous screen, zoomed at a perfectly readable resolution, and requiring only the lightest touch to navigate, really does make mouse and keyboard seem primitive. Years ago we thought the introduction of the scroll-wheel onto a mouse was progress, but being able to gently brush your way through a website seems like the natural next step. You really are taking the middleman out of the equation, and letting your fingers do the walking.
Finally, I wanted to get to grips with the onscreen keyboard. The notes app seemed like a good choice, so I set the iPad down on a flat surface and tried to touch-type. And the results were pretty damned impressive. I’m a pretty fast typist, and didn’t throttle back at all for the iPad, and at a guess I achieved roughly 95% accuracy. Sometimes the iPad compensated for my errors (which feels quite strange on what’s nearly a full size keyboard) and other times it gave me a squiggly red underline to indicate that it needed some manual intervention in determining which word to use. I’m sure with a little practice I could become quite proficient with its keyboard.
So there we have it. I only got to spend a very short time with the device, but even at this early stage the iPad is an impressive piece of technology. I had no issues with wireless connectivity, and I didn’t detect even the faintest trace of sluggishness in all the time I used it.
Apple are due to unveil their next mobile operating system in just a few hours, and we’ll have some thoughts on that, and what it means for the future of Apple’s devices, after the event.