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Tomas Gallucci

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First Moments with iPad - eReaders Pt. 1 [Apr. 7th, 2010|01:14 pm]
Tomas Gallucci
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Steve Jobs introduces the iPad

Having spent a few minutes with the iPad in the Apple store Saturday, I am pleased to bring you my thoughts and initial reaction to the iPad.

For what it's worth, I was at the Apple store around 1400 on launch day and though it was a tight squeeze around the iPad, there was no line for either the store or the iPad. I saw no less than 5 iPads sold while I was at the store actively looking for sales. I'm sure more occurred as I had my back to the sales reps while iPad and I got acquainted.

I think that @adamcurry's theory was right: Apple put a lot of hype behind the iPad's early numbers in order to create a false demand. This paid off because they sold 300,000 units in the first 24 hours including the pre-sales, in-store sales and sales to partners such as Best-Buy. How much inflation is in the numbers is for another journalist with more time on their hands to spill ink over, but no matter how you slice or dice it, the early numbers are good for Apple. The question is, will they last?

First Impressions
The first thing I noticed about the iPad was that it was much smaller than I thought it would be. This was the case when I finally dragged my behind down to Best Buy to have a look at netbooks a couple of years ago. I have played around with the Nook and though iPad is larger than the Nook, iPad still somehow seemed like a small device. Not microscopic like any of the other mobile Apple products, but small just the same. The border around the iPad is what creates this illusion, much like the lack of a number pad makes Apple's bluetooth keyboard seem much smaller than a "full-sized" keyboard despite being the exact same size for a QWERTY board.

The next thing that was apparent was the angled pedestal that the iPad was placed on for display immediately showed the device's biggest problem: no support. Not being an iTouch/iPhone/iPod Classic/iPod Nano owner, I can't say that I've had to deal with this frustration before, so I'm not sure how this will play out for Apple fans that have more dough and less soul than I. What I can say, however, is that the weight of the iPad was straining for one handed holding after only a few minutes, so if this device were to become my primary e-reader, I'd either have to lear to hold it with two hands or find a support solution quickly.

When holding the iPad, the aluminum backing made it's presence known. It was quite like handling the uni-body MacBooks, but I could have swore that the middle of the back felt more like rubber than metal. This could have been a weight-distribution thing or it could have been that the metal hadn't been covered in oil from human hands. All I can say is it was smooth and a joy to hold minus the weight.

portriat iBooks landscape iBooks
iBooks automatically redraws text to suit the orientation of iPad. Click the thumbnails to enlarge.

The one thing that I definitely wanted to experience was iBooks. I didn't think about playing with attempting to arrange books on the bookshelf, but I did search the store. Lots of observations here.

The most amazing thing about the iBooks app itself is that based on orientation, the number of pages change, in some cases dramatically. For instance, Stephen King's Under the Dome was 1,000 and change in portrait but over 1800 in landscape. I think that this is more the ePub standard at work here and not some fancy new feature that Apple created, but Apple did add a nice touch by going with a single page when in portrait mode but an open book complete with faux pages around the edges when the iPad is in landscape.

All three titles that I searched for were not to be found in the iBook catalog. I searched for The Writer, Conquering the Sky: The Secret Flights of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk, and Going Rogue.

Lessons learned? That not all content is available on the iPad. As a corollary, the defamatory Going Rouge: An American Nightmare was in the store. Given that Steve Jobs demoed True Compass during the iPad's unveiling, that the cover of said book featured prominently in the iPad advertisement, and that Apple's board contains and heavily supports Democrats, one wonders if there wasn't some political ploy at work here, though it is possible that Going Rogue was missing because of lack of negotiation.

iPad keyboard landscape
Using the iPad's keyboard to search the App store is much better than navigating on the Nook

About that On-screen Keyboard
Having previously tested the Nook at Barnes & Noble, I must say that the iPad's capacitive, multi-touch screen was a dream to use compared to the Nook's setup. I instinctively turned the iPad to a landscape orientation. The keyboard didn't feel cramped at all, undoubtably because there were no physical keys to which to attempt to conform one's hands. Actually typing on the iPad wasn't difficult at all, but it would take some getting used to if you plan on attempting to type anything more than a string or two of text. Even standing in the store, I remember the keyboard dock that Steve Jobs promised on launch day and yearned for it.

This necessarily segues into a discussion about content creation. As Macworld points out, At the moment, the iPad seems more focused on media consumption than media production. (Hatip @caroleagent.) As such, first reports are coming in that if you use iWorks on the iPad, you can only save in native formats of iWorks or export as .pdf. No native Office compatibility here unlike the desktop counterparts, meaning if you really need to get the document or presentation onto a Microsoft title, you've got to sync with your Mac first. This is antithetical to what Jobs promised Walt Mossberg of All Things D. (Shoot for 3:20). Tested this on a subsequent trip to the Apple store. You can export Pages document to .doc

I think that iPad could become a laptop replacement tool if you bought the docking keyboard and had enough app support. Frankly, if you're just taking notes and only care about the text, a simple text editor would suffice until you had time to transfer the notes to whatever other tool(s) you required for long-term storage.

The keyboard dock is going to make the iPad compete heavily with laptops as a primary mobile computing device. Too bad Apple didn't introduce a keyboard dock for the iPhone as well

Other Thoughts
One wonders–much like with the glossy MacBooks–how the iPad would do in bright light conditions, such as a sunny day at the park. There's only one way to find out, but that methodology of testing isn't allowed at the store.

iBooks only works on the iPad–the app page says so if you open in iTunes but if you open the link in a web browser, the title of the page is iBooks for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad on the iTunes App Store. The world doesn't end just because you can't have the fancy app run on anything but an iPad–there's always apps like Calibre–but the non-orthogonally is enough to drive a person crazy.

The one rate-limiting factor of the iPad–and indeed e-readers in general–is periodicals. The reason for this is that the re-flowable text which makes ePub a marvel doesn't serve content that requires precision placement for content–think centerfolds for just one example.

The iPad's color display will be a game changer in the e-reader market, especially as periodicals port to the device. The color display will also attempt to drive HTML 5, a speculation that is too early to call with any certainty.

Apple has announced a preview for iPhone OS 4 which inevitably means that all the suckers that went out and bought iPads on the opening weekend will likely get stuck with no less than a $10 early adopter tax when the new OS goes live. Couple this with lack of 3G connectivity on the iPad models that you can currently put in your hands and the confiscatory pricing that Apple has set on the devices and you have a product that better suited for a gift to a techie, not a toy for a casual buyer despite all the benefits over current e-readers.

Cut the price in half and quadruple the demand–a pipe dream never to be realized despite the millions of dreamers out there. Sure, the stated reason for cutting the price of the MacBook Air was lack of projected demand, but I don't see that happening here. There's too much hype and the price is low enough that there will be enough demand even if it falls short of Apple's internal projections.

There's been a lot of bellyaching about the lack of camera in the iPad. Frankly, a camera isn't needed. If it's front-facing, that means you can do Skype…provided you find a way to prop the iPad up. If you want to take pictures of something, you'd need a back-facing camera which means that every time you set the iPad down, you risk scratching either the camera or its protective covering.

As the iPad currently stands, you ought to be able to take it into a secure area. The only way to transfer data onto the iPad is either bluetooth (which ought not exist in a secure environment, so I'm not sure what the iPad would connect to in that scenario) or through the Apple 40-pin connector, which again, should not exist in a secure environment. The lack of camera, then, becomes a plus, not a minus, just like on the iTouch.


iPad: only time will tell how the device will ultimately do. Early numbers best the iPhone, but this is a pricier device than the iPhone and it will cost more to keep the iPad relevant (ebooks, apps, etc.) The success of the iPad will be directly determined by total cost of ownership, something we will take a look at in a future column.