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Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 08:30 pm PT (11:30 pm ET)

Hands on with Apple's iPad (with videos and photos)

The big question before today's Apple event was how the company would deliver a tablet-sized product that any significant number of people might want to buy. On stage, Steve Jobs provided a lot of answers, but the most powerful answer required holding the new device in your hands.

Great expectations

Jobs framed the new iPad as being in between its iPhone and MacBook products. But in order to succeed, he pointed out, it would need to do some things better than either. Today's netbooks don't do anything better; they're just cheap and small notebooks, he said.

It was widely expected that Apple would release a 10" iPod touch, and that's essentially what the iPad is. However, that's really only the case in hardware. The iPad's larger screen, which melds the MacBook's beautiful IPS LCD display with the iPhone's multitouch sensitivity, provides so much extra room that it enables iPhone apps to grow up in sophistication from being mostly information browsers to being full blown desktop apps driven primarily by a multitouch interface.

This introductory video shows a 360 degree view of the iPad, along with a look at how it presents home screen apps just like the iPhone. Its actual apps are more like desktop Mac apps however, and in some cases seem even better, particularly the beautiful new multitouch Calendar app.



iPad calendar


iPad initial surprises

In person, the first and biggest surprise of the slim new tablet-sized device is that it works vertically. Most fan art conceptualized the device to be used in landscape mode. While it works in both, most of the time (some apps favor one or the other; Keynote is landscape-only, for example), the vertical orientation is what you use in the dock. It's also the primary way Apple pictures it on its site, just like the iPhone and iPod touch.

This begins to make sense only when you use it. Suddenly, the preconceived idea of a tablet being a laptop without a keyboard evaporates and you find yourself looking at iPad as if it is a digital pad of paper. We don't typically use spiral-bound notebooks sideways.

The next surprise is that this isn't just an iPod touch with a big screen. The apps Apple bundles, as well as some early third party apps that a select few developers produced over the last couple weeks, are all redesigned to take full advantage of the screen in new ways and with increased sophistication and depth; they don't just spread out to consume more space.

Calendar, Notes, Mail, Photos, and other apps are all enhanced with what feels like an injection of elements of the desktop Mac experience into the familiar iPhone interface (below). Rather than the iPhone's menu-per-page convention, apps like Settings present multiple tiers of menu levels at once. Mail shows you both your inbox in an iPhone-like view as well as a message preview, all on the same screen.

iPad menu


Things that aren't practical on the iPhone due to its small size are natural and almost magical on the iPad. The Photos app incorporates elements of iPhoto, adding finger-based navigation through albums, as well as Faces and Places organization. Apple's iWork suite is now three cheap $10 apps that each provide most — if not all — of the features of their desktop counterparts, but are fully controlled via intuitive multitouch gestures.

Make a mistake and you can use the Undo button. Toolbars and search features are reminiscent of Mac apps, while popup menus look like iPhone screens. If you're familiar with either, you also know how to work the iPad.

At the same time, the iPad also runs pretty much all of the 140,000 iPhone apps available. It can run them natively at the same size they'd be on the iPhone, or double them to present the same app across most of the screen. Some apps, such as Facebook, look a little pixelated and stretched on the iPad's big new 1024x768 screen, but existing games looked awesome. In fact, I had to ask several reps if the iPad was doing any re-rendering; even with pixel doubling, iPhone games looked great and played smoothly.

Developers will be able to create customized versions of their existing apps to work with the iPad, and Apple demonstrated what some of these might look like. With more screen real estate, the things developers can do with games and other apps is simply mind blowing.

On page 2 of 3: Missing features, hardware surprises.