Wednesday, January 27, 2010, 08:30 pm PT (11:30 pm ET)
Hands on with Apple's iPad (with videos and photos)
The iPad seems like a gigantic leap and a small step at once. It isn't a ballsy leap of faith by Apply by any means; it is an enhancement to its existing blockbuster SDK and App Store, not an entirely new platform like the Newton Message Pad once attempted to be.
It already runs all manner of iPhone apps, while also creating a vacuum that developers will rush to fill with new custom apps. It also syncs with Mac files for iWork, iTunes, and anything in Mail.
It isn't a single purpose device like the Amazon Kindle or Android Nook; while it serves as a capable e-reader, it is far more functional even at that, supporting embedded color graphics and video within book titles, something e-ink displays simply can't manage.
Despite that, it still has a tremendous battery life and looks great, leaving users no reason to buy a dedicated e-reader instead. It also offers fast, flicker-free page turning (or animatedly slow, if you like it that way), immediate navigation, and a choice of font styles and sizes.
Unlike stylus-based tablets like Microsoft's Pocket PC or Tablet PC devices, the iPad is fully hands-on with no pen to lose. There's no incorporation of handwritten recognition anywhere visible, just a dynamic keyboard that changes to suit the task at hand (something that is particularly prominent in Apple's Numbers spreadsheet app, where you might bring up a number pad or a full keyboard or some other specialized input system).
It's also unbelievably fast and smooth, making even the iPhone 3GS look a little slow. I witnessed the iPad cold boot within about fifteen seconds. However, you don't need to wait for it to boot because it remains on in standby for days (Jobs said a month on a single charge).
Apple has no reason to advertise its internal specs (since it isn't currently trying to market its processor to other makers), but the fact that the company is building its own custom System on a Chip called the "A4" suggests a similar fate for this year's iPhone and iPod touch (will they use the A2?). Apple's custom new ARM CPU core and I/O and video chip appears to be extremely fast and highly customized for the needs of the iPad in terms of efficiency.
A tough act to follow
Apple isn't hiding the fact that there are advantages in developing your own battery technology and processor savvy and touchscreen expertise. The unstated fact is that no other company has the resources to match what Apple created. As Jobs pointed out, his company is now the largest mobile device maker in the world in terms of revenues. But the iPad isn't just about hardware. Even if somebody duplicated it, they's still need a software ecosystem.
Apple has not only demonstrated that it can think up and create phenomenal apps of its own, but has also demonstrated impressive stuff from a few iPhone developers who only had a few weeks to whip something up. Once Apple's army of iPhone developers hit their stride, the array of apps available for the iPhone will look rudimentary in comparison. The iPad truly supports real desktop style apps with even more sophisticated multitouch input that the iPhone.
Even with all their hardware partners, Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows Mobile haven't been able to attract the same kind of attention from developers or software buying users. Apple's new iPad is unique on many levels, and demonstrates a formidable new challenger in a the formerly lackluster tablet computer market. For competitors to match it, they'll need to catch up not just in hardware but also in media distribution, in developer tools, in customer base, and in raw component technology, and all at a tremendously aggressive price.
It appears iPad launches Apple as far ahead of its peers as the iPhone did at its unveiling. It remains to be seen if the market will respond and buy up this $500 tablet revolution as quickly as it snapped up the similarly priced iPhone and iPod touch.
Daniel Eran Dilger is the author of "Snow Leopard Server (Developer Reference)," a new book from Wiley available now from Amazon.
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