What follows is strictly a set of first impressions. You should be aware (hey, Alejandro! No falling asleep at the back!) that first, I'm a user, not a techie; and, second, that my impressions will be colored by my own expectations and uses of this device, which might be different from yours.
Anyway, here it is, as described, on the 06:10 London-Norwich train on Monday, 1 June. I've added my glasses for scale.
As a device to take with you on a train, it's a joy, and everything I've been looking for in a replacement for my very basic Asus Eee road-warrior. The screen is big and bright; it's easy to edit documents (using the Pages app from the App Store, a snip at £5.99 - and Keynote and
The first thing that strikes you about the iPad is that it's smaller than you expect, and also heavier. It's about the same size as my mouse mat at work ...
My mouse mat at work, recently.
... but has a pleasing heft to it. One's immediate impression is Quality with a Capital Q. Yes, it looks like a big iPod Touch, but one immediately feels in the presence of something qualitatively more.
The controls are refreshingly few. There is one socket (I counted it very carefully) for Apple's proprietary enormo-plug, and one button (ditto) on the front. Close inspection reveals a headphone socket; the on/off switch; a small switch to lock the inbuilt screen in either portrait or landscape mode (for those moments when the onboard accelerometer induces nausea); a small rocker switch to control the volume; and ... er, well, that's it.
Almost everything is done through the touch screen. For applications that demand a keyboard, an on-screen virtual keyboard pops up when you want it. It's rather like the one on the iPhone, but the bigger size makes it, unsurprisingly, easier to use, especially for those, who, like me, use the AHAP (Advanced Hunt and Peck) technique.
Such things are invariably matters of taste - if you don't like the virtual keyboard, you can get the iPad dock with attached keyboard, and news has reached mes oreilles that the iPad responds well to Apple's own remote keyboard, and even third-party bluetooth remotes, though I can't vouch for such things myself. I happen to like the virtual keyboard, but after I've tried using the iPad for a long writing session, I might change my mind - so watch this space.
The iPad is not - repeat not - a laptop replacement. If you need to categorize it, think of it more as a rather good PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), like the Psions and Palm Pilots we used to have before smartphones were invented (except that the iPad is to a Palm Pilot as angels are to apes). The bottom line is that if you already have a decent laptop, you probably won't immediately want or need an iPad. The iPad is not a stand-alone machine, and shouldn't be treated as one. If proof were needed of this simple statement (which seems to have confused some reviewers), you need to have a computer running the latest iTunes to activate the iPad. Without that, the iPad can do nothing. The computer can be a PC or a Mac (I have a 24" iMac running
Apart from activating the iPad, you need iTunes to manage content on the iPad (audio, video, photographs, applications) and to load any new software. In other words, just like an iPhone or iPod. Apart from that, managing settings such as WiFi, bluetooth, mail accounts, buying applications or content and so on in the iPad is exactly the same as with an iPhone, only easier, because the screen is bigger.
And what a screen it is. Virtually the whole of the front surface is a touch screen, and it is truly a thing of loveliness. Tactile, broad, flawless, firm, yet somehow silkily soft, it puts one in mind of
Several commentators have noted that while you are looking at
Mrs Crox, who had been hostile to the very idea of the iPad, spent a very happy couple of hours with it while I took Canis Croxorum to the beach.
Mrs Crox is no stranger to the online world - she's a web journalist for a living. She is, however, a confirmed PC user and totes a Blackberry rather than an iPhone, so she came to the iPad without preconceptions. Her verdict was that the iPad was very 'intuitive' to use - better than a laptop, as one doesn't have the additional clutter of a keyboard and mouse, and you can just dive straight in.
That's another advantage - almost no boot-up time. Some apps resume, immediately, just where you left off. When you've switched off (or changed apps) in the middle of a Pages document, and want to pick it up later, the iPad drops you straight in. If, like me, you've spent irreplaceable minutes and hours waiting for laptops to go through the motions (as if they were sewage workers on a work-to-rule), booting up, footling about and generally scratching their own nether regions, this is the answer to a prayer.
The sound quality is also very good - the tiny inbuilt speaker delivers sufficient punch for a small group of people to watch a movie or a YouTube clip, without the soundtrack sounding shrill or tinny - and the experience through headphones is excellent. Even with a fairly basic set of in-ear phones, the audio seems rich and full (my test was Deep Purple's 1999 re-staging of Jon Lord's Concerto for Group and Orchestra - am I a reactionary old fart? Guilty as charged Your Honour, and my client should like you to take 3,457,099 other Deep Purple albums into consideration).
The main thing, though, is that it's fast. Blazingly fast. As fast as Jeremy Clarkson in a Bugatti Veyron with a phalanx of vegetarian cyclists in front of him and his foot stuck to the accelerator. As fast as a very fast thing. Not quite as fast, admittedly, as a hot buttered ferret with chili powder up its bottom hurling itself headlong down a TeflonTM drainpipe, but as near as might require a Steward's Inquiry. This speed only adds to the involving user experience.
I said above that the iPad was like the iPod touch, only more so. What is this 'more' of which I speak? It is, of course, the iBook facility, in which the iPad becomes a reader, and you can buy eBooks from Apple's own eBook store. My iPad came loaded with Winnie-The-Pooh, and reading it on the iPad screen is very pleasant. I can't compare the experience with a Kindle, but I have used the Stanza app on the iPhone. This is good - very good, in fact - but it's that iPad screen, again, that makes all the difference. As a test I bought some Tolkien, and I look forward to reading this in my copious free time. Needless to say, reading anything on this super screen - magazines, newspapers, blogs, pdfs, neckties, samplers, stained-glass windows, tattoos, anything (more, more, I'm still not satisfied) is pure pleasure.
An aside for those with Macs who subscribe to the MobileMeTM facility - you can hoof this machine into your plans for world domination. The native Contacts and Calendar apps in the iPad are gorgeous, and if you note things like 'Tigger Tea Wednesday' in one of your linked devices, they should turn up in all of them.
But just in case you think that Apple has paid me to write this, there are irritations. I can't write my blog on Blogger with this, because the software can't handle content in windows within windows.
And you can't add attachments to emails. You can't just go into an email and attach any file willy-nilly, as you would on a computer. This is because the iPad, like the iPhone, has no clear directory structure, so finding anything to attach to an email might be fiddly in any event. However, you can attach files from within those apps where export might be useful.
Importing documents to Pages is a doddle. I have a few bits and pieces in Pages on my iMac which I wanted to take with me to edit on the move. I sent them to one of my email accounts, opening the attachments with ease in the iPad and - what do you know - the iPad invited me to open the documents directly in Pages (even the one which happened to have been saved as a doc file). This is brilliant.
But what about getting one's edits back to the iMac? Well, you can export a Pages file in Pages, PDF or Word formats, and send it by email. When you opt for that, the document formats itself appropriately and an email window opens with the document already attached, ready to send. The Keynote and Numbers apps have similar functionality. Neat!
Now, I believe that there are ways of printing out Pages documents, and there is a VGA cable accessory, available extra, which can in theory be used to attach an iPad to a projector or TV for Keynote presentations. There is also a dongle that allows you to connect the iPad directly to a digital camera, which might, I surmise, be useful for sneaking in other kinds of file apart from photos. But of these I cannot speak, so I shall thereof be silent.
And then there's the old bugbear about multitasking. On the iPad, just as on the iPhone, you can use only one app at a time. First, this is not strictly true - you can almost always listen to music while doing something else, like browsing, or editing a document. Second, this is not as big a disadvantage as you might think - because of the machine's speed and lack of boot-up time, toggling between applications is not as big a bore as the nay-sayers might have you believe. Moreover, I quite like devoting myself to one task at a time without being forever tempted to tap into another.
My verdict? This is just the thing I've been looking for. I can write and do edits on the move. I shall be able to update Facebook and Twitter and take notes at conferences without having to find a power outlet every two or three hours. I can send and receive emails, and update my calendar and contacts. I can - gasp - even log in to work, and do 90% of what I'd normally do in the office, whether I'm in London or working at home in my Wearable OfficeTM. However:
-- IF you already have a laptop or a netbook, you'll probably have no need for an iPad - a decent laptop can do everything an iPad does, and more. But:
-- IF your main machine at home is a desktop;
-- IF you can't justify (and don't really need) a separate, second, fully-featured computer, with all the weight and dangly bits that such things entail; and/or
-- IF you tend to be a watcher or a listener as much as a creator:
-- THEN you should check out the iPad and all that's in it, and, what's more, you'll be a Geek, my son.