Seriously? "iPad?" I'm really going to save you all from the obvious puns, jokes and skullduggery that could be written about the name itself. I won't mention anything about feminine hygiene products at all. Not even once.
Dammit. I couldn't stop myself. The truth is, the name is extremely, um, "not at all 'well thought out,'" but I'm honestly VERY excited for this piece of Apple technology to drop into my sweaty little palms when it hits shelves in late March. If you have never heard of the iPad, or think that it IS some sort of new female product, read on. I will do my best to dispel some myths and shove some tech specs down your throat.
On January 27th, 2010, Apple, Inc. unveiled what was one of the most hotly-anticipated products of this century so far: the iPad. Despite the awkward name, the product itself had been the love child of CEO Steve Jobs for the greater part of the last two decades, and had been greatly ballyhooed over the years as a "phantom product" or "vaporware" because of the elusive nature of any actual information of its existence or proof of development.
Since the introduction of the Apple Newton PDA back in 1989, Apple has tried to enter the handheld personal digital assistant market with little success. They brought several Newton concepts to market throughout the 90's, until its eventual demise in 1998. Unfortunately, although the concept was very forward-thinking, the actual product focus was lost on the general public and viewed much as a novelty item and suffered from shortcomings including the lack of software expansion and general connectivity weirdness. The new iPad aims to not only remedy the above issues, but to raise the bar and become ubiquitous throughout homes all over the planet.
So, what's different about the iPad versus its predecessor, the Newton Messagepad? Well, for one, it doesn't try to be the all-in-one device the Newton did. Oh, make no mistake, the iPad will, indeed, perform more functions than the Newton, but Apple's direction for the iPad is that of a personal companion that doesn't interfere when you don't want it to, but will gladly queue up music, let you edit documents, display your favorite New York Times bestseller and let you play Plants vs. Zombies when you're bored. Apple's general theme here? To bridge the gap between a laptop and a mobile phone.
I carry a MacBook Pro around most of the time whenever I need to be mobile, and it serves great purpose: I can do pretty much everything from photo editing in Photoshop to web surfing to graphic design to ordering the latest Dooney and Burke purse from Amazon.com. The drawback? Well, most of the time, I don't need to do that much. On a daily basis, my needs are generally to check my email, listen to music, look at and post photos to the web, surf the interwebs and maybe play a few games to pass the time. Can I do this with my iPhone? Well, sure, but wouldn't the experience be more rich on a bigger screen? Yup. The iPad delivers that.
Imagine watching a movie on your iphone. My eyes are crossing just thinking about it. Don't get me wrong, my iPhone has a gorgeous screen, but try to keep up with all the action of the new Star Trek flick on a screen that small. I'm going for a paradigm shift here. I want to do all those things mentioned above PLUS have full, richly formatted textbooks at my fingertips AND be able to use Apple's iWork suite for productivity (something currently not available on the iPhone) on a larger, more roomy screen. I will soon be able to do this.
The iPad's screen will measure 9.7" diagonally, and feature all of the multi-touch goodness that iPhone owners have come to enjoy for a couple of years now. The only button on the face will be the home-screen button, much like the iPhone, which will render the front of the device greatly uncluttered. The interface will be a version of the iPhone OS, only tweaked for the larger screen. The result will be a screen similar to an iPhone, having application icons on several "pages" that you can flick through to access what you need. The "springboard," Apple's version of a dock for the iPhone, will be present, and allow you to place several icons on it for quick-launch of your favorite vices, be it mail, messaging, movies, books or whatever.
So, how do you interact with text boxes, word processor pages, messaging or any other application that requires you to type? Well, think of the solution as a giant iPhone virtual keyboard. I know what you're thinking, but don't fret; the result appears to be a very well-functioning multi-touch keyboard that works in either portrait or landscape orientation. I don't know about anybody else, but I can personally crank out some WPM on my iPhone keyboard when in landscape mode, and I can foresee the iPad's implementation to be equal or greater in terms of speed of letter/text entry.
Another of Apple's goals is to bring the world of eReaders to the masses. Devices like Barnes and Noble's Nook and Amazon's Kindle have become wildly popular amongst people who want to take traditional book/media reading to a different level. The iPad will raise the stakes by making books, magazines, newspapers and school textbooks an important part of the entire mobile experience. You'll be able to peruse and buy media from the built-in bookstore on the iPad and add your purchases to a virtual "bookshelf" that mimics the look of the real thing. There, you'll be able to pick and choose your reading vise at will, and navigate media EXACTLY like you would with its printed counterpart.
The difference between a Nook or Kindle and the iPad is in how you view the media: rich, interactive and full-color versus the current standard that is usually static, monochrome and limited in function. As you drag your finger across the screen on the iPad to turn a page, the device renders on-the-fly page-curl graphics to mimic the look of you actually turning a page. You can set bookmarks anywhere during your session, and set different text/color layouts to suit your finicky vision. Overall, I'm VERY excited to be able to have a full-sized device like this for reading books once again. I've had eReader applications on a host of devices over the years, and it comes down to the same issue that plagues watching movies on those devices...screen size. The large, bright screen of the iPad will make reading on a device pleasurable once again.
This has all been a very short rundown of the iPad, but the fine details are not as important as the overall concept. The ability to bring a 1.5 pound device with me to the sandwich shop rather than a 5.5 pound full-sized laptop makes a huge difference. Being able to tote a "slate" shaped device that fits in my hands to any location with greater ease vastly improves my desire to bring a device in the first place. I know that typing on the virtual keyboard will take some getting used to, but early testers have stated that it's very easy to adapt and become proficient at. Also, Apple's full app store will be available on the iPad, and new applications will be optimized by developers to take advantage of the larger screen.
Overall, the interoperability of the app model is going to be superb; the iPhone has already demonstrated how a slick, refined interface has changed the way people think about mobile devices. Apple's calculated approach to mobile computing has turned the tech world on its ear, having begun in large part by the iPhone. The next evolution in the process happens to be the iPad.