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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Apple iPad - Initial Impressions

I just received my iPad (Wi-Fi 16GB) and the official Apple case. The product isn't available in Finland yet but that didn't defer me from getting one from the US. :)

It looks like iPad is just first device of many. There have been tablet before but nothing as disruptive as this one. It reminds me of Asus Eee and the netbook revolution it caused.

I wouldn't be surprised if devices like this would be all the rage soon. Especially Android and perhaps MeeGo based devices should pose some nice competition to iPad.

Overall the device seems like a winner to me. It feels more like some ordinary object instead of a computer. It blurs the distance between the user and the device. It's small enough to fit a bag comfortably and to carry along.

iPad - Slate, tablet or something else entirely?

One of the curious things about iPad is its naming. Why did the pick iPad instead of something less sanitary like iTablet or iSlate? I guess this might have something to do with Apple's iPod. The naming makes the devices feel more like relatives. iDunno.

Now that we have established iPad it not a sanitary product, what is it really? Is it a tablet? I guess it's something like a tablet, not in its original meaning, though.

Microsoft Tablet

Microsoft had a promising concept in the early 2000s. The idea as it is never really caught on. I guess the biggest failing had to with the user interface. Good old windowing dating from the days of Xerox PARC just won't do it in tactile environment.

Apple iPad

This is something that Apple managed to do right this time. They seemed to realize that it takes more than just some hardware to make it work. You just cannot put a touch screen on a PC and expect it to miraculously work. It takes more than that. :)

Of course this doesn't mean Apple hasn't managed to make the hardware side work. On the contrary, I'm quite impressed by the performance of this device. It packs quite a bit of punch in relatively small size (about A4 paper, 1.27 cm thick).

User Interface

It's the user interface that separates iPad from regular tablets. In some respects the user interface is nicer to use than one on a regular PC. It really makes it possible to manipulate objects directly with your own hands instead of having to use a crutch like a mouse.

Interaction Model

Of course the interaction model has its downsides. You will lose things like tooltips and hover as there's no cursor. Typing, although possible, kind of sucks on this kind of device. It's easier than on a regular mobile phone, though.


The user interface is not without its faults. Each application seems to implement gestures in its own manner. There does not appear to be any standards for gestures yet. Hopefully this is just something early adopters have to deal with and will be fixed within due time.


The device comes with a nice variety of applications. There is instant access to internet (Safari), mail, YouTube, iTunes, maps (Google Maps based) etc. As those probably won't cut it for everyone, you can find a ridiculous amount of them for you to purchase at the App Store. The selection is just mind-boggling.

iPad Applications vs. Other Applications

Considering the device falls somewhere between a mobile phone and a PC, there are some compromises in the functionality. The applications will usually be beefier than regular mobile phone ones. Don't expect to see something complex like Photoshop in all its glory on the platform any time soon, though.

This can actually be a good thing. It forces the application designer to cut down extra bloat and focus on the essentials. On the other hand support for multi-touch gestures makes it possible to cater power users in ways not seen before.

Safari Issues

Safari, the web browser, seems quite nice. It's just missing Adblock and a full screen mode. Otherwise it fits the bill just fine.

I'm currently trying out Atomic Web Browser. It seems to remedy these particular issues.


In my opinion the device looks really nice. It's definitely a fine piece of modern industrial design. Various buttons and connectors have been laid out in a sensible manner. The chassis is solid.

Form Factor

As I hinted earlier the device is quite small. It's not something you can fit in your pocket unless you happen to have really big pockets... The device fits well in a bag, though. That said I consider it portable enough.

I'm quite happy with the form factor. I might have preferred to have a wide screen display instead of regular 4:3 one. I can see wide screen might be sort of funny to use in vertical mode, though. Perhaps we will see wide screen devices later on.


I find the display quite adequate. The resolution (1024x768, 132 ppi) seems decent. I know the pixel density isn't anywhere near Retina display of iPhone (326 ppi) but it's enough for my usage. I'm not sure if I would like to spend hours reading using this device. I guess we'll see how that goes.

Probably the most annoying thing about the display is the fact that it's a fingerprint magnet. You will end up smudging the screen after a while. I would prefer a matte screen instead of a glossy one. Perhaps there's a screen protector or something to work around this. I certainly wouldn't mind purchasing one.

It would be really awesome to see how technologies like Pixel Qi's approach work out in practice. Perhaps some future version of iPad will use something like that instead of a conventional display.


The device seems speedy enough for my casual usage. Particularly 3D effects it utilizes look flashy. Overall no complaints here. You probably won't want to use the device for some heavy number crunching but for casual usage it seems fine.

Apparently an upcoming update might make the device even snappier. I'm especially awaiting to see how multi-tasking works out in practice.


My model provides network connectivity just via WLAN. No 3G nor GPS in this model. Considering my usage I don't find that a problem. It might be possible to hook up my phone to the device via Bluetooth but I'm not counting on that.

I didn't have any noticeable problems connecting to the local WLAN network. After initial set up it seemed just to work as it should. I managed to drop the connection once. It was easy enough to reconnect, though. No other problems so far.


It's important to note that the 3G version requires a micro SIM instead of a regular one. It's possible to cut down a regular SIM to fit the slot.

Interestingly 3G does not make the device double as a phone as far as I know. Having iPad on your ear might look sort of dumb I guess...


Apple Case

As I wanted to protect my investment, I decided to pick the official case provided by Apple to accompany it. Initially it was a bit tight fit. It seems like decent case, though.

Besides protecting the device it makes it possible to orient it in various ways (ie. horizontally or vertically) on a solid surface. Vertical orientation seems a bit weak to me. The two horizontal ones (prone, up) work just fine.

The case came with a microfiber towel. That'll help cleaning up those annoying smudges. :)

Other Accessories

I'm still awaiting my Pogo stylus to arrive. Hopefully I'll receive it soon. In any case I believe having one should make it considerably easier to draw using the device. Finger-painting just isn't my thing.

There is a wide range of other interesting accessories available as well. These include keyboards, docks, screen protectors and various extra connectivity options. Plenty to pick from.


I have tried to sum up my main findings as follows:

  • Tactile interface really takes interaction with a device to another level
  • Huge amount of applications via App Store
  • Decent connectivity (WLAN, mini-stereo, Bluetooth + more via accessories)
  • User experience except for various application specific gestures
  • Accurate tilt sensor. Just give a game like Labyrinth 2 Lite a go to see it in action.
  • The device could be a bit lighter. This isn't a major issue, though, considering how much laptops weigh.
  • No full screen mode in Safari
  • Wide screen might be nicer for viewing movies and such
  • Glossy screen tends to accumulate smudges
  • No slot for a memory card (SD?)
Overall I'm happy with the device. It has already replaced my laptop during my morning routine (read RSS, email, etc.) and I expect it to be handy during traveling as well. It's definitely way easier to pack along than a hefty 3kg laptop. :)

Now should you purchase the device? No idea. If you are not in a hurry, perhaps it would be a good idea to wait for the next version (due next Spring?) or pick up some Android device. First formidable MeeGo devices should appear to the market during the next year as well.

As usual the longer you wait the better deal you get till the next craze (foldable/rollable devices?) comes along...