Thoughts on the iPad

First Impressions

Like most things Apple, I think the iPad is ahead of it’s time.  It is the future of personal computing, that’s for sure.  Apple once again accomplished what nobody else before them has been able to successfully accomplish.  They’ve redefined the tablet PC.  They’ve created exactly what they set out to do, a perfect middleman between a completely handheld device and a personal computer such as a laptop or desktop.

I personally have no use for one.  I have an iPhone 3G and a Macbook Pro.  My Macbook Pro is portable enough to take with me where I need it and it also serves as a powerful primary computer that’s more than capable for what I need.  My iPhone is powerful enough to do all the things I would want to do on the go, such as check email, read RSS feeds, check Twitter and Facebook, or maybe watch a movie.  Oh yeah, it does the usual phone stuff too (and very well, might I add).  :)   I will admit when I first got the iPhone, I was skeptical that I wouldn’t be able to adapt to the touch screen keyboard that well.  I thought I’d miss the tactile buttons of my Treo 700p.  I worried for nothing… I adapted to the iPhone with ease.  I believe this is largely due to the awesome accuracy of the iPhone’s touch screen.  It cannot be beat, as you can clearly see.

I, like any other Mac-o-phile, had several browser tabs open watching the live blogging coverage when Steve Jobs announced the iPad Wednesday at the January 2010 Apple Special Event.  The iPad itself is very impressive piece of technology, and I was mostly interested in the new A4 processor powering the device.  The A4 is Apple’s new system-on-a-chip designed in house.  Why did Apple design their own and not go with the Intel Atom?  I think the decision had to do with being able to pack the most power into such a small enclosure.  The A4 handles the graphics acceleration as well, and Apple claims is more energy efficient with up to 10 hours of battery life.  At this time, I can only hope that Apple will plan on using these processors for only their mobile product line, such as the iPad, iPhone, and iPod.  I hope they stick with Intel on their personal computer line such as their Macbook Pros, iMacs, and Mac Pros.  I like being able to run Mac OS X, Windows, Linux, and even Solaris on the same hardware if I wanted.

I will admit, I was put off by my initial reaction to the iPad, which left me unimpressed because I couldn’t think of a single thing I’d use it for in my life.  It’s just a big iPod Touch, I thought.  A few days went by, then I realized… no, it’s more.  Screen real estate means everything.  Because of the larger 9.7″ IPS LED display, the Apple was able to completely redesign all of their internal app functionality.  Mail, iCal, Address Book, and Safari are all redesigned to take better advantage of the iPad’s larger screen.  These redesigns look very promising, offering better functionality and more “at-a-glance” features.  If it were just a bigger iPod Touch, there would be a lot of wasted space  So, definitely one of the iPad’s biggest features is it’s newly designed OS which is supposedly based off of the iPhone OS.  The fact that the iPad is unlocked to allow it’s buyers to use any compatible SIM card and it’s corresponding data plan leads me to believe bigger things are in store for the iPhone.  I predict by the next Apple Event, the iPhone will be unlocked at the very least.  There will also likely be a new model based on some variant of the A4 processor in the iPad… iPhone A4?


In the Home

The iPad will probably be a big hit this Christmas as a gaming console.  The brief demos we saw at the Event were just the tip of the iceberg.  Those developers had very little time to get the demos ready for the event, so I would say to expect bigger and better things to come in that category.  Another one of it’s features is it’s iBooks application, clearly meant to get Apple’s foot in the e-reader market.  Based on the demo I saw watching the event, it is going to dominate the e-Reader market.  User experience is everything.  The experience of buying a book to seeing it on your “iBookshelf” to using your finger to flip the pages is going to blow any of the other e-Readers out of the water.  I can also see the appeal for using it in the house for things like streaming movies from your Apple TV or Mac Mini media center.  By the way, the day Apple releases the Mac Mini with Blu-Ray, I’m getting one.  Even if it means selling a kidney.


I think one of iPad’s strongest points doesn’t necessarily exist yet:  the ability to take notes via some sort of stylus.  I know what you’re thinking… “a stylus??  what is this… 1995?”  Hear me out.  The stylus as we know it a-la Palm Treo was a useless and cumbersome tool.  It was used to point and select things, and also had a very rudimentary handwriting feature that required special strokes on a designated area.  Apple successfully replaced that stylus with the human finger, and then some.  The stylus I’m thinking of will be an additional tool to the human finger.  The iPad would be able to tell the difference between the stylus and your finger, and be able to accept one input while ignoring the other.  It will be able to write or draw anywhere on a given application, with perfect accuracy.  It’ll be a Wacom tablet and a computer all in one.  You could possibly even plug it into your iMac and use it as a Wacom style writing tablet as well.  I know that will be a feature added either by a 3rd party application or by a future OS release from Apple themselves.  This is such an important feature, and will make the iPad one of the most dominant electronic devices of the future.  This single feature will change the way we do personal computing.  Why?  Think of the iPad as a notebook and think of all the places you take or use a notebook.


In the business world, the iPad will replace the steno pad everyone takes to meetings.  It’s not practical now, because typing is too much of a distraction from the meeting.  A person can almost always jot down notes on a notepad faster than they can type, drawing symbols or diagrams to of ideas or to help them remember what went on in the meeting.  Doing this via keyboard and mouse/trackpad just doesn’t work in a meeting environment.  Keyboard and mouse/trackpad input represents a world of limitations.  Freehand writing has no limitations.  I’ll take that prediction a step further and say that Apple will also find a way to take that handwritten text and convert it to a typeface font.  Think of it as OCR for the next century.


That stylus input will also benefit the artist, who will buy the then available Photoshop for the iPad.  They’ll take the iPad with them to their favorite place of inspiration, and begin to draw or paint directly onto the device.  Their large array of artistic medium consolidated down to one device.  They will love it because it represents a medium without limitations.  The accuracy and precision of the stylus will give them all of the creative freedom they would desire from a sketchpad, and then some.


I can see the iPad taking the healthcare industry by storm.  One day, every doctor will have one.  The doctor will use it when walking into a patient’s office to pull up patient records via an application that talks to the local hospital patient database such as EPIC.  Then even possibly prescribe and sign a prescription that automatically gets sent to the patient’s preferred drugstore so by the time the patient gets to the drugstore, it’ll be ready.  Radiologists will be able to view and dictate medical images directly from their iPad.  The iPad could also possibly be used as a monitor to hook up diagnostic devices.  The possibilities there are endless.


I think the biggest potential impact the iPad will have will be in education.  The iPad will replace textbooks altogether, and will be required for every student in every classroom.  Each grade will have their own curriculum pre-loaded on each student’s iPad.  They’ll be able to use additional features like searching through their textbooks, using the stylus to highlight important text, as well as take handwritten notes on the side of each page.  These notes and highlights will be indexed and bookmarked, making them easy to search for and reference back to.  In math, the student will be able to write out equations that the iPad will be able to recognize and provide help with if needed.  As you can see, plenty of potential in this area.

Wrapping it up

A lot of the first impressions of the iPad were comparing it to the iPhone.  “The iPhone can already do this”, “There’s no camera”, etc.  I learned very quickly not to look at the iPad for what it can do now, but for what it will very likely be able to do in the future.  The best is yet to come, and it will come.