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Do I need an iPad?

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Photo credit: Kominyetska (Flickr)

It feels like a lifetime ago that Apple launched the iPad.  The US market have been able to enjoy the product for a number of weeks, whilst the rest of the world has (in some cases) been patiently waiting for a wider release.  Today saw the Apple Web Store updated to include iPad pre-orders for the rest of the world.  With 1 million units already shipped inside the US since release, this clearly successful product is soon going to be in the hands of many others around the world.  Given my locale (UK) I’ve not seen one in the flesh.  I’ve not written the device off yet; however I’m struggling to find a personal use other than it’s gadget appeal.

A big iPhone

I don’t agree with those commentators who have referred to the device simply as a big iPhone.  Yes, it uses the same operating system, and many of the iPhone applications will run on the device too (albeit in a blocky/pixelated manner due to the iPad’s much higher resolution), but there are subtle differences, for example:

The lock switch – on the iPhone, there’s a mute switch. On the iPad, this locks the current display mode (be it landscape or portrait) to stop it changing orientation if the device is rotated.

The A4 processor – no not something out of an Audi factory, but an Apple developed and manufactured CPU which knocks the socks off other mobile chipsets both in terms of speed and low power utilisation.

(Mostly) Useless without connectivity

Many of the applications that are designed to work on both iPhones and iPads become pretty useless unless there’s some kind of data provision in place.  The iPad currently ships in two formats, WiFi only and the later released 3G edition.

The WiFi model is designed to be used within the home, office and at wireless hotspots.  Unless you live in a densely populated area where either free public wifi is in place, or a wifi provider offers widespread coverage, you’ll experience large portions of unavailability of core services (mail, web, app store, web based apps etc).

Conversely, the 3G edition offers much better connectivity, provided of course that you intend to use the device where 3G services are available!  This said, most of us already have a data plan on our mobile phone provision.  The iPad 3G requires a micro sim to be inserted to enjoy network services, which of course carry additional monthly expenditure.  I have yet to see a mobile network operator who is offering any kind of bundle for data services on one mobile tariff with two sims (one for mobile and one for iPad).  Thankfully, we are seeing some (UK) operators offering pay as you go data plans for as little as £2 per 500Mb and as much as 5Gb for £25.  I’d like to see operators waking up to the reality that some people own a mobile, a mobile data stick and something like an iPad all necessitating services and therefore one package that can share provisions is long overdue.

Replaces your need for a laptop/net-book

I don’t for a moment believe that any iPad owner could completely disregard the need for a laptop/netbook device.  The iPad continues Apple’s closed platform approach to “mobile” hardware. (I’m not going to get into the lack of Flash debate here).  The lack of a physical keyboard, whilst not limiting when composing short messages or notes, I’d expect it to be limiting when it comes to larger articles or compositions.  I can type pretty fast, and even with practice I simply cannot achieve anywhere near my usual rate using a touch-screen keyboard.  The iPad cannot output resolution above 1024×768 and therefore falls below 1080p.  Whilst most probably won’t be able to see any difference – it’ll bother some owners.

There have been various reports of owners just not being sure how to hold the iPad.  Whilst navigating menus and the polished user interface are raved about to be a delight to use, the need to sit cross legged or to prop the iPad up in ever creative positions so it can be used make the product awkward and a little cumbersome.  I can only speculate at this time; but for those longer sessions, I firmly believe I’d rather have a laptop device on my knees.

Creative iPad stand

Photo credit: Veronica Belmont (Flickr)

What would I use if for?

I am a heavy web user.  I’m a very active Twitter user, I partake in the odd bit of “Facebook”, I “Digg”, I blog, I participate on many forums and I run a World of Warcraft guild.  All of these things require my attention at different times of the day.  At the moment I balance my “always on” connectivity between my home PC, my aging Dell laptop (sits next to me at work on a mobile broadband connection) and my iPhone.  Other than whilst at home, I can’t think of any occasion where I’d feel comfortable both carrying and then ultimately pulling out and using an iPad.  Yes, accessing all of the aforementioned content would be a delight to view on an iPad, I just can’t see it being practical.

Don’t get me wrong, whilst a lot of the above comes across very negatively, I’m not against the device or ownership of one per se.  I just can’t currently see what I’d use one for.  It’s argued that Apple has released a product for which there is no current market or need for; choosing instead to apply clever marketing and Apple fanboyism to drive sales and desire to own one.  I love the look of them.  I love that I could sit and use such a device with my two year old son for a variety of entertainment and educational purposes.  The very fact that he could hold and touch it’s surface to interact with it without the need to become adept with a physical keyboard or mouse makes me lust after getting one.  This said, it’s price tag, circa £600 means I probably wouldn’t want my son to be using it, nor would I be able to justify the expense of such a device considering I’d probably want to replace it every year (or perhaps every other year like my iPhone).

My own personal alternative

I mentioned earlier that I currently make use of an aging Dell laptop.  I will be replacing this later this year with a MacBook Pro.  I’ve very excited about the prospect of owning such a device despite my never having used one other than poking a mouse around in an Apple Store and spending five minutes staring at a work colleagues previously.  At the moment I can foresee that I’d use the new MacBook for all the circumstances for which the iPad is currently being touted as a solution for.  This said, I am more than sure that as the iPad platform develops I will find myself lusting after one when the second generation device is released in much the same fashion as I did with the iPhone!  That, and when I finally get the opportunity to hold and use an iPad in-person.  Only time will tell!

Your thoughts?

I know people inside the UK who have imported US iPads so that they can adopt earlier than others.  Doing so has saved them a little off the purchase price as well as meaning they’ve not had to wait for the worldwide release.  They’ve really enjoyed them and are finding every more creative ways of using them.  Do you own one, or have you pre-ordered one and are eagerly awaiting a delivery date?  Are you considering getting one and if so, what do you intend to use one for?  Please share with me your reasons behind purchasing such a shiny, glossy and sexy unit that I’m struggling to think of a reason to justify personal ownership of.

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  • keefhalek

    I'm here in the U.S. and I was holding out for the 3G version. It came out a week ago (or so) but for some reason I haven't run out to the store yet. I can't wait to use it on the commute though. I've been trying to surf and blog with the iPhone but it's just annoying. The iPad will be the answer.

  • Can't imagine I'd get one. If I was a heavy blogger and did a lot of public transport commuting, I might have been more tempted. My iphone will do for most situations. Still, it's a lovely looking piece of kit, and us blokes love our gadgets! I want a new MBP or iMac…or 3D TV…or car…

  • Rob

    I think that anyone who commutes using public transport it'll be a godsend. I have to agree that the iPhone screen is far too small to be anything other than an occasional web browser. The iPad will be large enough, whilst still being small enough to be of use.

  • Rob

    I think that is the key. If you find yourself in places or situations where you might currently pull out your iPhone, or don't need something as large as a laptop, the iPad will fit in nicely. I'd expect most owners to probably have both a home computer and a laptop already. That said, there are some companies and universities that are giving them out to use at their places of work/education!

    I'm looking forward to my MBP. I don't have a hankering for an iMac nor a 3D TV – at least not for the time being!

  • Dave Morgan

    My 3G iPhone is ripe for upgrade this year, so I doubt the budget will allow me to get an iPad as well, but if money was no object I see myself using it as a work aid, meeting notes using iwork, streamlining my production & distribution on email or iwork.com. Managing my calendar & To-Do's to keep me in control. I see my iPad as a daily workhorse with the MBP being cumbersome powerhouse by comparison. I want my iPad to complement my work life with apps to support my personal life like my Photography. I love having the WWW of information at my fingertips and although I have this through my iPhone, the larger format will make it easier to navigate. I would want my iPad to fit in between my phone & computers & my mobile me account will help bring them all together… but for now it will have to stay on my wish list.

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