05 Apr Apple iPad: Early looks and things you may not be aware of

I am one of the last guys to jump onto anyone’s product bandwagon, including Apple’s. I choose electronics to make me more productive or have the most fun, regardless of the brand.  Good products are good products, and the Apple iPad looks to me like a good product that thankfully has injected some excitement into the tech world. Later I plan to write a more in-depth analysis of the user experience and its potential impact on the market, but for now I want to provide my first impressions, and things you may not know about the iPad.

 Virtual Keyboard

One of the biggest outstanding questions was the keyboard. As I sit here typing this blog on the iPad itself using theApple Pages app, I am here to say that it is amazing. I actually type faster on this keyboard than I can a physical keyboard. I would like it larger as my hands start to cramp after a while.  While I love the Archos 7, as a media device, nothing I have ever experienced even comes close to the iPad. Kudos to Apple.

Editing is another matter. I slow down to a crawl using the magnifier, cut, paste, etc. I want my mouse and I want it now!

 Applications

Due to the larger screen, apps have a lot more real estate to work with.  Most of the apps I use a lot had iPad versions, some didn’t. If there isn’t an iPad version, like native and free Facebook, you need to view in “2X” mode to fill most of the screen. Its pixilated and kind of ugly but gets the job done.

The following apps I use had native versions at day of launch: TweetDeck, E*TRADE, The Weather Channel®, WeatherBug, Words With Friends HD, WordPress, Bloomberg, Kindle, and Web Albums. Developers took advantage of the real estate as you can see below.

While most in the App Store are a few dollars for the iPhone and iPod versions, I’ve noted that the iPad versions seem to cost more. For example, Words With Friends for iPhone is $1.99 while the iPad version is $4.99.

The App Store does a nice job letting you know which apps are iPad optimized and which aren’t.

Videos

Movies looked great, but I was hoping my HD iTunes movies would look better. There is a giant black strip on top and bottom, which I guess makes sense given it is 16:9 and the iPad isn’t. My Archos 5 Internet Tablet and the Archos 7are better at presenting movies than the iPad. The iPad provided two options, normal and zoom while the Archos devices provided four. Consumers should expect more out of this device, particularly given that they plunked down no less than $499 and bought the movie on iTunes.

One major disappointment, as it was for me on the iPod and iPhone, and Apple TV, video formats are extremely limited. This is where it is very frustrating for me. While I may enjoy the challenge of transcoding videos to the right resolution and format, most normal humans don’t. So forget about taking that video right off your new Kodak Zi6pocket HD palmcorder and playing it on your fancy new iPad. It won’t.

The iPad, like the iPod and iPhone will not play Flash video. That means that you will not be able to play a good percentage of video from the web. Apple is very quickly pointing to the new HTML 5 standard and guides users to web sites like ESPN and New York Times that support it, but for sites like Hulu and YouTube and the 1000’s of games that use Flash, you are out of luck.

(UPDATE 4/9/10: I can now watch videos with HTML5 pages on YouTube.com.  Not all pages were HTML5 so I could not watch all the videos.  Alternatively, users can use the Apple YouTube application and watch videos.)

Build Quality

As you would expect, the iPad is rock solid with an aluminum casing, like the iPhone, iPod, and Apple TV. I wouldn’t want to drop the iPad as I can imagine the screen cracking. We are still on planet earth and F=MA and with M (mass) being so much larger than the iPhone, I have concerns that this screen may break at some point.

I expect the Apple Store Geniuses to have a supply of screens in the back room to replace. Don’t count in insurance to cover cracking the screen as that’s not normal wear and tear. As a father of three young kids who are salivating over getting an iPad, I recommend to all parents to include into your mental financial model at least one screen fix.

eBooks

During the run-up to the launch of the iPad, there was a lot of discussion on whether Apple would support eReaders like Kindle or Nook given Apple has their own offering called iBooks. Kindle is supported and the Nook reader will reportedly be supported.

While I want to read an entire book before I pass final judgment, I can say, the E-Ink in the Nook and Kindle is more pleasing on the eyes versus the iPad screen. I cannot imagine right now reading for hours on the iPad, but time will tell.

eMagazines

Time Magazine on iPad (note bottom content ribbon)

I bought the $4.99 Time magazine and it looked great. They took full advantage of the medium and the technology to present the reader with a solid experience. I do think the $4.99 is steep given the cost savings with printing and distribution. It’s no way to start the digital magazine “revolution”, that’s for sure. I can see, price aside, how this could change the magazine publishing industry, and maybe even save it, but more on that in another blog.

  Charging

The iPad will only charge from a USB port off of a PC if the unit is “off”. I find that strange given so many other devices will charge while “on”. Devices like the Archos 5 and 7 will charge directly from a PC USB port while on. Apple does include a charger, but forget about mindlessly plugging the unit into the PC while on, synching, and walking away.

Giant iPod Touch

Yes, the iPad is a giant iPod Touch and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Apple and ISV’s have made many changes to optimize the form factor, like the virtual keyboard, app size optimization, and higher screen resolution. They also kept what brought them to the big show, like a lightning fast touch interface, auto orientation, and the easy to use App Store. Why would anyone change a winning recipe?

iTunes Lock in

OK, so some of you are aware, but I am guessing some of you aren’t. If you buy movies or books from the iTunes store, you may NOT be able to play them on another non-Apple device. They have made improvements in the portability of your music, but it’s not perfect yet. If you are comfortable buying Apple for the rest of your natural life, then that’s OK. If you are like me and are willing to sacrifice some convenience for flexibility down the road, then buy your music from Amazon and buy your real DVDs or Blu-rays in physical form that have an electronic version. The electronic version usually has an Apple compatible and a Microsoft compatible version. There isn’t an open solution for eBooks yet that protect the content.

Given all prior history of devices, no one company can have dominance in any area and I am expecting that many companies will have devices in the future you will prefer. Keep your eye on Google Android-based devices and of course Microsoft.

Storage Size

Given each Apple iTunes HD movie occupies over 1GB (Twilight is 1.5GB), be very careful in how much storage you purchase.  The iPad does not support USB flash drives so you are stuck with what you buy. So add up your future movie collection, music, photos, books, audio books, TV shows, magazines, and make your decision. Given the price difference between the 16 and 64GB versions is $200, this is an important decision.

Conclusion

While I will follow up with a more comprehensive end usage blog and also one that hits at the market impact, hopefully  my “first-looks” will help you make a more informed decision on whether to buy an iPad or not.  For me, I feel like the iPad is a luxury, not a “must-have” device. That’s for me, not the other billion potential buyers. If the iPad could replace my legal pad or my work journal and play more web video, I might have a different attitude. Over the next few months I will try many different use cases and let you know what I find. If you have anything you want me to test, please let me know below!

Note: This blog was written on an iPad using Apple Pages software.