First, the good stuff. Which is all typically Apple. The iPad is undeniably sexy in a way that only Apple can deliver. The sliding, swishing 9.7-inch multitouch display. The impossibly stylish form factorhalf-inch thick, comic book sized. The flawless implementation of the touch interface, now familiar to iPhone and iTouch users worldwide. The iBooks application is sexy in every way the Kindle isnt, and it supports colour, which the Kindle doesnt. Safari combined with multitouch has already proven to be a great way to experience the Web, and on a larger screen, the iPad mounts a serious challenge to netbooks as a way to surf the Internet.
So, should we abandon all plans of buying anything else, and simply queue up for the iPad. Umm no. Because of the bad stuff. Which is also typically Apple.
The iPad has no USB, no memory-card slot, no drag-and-drop functionality (which means you need to sync all your content to it using iTunes on your computer, just like an iPod), no multitasking, no camera, and no 3G out of the box. Its plainly ridiculous to call it the best way to experience the Internet when theres no support for Flash, a technology which, love it or hate it, is inarguably an integral part of the Web experience today. While it has features that seriously challenge the Kindle, the Kindle destroys it in terms of battery life, and e-ink has proved to be much better for reading over long periods of time, in different lighting conditions.
The iPad isnt really a netbook replacement, or indeed a Kindle killer, as Apple is touting it to be. It appears to be just a much bigger, better, and more expensive iPod touch. Which in itself isnt a bad thing, but may not be enough for the iPad to replace either a netbook or a Kindle. Theres no single compelling reason to get one if you already own an iTouch or a netbook or a Kindle. Its a great device that does many cool thingsbut none that other devices (especially Apples own) do not already offer.
In fact, the danger for Apple is that a whole lot of people will seriously consider the iPad, and then simply decide to go with an iTouch instead. Apart from the screen size, theres no apparent major advantage that the iPad offers over its little brother. It is, at this point, perhaps the worlds best portable media-consumption device, but not by a huge margin. Its hard to see the iPad being a game-changer along the lines of Apples own iPhone, which was a truly revolutionary product that did a great many things that other devices simply didnt do. By merely replicating the iPhones features on a larger screen, its hard to see exactly what product category Apple is trying to create. Starting at $499 (in the US), the iPad is indeed priced attractively compared to a Kindle, but the fact remains that, if the large screen size isnt that important to you, the iTouch starts to look a great deal more attractive, and poses a threat to its newer, larger, shinier counterpart.
But then again, this is Apple, and the smart money is never against them. These are early days yet, and in the coming months, we could very well see applications come along for the iPad that will change the way we perceive the device.
And if Apple does find mainstream success with the iPad, then it will be a crucial victory in the battle against content piracy. One of Apples largely unsung achievements is their superb approach to fighting piracy by making content cheap and accessible to the average user, thus eliminating the need or motivation to pirate it. The App Store and iTunes are stellar achievements in this regard, and widespread adoption of the iPad will go a long way towards changing the game for the publishing, film and gaming industries.
In fact, the only thing against Apple at the moment is something they arent really used toan anti-incumbency factor. The immense pre-announcement hype around the iPad has led to a feeling of initial disappointment among a large section of the Internet users and mediawho are always the first off the block and can often decide trends.
But if the iPad turns out to be a great product with great content, this wont really matter, and we could be looking at yet another few years when all other hardware manufacturers play catch-up with Apple. Its happened before, and knowing Apple, they could very well make it happen again.
The author is game designer and gaming journalist based in Mumbai