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iPad: What’s Bubbling To The Top?

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Baby makes a good tablet holder.When you’ve got a new born baby and an Archos Android Tablet at hand (see image) you have a lot of time to read and that’s what I’ve been doing non-stop this weekend as I check-out all the news about the iPad. 24hrs into the game we’re starting to see some well-balance posts about usage models of all types and even though I don’t have an iPad myself (Ben has just started his coverage. His iPad turned up today.), I’m starting to get a feel for how it’s going for people and what usage scenarios are bubbling up as the most important and most interesting.

First off, there don’t seem to be any major surprises or let-downs and you really have to pay the Apple marketing teams some respect for working within sensible bounds and not going crazy with their marketing. Battery life is as good as expected (more on that below,) the screen is crisp with a wide viewing angle, the web experience is very fast and UI is as smooth as you’d expect it to be. Apart from some quibbles about USB charging I haven’t seen anyone that has hit any sort of roadblock. On the other side of the coin however, we’re not seeing any killer usage models rising the surface. Yet.

Tablets have always been a difficult product to position. In the 4 years that I’ve been covering the smaller tabletPCs, the Origami and ultra mobile PC area I have learned a lot about target audiences, usage models and niches. The iPad isn’t any different although it definitely plays to a more lounge-focused audience rather than to the portable PC fans of the ultra mobile PC world.  The issues are the same though so here’s a list of the key ones from the tablet world. How is the iPad shaping up?

Related: Thing to Consider when Buying or Designing a Tablet-Style Device.

Note: We’re tracking and updating iPad news links, videos and info in the iPad information page.

Web experience.

There’s the full internet experience and then there’s the consumer internet experience. One needs to be 100% accurate, extendable and tailorable through plugins, multitasking and extensions and the other simply needs to be good enough to serve customers with 95% of their pages in a slick fasion. In the laid-back world of sofa-surfing the iPad seems to really hit the mark. Reports are coming in that Safari is fast and fun. Faster than the fastest phone (widely agreed to be the Google Nexus One at the time of writing) and without any worries of zooming or panning. Easy-to-read and fun to use and for some people, worth the $500 just for this!

Battery life.

Top marks to Apple here. They’ve produced a device that runs over 10 hours. It’s a full day and enough for nearly everyone. There are some interesting stats that can be gleaned from the battery size though because the 24wh battery means it’s running in a 2.5w profile – About 3 times what a smartphone would take under load and it’s all to do with backlight. In fact, I estimate 80% of the battery drain to be coming from screen backlight, Wifi and components other than the CPU.

Keyboard.

I’m not hearing anyone calling the keyboard total rubbish but we’re hearing a lot of ‘you won’t want to write a book on it’ type comments which is exactly what people say when they know it’s not going to cover every usage model.  Flat-usage on a table in landscape mode is sub-optimal (neck pain) and resting the device on bent knees is also uncomfortable over time. The device is too heavy for extended one-handed use and trust me, carrying a bluetooth keyboard and batteries around ends up being akward. Let’s wait for a while on this because I’m guessing the excitement over blogging and emailing using the iPad will wear off after a while. As always, the phone is always close-by and the laptop is always more productive.

Size/Weight.

I’m seeing a lot of people talking about the hefty weight of the iPad and I think this is going to be a problem. Apple have chosen to use an aluminum body for strength but it’s added a lot to the weight. The 120gm battery pack is also adding a huge amount of weight. It’s a difficult design decision that plagues tablets all the time and Apple have probably made the right choices but it still doesn’t make it right. For the ultimate in usage flexibility and to cover mobile usage scenarios better, a few hundred grams needs to be taken off the weight.

Frame controls.

If you’ve never spent a lot of time with a device that has frame controls for things like scrolling, selecting, backlight adjustment and radio, you’ll never notice that these are missing from the iPad and as one would expect, this shortfall isn’t getting much coverage. We’re talking form over function here but surely there’s something that could have been done with all the frame space?

ipadhw

Applications.

It’s here where the big discussion takes place and although I’m personally not a long-term iPod Touch or iPhone user, I can see that users are enjoying the large-scale applications. iPhone apps using pixel doubling (4 ipad pixels for each iPhone aplication pixel) are a different matter though and I’m seeing an almost universal disappointment with this. The landscape will change quickly though and you’ll see iPad apps flowing through very quickly now. Games are bubbling up as an exciting feature although I doubt anyone was expecting the best gaming experience; the device just isn’t built for it. You’re unlikely too see too many iPad owners being disappointed with the gaming. Finally, the iWork apps seem to be impressing most people although as with the keyboard issue above, many are also saying that it won’t quite replace a laptop which also means it probably won’t ever replace the laptop.

Price.

No-one is moaning about the price. What owner would! For comments on pricing you need to ask people that didn’t buy the iPad. Is it too expensive?

Also-mentioned.

USB charging problems, no GPS on Wifi models, no memory card slot or USB host port.

Not mentioned.

It doesn’t surprise me that the lack of Flash isn’t mentioned much in reports. Of course it’s mentioned but there aren’t many users getting upset about it. Flash is a serious component of the serious web but when you’re lying in bed, it’s not such a showstopper. Also not mentioned with significant weight is multitasking. I wonder if the iPad is so fun and intriguing that switching between apps is actually fun!

Summary.

In summary I’m seeing a ‘reader’ and an entertainment device bubbling up as the key usage models right now but you have to look between the lines to find it out because as most of the bloggers out there are scrambling to make money out of it first! As many of them invested $500 in it, there’s also a level of vested interest too!

It seems that Apple hasn’t solved the basic physical issues with large-format tablet devices and if you really were expecting them to, you probably need to spend some time with a tablet device to find out that it’s almost impossible. What Apple appear to have done is created a huge wave of interest and sales that will ensure enough momentum to make this iPad a success. Customers are happy and are likely to stay that way and that’s enough for a few million sales. If Apple don’t reach their targets or the momentum runs out, they’ll will still have learned enough and made enough cash to try again and make a better product next time. The iPad is a great device but you really need to be aware that it’s not going to solve any major issues for you; it’s simply a well-designed luxury viewing frame.

Recommended reading / Sources.

At the time of writing we have a list of about 16 ‘latest newslinks’ to important articles about the iPad from across the net. Stay tuned to it as we continue to update it. Information in this article was gleaned from the articles in the list.

You’ll see that we’ve turned off the normal comments on this post. Instead we’ve embedded the comments from the product page which you are invited to add to so that others can benefit on the future. Anything you add here, will appear on the iPad product page and will serve as a long-term reference.

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