After the Hype
iPad launched with typical Apple fanfare. Now that it’s not the next big thing, it’s time for a second look to see if it’s still a big deal
From the Print Edition:
Adrien Brody, September/October 2010
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Other Apps: The iPad app catalog is a decidedly mixed bag. The provided photo software makes this a great opportunity to show off your digital camera shots (despite the iPad's lack of built-in camera). However, the much-touted iPad versions of magazines and newspapers have been underwhelming. The magazines add flashy effects and navigation, but not much content enhancement over their Web sites, and the newspapers basically bring touch-screen access to stripped down versions of their Web-based content. Interestingly, comic books look spectacular.
Use the several nice cooking apps with a stand accessory and iPad makes a great reference for slicing and dicing. For those with more talent than yours truly, music creation and sketching apps are a natural fit with the colorful touch-screen display. There are also snazzy pieces of educational software (if you can bring sizzle to the Periodic Table of the Elements, I say more power to you).
While I could go on for several thousand words just cataloging the iPad's software, I find more breadth than depth in the collection, with only a handful of apps that trigger my gotta-have-it reaction. And while the choices available when the iPad launched were vast and exciting compared to most new product introductions, few dramatically different or intriguing additions have surfaced since that initial gee-whiz moment. At the same time, there is something for everyone, and with millions of iPads sold, a lot of smart software developers are poking away at the platform.
iPad vs. Alternatives
Apple wasn't physically present at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2010, but the iPad certainly loomed over the convention center. We knew it was coming, and several manufacturers promised alternatives in roughly the same size and shape. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer proudly showed off the HP Slate, a Windows 7-based tablet that would be "more powerful than a phone and almost as powerful as a PC. Perfect for reading, surfing the Web and taking entertainment on the go." Lenovo showed off the cool U1 Hybrid, that works as a tablet or a full-fledged computer when clicked into its keyboard-equipped base. Dell had its own tablet contender, and other prototypes were shown behind closed doors.
But the promised wave never hit the shore, for a variety of reasons. For now, Apple has the only device with the size and shape of an iPad. Competitors are in the works, most notably those running Google's Android operating system, now increasingly popular on cell phones. Acer Asus, LG and Samsung also threaten tablet devices, though details are sparse. The iPad competition really consists of devices that perform some or all of the same functions, but in very different shapes and sizes.
If your primary interest is reading electronic books, newspapers and magazines, Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook and Sony's Reader lines all start at less than $200 after recent price cuts. They are smaller and lighter than an iPad, though much more limited in function. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble actually offer free iPad apps that let you shop the same book collection as their dedicated devices, a major boon to iPad buyers who would otherwise be limited to the smaller selection in Apple's own iBook library.
The screen technology, though, is still a major point of differentiation. Books look great on an iPad screen, with sharp text, color illustrations and even a two-page horizontal display. Some complain that the backlit display tires your eyes, but dimming the iPad screen eases that. Still iPad's highly reflective surface makes it nearly impossible to use outdoors, where dedicated devices work perfectly.
For communication purposes, a large-screen smart phone will deliver practical versions of many iPad Internet-based activities, along with the must-have ability to make calls, in a single device. This is particularly true of Android-based phones-the sheer number of iPhone/iPad compatible applications is higher, but the Android market is well stocked, growing rapidly and more open than Apple's company-controlled selection.
I've taken the HTC EVO 4G for an extended test run, and while far from perfect, it highlights the potential of Android-powered devices. Web pages aren't as big and readable as on the iPad, but especially when you are holding the device horizontally, surfing is pleasing on the 4.7-inch touchscreen. The same goes for reading electronic books, and showing off photos works well (with the same kind of pinch-zoom capability you'll find on the iPad). Flash support wasn't available for the EVO when I reviewed it, but it's promised for the next revision of the operating system, which may well be available by the time you read this.
The EVO 4G battery life can't match the iPad, and games aren't as much fun on the small screen. The 4G online connection speed is much faster than the 3G iPad, but I can't swear to the practical effect since, as in most of the country, my area has no 4G coverage. Still, the EVO 4G is far more portable than the iPad, costs just $200 versus at least $500 and most importantly, replaces the phone I have to carry.
Comments 2 comment(s)
Chris A — February 10, 2011 3:45am ET
Rick.email@example.com — April 11, 2012 10:14am ET
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