Pros: An impressively built tablet computer, featuring a clean industrial design borrowed from Apple’s MacBook Pro computers, internal components derived largely from its iPod touch and iPhone pocket devices, and stable, multi-touch software. Runs over 150,000 applications, thousands of which have been optimized for this device, offering iPod-equivalent sonic performance, better than iPod- and iPhone-quality visual performance, and 10+ hour battery life unmatched by any current-generation Apple product, or most competitors. Superb for book and periodical reading, strong for web and video viewing, more capable of content creation than iPods and iPhones. Supports 720p HD video playback.
Cons: Cannot serve as a standalone computer; in addition to iTunes dependence, horsepower is presently shortchanged by limited, iPhone-class multitasking that forces all third-party applications to occupy and waste entire screen; lack of camera similarly limits value for video communications. Screen dimensions are sub-optimal for movies, including HD content. Confusing battery charging requirements and slow iTunes synchronization. Initial iPad-optimized applications, as well as Apple’s strategy for performing and selling color digital publications on the device, need additional work. In addition to anti-glare, anti-fingerprint screen film, most users will need new in-car, docking, and/or speaker accessories.
On January 27, 2010, Apple announced the iPad, its long-awaited “tablet” computer. This extended First Look at the iPad includes over 45 photos and an interface walkthrough video depicting the device’s built-in applications, iWork suite, and much more. You can see the standard 10-minute Apple iPad interface walkthrough video on YouTube, or watch a higher-resolution, 12-minute version of the video on Vimeo. New: We’ve posted a third version of the video in 720p HD on Vimeo!
On January 27, 2010, Apple announced the iPad, its long-awaited “tablet” computer. This extended First Look at the iPad includes over 45 photos and an interface walkthrough video depicting the device’s built-in applications, iWork suite, and much more. You can see the standard 10-minute Apple iPad interface walkthrough video on YouTube, or watch a higher-resolution, 12-minute version of the video on Vimeo. New: We’ve posted a third version of the video in 720p HD on Vimeo!
The Big Concept. Apple’s iPad is designed to be a bridge device between the smartphone and the PC/Mac—a tablet-shaped computer that allows users to access data like the iPod touch and iPhone, including streamlined Safari web browser, e-mail, and iPhone OS applications, without providing voice calling functionality. The pitch is that it does a better job of presenting the web, photos, videos, and apps than a smartphone, due to the large 9.7” multi-touch screen, and makes them easier to use than on a computer because of the simplified touch interface. Games and other iPhone apps can run in a small window sized to match the iPhone’s screen in the center of the iPad display, or get doubled to consume most of the iPad’s screen.
The Big Gripes. Starting at $499, Apple’s iPad costs as much or more than a PC netbook computer and, apart from the multitouch interface, falls short in many other categories: storage capacity starts at a mere 16GB, no camera or videochat functionality is included, only a single device connector is integrated for charging, wired synchronization, and accessories, and the device’s apps and features feel more like stripped iPhone OS programs than powerful PC or Mac applications. It has no integrated stand for video viewing, and even when you’re using the on-screen virtual keyboard, you need to support it yourself unless you buy an accessory to hold it up. Either you “get” the idea that this device is supposed to be super simple, thin, and carry-friendly—like an iPhone or iPod touch, used in your lap or with one hand while standing up—or you see it as an overly stripped-down computer.
Different Versions, Capacities, and Confusion. There are two different versions of the iPad, each sold in three storage capacities: 16GB ($499/$629), 32GB ($599/$729), or 64GB ($699/$829). The lower price refers to a version that is wireless just like the iPod touch, only with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR capabilities, while the higher priced versions add unlocked 3G wireless features for a $130 premium, plus the ongoing monthly cost of no-contract service. The iPad versions with 3G add a black plastic antenna stripe to the back of the otherwise aluminum casing, positioned near the top of the device immediately below the headphone port, microphone, and sleep/wake switch. Users can pay AT&T $15 per month for 250MB of data or $30 per month for “unlimited” data on the 3G versions. International data plans are not yet negotiated.
Screen and Body. If you want to look at the iPad completely objectively, there’s one fact you need to understand up front: sales pitch aside, it is in fact the equivalent of a big iPhone or iPod touch with a 9.7”, 1024×768 screen. Rumors and reports from sources aside, the screen’s old-fashioned aspect ratio, 132dpi detail level, and other characteristics are not groundbreaking or shocking. But the actual quality of the LED backlighting, the IPS screen technology, and the multi-touch responsiveness of the display are all essentially beyond reproach. The screen mightn’t be OLED, or ultra high-resolution, or widescreen like the new iMacs, yet it’s beautiful: strong, rich colors, great viewing angles, and of course, that glass top surface that makes everything glossy. It’s oleophobic, just like the iPhone 3GS, for reduced smearing. People are going to love watching videos on it, even if the aspect ratio could use a little tweaking in a future version of the device—not that it’ll actually get these tweaks for various reasons.
The body of the iPad is what we heard (very late in the process and with conflicting details) that Apple had shifted to: a design that looks just like the lid of a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, only smaller. On the top are a headphone port and tiny microphone hole, along with a small sleep/wake switch.
The right hand side has volume buttons and a switch to mute the speaker, which is located on the bottom with three little mesh-covered grilles—odd—near the single Dock Connector.
There’s nothing on the left-hand side of the unit, contradicting reports we’d heard that there would be a second Dock Connector for widescreen mounting of the iPad, like a computer screen. Apple appears to have hidden the 802.11n wireless antennas inside the Apple logo; the version with 3G antennas will differ visually from the 802.11 Wi-Fi only version in that it has an antenna stripe on the back like the iPhone’s, only at the top instead of the bottom, and not extending fully from one edge to the other.
Speaker. Apple’s built-in speaker didn’t have a prayer of competing with the volume level in the room where everyone was testing the iPads. You can feel the iPad vibrating when the speaker’s turned up. There was no application on the device for Voice Memos to make use of the microphone; it’s unclear at this point how exactly Apple intends users to make use of it. The Apple web site shows the 3G version of the device as being “data only,” not for making phone calls—obviously there’s no Phone app on the iPad right now—so it looks like it’ll be up to developers (such as Skype) to offer similar functionality.
Size, Weight, Battery, and Pack-Ins. iPad’s physical size is 9.56” (tall) by 7.47” (wide) by 0.5” (thick), and it weighs 1.5 pounds with Wi-Fi features, or 1.6 pounds with Wi-Fi and 3G. Only the Wi-Fi version was available to be held during the hands-on session after Apple’s event, and it felt very solid and substantial rather than flimsy—the weight is, in our view, not an issue in any way, shape, or form. It’s unclear how the iPad will stay cool, but the answer appears to be that its aluminum body will work as a heat sink, and the chips inside are essentially smartphone-class mobile processors that don’t give off as much heat or consume as much energy as laptop components.
iPad is packaged with a new 10-Watt Dock Connector-based power adapter and a USB Dock Connector cable like the ones used for iPods and iPhones since 2004. The battery is rated for 10 hours of Wi-Fi data or video viewing, with the same number for listening to music, however, it’s highly unclear as to whether the iPad will actually only achieve such limited music runtime if used solely for that purposes—not that this is likely.
UI. The user interface is obviously very familiar from the iPhone and iPod touch, but there’s going to be a little learning curve for some of the new features, and there are some questions as to how much of the software we saw—iPhone OS 3.2, incidentally, not 4.0—was just buggy rather than non-responsive. Almost everything we tried to do on the iPad was very fast—faster than the iPhone 3GS and current iPod touch despite pushing considerably more pixels—but there were buttons, screen rotations, and other features that didn’t seem to be working at all, or properly, during our tests. You’ll see this for yourself in our complete interface video, which we’re about to post for your viewing pleasure.
Turning the device on presents you with a slide to unlock screen and a new button that looks like a photo icon. Press it and you turn the iPad into a picture frame for displaying photos from your photo collection—the slideshow activates immediately after you press the button, without having to unlock the device. You can also choose a background image now for your home pages—a single image that remains the same when you switch between pages of apps. If there’s one disappointment in the iPad UI as-is, it’s that the apps and dock UI really hasn’t evolved as much as it should have from the iPhone: it’s just more space, with similar-looking icons, spread out. The one nice twist is that you can now navigate the home screens in tall or wide mode, and the icons reshuffle automatically to fill the screen. We wish (and hope) the iPhone could do this.
Apps. Every one of the “old” apps feels a lot like the iPhone version in terms of simplicity and functionality, as if Apple used the iPhone and iPod touch apps as a base, but each has grown features that range from merely displaying prior “second screen” or pop-up content as an overlay, to now being able to do more—generally a little more—than they did before. The expanded calendar views are going to be key for people who do their social planning digitally, and the photo viewer, maps app, and video viewers are obviously benefitting a lot from the expanded real estate. That said, there was nothing revolutionary in any of the updated apps: they all were a step or two forward from the versions we’ve previously seen for the iPhone, some dating back to the 2007 launch of the device, and obviously, a number of apps—the calculator, weather, stocks, clock, voice memos, and compass apps, as a handful—have disappeared entirely from the device, presumably because Apple would be fine with you acquiring your own apps if you want them.
iTunes / App Store
iBooks and the iBookstore. Apple has capitalized on its prior iBook laptop name for its eBook reader, which provides access to a fairly sophisticated book reading program built upon the popular (if old-fashioned) ePub standard.
The reader provides users with a choice of five fonts and multiple font sizes to read their books in—unfortunately, neither of these features actually worked when we were trying to test the application, despite reloading the app a couple of times—and can also shift into widescreen or tall orientations to provide one- or two-page viewing options, making use of the full display.
In tall orientation, you can actually use your fingers to turn a page so that you can preview the words on the next page, or just tap on the screen to change pages.
Apple’s iBookstore is built into the iBooks app to let you buy new books, which appear automatically on a virtual bookshelf that rotates around on the screen like the entry to a secret passage in an old house. The features are slick, as is the paper-like texture applied to the screen behind the black words of the books to give them more of a “real book feel.”
But the iBooks app falls short of really bringing books forward into the 21st Century—they are basically the same black and white things you see on an Amazon Kindle or Barnes and Noble Nook, only presented on Apple’s nicer color screen with little bits of extra shading. Nothing was said or shown about magazines or newspapers within the iBooks app; Apple instead demonstrated access to these publications via the Safari web browser and publication-developed apps (such as the New York Times app). Thus, Apple appears set to let individual publishers evolve their products through apps rather than ePub-format eBooks, and isn’t providing a special newspaper or magazine reader, or subscriptions, to push this forward. At least, yet.
More on Pricing, Capacities and Versions. The 16GB base capacity of the iPad almost seems like a joke, but like the very limited 8GB iPod touch, it’s clearly being produced as a “get them in the door” model with a super-attractive $499 price tag. This iPad will wind up being the one people buy for their kids, and the others will be the ones that power users buy—unless they wait for the inevitable second- and third-generation versions of the iPad to get in.
Regarding 3G/Wi-Fi, no one expected that Apple would actually charge more for the 3G version of the device—rather than going the subsidy route—or that there would be a no-contract way to make the service purchase. The approach that it took, namely offering 3G for those who want it, unlocked, at a $130 premium, seems like a fair compromise at a slightly higher price than it would optimally be offered at. The lack of an obvious tethering option for those who are already shelling out money for their iPhone service is a big miss, as well, but one that could possibly be addressed before launch. Here’s hoping.
Video Output Capabilities. The 1024×768 screen is just shy of natively displaying full 720p resolution for high-definition video, however, iPad is capable of playing 720p H.264 videos, with standard MPEG-4 videos capped at 640×480 like the current iPod and iPhone models. Output from the device to a TV appears to be capped at 480p/576p with audio, or 1024×768 output without audio if you use the new Dock Connector to VGA Adapter cable.
iPad Accessories. (Click here for more photos.) There’s a new iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter ($29) for attaching the iPad to a projector or monitor; it outputs from the iPad at 1024×768 resolution without audio. Apple will also sell an iPad Camera Connection Kit ($29) that comes with a USB adapter and a SD card reader in one package, two separate pieces, to let the iPad import photos from a camera or SD card. There are two different docks: the iPad Keyboard Dock ($69) has a normal keyboard grafted on to the front of a plastic dock; the function keys include shortcuts for adjusting brightness, accessing photos, search, volume levels and iPod music playback keys, returning to the home screen, and changing keyboard features. Apple offers a standard iPad Dock ($29) with audio and dock connector ports on the back, with no keyboard. Bluetooth keyboards will also be supported on the iPad for those who want to use the wireless functionality instead.
Apple is selling an iPad Case ($39) made from plastic and microfiber, with a front flap that folds backwards to serve as a stand. Finally, there’s a new 10W power adapter that is included with the iPad or sold separately for $29; it uses a Dock Connector but obviously supplies more power than a typical USB port. We have posted separate First Looks at all of the accessories, as linked above.
For the entire decade starting in 2000, the “tablet computer” was literally defined by products running Microsoft’s Windows operating system—thick boxes that might as well have been laptops but for their externally-mounted screens and included styluses. Bill Gates famously predicted in 2001 that the Tablet PC “will be the most popular form of PC sold in America” within five years, but that neither happened nor even approached reality: Microsoft’s Tablet PCs remained extremely nichey, went through a series of stylus, keyboard, software, and screen tweaks, then were discontinued in 2009. Even users who had been excited about tablets in concept were indifferent about Microsoft’s “stuff a PC into a different sort of casing” approach.
With the iPad ($499-$829), Apple wants you to throw away every preconception you may have of a tablet computer and embrace a new paradigm. This isn’t a MacBook laptop crammed into a different shell, running Mac OS software with a touchscreen rather than a mouse, but rather an iPod touch grown up to fit a larger and more powerful set of hardware, with a tweaked version of its stripped-down, power-sipping iPhone OS software. One version of the iPad ($499-$699) is quite like the iPod touch, accessing the Internet solely through Wi-Fi networks, while the other ($629-$829) is more like the iPhone 3GS, with Internet access both through Wi-Fi and 3G cellular towers—if you’re willing to pay a premium for the hardware and for month-to-month 3G service. Updated May 3, 2010: A comprehensive supplemental review of the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G is available here.
In either configuration, the iPad competes with Amazon’s Kindle as a book reader, netbooks and iPods as a video player, web browser, and e-mail device, and full-fledged computers as a personal organization and content creation tool, albeit in each case with distinct advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the iPad may occupy 10 times the physical volume of an iPod touch, but it’s less than a third the volume of a MacBook, and only 60% of the once “impossibly thin” MacBook Air. Apple has achieved this with part reductions: there’s no hard drive, no DVD drive, no trackpad, no spare ports, and no super-hot video card requiring fan cooling. Instead, the inside houses a tight collection of tiny, cool-running chips that are only modestly more powerful than the ones in the latest iPod touch—capped at the same maximum storage capacity of 64 Gigabytes—plus a significantly larger battery, and a netbook-sized, multi-touch screen with five times the pixels and nearly seven times the surface area of past iPod touch and iPhone models.
The choice of components highlights a fundamental difference in Apple’s and Microsoft’s tablet approaches. Unlike Tablet PCs, which ran Windows software that needed to be retrofitted to work with less precise and responsive input devices, the iPad arrives 100% ready for a new generation of touch-based applications and games, ones that were literally designed from the ground up to eliminate the mice, styluses, and physical keyboards of past computers in favor of direct, finger-based input, all while using far less power and storage space than the apps created for PCs and Macs. Better yet, you don’t have to wait for these new programs—over 1,000 of them are already here on day one of the iPad’s release, along with roughly 150,000 others that were developed for the iPhone and iPod touch but work on the iPad as well, though not perfectly.
Therein lies the rub. iPhone and iPod touch applications were designed to run one at a time and fill the entire display, and the iPhone OS-based iPad still doesn’t enable most applications to share the screen. Since few people would devote the entire display of a traditional computer to a calculator, a phone dialer, or a stock widget capable of showing only six stocks at once, Apple removed even some of its own core iPhone OS applications from the iPad, and hasn’t yet explained how they—or the iPhone’s full-screen instant messaging, Twittering, or other less-than-completely attention-demanding apps—will be replaced. Other developers have released early solutions that hog the screen, until and unless Apple enables multitasking. But Apple clearly sees the iPad as having greater potential than the iPhone. It has already taken on the daunting task of creating stripped-down iPad versions of its iWork suite of Mac productivity apps, including a word processor, spreadsheet, and slideshow presentation tool, all designed to work without mice, styluses, or physical keyboards. On the other hand, it hasn’t included any iPad tools for obvious needs such as interpreting handwriting or recording sketches—features that were rightly considered critical in the company’s Newton series of devices in the 1990s.
For now, Apple pitches the iPad as a computer that fully engrosses you in a web page, your e-mail, or media because—apart from playing music in the background—you can’t really do two things at once on it, and its non-finger input solutions are still in their infancy. Since it depends upon Apple’s iTunes software to synchronize content from your Mac or PC, and can’t print documents without a computer’s assistance, it’s not ready to fully replace either desktop or laptop machines, at least, yet. These issues will almost certainly be addressed in the future. However, rather than speculating as to what the iPad might become six months or two years from now, our comprehensive review looks at the impressive experience that Apple’s device actually delivers to consumers today, as well as where it falls short of reasonable expectations from both hardware and software standpoints. Only time will tell whether the iPad’s promise is realized with the sort of software and hardware updates that will take it fundamentally beyond its iPod-like origins and into a truly powerful computer in its own right.
Introducing the iPad: The Body, Screen, and Pack-Ins
Apple registered the design for the iPad back in 2004, and made only the most minor changes to its early vision before debuting it in 2010. In a nutshell, the iPad is an aluminum- and glass-bodied computer with a footprint just slightly smaller than a magazine, and weight roughly comparable to a small hardcover book.
Though the iPad has been described as a “giant iPod touch,” it actually resembles the lid of a MacBook Pro computer, only a little thicker, with room for ports and controls on its shallowest side. Like the MacBook Pro, it bulges at the center to achieve its 0.5” maximum depth, while its flat edge measures roughly 0.25”, just enough to surround a bottom-mounted Dock Connector port with untapered metal before giving way to angular, machined edges.
To the right of that port are three pill-shaped mesh speaker grilles, while the device’s right side breaks with iPhone and iPod touch tradition by containing up-and-down volume buttons—previously found on the left—and a switch that was originally demonstrated to mute the iPad’s audio, then changed at the last minute to serve as a screen orientation lock. At the top of each iPad are a standard 3.5mm headphone port, a hole for an integrated microphone, and a Sleep/Wake button. The buttons are made from black plastic, similar to the original iPhone and current iPod touch.
As noted above, the first-generation iPad comes in two different configurations, each with three different storage capacities. Apple calls the first version iPad Wi-Fi, and the other iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, selling the latter at a $130 premium over the Wi-Fi-only models. They are physically differentiated by the presence of a wide black plastic antenna strip on the Wi-Fi + 3G model, running roughly a half-inch from the top of that iPad down the back, and interrupting its silver front bezel.
Unlike the Wi-Fi-only model, which depends upon your home, office, or paid wireless network for Internet access, the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G antenna strip enables it to wirelessly connect to the same cellular data networks as the iPhone 3G and 3GS, while adding a slot for a micro SIM card on its top; sub-millimeter differences in height and width make the Wi-Fi + 3G version a hint bigger than the 9.56” by 7.47” Wi-Fi-only model, and 1.6 pounds in weight versus 1.5 pounds. Both models of the iPad come in 16GB ($499/$629), 32GB ($599/$729), and 64GB ($699/$829) capacities, each indicated with a small badge on the device’s lower back like most iPods and iPhones. A large, glossy metallic Apple logo is centered vertically on each iPad’s rear, with the iPad name, certification logos, and product identification details underneath.
While we’d stop short of calling the iPad’s shell perfect, it does so much right that it’s hard to criticize for anything other than its minimalism. In weight, size, and gentle curvature, it feels great in the hand, firm in the lap, and far more durable than the average iPod or iPhone these days, though the aluminum is subject to the same scuffs and scratches that MacBook Pros and the original iPhone gather over time. Its most obvious deficiency is its lack of additional ports—the scuttled second Dock Connector on the long edge for widescreen mounting, an integrated card reader for photography purposes, or even a USB port for use with popular Mac accessories. Any one of these features would have been appreciated by a significant number of users. An elegant integrated stand, capable of letting the iPad stand upright on its own, would also have been worth including.
Screen and Face
All of the details mentioned above are important to understanding what the iPad includes and feels like, but the core of the device is its 9.7-inch color display, found behind an all-glass shield coated with Apple’s “fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating,” and directly above a circular Home button like the ones on iPhones and iPod touches. The 1024×768-pixel resolution of the iPad’s display is on par with small laptops and higher than most netbooks, offering a higher pixel count per inch (132ppi) than 13” MacBook and MacBook Pro computers (113ppi), but lower than the current iPhone 3G/3GS and iPod touch (163ppi). Practically, this difference doesn’t matter much: due to the different sizes of the dots on their screens, the iPad’s “1x” rendering of iPhone applications is actually a little larger than their actual size, but the iPad still provides finer details than most Macs. Moreover, due as much to the quality of the wide-angled IPS display as the glass, the glossy screen pops with color and can be viewed almost as easily by people off to the left and right as someone directly in front of the iPad. This is an improvement on the iPod touch, iPhone, and certain Macs, which sometimes suffered from off-angle viewing problems. Additionally, there were no dead pixels or other issues with the four iPad screens we tested during this review—each one was perfect.
On the other hand, the shape of the iPad’s screen is a surprise. It reverses Apple’s design trend of the last three years, which has seen it shift all of its other devices—Macs, iPods, and iPhones alike—away from old-fashioned 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio screens to wider ones, which have varied from 1.5:1 on the iPhone and iPod touch to 1.6:1 or 1.78:1 on different Macs. Though the differences may sound abstract, Apple moved in this direction to improve the look of wide-formatted movies and TV shows on its devices, reducing or eliminating the black bars that show up when wide-formatted content is presented on a narrow display. The iPad’s screen uses that old 4:3 aspect ratio, so as a consequence, when you play a movie or HD television show on the iPad in its native format, you’ll see big black bars unless you double tap, which will fill the screen but crop off a lot of the video’s edges.
Except for videos, most users won’t care about the shape of the screen. Instead, they’ll be impressed by its sheer real estate—nearly seven times as much touchable surface as the iPod touch or iPhone, which enables both a dramatically expanded area to display maps, photos, web pages, and videos, all discussed below, and the use of more multi-finger touch controls than before. The prior 3.5” multi-touch displays didn’t have enough area to either display or let you control a full-sized doorknob, but the iPad’s screen could both show you such a thing as it actually looks, and let you turn it with several fingers working in a circular motion.
Gameloft’s N.O.V.A. HD already includes such a feature, missing from the iPhone version of the same game, and other applications will follow. This degree of interactivity will eventually allow users to connect with iPad applications in ways that Nintendo’s Wii motion controls have already proved addicting, but if history repeats itself, will also invite gimmicks and poor implementations of new ideas. Turning doorknobs isn’t necessarily fun in a world where doors can open themselves; Gameloft only requires you to do this on a handful of doors, and then, with differing gestures to keep things interesting.
On a related note, the iPad picks up finger smears in droves: on each day we tested the device, we found the screen covered in marks after 30 minutes of testing, and literally layered with them after a full day. The fingerprints are far more obvious outdoors than indoors, but can also be seen inside on off-angles, particularly when the screen’s turned off. Because of the oleophobic coating, they’re easy to wipe off with a soft cloth, but that’s far more necessary here than with iPhones and iPods, making the iPad’s face-up screen somewhat difficult to see outside on a bright, sunny day. Moreover, in our testing in cars, we noticed that a screen-tilting passenger quickly generated complaints from the driver regarding glass-reflecting glare that can become dangerously distracting. These are just a couple of reasons that we’d recommend an anti-glare, anti-fingerprint screen protector: the other is that we’ve tested our similarly coated iPhone 3GS without screen protection over the last 8 months, and have noticed that it shows scratches to a greater extent than the uncoated prior iPhone and iPhone 3G screens. Since an iPad won’t be sitting in anyone’s pocket, the practical likelihood of scratching from coins or keys goes down dramatically, but if you’re planning on tossing your device into a bag or purse, you’ll want to put something on the display to keep it safe. A large collection of iPad case and screen protection options can be seen in our iPad Case Gallery here; we await the inevitable release of cases with attached cleaning cloths.
Packaging and Pack-Ins
The iPad ships in an unremarkable white cardboard box with a product image on the front, the iPad name on the sides, and silver Apple logos on the top and bottom, duplicating the look of the iPhone 3G/3GS and iPod classic boxes rather than the transparent plastic ones used for iPod shuffles, nanos, and touches. A very simple manual, two Apple stickers, and a warranty book are included in a small cardboard folio, but the rest of the package is surprisingly sparing: a tray that holds the iPad, cable, and power supply is attached to the box’s bottom, occupying far more space than is typical in Apple packages these days.
Apple includes a Dock Connector to USB Cable that’s like the ones it has sold for years with iPods and iPhones, differing only in the shape of its USB plug housing, which changes one set of curves for another. The power supply is called the iPad 10W USB Power Adapter, virtually identical to the iPod USB Power Adapters Apple sold several years ago, complete with wall blades that can be swapped for an extension cord—not included here, but found in a standalone 10W USB Power Adapter package—or international wall blades, also sold separately.
It turns out that this particular Adapter is literally required as of press time to quickly replenish the iPad’s non-removable 25-watt-hour rechargeable battery. Apple didn’t publicize the problem prior to the iPad’s release, but the iPad’s battery requires much more juice to charge than iPods (0.5 Amps) and iPhones (0.5 or 1 Amp), so brand new 2 Amp car and home power adapters have been developed by companies such as Apple, Griffin, and Kensington solely for this product; only Apple’s are currently in stores. The packed-in Dock Connector to USB Cable enables the iPad to sync with your computer, but because of variations from computer to computer—and USB port to USB port—there are no guarantees that a given USB port will both charge and sync the iPad at the same time. Most ports will charge it at half or a quarter of the speed of the included wall adapter, while some ports will charge the iPad only when its screen its off, and others will not charge it at all. The “how to charge” question is far more confusing with the iPad than with prior Apple portable devices, and as a consequence, we found that full recharges could take between between four and eight hours, sometimes more. Attempting to charge while the iPad is syncing, screen on, is an incredibly sluggish process even on brand new Apple iMac computers.
Unlike all iPods and iPhones, the iPad does not include headphones of any kind. It does work with Apple’s microphone and three-button remote control-equipped headphones, as well as ones developed by third parties, and third-party remote control adapters. While headphones will obviously be useful for the iPad under many circumstances—travel, quiet use at home or in the office, and so on—the iPad’s integrated volume buttons and microphone, combined with its lack of pocketability, reduce the need for headphones with these features built in. Wired remotes and microphones will primarily benefit those who want to control the iPad’s iPod music playback while in other applications, or need closer proximity to the microphone for use with third-party voice-dependent applications. For whatever reason, Apple does not include Voice Memos, its iPhone and iPod touch recording application, with the iPad. A huge collection of iPad-compatible headphones we’ve reviewed can be seen here.
One omission from the iPad’s package that isn’t surprising is the absence of a Universal Dock Adapter, the small white plastic insert that has been included with iPods and iPhones alike since 2005. Apple developed the just slightly oversized Universal Dock well as a way to guarantee iPods and iPhones would fit in most licensed third-party speaker systems and standalone docks, as well as its own ill-fated iPod Hi-Fi, and has done a great job of popularizing the well. Not surprisingly, however, the iPad’s bottom edge is far too long to fit in any of the Universal Dock-equipped docks or speakers that have been released over the past five years, and its charging requirements are different, so developers are going back to the drawing board to develop new, larger, and more powerful accessories to handle the iPad’s size and needs. Apple has its own official iPad Dock ($29) and iPad Keyboard Dock ($69), both with completely open sides; similarly open docks found on speakers such as Bowers + Wilkins’ Zeppelin and iHome’s iA5 can hold and play music from the iPad, but not charge it; “Not Charging” actually appears alongside the iPad’s battery indicator when it’s connected to a device without proper 2 Amp power output. A large battery icon with a charge percentage indicator appears briefly in the center of the screen when a 2 Amp adapter is connected.
What’s Inside: Chips, Battery, and Capabilities
Though the iPad has a lot in common with the hardware found in the 2009 iPod touch and iPhone 3GS—so much, in fact, that reciting all of the similarities seems almost pointless—there are some differences that are worth noting. The ones that have drawn the most attention are bumps to its CPU and its Wi-Fi chips, which now support 802.11a/b/g and n networks rather than just older 802.11b/g networks, enabling faster web browsing, somewhat improved 3-D graphics relative to the smaller devices, and the playback of 720p (1280×720-pixel) video in scaled or cropped form on the device’s screen, or potentially on an external display. Performance specifics are difficult to quantify: Apple has deliberately obscured the origins of the iPad’s new “Apple A4” processor, beyond to say that it runs at 1GHz—faster than the 800MHz 2009 iPod touch and 600MHz iPhone 3GS—though there are numerous factors that impact its actual performance beyond the raw numbers, including its need to handle more graphical changes because of iPad’s more detailed screen. On the whole, the iPad feels every bit as snappy as the 2009 iPod touch, loading applications, switching screens, and running the same programs just a hint faster than the iPhone 3GS, albeit on a larger display. Over time, the performance gulf will increase as programmers learn how to optimize their software for the just-released iPad.
A much bigger change has been made to the iPad’s battery relative to the ones in iPods and iPhones: Apple has combined two flat cells to create a rechargeable, 25-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery that’s closer to a laptop’s than an iPhone’s or iPod’s. The MacBook Air has a 40-watt-hour battery, and the iPhone 3GS a 4.5-watt-hour battery, a profound difference that Apple ascribes primarily to the power requirements of larger screens. But chip and software differences also have a lot to do with each device’s run time, too. Apple promises that the iPad will deliver “up to 10 hours” of web or video consumption, but makes no specific claims beyond that. Our tests showed that the number was a reasonable average, but understated the iPad’s capabilities under both of those usage models. With three separate tests of SD and HD videos, with and without Wi-Fi on, the iPad delivered run times in excess of 11 and a half hours, at one point exceeding 13. An excessively challenging web-only test, reloading a graphically heavy page once per minute—far more than any person would do for any period of time—ran continuously for 10 hours and 21 minutes on 50% brightness. Only in a mixed usage test did the iPad deliver an 8 hour, 59 minute test result, and this was when we literally used the device non-stop for an entire day, sending emails, browsing web pages, playing games, watching stored and streamed videos, and running dozens of different third-party programs, all with automatic screen brightness adjustments on, 50% brightness by default, and speaker output only. Games and third-party apps draw more on the iPad’s battery than almost any piece of Apple-developed software; even then, the iPad can outperform virtually any netbook or laptop in longevity, putting the issue of multitasking aside.
Each iPad includes an integrated microphone that amazingly requires no more than a single small hole on the unit’s top to be perfectly usable. Using two third-party applications, we made and received calls using only the microphone, as well as the microphones built into Apple’s separately sold Earphones with Remote and Mic and In-Ear Headphones with Remote and Mic. Interestingly, callers liked the sound of the iPad’s microphone, which they said rendered our voices clearly while picking up the same sort of “natural” ambient sounds that a computer’s integrated microphone brought into chats, and noted that Apple’s mic accessories produced sound that was more like a phone call—closer to the microphone and similarly audible, but a little less natural. In any case, the iPad’s mic is a quality component, and needn’t be replaced by an in-line mic unless you’re in a really noisy environment.
On a less positive note, every iPad includes a digital compass, which was included in the iPhone 3GS but not in any iPod touch, enabling the device to sense its own magnetic orientation for mapping and possibly gaming purposes. Though the inclusion of the feature doesn’t hurt, we had found this compass to be only semi-useful in actual field testing with the iPhone 3GS, impacted so frequently by “magnetic interference” that games and in-car mapping were less than totally reliable. The same problems impact the compass in the iPad, which was so off-axis and interference-plagued indoors or in cars that we could barely make sense of the readings. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Apple does not include the Compass application from the iPhone 3GS, or a toggle to switch between true North and magnetic North.
Other components in the iPad are familiar from the iPod touch. The 16GB, 32GB, and 64GB storage capacities are based on the same sort of flash RAM Apple has been using for iPhones, iPod shuffles, nanos, and touches, with the iPhone OS consuming 311MB of their space, and the 64GB model starting with 59.17GB of total capacity. Both the Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 3G versions of the iPad contain Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR chips, the same wireless data and audio specification used by the iPhone 3GS and 2009 iPod touch, enabling low-power stereo audio streaming to third-party Bluetooth headphones, and iPad-to-iPad or -iPod/-iPhone gaming, amongst other applications. They also contain the familiar screen-rotating and game-controlling accelerometers found in Apple’s other touchscreen devices, and a brightness-adjusting ambient light sensor roughly centered behind the glass at the top of the display.
The primary internal differences between the Wi-Fi iPad and the upcoming Wi-Fi + 3G iPad are the latter’s inclusion of cellular networking chips and extra antennas that connect to the same wide variety of global cell phone towers as the iPhone 3G and 3GS. Specifically, the iPad follows these iPhones in supporting 3G UMTS and HSDPA (850, 1900, and 2100 MHz bands), as well as GSM and EDGE (850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz bands), which means that it can conceivably use 3G in most countries and with most providers, falling back to the slower EDGE standard elsewhere. But unlike the iPhone, the iPad’s 3G cellular feature requires a new Micro SIM card that is only supported by certain companies, and is limited to “data only” use, meaning that the iPad cannot be used to make or receive traditional telephone calls: even if you buy monthly 3G data service from an Apple partner company, you won’t get cellular calling minutes, and once again, Apple does not include the “Phone” application found on all iPhone models. As a workaround, third-party “Voice Over IP” applications such as Skype enable iPad users to make and receive calls over the 3G cellular network—or Wi-Fi—but will eat into the limited Megabytes offered under some of the data service plans. Apple does, however, utilize the Wi-Fi + 3G iPad’s cellular capabilities to assist this model’s GPS chip—the other part left out of the Wi-Fi-only iPad—in more quickly and precisely determining the Wi-Fi + 3G iPad’s geographic location; it has recently disclosed that nine hours of battery life should be expected when surfing the web over 3G. We’ll update this portion of this review when the Wi-Fi + 3G iPad is available.
One key component that is not inside the iPad is a camera, a part that’s now found in everything from iPod nanos to iPhones and most computers. In iPods and iPhones, the camera is a back-mounted creative tool, used for still photography or videography, but in computers, it’s primarily a front-mounted communication tool used to broadcast video of the user to other users over the Internet. While there’s a strong argument to be made that a rear-mounted camera is unnecessary for the oversized iPad, the lack of that feature indirectly deprives users of access to Apple’s iPod nano-ready video filters and iPhone 3GS-developed video editing tools, which could otherwise make the iPad a nice and fun on-the-go video editing device. By comparison, the omission of a front-mounted camera for video conferencing is a huge miss for the iPad. It cripples the device’s ability to be used for the sort of incredible realtime visual communications that Apple’s iChat AV and competitors such as Skype have enabled for years, now included on netbooks selling for half the iPad’s price. It’s close to the top of our list—and everyone else’s—for the inevitable iPad sequel.
iPhone OS 3.2: Just Like An iPod touch, With Small Changes
If there’s any huge disappointment in the first release of the iPad, it’s how entirely similar the core user interface is from the iPod touch and iPhone: Apple has left so much unchanged from last year’s iPhone OS 3.1 that it opened itself to the many “glorified iPod touch” criticisms the iPad initially received. The single biggest change is that the wallpaper once restricted to the iPhone Lock Screen can now be carried over to fill what would otherwise be an extremely black Home screen—or each can have its own wallpaper—and the iPad dock has reverted from the mesh look of iPhone OS 2 and 3 back to the glassy, reflective look of the iPod touch dock under iPhone OS 1, complete with new angled sides that look just like the ones on Mac OS X 10.6. Additionally, the Home screen now rotates between vertical and horizontal orientations, dynamically shuffling its icons from an orderly 4 wide-by-5 tall grid of 20 total icons to become a 5 wide-by-4 tall grid, with up to six additional icons remaining static in the iPad dock. There’s still a lot of page-swiping to be done, but the presentation is a lot more orderly than the average Mac or PC user’s icon-packed desktop, and the iPad’s ability to be used almost completely in one orientation or the other is welcome.
Two related changes to the Unlock screen compensate somewhat for the fact that Apple did little more than stretch the iPhone and iPod touch’s prior visual elements to fill the larger display, leaving the clock and “slide to unlock” bar basically untouched. First, there’s a small flower button off to the right of the “slide to unlock” bar, the first time that a new feature has been added to this screen on any Apple device—a positive sign for those who have wanted to see Apple evolve the static and not especially useful initial display. Pressing this button activates the second change, a “Picture Frame” feature that keeps the screen on, displaying images synchronized from iTunes to the Photos application on the iPad. A new settings menu for Picture Frame lets you choose one of two special effects for photo transitions, select a specific gallery or several to draw pictures from, and shuffle the images. A feature that zooms in on faces identified in the images by iPhoto works with one photo transition, Dissolve, but not the other, Origami, which makes photos appear to unfold and flip onto one another like the Japanese paper craft.
Other tweaks to iPhone OS 3.2 on the iPad are less noticeable. Apple has expanded the Cut Copy Paste feature from iPhone OS 3.0 to include a “Cut Copy Replace” option when you’re working with text; “replace” enables you to take a highlighted word and replace it with one of a number of words that pop up from a predictive text dictionary. It has also added “File Sharing,” a feature within iTunes that lets you export files created by iPad applications and import ones that are readable by iPad applications, including word processing and spreadsheet documents, audio recordings, and in some cases, levels for games. The feature is found under the “Apps” tab in iTunes, within the File Sharing section, and is restricted solely to applications that identify themselves to iTunes as compatible; you can’t add levels or audio recordings to just any program or leave them in a general folder waiting for something to find them.
It’s also worth briefly mentioning that synchronization times with iTunes will vary from computer to computer, but our test 5GB audio and video transfer took 5 minutes and 9 seconds, or roughly 1 minute per Gigabyte. That’s around half the time of the current-generation iPod touch. However, users will commonly see delays related to the longer times iTunes requires to install applications and optimize photos for the iPad; what would otherwise have been a smooth initial synchronization took us over an hour on one of our iPads because of photo and app transfers. Turning off photo synchronization—or delaying it until a later time—is a good way to make the iPad sync experience faster; unfortunately, iTunes will still take quite a long time to back up the iPad every time or three that it’s connected to your computer.
Though we’re not thrilled by the iPad’s continued use of multiple Home screens—now up to 11, with 224 applications—since it unnecessary requires page-by-page flipping and seeking that a folder structure would greatly reduce, the result of the iPad’s similarity to the iPod touch and iPhone is near-instant user familiarity with how everything works. Simply touching any icon loads the application, pressing the Home button pauses or quits the application, and swiping to the right on the main Home screen brings up a Spotlight search feature that’s hidden off to the left, enabling you to type in a search pill to locate media, applications, notes, contacts, and more. Anyone can use the iPad; it is, by design, a computer that a child, parent, or grandparent can figure out with only modest assistance. “Secret” features such as screen capture (press the Home + Sleep/Wake buttons together), power off (hold Sleep/Wake), and forced application quitting (hold Sleep/Wake, then hold Home when the Slide to Power Off arrow appears) all remain on iPad; surprisingly, Voice Control (hold Home) from the iPhone 3GS and 2009 iPod touch is gone.
As with iPhones and iPod touches, virtual QWERTY keyboards appear automatically in either horizontal or vertical orientation when they’re needed for input, but now offer keys that are very close to their sizes on real physical keyboards. Typing remains somewhat awkward and stilted, regardless, since the on-screen keyboards—particularly the widescreen one—require you to hold the iPad while you’re standing or sitting upright and typing, cramping your ability to press keys as quickly as you want. Leaning back with the iPad in your lap makes typing easier, particularly as you learn how to adjust to the reduced selection of keys. Additionally, iPhone OS 3.2 for the first time enables the iPad to work with both wired and wireless keyboard accessories, if you’re willing to buy them. Bluetooth wireless keyboards, including Apple’s, work right out of the box, preserving the functionality shown on their function keys for brightness and volume controls, iPod music track controls, and everything else save Expose and Dashboard. The eject button makes the on-screen keyboard reappear and disappear; it’s off by default when you’re using an external keyboard. By contrast, all other keyboards—notably including Apple’s iPad Keyboard Dock—require Dock Connectors in order to attach to the iPad, which may limit your ability to use it in widescreen mode while typing. Apple’s support for these accessories is far too long in coming, and not perfect yet, but once again it’s very welcome.
On a positive note for visual- or audio-impaired users, the Accessibility features that were added to the iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod touch in 2009 have been carried over to the iPad, and some have been improved. Zoom, for instance, still magnifies everything on the screen with three-finger gestures for tapping, panning, and level of zoom, but it’s helped by the iPad’s additional screen real estate, which lets the feature feel less cramped than before. VoiceOver uses a synthesized voice—now with phonetics and changing pitch—to speak not only on-screen menu text, e-mails, and web pages, but also to read the contents of books to visually disabled listeners. White on Black color flipping, a merged monaural audio mode, and an option to speak proposed corrections and capitalizations all remain intact, as well.
Less positive were some issues with VoiceOver’s actual performance. We found VoiceOver’s operation with books to be unnecessarily difficult to control, and sometimes heard formatting details being spoken aloud, along with double-recitations of the contents of in-line pictures. Moreover, we experienced bug-like issues when using VoiceOver and attempting to launch applications under certain conditions, and the aforementioned absence of the song-selecting feature Voice Control—a useful feature for many users, but particularly beneficial for those with limited vision—similarly leaves Apple with post-release work to be done to improve the iPad’s accessibility.
The iPad’s numerous other features—and device-specific interface changes—are discussed on an app-by-app basis in the next section of this review. It’s worth a brief note that Apple has suggested in developer documentation, but not yet openly communicated to consumers, that it intends to release future operating system upgrades for the iPad, giving away the next major release at no charge and then charging for subsequent versions thereafter. As such, an iPhone OS 4.0 upgrade to the core operating system impacting the individual apps below will most likely take place in the near future.
iPad: Apple’s Built-In Applications Safari, Mail, Photos, Videos + YouTube
A lot has changed in the nearly three years since Apple introduced the iPhone OS version of Safari—aka MobileSafari—as a new paradigm for web browsing. To accommodate its 3.5” touchscreens, Apple initially pushed developers to create brand new iPhone-optimized versions of their web sites, shrinking old web pages down to tiny little rectangles with “double-tap to zoom” as a trick to enable actual reading. Gesture-based scrolling, pinch scaling commands, and automatic rotation from horizontal into widescreen orientation with device turns were all included, becoming second-nature within days of a user’s first iPhone experience. Not surprisingly, the iPad version of Safari includes the same technologies, but the web experience is far less compromised because of the device’s larger 9.7” touchscreen.
By default, the iPad Safari browser scales a webpage up or down to fill the full width of the screen—1024 pixels or 768 pixels, depending on the device’s orientation—with up and down vertical scrolling if necessary to see the rest of the content. The experience is almost identical to running Safari on a Mac or PC, except there aren’t any windows, and Apple has combined the iPhone and Mac paradigms to minimize other distracting window elements: the change page, bookmarking, and window-shifting icons of the iPhone have been added to a single bar at the top of the screen that includes the page’s title, URL entry area, and a Google Search pill. Perhaps the best addition to Safari is the addition of a Mac bookmark bar, which is hidden by default until you click on the URL entry area, providing one-touch access to your favorite web sites—including folders, if you want. Switching this on full-time requires only a quick visit to the iPad’s Settings application, and radically improves the device’s browsing experience. Otherwise, you can click on the Bookmarks icon to bring up a short list of bookmarks, or press the change page button to bring up a grid-like preview of up to nine already open pages. Blacks and dark grays are used to edge the list and background the grid—a nice touch.
One point needs to be made about Safari on the iPad: it is considerably better than Apple’s harshest critics have claimed for months that an iPhone browser would be on a larger-screened device. Safari’s lack of support for Adobe’s Flash plug-in—the technology behind most of the web’s existing commercial video players, animated ads, and some sites’ user interfaces—has been endlessly discussed since the device was announced, and some users have suggested staying away from the iPad because of Flash alone.
We put Safari through extensive testing on a very wide variety of web sites, including literally every one we use on a daily basis, and a number of others that we visited solely to check out content for kicks—Flash or otherwise. The experience was remarkably like using any regular web browser had been the day before on a Mac or PC, minus only the pop-ups and multiple windows at once. We had to hunt for video-specific sites and ones with broken Flash plug-ins, as many of the biggies who were formerly using Flash for video had already switched to newer, Safari-compatible HTML5 before the iPad’s release, and others are already following their example. Moreover, the iPad’s battery consumption when using Safari was extremely low, except in very rapid page-reloading tests, where it still rivals or beats the most capable netbooks in longevity. We didn’t experience a single crash in any site we visited, either.
Our view at this point is simple: Safari on the iPad offers a fantastic, simple browsing experience that’s fast, easy on the eyes, and up to date with the latest standards and web technologies—apart from Flash. Adobe has let Flash swell and fester for so many years that we’re glad to say good riddance to it. Any site worth visiting will be fully iPad-friendly within six months to a year, and apart from the tiniest glitches here or there, every site we actually visit already is.
Apple’s Mail application for the iPad is based heavily on the technologies of the iPhone version of Mail—a program we’ve found fine rather than great—with only minor changes to make better use of the device’s larger screen. It continues to include support for POP3 and IMAP e-mail services, Microsoft Exchange servers, and multiple e-mail accounts on a single device. Additionally, it can still display photos, single-page PDFs, and audio clips directly within messages, and opens up a full-screen viewer to display videos, multi-page PDFs and Microsoft Office documents without forcing you to change apps. Images, some videos, and certain other files can be saved for access outside the Mail app, as well, but others—MP3s, for instance—can’t.
Run in vertical orientation, Mail on the iPad consolidates the iPhone’s top and bottom-of-screen bars into one at the top, leaving the entire rest of the screen filled with a single e-mail message. Clicking on an Inbox button at the top left brings up a floating window containing an individual inbox for messages, plus buttons to manage the inbox, switch inboxes, and refresh its contents. It’s virtually identical to the iPhone version’s Inbox screen, only taller and with a search pill permanently at the top. Flip the iPad into widescreen mode and the floating window becomes a permanent left-of-screen list, complete with the same buttons and search pill, while the e-mail fills the right of the screen. Composing an e-mail fills the screen in vertical mode, or appears in a narrow overlaid window in widescreen mode. Everything works, but nothing looks or feels like it’s evolved much over the iPhone app; Apple CEO Steve Jobs has hinted that something better is in the works.
Hopefully it’s a major improvement on what’s here. While Mail is a straightforward app for reading messages, it’s well shy of the powerful Mail program included with every Mac computer: junk mail isn’t filtered, individual mailboxes aren’t aggregated, and switching between your inbox, drafts, and sent mail is more labor-intensive than it could be with a dedicated “Mailboxes” pane like the Mac’s. While Apple might argue that the iPad version of Mail makes things easy for the average user, the reality is that it was merely the easiest update of the iPhone app the company could muster in time for iPad’s launch, and falls well short of the convenience and power most users would expect from an e-mail program in our spam-filled, multi-mailbox world.
Apple’s Photos app has long been the oddball in its collection of iPod and iPhone features—a feature added to the “iPod photo” back in 2004 that seemed merely to change, rather than evolve, through subsequent Click Wheel models. On the iPod, you told iTunes which pictures from your computer to transfer to the device, then could display them individually or in extremely simple slideshows. Photos improved only a little on the iPhone, enabling you to scale images, turn them to match the device’s orientation, and eventually copy and save multiple images at once for use in other apps, including Mail. The slideshow feature continued to be weak, and although the iPhone 3GS added iPhone video camera footage storage to the Photos app, it was an odd addition to the program.
Photos for the iPad isn’t fundamentally different from the iPhone version, but it’s better thanks to a considerably more graphical user interface. It now opens to a roughly five by seven grid of scrollable thumbnails against a black backdrop a la its Mac program iPhoto. New is a bar at the top of the screen offering tab-like buttons for Photos, Albums, Events, Faces, and Places, the latter three custom photo organizational tools added to recent versions of iPhoto. Click on Albums, Events, or Faces, and you’ll see a three-by-four grid with stacks of photos, which you can pinch or zoom to unfurl on the screen, creating a new orderly selection grid when fully expanded. Places instead first brings up a flat-shaded map with the locations of your GPS-tagged photos, then the grid when you’ve selected a location. Click on any individual photo and, in addition to zooming in and out, you can move on to additional images by using a new timeline-style display at the bottom of the screen with ultra-miniature thumbnails in the album’s sequence. Slideshow and sharing buttons are found at the top of the screen, rather than at the bottom as in the iPhone.
The sharing features aren’t much new—they let you e-mail, copy, and use the photos for contacts, as well as selecting any single picture as wallpaper for either the iPad’s Lock or Home screen, or both. Much improved is the new Slideshow Options menu, which unlike the iPhone version lets you choose music for the slideshow, and replaces one of the prior five transitions—“Wipe Down”—with “Origami,” an effect that transforms the screen into a multi-pane display of multiple photos at once, flipping one photo at a time to replace itself and others. Origami and the simple fade effect called Dissolve are both available for this app and the Picture Frame feature of iPad discussed above; oddly, Origami disappears as an option when the iPad is connected to an external display for photo purposes.
Arguably the biggest change to Photos on the iPad is its support for photo importation directly from cameras or memory cards—assuming that you’re willing to buy and carrying around Apple’s $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit. Designed to import photos directly from SD cards and cameras with USB cables, this pair of accessories cause the iPad to display a black screen with a grid of broken-outlined rounded squares, each filled by thumbnails as the photo content is discovered by the iPad. The iPad Camera Connection Kit hadn’t yet been released for testing as of the date of this review, so it’s unknown how fast or slow photo transfers will be; increasingly large photo sizes led the prior version for iPods, the iPod Camera Connector, to be sluggish and discontinued. The iPod Camera Connector does not work with the iPad. We’ll review the iPad Camera Connection Kit and provide additional details as soon as it’s available.
As with Photos, the biggest updates to the iPad version of Videos from its iPod touch predecessor are visual: previously, the app loaded into a scrollable combined list of Movies, TV Shows, Music Videos, and Podcasts that was heavier on text and white space than video cover art or thumbnails; now—based on the button you select at the top of the screen—it loads a two- or three-by-four grid of movie posters, a four-by-three grid of TV show or podcast covers, or a four-by-three grid of music video thumbnails with song titles underneath. Clicking on the movie or TV show art enlarges the art to fill the right half of the screen, while the left half contains an informational screen describing the video you’ve selected, plus a button to switch to a scrollable, selectable chapter list view for movies. Content purchased from the iTunes Store is populated with plenty of text; self-imported content may or may not be.
What’s odd about the new Videos interface is that it actually regresses from Apple’s prior system of click minimization: instead of jumping straight into whatever video you select, there’s now that additional step of looking at some text, pressing a separate play button, and/or choosing a chapter—the latter steps unnecessarily more like using iTunes on a Mac or PC than playing a video straight away on an iPod or iPhone, calling up chapter information only if you need it. This seems to have been done to give movies some parity with TV shows and podcasts, which now display some summary text in lists—plus a “more” button for additional text—before you play them; it would be great if “more” was merely a button in one corner of the movie cover art, skipping the text for those who don’t want to be bothered by having to click through it.
Video quality has taken one big step up and one medium step back on the iPad. Apple has finally enabled the iPad to not only display but also store high-definition 720p videos—recent iPhones and iPod touches were prevented from doing either, despite the fact that their hardware could technically do both. As a result, all of the HD iTunes Store videos that have heretofore been sold solely for Apple TV and iTunes Mac/PC users can now be transferred without hassles—other than storage space concerns—over to the iPad. You can set up iTunes so that the iPad preferentially receives HD or SD videos, depending on whether video quality or storage capacity is your primary concern, and to the device’s credit, it does a good to great job of playing everything it supports: MPEG-4 and H.264 videos, plus Motion JPEG videos in AVI format created by some digital still cameras, ranging from iPod nano-sized 320×240 up to 720p. Moreover, we ran three separate battery tests on the iPad with video playback, and the results were impressive: with Wi-Fi turned off and both the screen and volume set at 50%, the iPad ran for 13 hours and 22 minutes playing standard-definition videos, well ahead of Apple’s 10-hour average promised run time. With Wi-Fi on and the same videos playing under the same conditions, the run time dropped to 11 hours and 43 minutes, still ahead of the estimate. Finally, a test with iTunes Store-encoded 720p HD videos and Wi-Fi on ran for 11 hours and 34 minutes, suggesting no important distinction in run time between SD and HD video playback.
That having been said, these videos don’t look as good on an absolute basis as they do on a current-generation Mac or PC. As noted in the earlier discussion of the screen, Apple chose a 4:3 aspect ratio 1024×768-pixel display that was designed to mimic the dimensions of old, standard-definition televisions rather than current widescreen TVs and the formats of theatrical movie releases. Consequently, when you play a movie or HD television show on the iPad in its native format, you’ll see big black bars unless you double tap, which fills the screen but crops off a lot of the video’s edges. Even those 720p videos—1280 by 720 pixels—are scaled down or chopped to fit on the display, rather than playing at their unadjusted size. In practice, users won’t mind much unless they’re watching movies filmed in the popular 2.35:1 Cinemascope aspect ratio, which looks especially odd on the iPad; 16:9 videos such as current high-definition TV shows and other movies, look fine and suffer less from being cropped. Hopefully the next-generation iPad will follow the example of the Mac, iPhone, and iPod touch, which all use wide screens that are better suited to modern video content.
There are a couple of other oddities in the iPad’s HD video performance. Unfortunately, user-encoded videos that worked on Apple TVs don’t necessarily play on the iPad: only three of the 20-some high-definition videos we’d encoded for the Apple TV would even transfer to the iPad. This is especially aggravating given that Apple offers support for so few video formats, yet doesn’t appear to guarantee that files encoded in those formats will work across its own devices, unless the files were sold by Apple itself. Additionally, the iPad refused to output HD iTunes Store videos to an external VGA display connected with the iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter, citing DRM issues. It made no such objection with the same content and Apple’s Composite AV Cable and Component AV Cable, both of which worked to output video and audio from the iPad to television sets.
Overall, we’d call the iPad a very good video playback device with a few issues, most of which could and hopefully will be resolved in a software update. While the iPad’s best mounting solutions for video, including in-car, on-desk, and in-bed ones, are still well ahead of it, it’s otherwise a very good video playback device.
The YouTube app for iPhones and iPod touches outgrew the devices’ screen dimensions some time ago: five button-like tabs at the bottom of the screen now lead to a total of ten different panes, six accessible via a “… More” button. So YouTube on the iPad makes use of this device’s larger screen to spread seven buttons across the bottom and up to five features across the top: Featured, Top Rated, Most Viewed, Favorites, Subscriptions, My Videos, and History all get dedicated tabs, with a Favorites/Playlists button appearing at the top of the Favorites window, and Search now sits inside a pill at the upper right of the screen.
Browsing options aside, what’s different about YouTube from the standard Videos application is the design of the screen. In vertical orientation, the screen is split into upper and lower halves, using the top of the screen for video, and the bottom of the screen for text, related videos, more videos from the same producer, and comments. You can press a button to bring the video to the center of the screen and eliminate everything else, or instantly do the same by rotating the device into horizontal orientation. Horizontal mode places the video and text content on the left of the screen, with a scrolling list of related content, “more from,” and “comments” off to the right. You can rate and add your own comments to the video directly from the iPad just as on an iPhone or iPod touch. Additionally, you can now start typing a search term while you’re watching a video, but actually initiating the search will stop the current one in its tracks. It would be better if the application was designed to let you search and watch at the same time.
UI differences aside, the single biggest improvement to YouTube on the iPad is its ability to display high-definition content from YouTube when it’s available. As with HD videos in the Videos application, YouTube’s videos are capped at 720p resolution, and depending on how they’re formatted may or may not display with black bars on the iPad’s screen. Using Apple’s video cables and adapters, you can watch the videos—even the higher-definition ones—on an external display rather than on the iPad’s. Back when YouTube first became available for the iPhone—and the Apple TV—the chief complaints were that the videos were choppy, low-resolution, and almost universally amateurish in quality, a “cesspool” as we and others referred to it at the time. Today, even non-HD YouTube videos look pretty good on the iPad’s screen in both resolution and video compression, and the amateur content has been balanced by a tremendous amount of semi-professional and professional-grade video. This app isn’t a huge jump over the current iPhone and iPod touch version, but the content has matured considerably, and that alone makes YouTube worth more attention on the iPad.
iPad: Apple’s Built-In Applications iPod, iTunes, App Store, Calendar, Contacts, Notes + Maps
iPod, Including Headphone and Speaker Testing Notes
Though it’s hard to imagine given the iPad’s lineage and Apple’s nine-year track record with iPods, the app we were most worried about on the iPad was the iPod app—arguably the most confusingly named and designed one on the device right now. The iPhone, you probably know, has an app called iPod that plays audio and videos, cramming all of its separate screens into a collection of 11 separate bottom-of-screen tabs, plus a “… More” button. But on the iPod touch, Apple splits the iPod app into two apps—Music and Videos—removing videos almost entirely from “Music,” leaving music videos nestled anonymously amongst audio tracks, which are sorted with 10 buttons that can’t all fit on the same screen. Only the odd continued presence of video playlists within the iPod app’s playlists suggests its prior unified heritage.
For the iPad, Apple has so completely changed the iPod app that it might as well be called iTunes, instead: it starts by looking like a modestly cut-down version of iTunes 9 in Grid view, complete with a left-of-screen pane for different types of content, a Now Playing thumbnail on the bottom left, a grid view of albums on the right, and some very familiar-looking buttons and sliders at the top and bottom. Volume is now a big slider at the top left, with a track scrubber, rewind, play/pause, and forward buttons at center, search at right, and playlist, genius playlist, and sort-shifting buttons at the bottom of the screen. Surprisingly, the iPad does not currently support the iTunes LP full-screen “album experience” Apple debuted with iTunes 9, nor the iTunes Extras DVD-like menus for videos.
Instead, clicking on any album cover calls up an iPhone or iPod touch-like pop-up with a list of tracks—better than the window-replacing transition in iTunes 9—and clicking on the Now Playing album cover creates a full-screen Now Playing display akin to the one on an iPod touch or iPhone. Switch to Songs view and you get a text-based scrolling list of tracks, alphabetically organized, while Artists has an alphabetical list of artists with thumbnails and album summaries, Genres has an illustrated grid of genres plus album and song tallies, and Composers is an Artists-like collection of thumbnails, names, and album/song counts. On one hand, this is an amazing job of scaling iTunes downwards for the iPad: if only Mac OS X Mail could have received such porting attention!
But it raises a question that many users have been bringing up about iTunes 9 itself: is Apple trying to cram way too much into what only needs to be a simple music playing app? Squeezing iTunes onto the iPad screen works—for now—but the iPad’s at its best when it’s using that black, iPhone-style Now Playing screen, complete with big, detailed album art and simplified controls. Something about the redesign of the iPod app for the iPad feels like Apple didn’t know what to do with the old iPhone/iPod touch app’s largely text-based interface on such a big screen, and defaulted not to a new system for displaying and managing media content, but rather one that was easy enough to transfer over from the Mac. The result is an experience that feels more computer-like than media player-like, and leaves a hunger for something simpler as a “mini player.” To the extent that the iPod app on the iPad could go in other directions—easily subsuming the Videos app and both the iTunes and App Stores, or paring down into a simpler bottom-of-screen player for use in other apps—we’d like to see it evolve. Implementing proper user-adjustable equalization is a long-overdue change that’s especially appropriate for such an iTunes-esque audio player.
A few sonic testing results are also worth noting. First, the iPad’s battery performance as nothing but an uninterrupted audio player is predictably staggering: with its screen and Wi-Fi off and a randomized, varied collection of audio playing at 50% volume from the iPod application, it ran for over eight hours and lost only 4% of its battery charge—it could conceivably continue the process for more than six full days if it was doing nothing else. Second, even when used with some of the most expensive in-ear headphones on the market, the iPad’s headphone port output sounds virtually indistinguishable from the iPhone 3GS’s, a sign that Apple is content with the sound signature and performance it has established across the audio ports on the iPhone and iPod lines.
By contrast, there’s a decided difference in line-level audio coming off of the Dock Connector with speaker and other line-out-based audio accessories that suggests engineering tweaks will be necessary to optimize the sound levels coming out of a docked iPad. Played through even impressive speaker systems such as the Bowers + Wilkins Zeppelin, audio from the iPad’s Dock Connector is comparatively a little dull relative to even the iPhone 3GS, while its maximum volume level is considerably higher—at least, for accessories that scale their own volume to match the connected iPod’s, iPhone’s, or iPad’s. Firmware and hardware changes to accessories will be necessary, but from our perspective, the fact that a device as fundamentally different as the iPad sounds pretty good with prior iPod and iPhone accessories is a fine start.
As a fourth and final point, the iPad’s integrated speakers—there are actually two breathing through the three mesh ports on the bottom—offer sound that is a little louder than the iPhone 3GS’s at its peak, with less distortion across the volume range, and fuller-bodied renditions at normal and high volumes. The iPad performs both the left and right channels of sound through the grill, somewhat favoring the left channel, a balance issue that can be removed with consequences by activating the iPad’s Mono Audio mode under the Accessibility settings. Most users won’t care at all, as the iPad’s volume, sound quality, and ability to perform both channels’ audio are all laptop-class, considerably outclassing the comparatively radio-like, lower-volume speakers in the iPod touch and iPod nano.
iTunes + App Store
Two of the iPad’s applications were added to the iPhone only after its release in 2007: “iTunes” was originally called the iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store when it debuted later that year, and App Store famously debuted in mid-2008 with iPhone OS 2.0. Though both could easily be folded into the iPad’s “iPod” application, which so resembles the Mac and PC version of iTunes that the stores are found within, Apple has kept them as one-click Home Screen icons to incentivize users to download—and hopefully pay for—additional content.
The iTunes application is a modestly cut-down and remixed version of the iTunes Store for Macs and PCs, featuring a collection of seven bottom of screen buttons for different types of content—Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Audiobooks, iTunes U, and Downloads in progress—which take the place of the computer app’s top content shifting bar, leaving out the App Store. Apple has carried over the large, four-photo set of rotating banners from the computer application, as well a scrollable collection of thumbnailed “New & Noteworthy” content, and a five-across set of smaller banners to promote spotlighted downloads. The biggest change is the removal of the right-of-iTunes set of “Top Charts” and links; you can now switch to a Top Charts screen using a button on the top of the page, and in some sections of the store use another button to access Genius Recommendations for new content based on songs, movies, and TV shows you already possess. Genres can be selected using a top-left button, and the Store can be searched with a pill-shaped box at the top right of every page. As always, content can be previewed before a purchase, with audio playing within the Store window, and video taking over the entire screen. A vertical iPad displays the video with huge black boxes above and below—iPhones and iPod touches don’t show preview videos in this orientation at all—but when the iPad’s rotated to horizontal position, the video takes up more of the display.
Apple’s iPad version of the App Store is considerably simpler, in part because it has fewer types of media to manage. The iPhone and iPod touch five bottom of screen buttons have been preserved with modest changes: Featured apps are first, followed by Top Charts, Categories, and Updates buttons; a Genius recommendation feature appears to be inactive but will go between Featured and Top Charts in the future. Search has been moved to a pill at the top right of the screen, leaving only “New” and “What’s Hot” options at the top of the Featured screen. Notably, Apple hasn’t—at least, yet—carried over the large four-picture rotating banner found in the computer version of the App Store, so it has instead added a somewhat awkward Cover Flow-based collection of screen shots can be be swiped to look at applications “In the Spotlight.” The iPad App Store highlights software that has specifically been developed for this device, and uses individual listing pages that resemble the ones in the PC and Mac App Store rather than the condensed iPhone and iPod touch app, including a two-column layout, and “More” text that can be expanded with a finger tap if you want additional details before downloading the program. iPhone and iPod touch-only applications are accessible on their own separate top app charts, and locatable via searches, displayed below “iPad Apps” in their own “iPhone Apps” results.
There are no surprises in either of these apps, though because their content appears to be largely served from the web, their layout and features could change and improve at any time. They both remain easy to use, but the fact that Apple’s various “stores” are now spread out amongst three different applications—these and iBooks, say nothing of its online store’s presence in Safari—illustrates how Apple’s retailing ambitions are actively competing with its minimalist designers, one pushing for more attention as the other pushes hard to make unnecessary buttons disappear. It seems unlikely that Apple will merge all of its stores into one grand Store app, or into the media player applications to reduce icon clutter, but it’s worth adding to the wish list.
Calendar, Contacts, and Notes
Though they’re not the most important applications on the iPad, Calendar, Contacts, and Notes have all received fairly significant user interface overhauls that take them steps beyond the iPhone and iPod touch versions, while remaining at least somewhat different from Apple’s otherwise similar Mac applications iCal, Address Book, and Stickies.
Calendar advances on iPad by defaulting to a two-column vertical Day design that provides quick text and time block looks at the day’s events, plus a miniature month view of the calendar at the top and a scrollable timeline at the bottom; the iPhone version displayed only a list of events or time blocks. The iPad’s attractively designed Day view is its most conspicuous improvement over the Mac’s iCal application. By comparison, both the new Week view and the improved Month view borrow from iCal, providing a time blocked week grid with personal and work events separated by colors, and a white formatted month calendar with text events summarized by title. All three views can be rotated into widescreen mode, and feature little paper and book-style edging effects, such as slight remnants of torn-off week and month pages.
Judged simply on content, Contacts is essentially a two-column remix of the iPhone application, shifting your list of contacts into a left-hand column with full scrolling, a search pill, and a left-of-screen alphabetical touch bar, with the same individual contact’s thumbnail image and personal information moved off to the right. But the look of this right pane duplicates the Mac Address Book rather than the iPhone’s “populated fields” layout, with less emphasis on the clickable, button-like nature of all of the phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and geographic addresses contained inside—the e-mail and physical addresses are still clickable, opening Mail and Maps, respectively, but phone numbers are not, like the iPod touch rather than the iPhone. Edit, Share, and + (Add Contact) buttons are found at the bottom of the screen, and a Groups button disguised as a fabric bookmark at the upper left. Everything in Contacts has been laid out to look like an actual address book, complete with the appearance of pages and a hardbound cover on the edges of the screen, plus binding down the center. Rotating the iPad merely expands the book to consume the full size of the display.
Like Contacts, Notes has been visually tweaked to take on a book-like format, though its proportions are different: in horizontal mode, the screen is divided into a narrow column listing the first lines of all the individual notes and their dates of last modification, along with a search pill at the top, while the rest of the screen is formatted to look like a yellow note pad, complete with the same + (create), back, forward, e-mail, and trash icons found on the main screen of the iPhone and iPod touch application. This horizontal presentation is glammed up with framing that looks like a leather-bound folder, which disappears when the device is rotated, leaving you with a full-screen display of the note pad; here, clicking on an upper-left Notes button brings up a list of your notes with a search pill in a floating window above the pad’s surface.
Apple missed out on two significant opportunities with Notes: the app continues to use the ugly Marker Felt font found in the iPhone and iPod touch version of the software—a big step down from the adjustable fonts found in the Mac note and word processing applications Stickies and TextEdit—plus it continues to rely upon keyboards, virtual or physical, for input. If there’s any application on the iPad that could benefit from a pen-based input scheme and handwriting recognition, it’s Notes, which unnecessarily belabors what could be the easiest and most natural form of note-taking in favor of replicating a less than thrilling app for the iPhone and iPod touch.
Maps is one of the most important applications on the iPhone—a button we press so frequently or access from other apps that we couldn’t imagine the device without it. But on the iPad, the story’s a little different. On a positive note, Apple has upgraded the Maps application to fill almost the entire 9.7” screen with your choice of plain-shaded maps, elevation-hinted terrain—new to the iPad—or photographic satellite imagery, which is technically the same as what appears on the iPhone or iPod touch, but looks dramatically more impressive on this larger display.
The prior bottom-of-screen Search, Directions, and Current Location buttons have been moved to the top of the screen alongside a pill-shaped search bar and a separate bookmarks button. Like the iPhone app, the iPad version’s search defaults to popping up a list of places you’ve recently looked for, but quickly locates businesses and addresses that are typed in using the pop-up on-screen keyboard. Pinching to zoom, scrolling, and access to Google Street View-level versions of locations are all still available here; they also all look great—Google Street View is fast, occupies the full vertical or horizontal screen, and lets you preview locations in a seriously impressive first-person perspective. Even without zooming, panning, or Street Viewing, the big maps let you see so much detail that you’ll never want to pick up an old-fashioned paper map again. Apple’s even giving Google’s own web-based interface a run for its money: it’s now just as easy to see these maps on the big iPad as on a computer, but easier to navigate through them.
There’s only one problem. As with the iPod touch and Mac computers—not the iPhone 3G or 3GS—the Wi-Fi version of the iPad doesn’t include any GPS hardware, so you can’t retrieve additional map or even positional data without the aid of a Wi-Fi hotspot. You can plot and download a single route with the Wi-Fi-only iPad, but only the 3G-equipped version (with paid data service) will enable you to update your route or look up new destinations from the road. Moreover, the Wi-Fi-only iPad shows your present location as a dot within a general several-block radius rather than as a specific map point, and sometimes fails to be able to place the dot properly; as noted earlier in this review, the iPad’s digital compass is so flaky that we couldn’t rely upon it to provide the right direction when we were standing still, nor while driving in a car. This means that you’ll be left to your own skills—or perhaps pricey third-party add-on GPS hardware—to figure out exactly where you are. Even more than the iPod touch and iPhone version of Maps, the iPad application could seriously benefit from at least a temporary caching capability so that users might switch between several maps or routes without worries.
iBooks, Third Party Applications + Games
It’s not a pre-installed iPad application—most likely due to the complexity of international negotiations for individual, country-specific bookstores—but Apple’s eReader application iBooks is as key to the iPad’s appeal as anything found in the box. iBooks transforms the iPad into a competitor for Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and numerous other dedicated “eBook” or “eReader” devices, with two obvious advantages out of the gate: the iPad has a full color screen, and it also runs hundreds of thousands of programs that competing devices could never hope to handle. On the flip side, the iPad costs more, and though it has a 10-hour battery, some of the black-and-white devices promise considerably longer stretches before recharging.
Unlike the iPod application, which depends upon the separate iTunes app for downloads, and the App Store, which stands apart from all the applications you can add to the iPad, iBooks is both a playback utility and a book store in one. First, a wooden bookshelf (the “Library”) appears with a 24- or 25-cover grid of books that can be clicked on individually and opened; alternately, clicking on a Store button in the upper left hand corner of the screen rotates the bookshelf around to reveal the iBookstore, Apple’s third on-board source of downloadable content for the iPad. Anything downloaded from the iBookstore automatically appears on the iBooks bookshelf for reading, and can be synchronized back to iTunes 9.1 for archival purposes. You can also download free ePub format books from the Internet, synchronize them to the iPad using iTunes, and read them from iBooks. The single most painful part of this process is finding the free ePub books—start with gutenberg.com’s Project Gutenberg—followed by the task of locating cover art for them; putting them in iTunes and bringing them to the iPad is otherwise as easy as “drag, drop, and sync.” Apple offers the Gutenberg content within its own store, saving you the hunt on the Internet, but its versions aren’t much better than the ones you’d find elsewhere.
Though we’re reviewing the iBooks application separately, it suffices to say here that Apple’s implementation of the reader and iBookstore features isn’t surprising in any way—rather, this is just a more polished, simplified, and high-resolution version of earlier third-party apps such as Amazon’s Kindle for iPhone and iPod touch. The iPad’s 9.7” screen size enables it to display the text content of books at or far above the actual type size they originally appeared in, skipping through 10 sizes that max out at nearly .4” tall characters. Unlike Kindle, you can read a book either as a single vertical page or a set of two pages displayed horizontally, complete with page-turning animations. There’s a persistent bottom-of-screen timeline that lets you jump to any page automatically, top-of-screen icons to call up the clickable Table of Contents and your bookmarks, view in-line pictures—black and white or color ones—and the hardware’s screen lock to prevent the iPad from flipping into a different orientation when you hold the “book” on its side. All of this is much like the pre-iPad Kindle software for iPhones, but significantly better in most ways than the experience of reading on the dull-screened but longer-running Amazon Kindle hardware.
Unlike the iPhone Kindle application, however, iBooks includes its own automatic and manual screen brightness controls, a search feature, a set of five selectable fonts—the classical serifed Baskerville, Cochin, Palatino, and Times New Roman, plus the sans-serif Verdana—and access to a full dictionary that can instantly look up any word you tap and hold. The same tap and hold command brings up a tool for copying text, a bookmark button, and a search button to find other instances of the word. We tried reading the same book, Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, in physical form, in iBooks, and in Amazon’s Kindle; while Ratio’s multiple fonts and page numbers weren’t preserved in either eBook version, the iBooks copy was considerably easier to hunt around in because of the search feature, more versatile because of its greater number and size of fonts, and at least as nice looking. Kindle’s only app advantages, a white on black mode and sepia mode, are minor league in the big picture, though Amazon’s ability to let you read your books on multiple devices is a non-trivial differentiator, for sure.
Apple’s iBookstore is essentially a stripped-down version of the iTunes application, with only four buttons—Featured, NY Times, Top Charts, and Purchases—at the bottom of the screen, the middle two providing one-touch access to different two-column lists of bestsellers. Currently, the iBookstore’s main page provides a full-width single-column view of spotlighted content, complete with a four-picture iTunes-style rotating banner, a New & Notable section, and four to six thumbnail promotional banners for individual books or collections. Clicking on any title brings up a dark overlaid window with cover art, descriptive text and alternate recommendations, plus buttons to buy the book or get a sample. Samples and books are both readable only on the iPad, and samples do not transfer back to iTunes on synchronization; books do so automatically.
Even if the individual features of iBooks aren’t breathtaking, their collective simplicity and feel makes the iPad a superior overall device to the Kindle for reading and purchasing books. It’s not just that iBooks looks nicer than Amazon’s interface—tangibly more detailed text, even before you start playing with the fonts, brightness controls, or screen orientation—but that it’s more convenient for buying books: Amazon has kept purchasing buttons on its own web site rather than within the iPhone application, to avoid paying Apple 30% on every sale, and Apple uses the in-app two-click buy and confirm purchasing system to its advantage. There are no additional steps; everything just works, books appear on your Library bookshelf, and sync back to iTunes. It’s as easy as that. We’ll have more to say on iBooks in our separate review.
Third-Party Applications + Games
When Apple opened the App Store for iPhone and iPod touch in 2008, it had no concept of just how huge of a selling point third-party software would become for these devices, which previously ran nothing but Apple-developed applications—aside from minor hacks. Nearly two years later, the App Store is arguably the single most significant advantage Apple maintains over its competitors, a library of over 150,000 applications that may be 90-95% junk, but still would have 7,500 to 15,000 pieces of genuinely appealing software spread across numerous categories. Almost all of those applications, good, bad, or otherwise, except for ones that require hardware not found in the iPad, can be downloaded and run on the device without major problems. Some have small bugs, but given that apps such as Skype enable direct-from-iPad telephone calling and all sorts of games run perfectly, most people won’t care a bit.
This isn’t to say that they look great on the iPad’s screen. You have the choice to run them at normal resolution, framing them with a huge black and gray bezel at “1x” size that’s actually slightly larger on the iPad’s screen than on the iPhone’s or iPod touch’s due to the slightly larger pixels on the iPad. Alternately, you can hit an on-screen button that says “2x.” This activates a mode that actually quadruples the pixels, filling the iPad’s display with an upscaled image that has roughly four times the surface area of a typical iPhone or iPod touch display. Apple leaves just enough black space around the edge of the “2x” image to keep the “1x” button at the bottom right, so that you can toggle between the sizes at any time. Your hand will likely cover it most of the time when you’re holding the iPad, so you won’t even notice that it’s there.
Pre-iPad apps we tried included Facebook, Pac-Man Championship Edition, Feed Me!, Old MacDonald, Edge, Line2, Skype, Plants vs. Zombies, and Ridge Racer Accelerated. Every app loaded a little faster than the iPhone 3GS, and most ran a little faster, as well—similar to the 2009 iPod touch. Line2 and Skype both enabled us to make Voice Over IP telephone calls directly from the iPad, with Skype successfully connecting to multiple Macs and Line2 calling directly to both a wired telephone number and a cell phone, all with great audio quality. The games were smooth and as easy to control as one could expect given the radically increased size of the iPad hardware; Facebook, Old MacDonald, and Feed Me! looked good enough to use on the iPad in either resolution mode, but could have benefitted from visual updates. We have no doubt that they’ll all receive them.
That’s because the library of iPad-compatible apps is growing at a very rapid clip. Some companies have decided to create combined iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad apps that work on all three devices, and have offered the new iPad features as free updates to their past applications, a wonderful bonus that many users wouldn’t have expected to receive. Several of these apps include Delivery Status Touch from Junecloud, Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List from Conde Nast, Kindle from Amazon, and Shanghai Mahjong from MobileAge.
All of these apps look considerably better on the iPad than they did on the iPhone and iPod touch, largely preserving their prior feature sets with some iPad-specific bonuses. Most games have grown 50% or 100% of their original file size for the new device, which will further stretch the limited storage capacities of low-end iPads; combined iPod/iPhone/iPad apps may do the same to iPod touch and iPhone users, as well.
Other companies have released brand new standalone applications that in many cases reuse the core code from earlier iPod touch and iPhone games, with minor or substantial visual updates to take advantage of the iPad’s larger, more detailed screen. Gameloft’s N.O.V.A. is an example of a prior iPod and iPhone game that adds new gameplay elements and considerably better textures for the iPad, though surprisingly with only a modest increase in file size, growing from 161MB to 165.7MB. PopCap’s Plants vs. Zombies also received an HD version, growing from 34.8MB to 49.8MB; it received artwork that looks the same as the previously released Mac game, and has the iPhone’s touchscreen interface, now on a far better display. Real Racing HD, Sparkle HD, Radio Flare Redux HD, and Labyrinth 2 HD are amongst other worthwhile games that received primarily visual overhauls with small gameplay tweaks for the iPad, and all look great. AOL’s AIM, Tapulous’s Tap Tap Radiation, and The Iconfactory’s Twitterrific are all apps that changed dramatically from prior iPod and iPhone versions, but could use additional work to make better use of the iPad’s screen.
Still other companies have developed completely new applications that make use of the iPad’s comparatively huge touch surface for effects and gestures that either wouldn’t have worked on the iPhone or iPod touch at all, or work far better on a large screen than a small one. Apple’s collection of iWork apps—Keynote, Numbers, and Pages—are all off to a strong start on the iPad, and could never have been conceived of on smaller devices. Electronic Arts’ Mirror’s Edge is a 3-D action-platformer based loosely on the console version and an unreleased iPhone game, with Xbox-like graphics that wouldn’t have been possible on the pocket devices, and Geometry Wars is a port of an Xbox- and PlayStation hit shooter that similarly looks phenomenal on the iPad’s screen, with effects that would have crowded out the iPod touch or iPhone displays. As with the broader App Store, many of the other new iPad releases are junk, and they will grow in number as time goes on.
One category of applications that deserves special attention—but not praise—is the rapidly growing number of magazine- and newspaper-specific apps, which have been released with wildly differing interfaces, pricing schemes, and content over the past several days. Marvel has released a comic book viewer that provides access to a portion of its backcatalog of famous comics, using zooming and high-resolution images to let readers see details that would ordinarily have been all but invisible to the naked eye. The New York Times has released an application that offers a partial look at its newspaper, incorporating classic fonts and layout, as well as its photography. And Popular Science co-developed a completely new take on its print publication, using separately scrolling layers of text and images alongside a new interface that moves horizontally through multiple articles and vertically to dig deeper into individual ones.
There’s no doubt that these applications represent a handful of the potential ways that printed publications could evolve into digital ones beyond their present web-based alternatives, and each one offers an individual and compelling experience when considered independently. The key problems are that these publications now litter the iPad’s Home screens with numerous additional icons, lack for any unified “iMagazinerack” or “iNewsstand” store, and have no value except when viewed on the iPad itself—two problems eliminated by Apple’s iBooks and iBookstore, though all three need to be addressed. It just doesn’t make sense to us to buy digital content at full print prices with no guarantee of portability onto other devices, no ability to read the content on computers, and no central organization system to keep everything from cluttering the iPad. Apple needs a next-generation color publication interface within iBooks to manage the mess that periodical publishers are about to make for themselves.
These are, of course, early days for the iPad’s applications library. Given that there were over 1,300 iPad-optimized apps available on the day of the iPad’s launch, and over 3,000 only three days later, there’s no doubt that the iPad will be aggressively supported by increasingly impressive software for the foreseeable future. It already has no shortage of powerful, diverse applications, and offers plenty of room for developers to impress people visually, sonically, in interfaces, and in fun factor. Reasonable price premiums for superior applications will be warranted.
One final note on third-party applications and games relates to battery life. As noted earlier in this review, the iPad’s battery lasts for longer than the promised 10 hours when browsing the web, and considerably longer when watching videos, but dips somewhat below it when other applications are taken into account. Our fully mixed test, with numerous Apple and third-party apps run in a “real world” mix of web surfing, video playing, e-mailing, gaming, and app use, ran for just shy of nine hours; in a pure game test with the 3-D-intensive N.O.V.A. HD and the mixed 2-D and movie-based Capcom’s Street Fighter IV, the iPad’s battery ran for 8 hours and 33 minutes. The iPad’s battery life for gaming and apps will obviously depend considerably on the specific apps you’re using, including their ongoing need for Internet access, use of the device’s 3-D hardware, and other considerations, but we consider the app and gaming run times we’ve seen to be very strong—far better than what we’d seen on the iPhone 3GS (~4 hours) in similar tests.
Early Accessories, Notable Past Accessory Incompatibilities, and Battery Performance Summary
Nearly 100 cases have already been announced for the iPad, and we’ve already been testing the first of them, including early designs from companies such as Griffin, Incipio, Hard Candy, Essential TPE, Belkin, and Vaja. Due to Apple’s decision to withhold detailed dimensional drawings from third-party developers until the launch of the iPad, companies were forced to improvise case designs based on rough estimates of the iPad’s size, leading many to create sleeve and folio-style holders rather than precision-fit skins and cases. Incipio’s Dermashot is the first skin we’ve seen that fits the iPad Wi-Fi model perfectly; more options will obviously become available over the next few months.
As noted earlier in this review, the iPad will require special home and car chargers in order to quickly bring its battery back to full capacity. A number of developers have been working on 2 Amp adapters; Apple’s home-only iPad 10W Power Adapter is the first out of the gate, with Kensington and Griffin car chargers following very close behind. iPad-compatible speaker systems have not been released yet, however, Vestalife has announced the first one as an enlarged version of its prior Mantis speaker for iPods and iPhones. It remains to be seen how future speakers adapt to the iPad’s shape, or whether the idea of docking such a large tablet in a speaker remains limited in appeal. Notably, iHome’s iA5, the first “app-enhanced” speaker for iPods and iPhones, properly synchronized its app with the iPad, worked as an alarm clock, and worked as a speaker, but didn’t charge the iPad. Car accessories we tested would not charge the iPad, but did provide audio out, albeit at seemingly non-optimized levels.
We also tested a number of Apple accessories with the iPad, with predictably mixed results. The company’s Composite AV Cable and Component AV Cable worked to output video from the iPad to television sets, and also charged the iPad, albeit apparently at half speed. By comparison, the iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter offers no charging capability, and no audio out, but does connect to VGA cable-equipped monitors for output of videos and other apps with video-out capabilities. Apple’s Keynote allows you to output slideshows to a TV or monitor, use the iPad to control them, and even turns your finger into a laser pointer if you touch and hold down on the screen.
Apple’s iPod Radio Remote, the predecessor to the integrated FM radio tuner in the fifth-generation iPod nano, doesn’t work. Apple’s Nike + iPod Sensor—now supported by the iPod touch and iPhone 3GS—is not supported by the iPad, most likely because no one’s likely to carry this device on an arm or back while running. The iPod Camera Connector, a 2005 accessory developed to let color-screened iPod and iPod photo models download photos from digital cameras, doesn’t work at all. With the exception of headphones, it looks like new accessories will be needed across the board for the iPad.
Summary of Battery Performance Findings
Each of these summarized findings is discussed in greater detail in the appropriate hardware or application section above.
Web: 10 hours, 21 minutes on 50% brightness torture test.
Video: 11 hours, 34 minutes on 50% brightness, 50% volume with HD videos and Wi-Fi on; 11 hours, 43 minutes on same settings with SD videos; 13 hours, 22 minutes with SD videos and Wi-Fi off.
Audio: Approx. 6.25 continuous days on 50% volume, screen and equalizer off, through headphones.
Gaming: 8 hours, 33 minutes on 50% brightness, 50% volume with mix of 3-D HD and 2-D SD games.
Full Mixed Use Test: 8 hours, 59 minutes on auto-brightness, using Wi-Fi (802.11n) and all applications, including everything from video to web to games and productivity apps.
Recharging: Approximately 4 hours when used with included 10W USB Power Adapter, approximately 8-9 hours when connected to high-speed (1.2A) USB port, longer when connected to 0.5A USB port, no charging when connected to most past iPod/iPhone speakers and accessories.
As our rare high recommendation indicates, we’re as close to wildly enthusiastic about the iPad as we’ve ever been about a first-generation Apple product: unlike the original iPhone, Apple TV, and iPod touch, all of which we cautioned readers about in their earliest forms, Apple has done so much right with the first iteration of this device that it’s easy to look past the iPad’s issues and just enjoy everything it can do. That’s a long list, too: great web browsing, solid video, photo, and audio playback, nearly excellent book and magazine reading, and roughly 15,000 other programs including outstanding games, powerful new creative tools, and much more. All of this is accomplished with battery life that is quantifiably better than almost any laptop or netbook on the planet, and at a starting price tag of $499 that is affordable by computer standards, if not aggressive given the storage capacities offered. Had Apple offered the 32GB iPad for $399, or included 3G networking as an option in every iPad at current prices, it might well have muted some of the iPad’s earliest critics, but the company has long had a “haters be damned” attitude, and if its continued successes across the Mac, iPod, and iPhone families are any indication, even 16GB Wi-Fi-only iPads may well be global hits despite the $499 asking price.
Having said that, the first iPad has its fair share of issues, as well, the vast majority of which relate to the iPhone OS 3.2 software it ships with, as well as the as-yet-unoptimized third-party applications Apple is selling through the App Store. True multitasking—the ability of an instant messaging application to be on screen at the same time as a web browser—is a must-have feature on a device with this screen size, and its absence is the one and only reason the iPad hovers on the finest edge of A- and B+ ratings for us. Additionally, though some may consider Apple’s “sell it first, test it on real devices later” approach to iPad software development to be progressive or practical, the result of its rush to get software out is a collection of not-yet-fully-baked concepts and executions, including everything from Apple-developed iPad apps that really need large-scale, large-screen updates—like Mail and Notes—to third-party apps that shipped with crash bugs, broken interfaces, and wildly varying levels of quality. Combine that with the iPad’s beautiful but rapidly dirtied glass screen, and you have a device that has awesome potential but requires a little bit too much user accommodation right out of the gate. Within six months, we’d expect most of the software issues to be fixed, but we’re not rating the iPad based on what it might or might not be six months from now.
So should you buy an iPad today, wait a little while—perhaps until the 3G version is released—or hold off altogether? After what happened with the first iPhone, Apple TV, and iPod touch, it’s all too easy to say “wait,” because Apple has justifiably improved each of its first-generation products in non-trivial ways within a year of initial release, sometimes sooner. Before any of those updates took place, Steve Jobs explained the rapid pace of Apple’s product evolutions and price drops in a letter to customers, saying:
“There is always change and improvement, and there is always someone who bought a product before a particular cutoff date and misses the new price or the new operating system or the new whatever. This is life in the technology lane. If you always wait for the next price cut or to buy the new improved model, you’ll never buy any technology product because there is always something better and less expensive on the horizon. The good news is that if you buy products from companies that support them well, like Apple tries to do, you will receive years of useful and satisfying service from them even as newer models are introduced.”
In other words, the entertainment and joy you’ll get from owning and using a fun new device has some dollar value, and even if something better comes along a year later, your purchase still has residual value—and continued utility. Unlike the first iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV, the iPad arrives on the scene with so much and such polished functionality that all we could ask for is more, at a lower price. It is such an extraordinarily strong product right out of the gate that, with full knowledge of the fact that there will be better versions in the future, we would recommend it broadly to our entire readership unless one of the key “cons” noted above is a show-stopper for you. In that case, we hope that Apple works quickly to remove that obstacle with a future software or hardware update, because the iPad is the type of powerful and beautiful piece of technology that deserves to be in as many homes and hands as possible, sooner rather than later.
Our A- rating and high recommendation are awarded solely to the iPad with Wi-Fi. Read our comprehensive supplemental review of the iPad with Wi-Fi + 3G (iLounge Rating: B+) here.
Interface Videos and Archived iPad First Look (January 27, 2010)
Company and Price
Company: Apple Inc.
Model: iPad with Wi-Fi