Apple iPad: The Future is Here

Sean Collins-Smith

Staff Writer

Few companies release a product with as much fanfare as Apple.

After months of speculation and pre-order buzz, their latest creation, the iPad, was released April 3. And, like most of their first-generation gadgets, it is a fun, gorgeous product that pushes the envelope—but lacks a few key components that will leave you scratching your head.

First, let’s begin with the good – and believe me, there’s plenty to like in Apple’s shiny new toy. The iPad is basically a crossover between a tablet, a laptop and an iPod Touch/iPhone, with a lot of the best features of each. It weighs a manageable 1.5 pounds and is only half an inch thick. It boasts a vibrant 9.7-inch LCD touch-display with oleophobic coating meant to prevent fingerprint smudges. While it doesn’t exactly succeed in that regard – prints are visible almost immediately after you start using it – the screen itself is beautiful.

Colors are rich and textured, and images appear in glorious high definition. It lends itself to viewing videos and photographs – say, from the handy Netflix application or images that you’ve uploaded from iPhoto – and the experience handily beats watching films on your iPhone. The display can be turned vertically or horizontally, and contents turn along with it. Touch response is flawless, making navigation from one screen to the next a dream. And just like the iPhone, the iPad features multi-touch technology, so zooming in and out is as simple as moving two fingers toward or away from each other. Printed material is also displayed vividly, with anything from The New York Times to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” showing up in a crisp, easy-to-ready format.

To add to that; the iPad’s battery life is amazing. Apple concludes it will run for 10 hours if you’re surfing the Web, watching movies, or listening to music. This is a conservative estimate, because after 12 hours of doing everything under the sun – downloading apps while listening to music and playing EA’s “Scrabble” – I still had 30 percent of my battery left. And that was at full brightness; surely the battery improves if it is turned down.

Thanks to their clout in the technology world, Apple has a multitude of developers willing to create content for their products, and the iPad is no exception. From day one, you’ll have access to thousands of “apps.” These pieces of software written specifically for the iPad can do numerous things for one particular purpose. For instance, if you’ve got an account on Netflix, you can download the free Netflix app and have access to your account. It’s simpler than visiting the Web site—after all, the app was made specifically for the iPad, and it’s faster, too. You can also view any instant-streaming Netflix content over Wi-Fi or AT&T’s 3G network (depending on what version of the iPad you buy). And that’s just one app out of thousands. If you’ve downloaded any for your iPhone or iPod Touch, they’ll also be compatible with the iPad, albeit in a slightly less quality version if blown up to full screen.

Now to the not-so-good. First, and perhaps most unforgivably, the iPad features not one USB port, so hooking up a flash drive to show off, say, a quick PDF document on the go is out of the question. A lack of USB functionality also means connecting peripherals like keyboards or memory card readers for your camera requires Apple’s proprietary cords, which can be pricey and inconvenient, considering there’s only one connectivity port. The iPad also lacks a webcam—strange, considering almost every laptop available now includes a webcam, and Apple’s own iPod Nano and iPhone sport them as well. What’s up, Apple? It would’ve been the perfect travel companion had the option to video chat been included.

Another letdown is the lack of support for Flash. A vast amount of material on the Web uses Flash to show video and photo content, and while Apple’s arguments against it aren’t unfounded – they claim it eats up battery life and spreads viruses – it’s sill a glaring omission. They circumvent this through their use of HTML5, a format many Web sites are starting to embrace in the wake of iPad’s release. Until it becomes standard though, prepare to see a lot of white blanks on Web sites where Flash is utilized.

The Apple iPad is several steps in the right direction. It attempts to put everything you could want from the Web and multimedia devices into one thin, beautifully designed “pad,” and on those grounds it almost succeeds. Much like the iPod and iPhone, its strength will ultimately be derived from what other companies put into it. For the iPod, it was music and movie distributors releasing their content; for the iPhone, it has been developers creating apps. If Apple boards enough support for the iPad, the future of computing could rest in their hands—and I have a feeling we’d all be the better for it.

Grade: A-

Pros: gorgeous display; thousands of apps from day one; long-lasting battery; great touch response

Cons: no Flash support; lacks USB ports; no on-board camera

check commonwealthtimes.org for a list of apps.

NOTE TO LAYOUT – THIS IS FOR ONLINE ONLY

So you have an iPad. Now what? Apple has included several complimentary apps, including YouTube, Photos, Notes, Contacts, Safari, Mail and Maps, but the majority of the fun is finding apps for yourself. Below are some suggestions, available on the App Store via iTunes or your iPad.

AIM – (Free) AOL’s instant messaging service is brought to the iPad with a glamorous user interface that takes full advantage of the nearly 10-inch screen. It is divided into three translucent columns: the usernames of active IM’s on the left, conversations in the middle and your full buddy list on the right—a must-have for any users of AIM or iChat.

ABC Player – (Free) – If there are any shows on ABC you need to catch up on – “LOST,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” – then the ABC Player is the easiest, most attractive way to do it. The user interface is extremely easy to use, and though the content features about four to five 30-second commercials per show, it’s a heck of a lot better than sitting through an average of 15 minutes of commercials for a 60 minute program.

Marvel – (Free) – This app features almost every Marvel comic ever released over the last half century. Download any comic for $1.99, then sit back and enjoy the rich, colored graphics of Marvel’s amazingly crafted universe. The illustrations are presented in brilliant high definition, so zooming in to look at each cell doesn’t affect the quality the least bit. Several comics are available to download free of charge so you can get a feel for the formatting.

Netflix – (Free w/ subscription) – This handy app lets you log into your account, manage your queue, and yes—even watch instant streaming content. You can even switch from wide to full frame (if you so desire). Highly recommended for Netflix users, as the iPad plays video content very, very well.

EA’s “Scrabble” – ($9.99) – If you can get by the somewhat hefty price tag – after all, it’s a game that is available for free on multiple websites – you’ll get to enjoy this little gem. It offers a multitude of ways to play “Scrabble” with your friends. Pass and Play lets you hand the iPad off when your turn is over; Local Network Play enables people in the same location as you to play wirelessly; another option connects you with your Facebook friends to play a game. Party Play turns any iPod Touch’s you or your friends may have into a tile rack, allowing you to view your tiles directly in front of you for the entire game. Recommended for fans of any board games.

Pages, Keynote, Numbers – ($9.99 each) – Apple’s own apps are brought to the iPad in packages that are aesthetically pleasing and infinitely useful. Pages, Keynote, and Numbers are Apple’s versions of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel, respectively. They’re each fairly intuitive, especially considering the helpful tutorial guides included for each one. Each one can export pieces of work, which are Windows compatible. Highly recommended for user-created content.

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