Thursday, January 28, 2010

First Impressions of the New Apple iPad

By Walter Mossbeg

It’s about the software, stupid. While all sorts of commentators were focusing on how much Apple’s new $499 iPad tablet computer looks like an oversized iPhone, the key to whether it can be the first multi-function tablet to win wide public acceptance probably lies in whether consumers perceive it as a suitable replacement for a laptop in key scenarios. And that, in my view, depends heavily on the software and services that flow through its handsome little body.

I have only spent a short time hands-on with the iPad–too short to fully run it through its paces and formally review it yet. But, after attending the rollout of the new device today, and trying out some of its features for myself, I have some first impressions.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs positioned the iPad as belonging to a new category of device between the smartphone and the laptop (since the netbook, in his view and mine, is really just a small, cheap laptop). But, as the demos unfolded, I kept thinking it was more like a hybrid of the two.

It uses the iPhone’s basic user interface and physical design. But, taking advantage of a 9.7″ screen and a fast Apple-designed processor, the iPad adds some user interface elements and functionality that aren’t available–or at least typical–on smart phones, but look more like computer software. For instance, its photo program works more like iPhoto on a Mac than the photo app on an iPhone, and it will be available with a touch version of Apple’s iWork productivity suite, which is Apple’s take on Microsoft Office. This is a much more powerful program than the phone-based office suites for the iPhone or BlackBerry, and Apple (AAPL) is only charging $30 for it.

Also, Apple has rewritten most of the core iPhone apps so they look more like, and have more of the features of, Mac or PC programs. But they aren’t mere clones of full computer apps. For instance, many forego standard menus for clever overlays and sidebars that work more naturally with the iPad’s multi-touch interface. Other app developers can do this, too. But, even if they don’t, the company said the iPad will run most of the current 140,000 iPhone apps, either in a small window on the screen, or in a full-screen mode. That’s a huge plus for a new device.

Mr. Jobs said after the onstage program ended that he sees the iPad’s user interface as a fuller expression of the one on the iPhone, which had been limited by screen real estate.

And, although the reported video and music streaming services were nowhere to be seen at this preview, Mr. Jobs did offer a taste of how the iPad could deliver content, beyond simply downloads from the iTunes store. He showed off a new e-book reader app with built-in online book store that, visually at least, blew away the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle, even if it seemed to lack all of the Kindle’s features and may have a smaller catalog. Representatives of the New York Times (NYT) showed an iPad digital version of their newspaper that seemed vastly more usable than the clumsy version now on the Kindle and its ilk.

Read the full article here.

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