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The day after the iPad was announced, the joke went something like this: Hold up your iPhone and innocently exclaim, “Hey, check out my iPad nano!”
Good one. But now that we’ve gotten our hands on the iPad and seen how easy and fun it is to use, the joke’s basic truth shines brighter. The iPhone OS and its multi-touch input are so at home on a bigger screen that it feels like this was how it was meant to be all along. Recall what it’s like to go from a small TV to a big, high-def one--while it’s pretty much the same thing on paper, it’s still a vastly better experience when you sit down to watch a movie.
Anything you squint at on your iPhone’s smaller screen looks fabulous on the iPad, including the live forecasts of The Weather Channel Max for iPad, free in the App Store.
But if the iPad represents the way the iPhone OS was meant to be experienced, it still isn’t totally clear exactly what it’s meant to be used for. A lot of people we’ve spoken to are having trouble wrapping their heads around that. If I have a MacBook and an iPhone, they wonder, why do I need this?
Short answer: the apps. The iPad as it’s sold in stores is already a virtuoso at its most obvious uses--internet appliance, digital photo frame, e-book reader, game device, and portable video screen. But if anything’s going to elevate it from glorified high-tech toy to serious must-have tool, it’s going to be the software.
Empowered by two years of experience with the SDK and the App Store’s 3 billion downloads (as of January), legions of iPhone OS developers are working right now on innovative apps that we probably couldn’t dream up if we tried. Some of those apps will wallow in obscurity, but others will create diehard iPad users out of diverse groups of people who might not give a darn about YouTube or Diner Dash, even though early iPad apps tend to have higher prices than we’re used to paying for iPhone apps.
That’s not stopping creativity at all. Less than a week after its launch, we read about an iPad being used as a credit-card-accepting point-of-sale machine at San Francisco’s Sightglass Coffee Shop, thanks to a free app called Square. $499 isn’t bad for a point-of-sale system. And that’s just one example of what are surely hundreds more to come.
When the iPhone debuted, there wasn’t an SDK for it yet. Only Apple could write native apps, and that meant the iPhone was just a phone. Sure, it had a decent web browser and a nifty touchscreen iPod attached, so it was definitely a fancy phone. But it wasn’t yet a credit-card machine, a canvas to paint on, or a remote control for your home’s HVAC system. It wasn’t a software platform. But with the iPad, which currently runs iPhone OS 3.2 and will switch this fall to iPhone OS 4, we have an inkling of what’s possible. We’ve figured out by now that the apps can do almost anything. And after testing Apple’s impeccably designed hardware and insanely great touchscreen, we’re confident that they will.
The best thing about the iPad’s snappy, speedy, futuristic hardware is how it pretty much disappears once you start using it. The black bezel doesn’t just give you a place to grip your iPad without engaging the 9.7-inch touchscreen--it makes the apps jump right out at you. The screen is large enough that the apps become immersive, filling your field of view and almost making you forget you’re holding the iPad in the first place. Read the full review...
The iPad comes loaded with 12 built-in apps, all rebuilt by Apple to take advantage of the increased screen size. A few are nearly perfect already, but others still need some work.
Nice interface, but we want bookmarks to all our accounts' inboxes.
The iPad’s Mail app handles Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, Yahoo, MobileMe, AOL, and other IMAP and POP accounts, but it takes an unacceptable five taps to switch from one account’s Inbox to another (that’s in portrait mode; it’s four taps in landscape mode). That’s just insane--but it should be fixed in this fall with iPhone OS 4. It also needs a media browser (the iWork apps have ‘em) for adding photos to your messages without needing to exit Mail, go to Photos, copy some images, reopen Mail, and paste them in.
But reading email is a pleasure, attachments open seamlessly, and actionable text like phone numbers and email addresses are helpfully hyperlinked—just tap one for an option to add the info to an existing contact or create a new one. Typing in landscape mode, the keys are almost large enough for real touch-typing, but we still prefer to use a Bluetooth keyboard for longer missives. Mail is a good start, but of the built-in apps, it’s one of two that have the furthest to go. Grade: C
The charm of a paper address book, the power of a computer.
Apple’s Contacts app can sync to your Microsoft Exchange, MobileMe, or other LDAP account, and it has a handsome interface that looks like a real address book. The UI doesn’t change much between portrait and landscape modes; it only resizes a bit. Tapping the Share button opens a new email message right within Contacts and attaches the selected contact’s info as a VCF file. You can also assign photos to your contacts without leaving the Contacts app.
A search box and a strip of letters along the left side help you quickly jump to the contact you’d like to see. Clicking an email address launches Mail and addresses a new message, and clicking a street address launches the Maps app and drops a pin. Contacts’ clean design makes it a winner, but it’d be nice if we could look at maps or write emails without the quick app switch. Grade: B+
Calendar's a looker--just like Contacts.
Calendar is a gem. Its well-designed Day, Week, Month, and List views work in landscape and portrait view--List mode in landscape is our personal favorite. A timeline stretches along the bottom of the window, letting you jump between dates with just a tap. Adding new events can be done with a minimum number of taps (as few as two), and while you can’t drag existing events to new dates and times, you can get to the Edit screen in two taps as well.
Calendar supports CalDAV accounts and subscribed calendars, and we had no trouble syncing up our Exchange and MobileMe calendars over the air. Grade: A-
Street View on the iPad--now that's a street view.
Maps isn’t changed significantly from its iPhone iteration, although the iPad’s larger screen makes the maps easier to navigate without constant pinching and scrolling. Google Street View, which is accessed by dropping a pin on a city street and then clicking the little man icon in the Info pop-up, is beautiful on the big screen. And the iPad’s built-in compass reorients the map based on which way you’re facing, as on the iPhone 3GS. Grade: B+
CBS redid its website to be iPad-friendly. Smart.
So what if it doesn’t support Flash? Surfing the web on the iPad is a hundred times better than using Mobile Safari on the iPhone, and it even tops the experience of a fully Flashed internet on Safari for the Mac. Tapping, swiping, and pinching works incredibly well, making navigation virtually effortless. The bookmarks bar can be hidden or always on, and MobileMe users can sync bookmarks across other devices.
We had no trouble keeping up to nine pages open at once, although Safari does have to reload them when you switch. H.264 videos on Vimeo.com and HTML5 videos on CBS.com also played flawlessly. And in general, being able to touch our favorite websites is so giddy-making we could surf all day. Grade: A-