For rea­sons a lit­tle too abstruse to go into here, I recently ended up in pos­ses­sion of a 16 GB wifi iPad. It was hardly planned, and I’ve only had it since Wednesday, but I thought I’d share my take on it.

For starters, yes, it’s basi­cally a big iPhone or iTouch. That’s been the biggest deri­sive com­ment levied against the iPad, but if you’ve ever actu­ally used an iPhone, you can see right away what’s wrong with it as a crit­i­cism. The iPhone is not a cel­lu­lar phone and it’s not a smart­phone. It’s a pocket com­puter with GPS, a com­pass, a tri­ax­ial accelerom­e­ter and two dif­fer­ent kinds of wire­less net­work­ing (three if you include tele­phony, four if you count SMS/​MMS). About the only thing you can’t do with an iPhone is print from it directly or con­nect USB devices such as a DVD or exter­nal hard drive.

Calling the iPad a large iPhone, then, isn’t an insult; it’s a com­ment on its func­tion­al­ity. Think of all the iPhone’s strengths, then quadru­ple your screen real estate.

The iPad is essen­tially a net­book with­out a key­board. Well, it has a key­board, but it’s soft­ware based and onscreen (unless you get the dock­ing key­board), but that makes it only a lit­tle less func­tional. Also you’re not har­nessed to a mouse or one of the many damnable vari­a­tions on a trackpad.

The touch­screen takes about 3.2 picosec­onds to get used to. A cur­rent iPad ad assures us that we “already know how to use it”, and that’s actu­ally true. I saw an untu­tored kid of 17 learn every­thing he needed to know about the UI in less than half an hour — and prior to that he’d been Windows only. It really is that transparent.

The machine is instant-​​on in nature, because unless some­thing gen­uinely sur­pris­ing hap­pens you never reboot it or shut it down. It just goes into “sleep” mode. So when you hit the home but­ton or the power but­ton, the dis­play lights up instantly and basi­cally awaits your com­mand. Not bad at all, com­pared to how long it takes even a fast net­book to wake up.

This is not a full-​​blown desk­top machine in a screen, nor is it pre­cisely a net­book. Touch typ­ists in par­tic­u­lar will find the sur­face­less key­board to be exas­per­at­ing, at least at first, and the auto­cor­rec­tion on the text entry is as bizarre as the one on the iPhone, with lit­tle popup “sug­ges­tions” that, as often as not, are half wrong. With any luck OS 4.0 will address at least some of this.

For con­nec­tiv­ity the wifi ought to be fine if you hap­pen to live some­where that’s crawl­ing with hotspots. I don’t, which means I have to use MyWi on my jail­bro­ken iPhone to have con­nec­tiv­ity to the world at large — some­thing nei­ther Apple nor AT&T would be happy to know about. I’m okay with that for two rea­sons: One, it’s my phone and I believe I have the right to install any damn soft­ware I want onto a device I own; and two, I’m pay­ing AT&T $30 per month for an unlim­ited data plan. That AT&T and I might dis­agree on the mean­ing of “unlim­ited” is hardly my fault. The US is the only major indus­tri­al­ized nation that has iPhones with­out data teth­er­ing, and that omis­sion is due solely and exclu­sively to AT&T’s poli­cies. So to hell with the rules on both fronts.

What that means in prac­tice is that I use the iPhone as a kind of wire­less modem-​​cum-​​access point. It works. The 3G net­work gives me data down­load rates around 160 K/​sec, with bursts higher than 200 K from time to time. Not wifi speed, but still plenty fast for most of my needs. There’s no rea­son for me to think a 3G iPad would be any faster.

As far as apps go, yes, most of them are still engi­neered for the iPhone. Native iPad apps are being devel­oped — and with the news that Apple shifted some 2 mil­lion pads in the first 60 days, I rather expect more will be com­ing along. Some are already pre-​​ported to work on either plat­form (such as pCalc), but most run in a lit­tle rec­tan­gle that does noth­ing more than remind you of what it really means to have quadru­ple the screen space. You can expand them to fill the screen, but they end up a bit crunchy at the edges if you do that.

For some­one like me, whose avo­ca­tion is com­mer­cial art, the iPad is pretty decent. There are some pretty good draw­ing apps out there already, and I look for­ward to the day when some­one releases a truly com­pe­tent vec­tor draw­ing app for iPad.

Does iPad mul­ti­task? Well, not yet (another 4.0 enhance­ment). A fairer ques­tion is: Do you? Probably not, unless you’re both ambidex­trous and capa­ble of focus­ing your atten­tion on at least two dif­fer­ent things at the same moment. Hint: Cognitive sci­ence doesn’t back you up on the sec­ond claim. While iPad, like iPhone, is modal — you work on only one task at a time — that’s a fine dis­tinc­tion, prob­a­bly a lit­tle too fine to stand as a real argu­ment against either device.

The best decent argu­ment I’ve seen against the Apple mobile plat­form in gen­eral is that it doesn’t sup­port Flash. Some peo­ple really seem to need that, and maybe they do; but I’ve been using Flash block­ers on my desk­top browsers for a long time, so basi­cally I don’t miss it any­way. Of course that’s just me.

So while the iPad still has some grow­ing to do, I think it’s a solid start; if you’re look­ing to kit out a col­lege stu­dent, for instance, you could do a lot worse than a combo of iPad and desk­top system.

Also, for what it’s worth, this entire post was com­posed on the iPad, in the Safari browser, through the WordPress back end inter­face. No spe­cial apps required. Not too shabby for some­thing that’s “just a big iPhone”.

It ain’t per­fect, but it don’t suck.

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