Aaron Sumner

My initial impressions of the iPad

Hey, did you hear? Apple announced the iPad yesterday, a 10-inch, super-thin tablet computer with a surprisingly decent starting price of \499 (waiting to hear if they’ll have academic price breaks). Every technology pundit worth his or her blog has already chipped in two cents (or at least made fun of the name), so why not add my own?

First off, let me go ahead and state, for the record, as soon as Apple makes them available for sale I’m ordering a 32 GB, no 3G model for work. I’m going to put it through its paces as best as possible, even trying to use the built-in Notes app to replace my need for pen and paper when I go to meetings. I am not optimistic that the iPad, with the features as demonstrated yesterday, will be anywhere close to what I want in that regard. In a perfect world I’d have the option of a nice stylus for input (in addition to all the multitouch goodness), a freeform sketch pad for note-taking, and maybe some cloud-based, highly reliable OCR for making my notes searchable in the future. Maybe this is a job for an iPad-optimized version of Evernote

Second, I’m floored at the thinness of the iPad. Even with the add-on case, it looks like it will easily slide into a backpack or satchel. I think the makers of this video are onto something when they suggest how the iPad could transform the textbook industry:

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The big drawbacks of this hypothetical model, of course, is that it would put the used textbook industry in a world of hurt and rob millions of college students of end-of-term beer money. On the other hand, you might see it as two ills of higher education the iPad might help cure.

I don’t know that the iPad will be the tablet computer used in higher education. Copycats running Android, WebOS, and whatever Microsoft calls Windows Mobile these days will appear at similar or better price points. But I do think that we’re going to see a lot of students toting these things around in the coming few years, in lieu of the laptops that replaced desktop computers. iWork and the keyboard dock are what sold it for me in that regard—a device with a good word processor, presentation tool, YouTube browser, and Facebook client is going to be perfect for just about any kid not in engineering school.

That brings me to my last point. Early on during the iPad introduction, I made the comment that it was built for consumption, not creation. This was before Phil Schiller showed iWork, and the keyboard dock add-on was shown, so I’ll soften my stance to a degree. I haven’t watched video specific to Keynote yet, but I can imagine that creating slides with a multitouch interface will be highly intuitive. Heck, even the finger painting app looks pretty neat. However, given the current specs and software, the iPad won’t be adequate for the part of my job that has me waist-deep in Ruby, Sass, and Haml. Maybe the answer is to set up a development environment on a separate computer and connect to it from the iPad via VNC? Ah, one of the many things to experiment with in 60 days or so.

. Questions or comments? Let me know what you think.