Analysis: Does Apple's iPad live up to the hype?

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Analysis: Does Apple's iPad live up to the hype?

First impressions of the iPad.

Apple's new iPad has perhaps suffered from being so hyped prior to announcement that there was almost no way for it to live up to expectations.

As expected, the all new iPad shares a great deal with the iPhone and iPod touch and the 9.7-inch display offers many new opportunities for developers.

In particular, the 3G iPad, that's not expected to hit Australian stores until the middle of the year, might provide a new tool for capturing data from the field and sending it in to the home office.

While Apple's presentation this morning was heavily focused on Apple's bread and butter, the consumer market, it's clear that they've not given up on the enterprise just yet. The iPad weighs about 700 grams and is slightly smaller than an A4 notebook. Apple sees this as a device that bridges the gap between the notebook and iPhone. But as yet it's hard to know whether the market really likes actual tablet computers or the idea of tablets.

The specs

The iPad's LCD display uses in-plane switching or IPS. Although this Hitachi-developed screen type uses slightly more power than a traditional LCD, it's optimised for viewing from wider angles than traditional LCDs. Performance in bright light, important for field work, remains to be seen and is an important consideration for anyone contemplating the iPad as a mobile data collection device. 

The display's resolution is 1024 by 768 - a disappointment for those hoping for a true HD display. Video output to a projector will require use of a Dock to VGA adapter and is limited to 576i/p and 480i/p when using Apple's Composite A/V Cable. Hopefully, it will also support connection to Wi-Fi projectors.

Graphic designers and other creative professionals will like the idea of the iPad as well, although the lack of a precision drawing tool, like a stylus, will probably mute the iPad's usefulness. Apple spent quite a bit of time during todays's unveiling showing off an app called Brushes. While the demonstration had the fanboys in raptures, we're not so sure that it will impress the real pros. However, the ability to quickly sketch something in the field and then easily send it back to the office might make up for those shortcomings.

During the keynote, Apple unveiled new versions of their iWork productivity suite specifically made for the iPhone. While iWork hans't exactly captured the hearts, minds and wallets of businesses it does point to a few under the cover changes that will be of interest to business. Apple's ability to produce a productivity suite is a portent of other new apps. It also signals some availability to the iPad's file system - something that has, until now, been obscured in the iPhone and iPod touch.

Apple seems to have been able to boost the iPad's battery life by designing its own processing unit. The Apple A4 is the first fruit born from Apple's acquisition of PA Semi almost two years ago. This new silicon integrates the CPU and graphics processor in a way that allows the iPad to deliver up 10 hours of battery life while watching full-screen video. We'd expect less arduous activities like data entry and reading to give that battery life something of a boost although the impact of 3G comms will give that a hit.

As far as performance goes, we'll hold of judgement until we get our hands on one but Apple's CEO Steve Jobs claims that "it screams".

Buy on eBay or wait for the telcos?

The first version of the iPad will be made available globally from late March. We'd suggest those looking for the full experience wait till the middle of the year when the 3G versions are released. The first versions of the iPad, available with either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of flash memory will only have 802.11n and Bluetooth connectivity. It's unclear as to whether that is because of deals that need to be made with carriers or approval for the quad-band 3G has not been received. However, those wanting to use the iPad with their existing carrier should be happy as mobile comms will support the 850, 1900, 2100 MHz frequencies.

Mobile workers considering the iPad as a lightweight notebook replacement will probably spring for the new keyboard Dock connector. This provides a full QWERTY keyboard for when the iPad is on the desk. There's no word yet on whether this will support a wireless mouse - Apple's Magic Mouse would probably work nicely with its support for some touchscreen gestures. Better yet, if a wireless keyboard is also supported, a cottage industry of iPad stands will help make the iPad a true portable computer that's equally useful both in the office and on the road.

The verdict for business

So, is the iPad purely a consumer device or is there a place for it in the enterprise? Businesses looking to use the iPad for data collection will need to build their own apps that can run purely within the browser. The increased screen real estate, over the iPhone, makes this an interesting possibility. However, you'll need to wait until the middle of the year when the 3G version to do that. Those waiting for a mobile presentation system are going to be disappointed as the video output options are too limited.

The device has plenty of potential but too many shortcomings. Perhaps iPad 2.0 will be the truly business-ready tablet we've been waiting for.

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