The Apple iPad: Lightning Strikes Cupertino Again

How do you sell 300,000 of anything on the first day it’s in stores? By convincing people that it’s going to be even cooler than the last incredible thing you built. Steve Jobs and his crew pulled that off with the iPad, which has been breaking the sales records set by the iPhone in 2007. Now all of us brand-new iPad owners have to decide whether we’re still convinced.

I’ve spent three solid days with my iPad, including one work day, and I’m still a believer. For sheer whiz-bang amazement, this machine (which I’m using right now to type this review) definitely represents the best $499 I’ve ever spent on a computer. It has its flaws and weaknesses, which I will gladly enumerate in a moment. But I think it has to be acknowledged up front that the hype about the iPad was largely justified; that the device is useful in a genuinely new way, and represents the beginning of the end of the mouse-and-keyboard era of personal computing; that for Apple, lightning can strike five times (IIe, Mac, iPod, iPhone, iPad); that if there were a Nobel Prize for product engineering, Jobs would be on his way to Stockholm.

Apple iPadThere, I said it. I laid my fanboy credentials bare. Now let’s talk about the real question, which is, should you get one? Assuming that you’re in the market for a computer, and you aren’t one of those early adopter alpha geeks like me who has to get an iPad just to maintain his street cred, what compelling advantages does the product have over similarly priced machines—which, at the moment, means netbooks and low-end laptops?

I think that is the operative question. I don’t see much point in the debate, taken up by Jobs himself in his January 27 iPad debut speech, about whether there is room for a “third category” of devices between netbooks and laptops. Yes, the iPad belongs to a new category, but average computer buyers don’t care about categories: they just need to get stuff done, and between projects they want to be entertained. What’s important is whether the iPad helps with those things, and does so better than an equivalently priced netbook or laptop. I believe that it does, and that it will only get better over time.


For all the talk about the iPad being a media consumption device, it is also a pretty good information management device. The built-in apps, such as Mail and Calendar, take the tasks knowledge workers do all day long and make them more fun. I am already very fond of the Mail app, which, like most iPad apps, resembles its iPhone counterpart but has many improvements that take advantage of the iPad’s larger screen. In landscape mode, for example, Mail lists incoming messages in the left pane and shows the full text of those messages in the right pane.

There’s nothing revolutionary about panes—until you realize that this arrangement, together with multitouch, lets you plow through your inbox and deal with each message with two-handed efficiency. With your right hand, you can … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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