Living with the iPad

The original iPad: Macworld's complete review

Living with the iPad

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When I reviewed the original iPhone in 2007, I was reviewing a product that was relatively self-contained. It came with 16 home-screen icons—what we’d now call “apps”—and that was it. It was a year before the App Store launched, opening the iPhone’s potential to anything that developers could imagine (and that Apple would approve).

The iPad, in contrast, arrives with the doors wide open. The iPad might come with 13 default home-screen icons, but there are already thousands of iPad-enabled apps available, with more coming seemingly every minute. I have no doubt that some of those apps are, by themselves, going to make the iPad a must-buy for certain audiences. Baseball fans and MLB At Bat 2010 for iPad. Graphic novel fans and the various comic-book readers. An avalanche of games will exploit the iPad’s speedy custom-built A4 processor and graphics systems.

It might seem obvious, but it’s worth saying anyway: The existence of the App Store and a thriving community of iPhone OS app developers exponentially increases the functionality of this device. As a device with 13 default apps, plus iWork and iBooks, it’s nice and all. As the target of thousands of intelligent, creative software developers who already have two years of iPhone OS development under their belts? The sky’s the limit.

In just my first few days with the iPad, I’ve been amazed by the high-quality apps that have been developed for the device. And keep in mind, most of these apps were created by developers who have never used the product, or—if they’re lucky—have used it for a short burst of time under the watchful eye of Apple representatives with Tasers on their belt holsters. In the next few months, the iPad platform will continue to evolve, as developers and users start to understand just how the iPad works and where it fits into users’ lives.

Macworld’s buying advice

The iPad is a wholly new product, though it will be familiar to anyone who has used an iPhone or iPod touch over the past couple of years. It is simultaneously a futuristic gadget the likes of which we’ve never seen before and a version-one device that will soon be viewed with the same nostalgia-tinged contempt we have for the original iPod and iPhone.

Is the iPad a good product? The answer is undeniably, enthusiastically yes. It’s a fantastic piece of hardware, inside and out, but more than that, it’s the apotheosis of Apple’s design philosophy, synthesizing cutting-edge hardware design with innovative system and application software into a single, unified product. Holding the iPad feels like you’re holding the future, and not in a hazy dream-like way, but in a I can’t believe I’m actually here kind of way.

Should you buy one? As always, that depends on what you want to do with it. If you’re just in love with the latest whizzy cutting-edge gadget, you will find no gadget that is cutting-edgier or whizzier. If you want an Internet-connected device that fits in that space between smartphone and PC—for your living room or on the nightstand—you’ll find the iPad a joy to use.

One day, devices like the iPad may very well change the way we view computers and technology. But right now, I don’t believe the iPad is going to make anyone stop using their main Mac or PC. If you were in the market for an e-book reader or a supplemental laptop, though, I’d give those plans a serious re-think.

Because the iPad is such a new concept, Apple faces some serious challenges in making people understand how they might use it and why they should buy one. It’s not a product type people are familiar with, like a PC or a phone, or a TV or a lawnmower. It’s neither fish nor fowl, and consumers are pretty comfortable with their chicken and salmon, thank you very much.

But whether or not the iPad becomes a smash hit right away, or if it takes time for this sort of device to be embraced by the public as a whole, that doesn’t change how strong a product it is. I can’t predict whether Apple will sell a million iPads this year, or 10 million. Either way, this is an impressive debut for an ambitious new product direction for Apple.

If this review didn’t answer all your questions about the iPad, there’s more: We’ve also published an in-depth set of Frequently Asked iPad Questions.

[Jason Snell is Macworld’s editorial director.]

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