Apple's iPad is a groundbreaking device that needs a promised OS update to reach its full potential, eWEEK Labs determined after examining the device's manageability and usability in the office and on the street.
After spending a few weeks with the Apple iPad, I can say this
much: I've seen a future, but it's one that needs work. Although the iPad is
groundbreaking and unique, it is far from complete. Some of its shortcomings
will be fixed when the next version of its operating system debuts later this
year, but even after it gets better management features and multitasking
abilities, it's going to remain an immature platform for some time.
One problem, the relative paucity of applications that can
take advantage of the iPad's 9.7-inch screen, will be easily solved as time
passes and developers create new applications for the device, and adapt
existing ones. Other problems may not prove so tractable, being either under
the control of Apple's partners, or inherent compromises of the hardware and
its software environment.
(I tested an iPad with WiFi + 3G, but wherever possible,
my observations extend to the WiFi-only model as well. The 3G features and
performance are discussed in an accompanying piece, to make this review as
applicable as possible to both.)
The iPad is Apple's first device to use the company's A4
processor; when iPhone OS 4.0 is released for iPad this fall, the A4's potential
can finally be unleashed by the addition of multitasking features that are
sorely missing in the current OS. The device is available in three memory
configurations of 16, 32 and 64GB; about 6GB of that is occupied by iPhone OS
3.2, the bundled applications (which include Google Maps, iTunes, Mail, Safari
and a YouTube client) and any memory the OS reserves for its own operation.
In some respects, the iPad is an overgrown iPod Touch; it
doesn't make phone calls and lacks a camera, but unlike the Touch, it does
offer a mostly useful degree of Bluetooth connectivity. I easily connected
headphones and a keyboard to the device over Bluetooth; on the other hand,
although the iPad paired easily with various Apple computers, making an actual
connection failed, the links lasting a second or two at most. Another drawback
of the iPad's Bluetooth networking is that when it's active, the device appears
to be always discoverable; even my ancient Motorola headphones can only be
paired with another device through a deliberate act.
As with the iPhone, one must use iTunes as the vehicle for
loading applications and almost all digital media onto the iPad. (Although it's
true that "jailbreaking" a device frees it from that dependence, that's outside
the scope of this discussion.) The iPad can be used as a media source for
televisions, with the purchase of additional cables and connectors, and a
separately sold kit offers iPad users the ability to connect cameras or CF
memory cards through the docking port.
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at email@example.com.