Apple's iPad Is Impressive, but It Still Needs Work

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.