AFTER months of delays, speculation and countless reviews, Apple Australia is finally taking pre-orders for the much-vaunted iPad. But despite high demand, a fierce debate still rages – should you hand over up to $1,000 for a device that can't do many of the things a basic laptop can?
Apple's long-awaited debut in tablet computing has certainly been a financial success, selling one million units along with millions of apps, ebooks and accessories – netting them well over $US700 million in the space of a few months.
Many tech gurus said the iPad would set a benchmark for personal computers by which all other tech companies would be judged. Others said it would make the mouse obsolete, and touchscreens would soon become the default for interacting with computers.
In reality, response to Apple's newest product has been mixed. While many have praised the device's sleek design and useability, some critics have dismissed the tablet as a gimmick – a cheap version of similar gadgets on the market, and far less powerful to boot.
There are plenty of reasons to buy an iPad, and plenty of others to justify waiting until a better version is released. To help break it down, here are some of the biggest pros and cons for ordering Apple's new gadget.
One of the major criticisms of the iPad has been that it lacks a distinct purpose. It looks nice, some analysts say, but it doesn't do anything particularly special.
Watching YouTube and surfing on Safari can only entertain you for so long, some critics have said, but it is difficult to imagine a scenario where an iPad might be really useful.
But this criticism ignores the centre of Apple's success – the App Store. When the iPhone first launched, it was dismissed as a sleek-looking gadget with an Apple logo on the back.
But when the Store launched, the market changed, and suddenly Apple's toy transformed into the most powerful smartphone on the market.
This is why the iPad is so powerful. Applications can literally create whatever the user wants in a device, with the App Store already boasting thousands of apps for business utilities, entertainment, shopping and news.
Some examples include artists using some of the apps available for sketching and drawing, while others are taking in news content with full-screen apps for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Developers of music apps have cracked a popular niche, with musicians using drum machines, keyboards and composing mechanisms to create new tracks.
Apple doesn't need to pack the iPad with thousands of features when third-party developers will do all the work and deliver a significant cut of the revenue.
If you're thinking about buying an iPad, spend a few minutes browsing the App Store. Try and spot about 10 high-end applications you may use every day – otherwise, you're wasting your time and money.
When Steve Jobs boasted the iPad could play videos uninterrupted for over 10 hours on a single charge, most dismissed it as typical spin. In reality, most laptops and portable computing devices boast a certain amount of hours and then fall woefully short.
But Apple seems to have finally designed a battery that actually works. The consensus is that this device delivers on Jobs' promise and actually goes over-and-above Apple's recommendations – one reviewer recorded 11 continuous hours of video.
That's easily going to cover an international flight, and certainly more life than any laptop currently on the market can boast. Of course, that time will diminish if you're jumping between mail, video, internet browsing and other data-heavy apps, but overall, the iPad's battery is certainly made to last.
The iPad looks sharp. Its black and silver exterior fits in well with any other Apple product, in a home or office. The company puts a huge emphasis on design, and it shows – some users have even taken advantage of docked iPads by using them as digital photo frames.
Easy to use
Like most of Apple's products, a huge amount of attention is poured into the iPad's user interface. The gadget's software is the iPhone OS, so if you know how to use an iPhone then you know how to use an iPad.
Touch gestures for browsing, searching the internet and flicking their media are simple and efficient, while the new features for searching through pictures have been widely praised. Apple has made sure this gadget, marketed to the mainstream market, has mainstream appeal – starting with usability.
Steve Jobs is known for sending back prototypes which aren't up to scratch in terms of usability. With the iPad, it's obvious he's done the same.
The eReader market has been dominated by the Amazon Kindle for some time, but the iBooks Store may be the first operation in awhile to give the online retailer a significant challenge. In its first week, 350,000 books were sold on the Store, with that number set to grow as more publishers come on board.
With the Australian iBooks Store now confirmed, buying an iPad will give you access to a new range of content, which will usually be cheaper than buying in-store.
One of the major flaws with the iPad is its lack of Flash support. While many users in the US say they've been able to get along without it, too many websites use the Flash player plug-in for a seasoned browser not to notice.
It's not going to get any better, either. The feud between Apple and Adobe is growing with the former even facing a possible anti-trust investigation.
There are some design aspects Apple seems to ignore regularly, and a camera is one of them. Tech fans have been calling for a second camera on the iPhone for quite some time, along with a camera for the iPod Touch.
The uses for an iPad camera are obvious – video conferencing. A Skype application on the iPad would allow users to make calls from virtually anywhere without having to hold a cumbersome laptop.
Of course, Apple is almost certainly going to add in a camera next year. But for now, users are missing out on a potentially strong feature.
The iPad is not cheap. Here's a run down of the various price points:
* 16GB WiFi - $629
* 32GB WiFi - $759
* 64GB WiFi - $879
* 16GB 3G - $799
* 32GB 3G - $928
* 64GB 3G - $1,049
While this is considerably cheaper than some of Apple's other products, the iPad still costs several hundred dollars. Keep in mind a hardware update is due next year – would you want to pay nearly $1,000 for a gadget that's almost obsolete in 12 months?
3G or no 3G
There are two models of the iPad available: 3G and simple Wi-Fi. If you opt for the Wi-Fi version, you won't be able to connect to the internet unless you're hooked up to a wireless connection. This can severely limit portability.
But going with the 3G version adds an ongoing cost to the device. Here are the data plans already confirmed by the major telcos:
Telstra's plans are:
* 1GB - $20
* 3GB - $30
* 6GB - $60
* 9GB - $80
* 12GB - $100
Optus soon followed with its own pricing details:
* 2GB - $20
* 3GB - $30
* 8GB - $60
Adding a data plan to your iPad adds portability and convenience, but it actually might not be much of an improvement. The connectivity will require an ongoing cost, and the quality of streaming video, according to reports from the US, is choppy and not often of great quality.
Mobile broadband definitely adds convenience, but you have to consider whether it's worth the cost.
While Apple's famous in-built battery definitely makes their gadgets look nice, it's also a major issue of practicality. If the battery eventually dies, there is no way to replace it yourself. Users must send it in to Apple and wait a few days for a repaired model to be sent back – and it costs over $150.
Some argue the lack of a removable battery allows the exterior of the case to look simple, but it also adds a major inconvenience when you find your device has broken down.
The iPad's size is great for carrying around, but the weight leaves something to be desired. For a laptop, a 700 gram device is tiny but for a gadget that's designed to stay in your hand, it could get tiring pretty fast.
Some mightn't notice the weight, but it could get annoying after awhile. Combined with a sturdy case, and possibly a laptop for some users, the iPad will be pretty heavy to carry around.
No extra features
There are a number of exclusions from the iPad that seem extremely odd. The lack of a USB port, SD Card reader or even a FireWire port are all options that could have made the device leaps and bounds ahead of its competitors.
While Apple is almost certainly going to introduce these in future updates, nothing will be confirmed until at least one year away.
So the verdict?
The iPad is certainly breaking new ground in portable computing. While there have been tablet devices released to the public before, Apple has cracked the mainstream market by making the iPad easy to use and providing a brilliant platform for developers to create new and innovative apps.
On the other hand, early adopters are almost certainly going to be regretting their decision a year from now. An updated model with new features like USB ports, a micro-SD slot and a front-facing camera looks highly likely to appear in 2011, and will be followed by an update to the iPhone OS 5.0.
If you can bear to wait another 12 months, you'll be rewarded in the long run when the iPad is updated next year. But if you can't stand the wait, you won't be disappointed.
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