Ever since it was released – no, ever since it was announced – no, ever since the damn thing was rumoured, the iPad has had public opinion split firmly down the middle. On one side, the people in favour – a mixture of people that just like and trust Apple, the ones that think the laptop/smartphone midway point would be a useful and innovative product, and of course the Apple diehards. The ones that come within five feet of a Windows-running computer and vomit. The ones where if a product doesn’t have Steve Jobs’ face on it or a lower-case “i” in the first letter of its name, it’s inadequate. The other end of the spectrum – there are the Apple haters, that would vomit at the sight of the Mac. There’s the “freedom” brigade – if something isn’t open source then it’s creator is a capitalist dick. The lesser end and fairer people – “Apple are too locked down”. And arguably those on a lower end income, that think such a device would not warrant enough saving to deserve £500.
I have to admit, I started off on the dislike end. Pretty uneducated and without having tried to use an iPad, the concept just seemed bad to me – the price of a just-as-powerful laptop, with plenty of limits, no lovely force-feedback-ish buttons, and if you drop it, then you’re probably not ever using it again. But, with my WIP iOS & Android game Maddening coming out on it, and no dedicated testers at the time, I spent some time on the iPad. With every use I’d get into it a bit more, and eventually I just went “sod it” and got one.
I think with every use I fall in love with it a bit more. That’s what’s so good about it – it just feels stunning to use. As an advantage of its locked-down-ness (which admittedly does hold more disadvantages, but more on that later), 99.9% of the time it runs perfectly. It’s smooth, the touch controls are incredibly precise, and it’s mainly very intuitive. While its specifications don’t scream “£500”, it really does feel luxury to use.
As far as apps go, it’s second only to the bigger, freer OSes (Windows, Mac, Linux etc). As the dominant force in the market, it has a huge selection of software ready for purchase in all areas. It can also run all iPhone and iPod Touch games (at either 1x scale or near-fullscreen 2x, which sometimes makes things look pixellated and icky but other times is barely distinguishable from regular iPad graphics), expanding its library even further. There are some fantastic games on it to begin with – from the tailor-made Angry Birds HD and Cut the Rope HD (upscaled versions of their iPhone incarnations, that are a lot nicer on the bigger screen), to highly addictive games like Strategery, SimCity Deluxe and Slice It!, to big-time hits like Fifa 11, Need for Speed Hot Pursuit, Grand Theft Auto: ChinaTown Wars HD, Command and Conquer: Red Alert and World of Goo (a superior version of an already-excellent game).
It has its share of highly useful and funky applications too. Penultimate is a great-to-use notepad with simulated pressure sensitivity. iSpy is a fascinating look into hundreds of cameras worldwide, that lets you see different streets, buildings, cities, houses, gardens, farms etc all around Earth – you can even zoom and pan with some of them. Shazam is perfect for any music lover – it listens to a piece of music playing independently of the iPad, spends a few seconds analysing it then tells you everything about it. iBooks or Amazon’s Kindle app turns the iPad into an e-reader with access to all the latest books, and a huge back catalogue of free classics like Great Expectations or William Shakespeare’s works. There are so many games and apps available it’s kinda unfair to name some. I have hundreds I’m not listing that are truly noteworthy.
There are disadvantages to the system, though. The biggest one is iTunes. I have nothing against iTunes as a media player. But as a syncing program, I would happily throw it out of a window. It has occasional tendencies to wipe everything off the iPad (or iPhone/iPod Touch) with no warning. It can also be stubborn, refusing to remove or add music, videos or apps when you ask it to. If you could just access the device as if it were an external hard drive, I’d be ecstatic. The other one is fingerprints. While Apple boast a fingerprint-resistant screen, that’s clearly exaggerated. It may apply relatively to other glass surfaces, but after just an hour out of the box the thing looks like you’ve been dipping your fingers in oil and scraping them across the screen. They provide a little staticky cloth like the one you get in glasses cases which cleans it very effectively, but having to do that constantly is a little annoying. Still, with a clean screen, it is a beautiful device.
Ease of use and reservations with iTunes aside though, I have absolutely no regrets with spending half a grand on my iPad. I use it to take notes, do calculations, play games in spare time. It’s amazing for travel – with its 10 hour battery life even with heavy usage it can be your sole source of entertainment for things like journeys. Last time I went home, a 6.5 hour journey, I spent most of it watching episodes of The I.T. Crowd and remaining bits either playing games like Tetris or simply sticking on some lovely music (Ray Lynch, Ochre or Owl City) and enjoying the sights a coastal train journey brings.
If you have the cash and are in any way intrigued by the product, just buy it. You could test one in a Apple store, though you can sell them on eBay at near-full retail price so if you really don’t like it, you can sell it on and have the vast majority of your cash back.
Having said that, most of the world will have already made its mind up before the thing was ever out.