Review: The iPad Is Here And It Means Business

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Well, it's here. The big question, though, is whether April 3, 2010 will be a headline or a footnote in the technology industry's history book. After giving a look over for several hours, the bet here is on headline. A big, 64-point headline.

Apple's iPad will change use patterns, alter expectations and force PC makers that compete with Apple to change their strategies. It's not a business device but it will start seeping into the corporate world in spite of efforts by CIOs and IT administrators to keep it out.

In fact, it's not even ludicrous to believe iPhone as an operating system -- the OS that powers the iPad and iPhone -- will give Windows 7 a run for its money this year in number of devices actually used for business. Here are a few reasons why:

Form factor: Like it or hate it, iPad's form factor is just easy to carry around and use during the course of a work day. A pound and a half feels like nothing compared to even an ultra-light notebook. It's smaller than even a legal pad for note-taking and, via its Safari browser, data access over the Web is fast and easy.

Battery life: Apple says iPad provides 10 hours of battery life and, as others have noted, it will likely actually give you more than that. After four hours, our iPad still registered 70 percent battery life with audio running in the background the entire time. It was also used for word processing, its GPS/mapping was tried out, and other testing was performed. Unlike the iPhone, though, iPad tells you what percent of battery life you actually have remaining so you can manage power use easier. Battery life here is a competitive strength not a weakness.

The keyboard: After two minutes, you might hate it. After five minutes, though, you could start loving it. This review is being typed on iPad using Apple's $9.99 Pages app, which has been optimized for iPad. Once you get the feel of it, even power typers like the one writing this review will find it easy and comfortable to use. (Full disclosure: this is being written in landscape mode, where the keyboard is larger and wider.)

Performance: Apple is using a 1.00 GHz A4 processor for iPad -- its own, proprietary CPU. That was a roll of the dice on Apple's part, but it seems to have paid off. The device boots fast, runs fast, is exceptionally cool to the touch after a couple of hours of use and, as mentioned, gets great battery life. That can't be an accident. While Intel has done ground-breaking work on developing and engineering the Atom platform, from this vantage point it appears that Apple has either caught Intel or surpassed it on mobile CPU technology. (Extensive, head-to-head benchmarking between A4 and Atom will need to confirm this, though.) For now, just know that Apple is sitting on powerful processing technology that will deeply impact the industry, it seems, for much time to come.

Next: Mail And MessagingMail and messaging: Unlike the launch of the iPhone, when lots of people swore it would never be used for business, iPad comes into the world with native support for Microsoft Exchange. And iPad e-mail is easier to read, write and manage than on the iPhone because of the 9.7-inch screen and bigger keyboard. The native calendar and contact application on iPad are also nice to look at and easy to manage. Unless you live and die with Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes and their full desktop productivity functions, there's a good chance you'll really like using what's built into iPad.

The consumer apps and functions of the iPad are just solid and work well: iBooks and the iBookstore works as advertised, although it will unfortunately take Apple time to build up the available title list in iBookstore. The iPod application does video and audio as you'd expect from an Apple product. (Although, while you won't be able to go for a run while holding the iPad as easily as you would an iPhone or iPod, the iPad is just the right form factor to sit easily on, say, a treadmill where you'd normally put a magazine or book to read while you exercise.) The photo album, where photos can be resized easily from the touch screen, is fine.

There are drawbacks. You can't multi-task on iPad (not counting the iPod music app which can run in the background when doing other things.) Using iPhone apps on the iPad can work, but not at the full resolution on the 9.7-inch display. That's disappointing and, no doubt, we'll be hearing more about it.

And if you ask to hold someone else's iPad in your hands, don't be surprised if you get a dirty look. There's intuitively a big fear in dropping the device because it feels like it's very fragile. It doesn't have a still camera or Webcam, which is a dealbreaker for some.

But like the iPhone, the value of the iPads bought today will increase greatly over time because of Apple's own software updates as well as the custom applications that third parties will write and deploy. On Day 1, for example, has ported its software to the iPad platform natively and many others should be expected to follow suit.

At $499 to start, for WiFi versions, iPad is poised to kill the netbook market. It will take a bite out of the notebook market and it will start showing up on conference room tables on Monday morning. CIOs will just have to accept it.

iPad lives up to the hype. For Apple, that's good news. For its competitors not so much.

The iPad is here and it means business.

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