iPad's Identity Crisis and Apple's A4 CPU Showstopper

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Nuts And Bolts: The Hardware Analysis

From a nuts and bolts perspective, the iPad isn't quite as amazing as Steve Jobs said it was during this week's presentation, though it is impressive on some levels. Hardware-wise, it's one of the more interesting devices we have seen in recent years. Apple has always proven their ability to innovate on the design front, so we're not at all surprised here. The iPad is far and away the most aesthetically stunning tablet/slate we have ever seen. Of course, most tablets and slates died out soon after the tech burst a few years ago, but still, it's one fine piece of machinery and there definitely has been a resurgence in this product category lately.

The overall form factor won't be foreign to anyone who has laid eyes on an iPod or iPhone. In fact, it actually looks like a blown-up iPod touch. There's just a single "Home" button at the bottom and a larger-than-expected bezel around the glossy display. Apple intentionally designed this product to be immediately familiar to anyone who has owned or even played with an iPhone or iPod touch. Apple has shown its love for simplicity, so the keyboard-less, single Home button approach is--again--not shocking.

Size Matters (yes, it had to be said) -
Let's break down the specifications. From the top, the entire device measures 0.5" thick and weighs 1.5lbs. To put this in perspective, the similarly sized Kindle DX weighs 1.2lbs., so it's not too much heavier than existing e-readers with larger displays. 1.5lbs. still isn't what we would consider "lightweight" for an e-reader though we suspect Apple wanted to make this device feel solid and hefty in the hand.  Frankly, a $499 product that felt like a cheap, plastic toy obviously wouldn't go over well. We also suspect the battery--which lasts for an amazing 10 hours even playing video--added to this. Personally, we like the design. It's simple, clean and looks like it fits in Apple's lineup. The only problem is that it's not truly portable--but let us qualify that statement. A MacBook Air weighs only 3lbs. and is only 0.76" thick at its thickest spot. Sure, it's much, much more expensive, but it's also a far more capable machine. In fact, the MacBook Air is a real computer with a real operating system, unlike the iPhone OS-equipped iPad. The biggest issue here is that the iPad is too large to fit in a cargo pocket (like a smartphone or portable media player), but it's not capable enough to warrant lugging around like a notebook. If we're going to carry around something that requires a separate bag, we want it to have a real desktop and real multitasking capabilities.

The Eyes Have It; iPad Made For The Shade -

The display is a 9.7" LED-backlit panel with Multi-Touch and an industry-standard 1024x768 resolution. There's nothing remarkably wrong with this setup, but a few points annoy us. We should start by saying that Apple's Multi-Touch implementation is nothing short of first-class. We have no doubts that breezing around the OS here with your fingers will be a delightful experience, much like it already is on the iPhone and iPod touch. That said, a 4:3 display in a widescreen aspect world doesn't make much sense. This device was clearly made for multimedia viewing, and as it stands, users will be dealing with huge black bars and tiny strips of movie footage when watching cinema-bound flicks. We understand that a 16:9 tablet wouldn't be exactly functional from a design standpoint, but selling a 4:3 screen on a multimedia device seems a bit counter-intuitive. The screen is also glossy, which certainly hurts its chances as a real Kindle competitor. And we aren't the only ones noticing. Amazon's stock closed up on the day after Apple's announcement, signaling that even Wall Street doesn't think that the iPad has a chance of knocking Amazon from their top spot in the e-book market. Glossy panels are generally quick to wash out in outdoor use, and the reflections can be extremely annoying when trying to focus on small lines of text. Glossy panels are pretty in the store, but in real-world outdoor use, they definitely aren't ideal.

Storage For The Masses? -
Onto capacity. Apple will sell three iPad models (each of which will have a 3G and non-3G flavor). You can get 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of flash storage, and that's it. No SD expansion slots, no internal hard drive slot for you to upgrade. Even the most basic netbooks on the market have 120GB hard drives, and while they don't usually have SSDs, we're guessing by the netbook sales figures that most users just don't care. They'll happily take more room over a boost in speed, and we can't say we blame them. Of course, 64GB is plenty of room when you don't have a full-scale operating system to play with. 64GB of apps and music will be fine for most, but if Apple ever decides to allow OS X on this thing, those capacity points will need simply need to increase.

Highly Connected, Capable, AT&T Limited  -
Wireless connectivity? Check. Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi are included on all models, so you'll be able to use your Bluetooth keyboard as well as your home router to get this device working overtime. Unfortunately, Apple didn't include Intel's new WiDi technology, which is something that would've definitely pushed it over the edge in terms of innovation. The iPad would serve a much greater purpose with a suitable video-output solution. There's a VGA dongle you can buy separately, but that's too cumbersome to deal with in many situations. If this could automatically beam images to one's display without wires, we could actually see using this as a living room iTunes/movie player. Consider it an opportunity missed.

For around $129 more, Apple will allow you to buy any of the three iPad models with AT&T 3G wireless. The good news is that none of them are tied to a contract; you can buy data on a monthly, as-needed basis. The bad news is that data pricing is steep, and it's is inexplicably still tied to AT&T. Users can get 250MB per month for $14.99 (rather high!), while "unlimited" (which likely means 5GB) will cost $29.99 per month. If the iPad had a full operating system, the $29.99 plan wouldn't sound bad; as it stands, you won't be able to take full advantage given the limits of iPhone OS. Also, AT&T has proven to be a bad partner for Apple. Despite both companies claiming that "most users" are happy with the iPhone/AT&T deal, there are a small but vocal minority that are turning the masses off of AT&T. True or not, AT&T is taking a lot of heat for iPhone failures in large cities.  How does Apple expect AT&T to handle the iPad 3G load when it can't even handle the iPhone load in major cities like New York and San Francisco?

Accesorize It, But The Apple Way Of Course...and Bring Your Checkbook -
Other, less featured but key components include an accelerometer, digital compass and Assisted GPS (aGPS), with the latter only available on the 3G/Wi-Fi models. The accelerometer enables the device to be used in any direction, and early reports suggest that the "flipping" from one orientation to another is extremely swift and clean. This also allows the device to be tilted for gameplay usage. The compass is similar to the one in the iPhone 3GS; while cute, not too many people are going to bust out their iPad to use a compass. That's what Google Maps are for. Speaking of, the Assisted GPS option is great to have, but again, how practical is this? Are people really doing to whip out a nearly-10" device while walking down the street in an attempt to locate a nearby shop? Why not just use the mapping software on your existing smartphone, or better still, a portable GPS unit that's probably already stuck to your car's windsheild? The iPad just feels entirely too big to be used as a mapping device, particularly on crowded sidewalks in major cities.  That said, in the coffee shop or restaurant, if you have it in your bag and your bag is with you, it's perhaps a much larger, easier to read view of the area perhaps.

The 1024 x 768 resolution display supports video output via a Dock Connector to VGA Adapter, as well as 576p/480p with the Apple Component A/V Cable and 576i/480i with the Apple Composite Cable. It will play back H.264 video at up to 720p (30fps), and it supports AAC, Protected AAC, MP3, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV audio files. Thankfully, it can view Office documents that are e-mailed in, and a 3.5mm headphone jack is provided for audio output. There are built-in speakers for times when headphones aren't an option, and there's a Dock Connector for syncing with existing accessories, your PC and a few new accessories. Finally, there's a Microphone (though voice calling over cellular networks and video chatting aren't supported), and the only other external hardware switches include On/Off, Mute and Volume Up/Down.

The Dock Connector also leads to a few other things here. The iPad Keyboard Dock is definitely the highlighted accessory of the week, as it provides a docking solution and an iPad-centric keyboard to those who wish to use this like a laptop at home. Unfortunately, it has little purpose in the real world. For starters, you can already connect your existing Bluetooth keyboard to this. Second, it's $69 for a keyboard that's designed to work with iPhone OS. You can only do so much with a keyboard in iPhone OS, you know. Then there's the Apple iPad Case, a $39 cover that is extremely spartan, though it does double as an iPad kickstand. We have to imagine that far superior third-party cases will be out soon. One of the more baffling choices here is the lack of a real USB connector. Not even a miniUSB connector is included on the device itself; instead, you're forced to order a $29 Camera Connection Kit which includes two dongles that plug into the Dock Connector; one for USB and one for SD cards. A multimedia device that doesn't natively have a USB or SD port? Forgive us for stating the obvious, but only Apple could get away with this.

The only remaining specification? The 1GHz Apple A4 processor, which we'll highlight on its own in the final page.

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