After a few weeks of using the iPad without it having access to the same feature-set the US get to enjoy I've finally gotten around to reviewing the latest piece of hardware from the almighty Apple. The question in many people's minds is whether it's a netbook killer, just a large iPod or something fundamentally different...
Before Apple made the announcement that they were going to release a tablet machine I had decided to hold off buying a Kindle or nook in the hope that the rumours would be right and that Apple would produce something to rival them both. You may recall when I reviewed the nook I was quite keen on getting one of them to use for reading and even past the announcement for the iPad I was still quite keen on getting one instead. From the announcement I thought the iPad was a nice idea and that it may open up a few new possibilities in application development, but I wasn't sold on the idea. It's not until you have an iPad in your hands that you start to realise how different and game changing the device actually is.
The Apple iPad is not a netbook, nor is it an over-size iPod. It is like having a hybrid of tablet PCs and PDAs with it running mobile software. When I first got the iPad it was one imported from the US due to the UK being behind and this demonstrated that there is little you can do with one unless you have access to the App Store. It was however possible to download applications via iTunes and then sync them over to the device but this isn't the way you want to get apps - it's not easy. Fortunately once the UK model was released the App Store was opened up and it could be used as normal.
One of the biggest uses I've had for it outside of application development is it's usefulness for note taking in meetings and it's various ebook software. By default you'll have the Books application which isn't bad, but the prices are commonly beaten by Amazon and the application itself seems very similar to Delicious Library (an app that Apple pulled from the store due to it using Amazon's API). Amazon's Kindle app for the iPad is a good alternative even if the interface isn't perfect; it does have more books to offer as well. If you're more of a comics fan there is also the Comixology application which features titles from all of the major distributors (Marvel, DC, Topcow, IDW, etc.) and has weekly updates to their list of titles. As an e-reader the device does perform very well, though I have yet to read a full novel on it (I'm currently too busy reading the Sharpe series which is not yet available in electronic formats). One possible concern however is that due to it's glossy screen it can become hard to read under strong lights or outside on a sunny day.
Since originally writing this review Apple have also released the iPad version of iOS 4.2 which has brought multi-tasking, application folders, air-print and more to the table. With these features it does mean the usefulness of the iPad as a tool is also improved. People intending to use this as a photography aid should however be aware that the photography adapter (which is just a USB connector) will now only work (mostly) with powered devices due to version 4.2 reducing the power output from the dock connector (which does improve battery life).
Overall it is a well built device and is a good starting point for Apple in this market - it will be interesting to see how this affects the sales of other devices and where they go with it for the next generation.