The New Apple IPad

It’s great to be back with The Viewspaper after nearly a year’s sabbatical. In my new role as a Tech columnist I’d be keeping you up to date with the latest news from the sector, previewing and reviewing the new devices and software, and offering useful tips in each article. It’s exciting to be writing for the site again, and luckily for me, the first article for my new column couldn’t have been timed any better.

After years of rumours, the world finally got to lay its eyes on the tablet device Apple has been believed to be working on for over half a decade. Although Apple tried to be secretive about it, it had already become quite apparent few months ago that the launch was nearing. There were talks of shortage of OLED screens produced in China because the manufacturers there had received big orders already. Some internet watchdogs claimed to have noticed a “new device”  running on the iPhone OS, but much larger than the iPhone, surfing the World Wide Web from somewhere near the Apple headquarters. But in the first week of 2010 the hype went into overdrive once media organizations received invitations from Apple to the launch of “their latest invention”, resulting in the mentioned date, 27th January, to be labelled Apple Day amongst tech enthusiasts.

As a result the only mystery left to be unravelled was what would be the name of the device and exactly what all it could do. iSlate, iCanvas, and iReader were only few of the reported options, but in the end Steve Jobs, in his customary black turtleneck shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, unveiled the iPad. Jobs made it quite clear that the device was expected to fit in between a mobile phone and a computer, and was mainly looking to replace the netbooks around today.

Many have been comparing the launch with that of the iPod in 2001, the reason being that this could help bring down the piracy problems publishers face currently. The iPods success wasn’t just the volumes it was sold in, but also that it required the use of Apple’s iTunes to transfer the music onto the devices. As a result many ended up using the online store to directly purchase the songs and put them straight on their iPods. The tablet goes the same way, with users again having to use iTunes to synchronise their media onto the tablet.

Moving onto the features of the iPad, firstly, it’s got a 9.7” OLED screen and not the 10.4”  inches we expected (as it was the 10.4” OLED screens that were in short supply). Apple’s improved the multi-touch feature of the iPhones, which will be important since the iPad includes a near life-size QWERTY keyboard in landscape mode for those looking to send mails or chat. The weight is well under a kilo, and there are two models, a WiFi only and a WiFi + 3G models, both coming in 16 GB, 32 GB and 64 GB variants. As with the iPhone there will soon be a sea of applications to choose from, with the SDK now available for developers. The eBook and eNewspaper reading experience looks great, while the iPad can also be used as a portable gaming console, movie and music player. Books are download from a new iBook store, an application for which can be directly downloaded to the iPad.

But there are snags, and quite a few, mind you. As was widely expected, the iPad doesn’t support Flash, much like the iPhone. There’s a long running feud between Apple and Adobe and as a result when you visit sites with Flash content the region where the content was placed will be blank. Furthermore, there’s no USB or SD card reader, meaning the only way we can only transfer data to the iPad using a computer. For a portable device like the iPad that seems highly limiting. Also, there’s still no multitasking. Apple claims that this is done so to improve battery life, and although it’s true multitasking is a drain on battery, it should be left to the whims of the users whether or not to use it.

These problems could be costly for Apple. The iPad could be a game-changer in the eBook reader and netbook categories, but it’s quite apparent that the first device isn’t the perfect product everyone will be craving for. It already requires buyers to cough up quite a bit of cash for a device that, at best, is everything, but just isn’t a complete anything. Apple isn’t invincible, who can forget the flop called the Apple TV. And by the time the iPad hits stores there may already be competition from a similar eBook reader made by Notion Ink.

What’s Notion Ink? Forgive yourself for not having heard of the company, which was started by a couple of IIT Mumbai alumni. Towards the end of 2009 they showcased an eBook reader which has a striking resemblance to Apple’s device. Like the iPad, which runs on the iPhone operating system, their device too runs on an OS designed primarily for mobile phones, Android 2.0. The sizes are similar, with the iPad at 9.7” while theirs measures 10.4”, and both have OLED displays. Apple has the advantages of tie-ups with the a number of publishing houses and media sources, who would feel a sense of security with the ITunes synchronisation requirement having the ability to put a check on piracy.

But the Notion Ink team has already created waves and requests have been made by a number of companies to work with them. And the greatest advantage for Notion Ink is that their device is expected to cost half of the iPad when all the features are taken into account. That alone could prove crucial, even in countries like the USA and Britain where users crave for the “creativity” of an Apple device. Both devices are expected to be launched in Q2 of 2010, and which one proves to a bigger hit (considering either of them will be) is going to be interesting.

Towards the end, I’d like to give a big kudos to Google for their coverage of the launch of the tablet. If anyone happened to make a relevant search regarding the unveiling on Google, they would have seen a scrolling latest news feed that was being updated in real time. In fact, if you still Google the iPad, the scrolling news entries are still there to be found.

Incidentally, speaking of Google reminded me of their homepage on the 26th. Frequent users of Google may have noticed their recent penchant for redesigning their logo on the search homepage, something they called the “doodle”. On 26th the normal Google logo was replaced by one celebrating our Republic Day. Google it to have a look, it’s definitely catchy and at the same time shows the company’s respect for our country.

TIP: Don’t have Microsoft Office by any chance, or maybe an out-dated one that doesn’t support .docx, .pptx or other new file types? Having to rely on Google Docs or Open Office because you don’t want to spend that much money to purchase the Office Suite? Just download Office 2010 Beta for free from the Microsoft website. The company is offering the Beta version for free to test run the software and sort out any snags, something similar to what they did with the Windows 7 OS last year. Although some people may feel apprehensive of using their computers like guinea pigs in lab experiments, I’d like to point out that I’ve been using it for the past two months despite having Office 2007, and the only snags I’ve found are limited to the lesser-used software like the Publisher. Just a request though. Do provide feedback to Microsoft every now and then, it’s the least we must do for using their latest software for free.

Raveesh Bhalla

[Image courtesy:]