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A (p)review of the iPad

Apple’s website describes the iPad as “magical and revolutionary,” but is it really? We just bought an iPad so we can do a first review of this product!

About the iPad

Specifications
If you, the reader, are unfamiliar with the iPad, here is Apple’s TV ad, and here are its technical specifications. Basically, it is a tablet computer with only one button and a multi-touch screen, roughly the size of a sheet of paper. Or as some people say: it is a huge iPod Touch. As a device, it can be put between the smart phones and laptops. More information on the iPad can be found on Wikipedia.

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Applications and App Store
However, the iPad is more than just the device: its applications and the App Store are key elements of the experience. The iPad comes with several applications, including Safari, Mail, Photos, Video, YouTube, iPod, iTunes, App Store, iBooks, Maps, Notes, Calendar, Contacts, and Spotlight Search. Several are improved versions of applications developed for the iPhone.

Additional applications can only be bought in Apple’s App Store. In other words, you cannot download applications from the Web and start using them. This restriction is similar to the iPhone. The positive effect of this restriction is that it allows Apple to guarantee the technical quality and the compliance with the user interface guidelines. The downside is that only one party is controlling the applications, which can restrict the diversity and number of applications. However, it does seem that Apple is less restrictive with iPad applications when compared to iPhone applications. In addition, the number of applications for the iPad is climbing very fast.

Interestingly, the American Copyright Office recently judged that iPhone owners are free to put any applications on their phones, so without acquiring them through the App Store. So it is not unlikely that iPhone and iPad platforms will become more open in the nearby future.

Competitors
The iPod defines the category of portable music players, but it does have competitors. The same is true for the iPad: there are alternatives and there will be even more in the nearby future. Other competing products are the smartphones (especially those with a high screen resolution) and the small laptops like the Netbook-devices. It will be up to the customers to determine whether this new product category (e.g. tablet) will become successful and what the market share of the iPad will be.

Perspective of the users

First impression
Most people seem to agree that the iPad is an attractive device, as could be expected from Apple. In addition, the device only has a few buttons which makes it very ‘approachable’ for new users. Other remarks from novice users are that it is very thin and reasonably light, so it is easy to carry. Not everybody agrees on the size though: some find it too big for a mobile device (especially young people, see this study, others think the aspect ratio should be widescreen (instead of 4:3). Nevertheless, the first impression of most users is quite positive.

Using the iPad
So the first impression is good, but what can you do with the iPad? And does it add anything to the smartphone or laptop? In other words, is it “far better at some key things” as Steve Jobs puts it?

                                    ipad

According to Apple, the iPad should be better at:
- browsing
- email
- enjoying and sharing photos
- watching videos
- listening to music
- playing games
- reading eBooks

In our opinion and experience of the last couple of days, the iPad is superior for ‘micro-consumption’. This means consuming media like videos, photos, books, e-mail, or the Web in an informal, light-weight manner. For example, it is great for checking your email and quickly answering a few of them. But for a large amount of emails, the laptop would be more suitable. And while you can read eBooks on the iPad, the screen contrast and weight make it less suitable for hours of reading compared to dedicated eBook readers.

As far as the creation of content is concerned, we think the iPad can be used for making simple presentations and writing articles in light-weight, casual ways. By adding a wireless keyboard it is even possible to make the writing easier than on the virtual keyboard of the iPad. Still, we feel that content creation will never be something that the iPad excels at.

The more expensive models have GPS-device and mobile connectivity (in addition to Wi-Fi) build into it. This will make it possible to support ‘mobile tasks’, such as (car) navigation and checking email when you’re in the train. This is interesting, but smartphones and navigation devices can do this as good or better.

Killer application
Instead, the killer application will probably be browsing the Web. Compared to the iPhone (or other smartphones, the main advantage is the larger screen size and resolution. This makes it possible to display websites as you are used to on your desktop or laptop.

The comparison with a laptop is less straightforward. The laptop has a larger screen size and resolution normally, but for browsing the Web this hardly improves the experience. What does influence the experience of the browsing is that the iPad can be used in landscape and portrait orientation, whatever suits you best. Try that with a laptop! In addition, the iPad has a touch screen. So instead of using a mouse, track pad or other pointing device, you can simply use your fingers as a pointer. In addition, using an iPad to scroll a long web page (or anything else that does not fit on the screen) is much easier. Finally, the multi-touch capabilities of the iPad make it even possible to use several fingers for more complex interactions (e.g. zoom in and out).

 

                                                 ipad

Now it might feel that there is not much difference between the interaction style of the iPad (e.g. multi-touch) and a laptop (e.g. pointing device). However, the difference is quite considerable. Holding a website (in your hand) and manipulate it makes the experience more ‘intimate’. This is hard to explain, so we recommend you use the iPad for yourself. So for browsing we feel that Apple is right with their statement: “more intimate than a laptop, more capable than a smart phone”.

Finally, the start-up time of an iPad is relatively short. So it is easy to switch it on and go to Facebook, YouTube, check your email, or find a recipe. Combine that with an impressive battery life of 10 hours and you see why it would be easy to keep to iPad lying around in your house for those micro-consumption tasks.

Not only good news for the users
Unfortunately, the iPad is far from perfect if you are using it. Multitasking is not possible, although Apple has indicated that a software update will change that soon. Until that time, it is not possible to listen to music while viewing your photos. And you cannot have your Twitter application open at the same time as your browser!

More annoying is probably that the iPad does not support Flash and Silverlight. This means that you cannot view large parts of websites that use these technologies. It is not unlikely that the iPad will support Flash and Silverlight in the coming years (either facilitated by Apple or a third party, but for now it does not work. Of course, Apple can claim that Flash has been known for sporadic crashing and quickly depleting battery life, as well as introduce security risks. In addition, they claim developers should use open standards such as HTML5 instead of the proprietary Adobe Flash or Microsoft Silverlight. However, the current situation is that many websites use these technologies and the iPad owners want to view these websites!

And last but not least, the price… The basic model (e.g. Wi-Fi, 32 GB) costs EUR 500, while the top model (e.g. Wi-Fi and 3G, 64 GB) costs EUR 800. That is a lot of money for a device that cannot do anything that your laptop or smartphone cannot do already! And to use the 3G connection, you need to have a subscription from a telecom provider. We have no doubts that there will be a market for the iPad, but this could be a ’deal breaker’ for a lot of potential customers.

Perspective of the business

On the one hand there is Apple. They have sold three million around the world in the first 80 days (or one every 2.3 seconds), so it looks like this will be another commercial success for them. And obviously, other manufacturers will follow with their own tablets soon.
But what will be the impact of the iPad (and comparable tablets) to your organization? Obviously, this depends on your business and the role of online activities. We will discuss that in the paragraphs below. However, no matter what your business is, make sure you aim to add more value to your customers. That’s the best way to business success!

Your current website
At the very least, the iPad is yet another device that can be used to visit your existing website. As the iPad did not exist yet when you developed your website, chances are that the experience is not optimal on the iPad. For example, if you are using Flash or SilverLight for parts of your website, this will not be shown to your iPad visitors. And some interactive elements might not be optimized for a touch screen, for example a very small ‘continue’-button in a sales process. The good news is that the iPad has a screen resolution of 1024x768 pixels, so visitors will see your web pages as most other visitors.

But it is really an issue if your website isn’t optimized for iPad visitors? It depends on your target audience (e.g. percentage of iPad visitors), the number of visitors (e.g. 1% of the eBay traffic is still a lot of revenue), and the value of the iPad visitors. Apple customers typically have a higher income than non-Apple customers, as shown in many studies. So if they will become 5% of your traffic, this could be 10% of your revenue! In addition, optimizing your website for the iPad (open standards!) might also give benefits for SEO and the accessibility of your website.

For now, we suggest that you find out whether your customers are likely to buy iPads and visit your website. In addition, you should look at your web statistics to monitor the percentage of iPad visitors. And if you are planning to redesign your website, you better make sure you take the iPad requirements into account.

Developing iPad applications
Whether you should develop a special application for the iPad depends on a number of factors. First of all, an optimized website could be enough for your iPad visitors. However, if performance is any issue (e.g. complex application), it might be better to develop a special iPad application.

If you already have an iPhone application, this application could be used by iPad users as well. However, it depends on the specific application whether this will give a suitable experience.

Developing an iPad application is the most extreme solution, but there are some good arguments why you should start now already. It depends on the additional value that the iPad application can give to your customers. Many publishers are exploring this right now, see for example the iPad application of Wired Magazine.

If you are developing an iPad application, make sure you read this article of Jakob Nielsen. We agree with his statement that the software’s universal, minimal, touch-what-you-see interaction model presents a serious usability problem: people do not know where to click. This is exacerbated by the differences both between third-party apps and between those applications and operating system of the iPad. Apple does try to keep the heterogeneity of interaction models on its iPad in check by controlling its entire ecosystem. Most of these standards can be backed up by user research, so make sure you comply with them!

Conclusion

Let’s go back to the Apple website that describes the iPad as “magical and revolutionary”. Do we agree with that statement? Years after the introduction of the iPhone, the iPad is certainly not “magical” anymore. Perhaps if the iPad was introduced before the iPhone, we would have been more impressed. Nevertheless, we do agree that the iPad is a powerful and elegant computer.

Will it be “revolutionary”? In our opinion, it will not be like the iPod or iPhone. The iPod changed the music industry and inspired many other changes. And the iPhone significantly improved the smartphone and made mobile Internet popular. However, we do expect that the iPad will bring tablet computers into the mainstream and create a revolution in that way. While the iPad does not do anything new, its strength lies in the fact that its user experience is completely different than that of a mobile phone, an e-reader, a computer, or a television. It is largely unlike any computer you've ever used!

The biggest question is whether the ‘general public’ will buy an iPad or other tablets. It is a hard question, but we do expect that this new product category will be a success. Sure the iPad is not yet perfect, but this is only the first version of the iPad. Looking at previous iterations of the iPod and iPhone, we can expect many improvements in the next versions. And prices are expected to go down, especially when competing products will emerge. However, the most convincing argument is the initial enthusiasm of iPad users. With that kind of enthusiasm, how can the iPad not become successful? Nevertheless, we are running an iPad study to investigate how the iPad will be used in the coming months. We will keep you up-to-date on the results of this study!

 

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