It's always a nice surprise when a gadget exceeds your expectations. When something you thought was a solution to a problem that didn't exist turns out to be a genuinely useful and enjoyable device. And that's what happened to me last week while I was playing with the iPad.
I was always sceptical of Apple's magical and amazing tablet. Truth be told, I still am a bit. I pretty much travel everywhere with a 13-inch MBP and my iPhone, so introducing another device seems kind of counter intuitive. But I can't deny that I actually used the iPad regularly when I had it.
Like as I was sitting at the dinner table with my mother in law, a week after she returned from a month in Italy. She started telling me about a lovely Italian town he'd visited, but couldn't remember the name. A quick look at Google Maps on the massive screen, and we'd begun mapping out her journey, giving my wife and I a much better idea of her trip. Sure, we could have used a laptop, but that would have felt a little formal. A little too much like work. A little wrong.
Or as I sat on the couch and watched BSG: Razor on Blu-ray with my wife. After the movie, we wanted to know who the Aussie actress was who played Kendra Shaw. A quick trip to IMDB and soon we were navigating through the entire Battlestar casts' acting careers together. Once again, a laptop would have done the same job, but the iPad, being lighter and easier to pass between us, felt more appropriate.
At the chemist, getting my script filled for antibiotics after a trip to the doctor, the chemist staff crowded around me to see the shiny iPad. They looked at video, checked the web, watched me play a half-hearted game of Flight Control HD. It was almost a communal event, despite me not knowing any of them personally. They asked me if they should buy one. I gave them my response.
A quick download of the Toy Story book app, and I was sitting with my son, having the iPad read Toy Story to him. Sure, it was well beyond him, but the bright colours, interspersed with footage of the film and playback of the two main songs from the film meant he enjoyed it almost as much as I did.
But despite all these moments - these token moments of enjoyment - the iPad didn't sell itself to me. I haven't rushed out and burnt a $700 hole in my credit card. Because ultimately, the iPad needs to mature.
When Steve Jobs walked out on stage and unveiled the original iPhone, the world was blown away - but the first reviews were all about the device's potential, rather than its awesome performance. By the time the iPhone 3G came out, Apple had taken many of the criticisms to heart and addressed them in either the new hardware or the new software, a process that's continuing still with the iPhone 4 (huzzah for multitasking).
The iPad feels the same to me. For a start, it needs multitasking - The very first thing I did with my review iPad was write a post for Giz, using the keyboard attachment and the free iPad Wordpress app. It was fantastic, until I tried to attach a photo... I didn't have the camera or USB attachment, so I had to take the photo, email it to myself, quit Wordpress, open Mail, save the image, close Mail, open Wordpress, find my post, and upload the photo. Too many steps meant I didn't even think of doing it again.
Next up, it needs more apps. My review unit came pre-loaded with a heap of apps, from games to newspapers, but browsing the app store, there was next to nothing I felt I had to download. Of the apps I was interested in, many of them cost around $15. I don't necessarily think that this is too much , but for the apps that were little more than an upscaled version of a $3 iPhone program, it feels like a rort.
I also want a camera in the hardware. Doesn't have to be too high res... Let's face it, the iPad's a bit bulky to be used as a real photo snapper. But for things like Skype (which would be great on the iPad), or augmented reality applications, a camera is a must add. And considering the recent iPhone 4 developments, it's not unreasonable to think that iPad version two will have exactly that.
And that was my advice to my friends at the chemist who wanted to know if they should buy an iPad. It's a great device, but it's not done yet. As Apple revises its hardware (which is generally done on an annual cycle, pretty much like clockwork) next year, the platform will have had a chance to develop. The hardware will offer more (and probably improved) features, and developers will have created applications that truly leverage the strengths of the device, hopefully while overcoming the weaknesses. Not to mention the benefits of having a little bit of competition from other manufacturers will bring to the tablet in general.
So if you've been sitting on the fence deliberating on your iPad purchase, here's my advice: Wait. It's a really good device, but it's going to get better...