Without a doubt the most anticipated tech launch so far this year, the Apple iPad has finally arrived. Unveiled in the US over the weekend, the device's launch was accompanied by a storm of publicity that only an Apple product could create.
The first reviews of what Apple has promised is a "revolutionary" product are already in, and a general consensus seems to have emerged — the iPad has plenty of flaws, but it possesses great battery life, it is well designed and it has the potential to change the computing market.
As Tim Gideon of PC Magazine put it, "the iPad is basically a big iPod touch with added capabilities", but it's the device's "added capabilities" that let it target the gap between smartphones and laptops: the iPad is being marketed at the casual computer user who wants to view multimedia and browse the Web while on the go.
Walter Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal sees the iPad as the laptop's biggest rival: "After spending hours and hours with it, I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop."
Engadget's Joshua Topolsky has a different train of thought, and put the iPad into a league of its own: "It's not a laptop replacement, and this OS can't do everything a laptop can do — but maybe it doesn't have to.
"If you're like a lot of computer users, you don't really do much on your system except for listen to music, casually browse the web and read news sites, watch some online video, play games, and keep in touch with friends via Twitter, IM, and Facebook. If you fit that description, you might just fall in love with Apple's $499 bundle of joy — because it does the majority of those things much better than its laptop counterparts.
"But as an intermediary device between laptops and smartphones, it has its drawbacks: the iPad doesn't support multitasking, save for Apple's own applications: Safari, iPod, and Mail. Everything else you use on the device is a jump-into and then jump-out experience, which means that for things like IM apps, you're either having a conversation or you're not."
Claudine Beaumont from the UK's Telegraph expanded further on the device's lack of multitasking, writing that Apple has shot itself in the foot by limiting the iPad to one task at time: "The iPad's inability to multi-task could also severely hamper its appeal. It's being pitched as a portable device that you could kick back and use on the sofa at home, but you can't listen to your Spotify playlists at the same time as writing an email, or browse the web while using an instant-messaging app to chat with friends. It's one or other, just as it is on the iPhone and iPod touch, but for the extra money you're paying for the iPad, you expect something more akin to a laptop computing experience."
One aspect of the iPad a number of reviewers aren't impressed with is the lack of Flash support. Rachel Metz from the Sydney Morning Herald wrote: "I quickly noticed some limitations, though. The iPad's operating software is based on that of the iPhone, so it, too, does not support Flash animation. This means you can't watch videos on some websites — a big negative for something with such a pretty screen."
Brennon Slattery of PC World summarised the iPad's limitations as: "No multitasking. No Adobe Flash (yet). No camera or iChat capabilities. No HDMI port. 4:3 aspect ratio. Still dependent on AT&T's 3G service. Dependence on adapters."
Like most reviews, however, Slattery's article ended on a positive note. It's not all doom-and-gloom for the iPad: it offers a slick design and a clever and intuitive interface.
Eric Zeman at InformationWeek was impressed with the speed of the iPad. "Whatever sort of pixie dust it is that Apple sprinkled into the iPad's 1GHz A4 processor, it works. The iPad is one of the fastest and most responsive computing devices I have ever used," he wrote.
Some reviewers were pleasantly surprised by the iPad's battery life, which Apple's quoted as being 10 hours. Macworld's James Galbraith wrote: "Usually, when a company makes a claim of battery life, you expect that claim to be a best-case scenario based on a hard-to-recreate situation that's nearly impossible to recreate," said Galbraith. "In this case, it appears that Apple's claims were conservative, as I was able to exceed the claim by 85 minutes in a power-hungry scenario."