When Pretoria sports coach Rainier Vermaak e-mailed Aki Anastasiou from New York on Saturday, the Talk Radio 702 technology correspondent could scarcely believe his luck.
Vermaak was standing in a queue to buy an iPad at Apple’s flagship store in Manhattan and he wanted to know if he should bring back an extra one in his suitcase for Anastasiou.
Of course, the radio personality — known for his technology show and traffic reports on 702 — jumped at the opportunity and, on Monday morning, met Vermaak at OR Tambo International airport to take delivery of Apple’s latest creation.
TechCentral has been lucky enough to be the first SA publication to get an in-depth look at the iPad. Our first reaction upon picking it up: it’s more impressive close up than in the pictures. Like anything Apple does, the iPad exudes design style.
But is it any good?
If you watched Apple CEO Steve Jobs’s keynote in January, you’ll already have a good idea what the machine can do. What impressed us at first touch, though, was its size — it’s bigger than it looks in the pictures and the videos. And its lightning-fast performance is impressive. Unlike earlier iPhones, the iPad is fast and responsive.
Yes, it is basically a giant iPhone or iPod Touch — it even runs applications written for these devices — but the added screen real estate (9,7 inches over the iPhone’s 3,5 inches) makes this a different beast entirely. The applications prove that — they are just so much more immersive on the large, LED screen.
Anastasiou’s favourite app is Marvel Comics, which lets you browse through and purchase thousands of recent and classic comics, going back decades. “It’ll get kids reading comics again,” he says.
“The iPad will change how we consume media,” Anastasiou adds. “Imagine if Disney were to develop an app that would allow you to download all the classic Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons!”
Movies look gorgeous on the high-resolution screen. And audio quality is surprisingly good. Of course, there’s also a 3,5mm audio jack so you can plug in external speakers or headphones.
So, it’s great at multimedia. But is the iPad suitable for reading books, especially for long stretches at a time?
We didn’t have enough time to try this out, but we like the fact that you can dim the backlight from within the e-book reader application.
E-books look superb on the screen, and the way you flip through pages with the swipe of your finger mimics the feel of a paper book. Flip the device to landscape mode, and it automatically gives you a two-page view.
We predict Amazon, which develops the e-ink-based Kindle (which is supposedly easier on the eyes), is going to face a serious battle in the e-book market from Apple, especially from people who don’t consume vast numbers of books. The Kindle’s software looks prehistoric next to the iPad’s e-book reader. It really is sexy.
There are plenty of nifty apps available designed specifically for the iPad’s larger screen. Some of Anastasiou’s favourites include TweetDeck (a Twitter client) and the news apps from The New York Times and the BBC.
Though iPhone apps can be installed on the iPad, we found that when they are scaled to fill the iPad’s bigger screen, they become badly pixellated. This problem should go away fairly quickly, though, as app developers begin to rejig their iPhone software to take advantage of the iPad’s bigger screen.
Anastasiou says the two biggest drawbacks of the iPad are the fact that the screen quickly becomes smudged with fingerprints and that the device can’t be charged from some older computers via USB when it’s powered on — users of newer PCs and Macs shouldn’t have this problem.
But Anastasiou admits these are not major drawbacks and that the iPad is a well-designed product.
Though he hasn’t had the opportunity to test it extensively, Anastasiou says the iPad’s battery appears to deliver about 10 hours of use with Wi-Fi switched on, in line with Apple’s claims.
In summary, then, Apple has hit the nail on the head once again, delivering a superb product. It’s a fantastic device that genuinely lives up to the pre-launch hype.
SA Apple distributor Core says it has no word yet on local availability. But at US$499 (R3 600 excluding taxes) for the 16GB, non-3G version, we think a lot of South Africans will be importing the devices or picking them up when they next travel abroad. — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral