Apple's iPad, which resembles a 'giant iPhone', may sound the death knell for netbook computers.
My first impressions of the device are largely positive. Apple has once again built a product that looks good and feels great in the hand, and the familiar user interface, borrowed from the iPhone and iPod touch, is perfectly suited to the bigger screen. The iPad whizzes along, opening applications, re-sizing web pages, and zooming in and out of maps almost instantaneously.
It's a great, fun gaming platform, and it's lovely to view full-size web pages while browsing the internet. Developers, no doubt, are already rubbing their hands with glee about the apps and services they could tailor specifically for this device.
The new touch-optimised iWork suite is beautifully realised, making it quick and easy -- and, dare I say, fun -- to piece together a spreadsheet or presentation. It also helps to elevate the iPad to more than just a plaything.
As Steve Jobs said during his keynote, if you're going to create a third category of device, between the smartphone and the laptop, then it needs to be better than either for certain tasks. In many areas, this is true for the iPad -- web browsing is much better on the iPad than the iPhone, just because of the bigger screen, and physically flicking through photos, music and movies is just more enjoyable on the iPad than a laptop.
But in several crucial areas, the iPad falls short of the functionality that would have made this more than just a large iPod touch. The lack of Flash support is a major issue; the iPad's big screen is designed to make the best of multimedia content and the full-screen browsing experience, but the sight of little blue squares dotted around web pages where embedded video should have been just makes you feel like you're being short-changed.
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.
I love Apple's new e-reader application, iBooks. The virtual bookshelf, on which your digital tomes sit, is an example of Apple design at its best; elegant, simple, well-executed. The reading experience itself was also delightful, with the pages of the virtual books having the sort of patina you would expect to find on a printed novel. Turning pages is achieved with a swiping gesture, or a single tap in the right-hand margins.
But I think the backlighting of Apple's pin-sharp display is going to cause a lot of tired eyes; e-Ink is deeply unglamorous, but it does the job superbly, and I don't think serious bookworms will be swayed to chose the iPad over the Kindle or a Sony Reader. For the casual reader though, the inclusion of the iBooks app, and the iBookstore, is a boon, and likely to inspire impulse purchases of novels in much the same way as the iTunes music store on the iPhone and iPod touch is a constant temptation.
Before yesterday's event, analysts were adamant that the iPad would be the saviour of newspapers and magazines, but there was little sign of that at the launch. The New York Times showed off a slick application, but it just felt like a larger-scale version of their iPhone app rather than a genuine step-change in the way printed content is delivered and consumed. I had hoped to hear more about how the iPad could be used to read magazines or shape the day's news agenda. However, it's still early days and Apple are only now able to talk more openly to prospective content partners about mutually beneficial deals.
The iPad is a lovely device that gadget fans will lust after, but I'm yet to be entirely convinced that it offers enough of an advantage over my smartphone or laptop. I do think it has the potential to be a game-changing device, but it will be the second- and third-generation versions that really drive the agenda, and introduce a new and innovative way of computing.
Ultimately, the iPad is a large iPod touch: a great device to draw your inspiration from, but perhaps not the seismic shift in technology that we were expecting. But watch this space...