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A unique perspective on Apple's iPad

|Includes: Apple Inc. (AAPL)

 I just got a chance to look at the iPad.  Lots of people are already sharing their opinions of this device, but my own perspective is somewhat unique.  You see, I'm legally blind.  What that means is that in the best case, I've got less than about 10% of "normal" vision.

Naturally then, the first thing I’ll mention is the accessibility features of the iPad.  You might say they’re the same as the iPhone.  You’d be wrong if you did.  The iPhone can bog down at times, such as when Safari is loading or scrolling around a script-heavy webpage.  Accessibility features can  tax the iPhone’s processor even more, bringing the whole interface to a grinding halt.  I spent ten minutes trying to accomplish the same on the iPad.  It kept pace.

The iPad is being compared to other devices such as netbooks, eBook readers, and smart phones, which makes accessibility an even bigger deal.  If I wanted a netbook, a company called Freedom Scientific will sell me me accessibility software for about $1200, with $3-500 for the netbook.  Apple charges $499 for their accessibility software, and bundles it with a free iPad!  With the Kindle or a Nook, Donald Trump couldn’t buy the special software—it doesn’t exist yet.

But enough about that.  What you really want to know is how was the iPad to actually use?

If Motorola was trying to create James T. Kirk’s communicator, we could argue that their latest flip phones with push to talk features do so successfully.  Trekkies (and the much more serious Trekkers) will find that Apple created the ubiquitous PADD everyone on Jean-Luc’s Enterprise seemed to use for school, work, and leisure.  Its use is learned in seconds, mastered in minutes.  Unless you need VoiceOver, in which case you’ll really want to read the (short) guide first.

As I said before, this 21st century PADD is snappy enough for Commander Data.  Benchmarks say it’s twice as fast as the 3G[s].  It can afford the animations which are certainly not minimalist, but they are also neither obtrusive nor purely decorative.  Every animation gives you a clear and intuitive sense of what the iPad is doing, be it turning a page in a book or flipping the screen over.

With the aid of a keyboard either a stand or a fold-over case, it becomes the lighter alternative to carrying a laptop or even a netbook for basic office tasks.  Pages and Keynote feel like their desktop equivalents.  I quite rarely reach for Word on my Mac anymore, and its been years since a person could even pay me enough to make me trade Powerpoint for Keynote.  I would personally like a bit more zoom function in Pages for my own comfort, since it seems to top out at 175-200% or so.  I can still use it, and you’ll have little trouble doing the same with tired eyes at the end of the day.

As a book reader, the iPad excels.  The interface is clean and natural, better than either the Nook or the Kindle.  Those devices attempt to make you think of the device as like a book.  In your hands, the iPad simply is a book.  Thumb through chapters, turn pages, look something up.  Of course, you get the convenience of eBooks as well with links, electronic search, the ability to adjust font and size preferences, and you can get a new book any time you want.  You lose the e-ink display, but in exchange you get color, better contrast, and a backlight.

Finally, there are two little things to consider.  It has a solid feel.  You’re free to read that as, “It feels a bit heavy,” but when you consider that what you’re feeling is mostly the battery and the very sturdy case, you just smile inwardly.  We’ve all grumbled about the short lifespan of a full charge in the iPhone.  The iPad has about five times the battery capacity, with Apple reporting 10 hours usage time.  In seven years of Apple products, they’ve never bluffed about battery life, so I believe it.

The other little extra is the switch.  When I discovered the value of the physical silent switch on the iPhone, I immediately demanded of the universe why all cell phones didn’t have one.  The iPad doesn’t ring, but it has the same sort of switch.  It locks the orientation of the screen.  No matter how you turn it, the screen remains in the direction you set it.  So many users crave this feature that many apps are now providing preferences to ignore the orientation of the screen.  Stop using those and just flip the switch when needed.

Some years ago, Apple declared boldly that it was the year of the laptop and made it clear that they intended to be a leader in the market.  After less than 20 minutes in the store with the iPad, I will humbly suggest that 2010 is the year we stop lugging our monster laptops around wherever we go, and begin carrying slate-sized tablet devices.

In 2010, Apple isn't simply a leader, they are thus far the only real contender.  Everyone else is scrambling to produce even poor imitations.  Meanwhile, the next technological revolution is here.  More than a quarter million people figured that out the day the iPad went on sale.

If you are reading this and still wondering where to invest your money, I ask you what you’re waiting for—someone to invent warp drive?  Whenever someone gets around to that, I suspect it’ll have a glowing white apple on it.

Disclosure: No positions at time of writing