On April 3, Apple unveiled its much-anticipated iPad. The gadget that retails from $499 to $699 is a cross between a laptop and a smartphone, but doesn't quite eliminate the need for either one. There was much hype surrounding the iPad since it was announced in January, and that momentum led to more than 300,000 units sold on its first day of sales.
Currently, the iPad is only available in Wi-Fi mode. For those wanting 3G cellular connectivity, you'll have to wait. The more-expensive Wi-Fi + 3G-enabled version won't be available until late April.
This niche product combines basic, but essential, work tools with iWork, an improved browser, e-mail, iPod and photo applications, a well-executed e-Book platform with iBooks, and mixes in thousands of downloadable apps and games. Package it all in an attractive, slim slate with a 9.7-inch touch screen display and the iPad makes sense. A big question surrounding the iPad is what its emergence will mean for the Amazon Kindle and other e-book readers.
With all its bells and whistles, the iPad is by no means flawless. Missing features include a built-in camera for video conferencing, support for multitasking, expandable storage, and Flash support in Safari just to name a few. There are 12 preloaded apps on the iPad: Calendar, Contacts, Notes, Maps, Videos, YouTube, iTunes, AppStore, Safari, Mail, Photos and iPod. The infinite potential of the iPad rests in the hands of third party app developers, and currently there aren't too many iPad-optimized apps. At launch, Apple anticipated more than 1,000 iPad apps in addition to more than 150,000 currently available for the iPhone and iPod touch, almost all of which will run on the iPad - they just won't be optimized for the iPad's screen.
The fact that you won't find a single port, USB, or otherwise, tells you that this product is not meant to be a full-blown computer, or the substitute for one. Apple expects you to use e-mail and syncing to shuttle files and documents between the iPad and your computer. This is sure to be a deal breaker for plenty of potential buyers.
A big bummer is the lack of support for Flash video in the built-in Safari browser. Sites with Flash animation won't fully load, and Flash-based online video content won't play - so don't think about getting cozy with the iPad to watch your favorite TV shows on Hulu.
One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the iPad - that it can't run third-party apps in the background - will be fixed later this year. The iPad's major operating system (OS) revision will arrive this fall.
Bottom line: The Apple iPad will be a driving force changing the tablet landscape. It is an affordable tablet, but won't completely replace your laptop. As with any new product, there are kinks that need to be worked out, and if you're considering the iPad, you should look at these other less-publicized alternatives as well: