What is it? - There can't be too many people in publishing who don't know what an iPad is. Over the past few months the device has been hyped as everything from the future of computers through to the saviour of publishing. The truth is it is an innovative (though not that innovative as similar devices have been available for years) touch screen PC.
It is different from standard computers as it runs a very light operating system which is a version of the type used on iPhones. In many way it is probably easier to picture the iPad as an huge version of the iPhone or the iPod touch than a kind of notebook or laptop. The iPad sports a ten inch screen and comes with around a dozen basic facilities including a web browser, email client, a music player and a dedicated YouTube app. There's no keypad - any typing is via its onscreen virtual keypad - and no USB socket. You connect the iPad to your laptop using its dedicated lead and then transfer your content on to it as you would an iPod or iPhone. There are already a huge number of applications for the iPad ranging from bigger versions of the fun games that are on the iPhone through to productivity tools and social media add-ons like Twitter clients. There are a range of different iPads available with the key variants being storage capacity and whether or not the iPad has built in 3G to enable it to be used on mobile phone networks.
So why has it been so successful? - When the iPad was first announced neither the press nor the financial markets seemed to warm to it. However it has enjoyed a very successful launch with Apple claiming to have have sold over 600,000 models in the US. Its popularity meant that the planned UK launch had to be put back with the first batch of models expected to be on sale in the UK in late May. There's little doubt that many people who have bought the first iPads have been die-hard Apple fans who own many of their other products already. It has also proved popular with media people and developers too. How many others will buy the iPad remains to be seen. Unlike the iPhone the iPad is likely to have pretty stiff competition from cheaper devices that offer all of its functionality and more
So what's it good for? - It is superb for video. The quality of the screen really shines through even when watching lower quality YouTube videos. It would be fantastic for watching the BBC iPlayer, however as the iPad isn't flash compatible (one of its core weaknesses) users can't watch the player off the website. Maybe an iPlayer app for the iPad will come one day. The iPad is also great for gaming. All those silly games like Air Hockey and Paper Toss, which are fun on the iPhone are now addictive on the bigger touch screen. Kids of all ages will love the device. Lastly it is great for web browsing - sites looks superb and it is every easy to navigate round using the touch screen.
What doesn't work? - The iPad is in no way a laptop replacement. The virtual keypad works well, but users won't be able to do any work on this and I don't think it will work for blogging either. The Twitter clients I have used so far are also very clunky and make me yearn for my laptop. Also the iPad can't do video messaging as Apple didn't put a camera in. This was a strange move as it could be a very good little video communication device. Also I really can't see myself using the iPad to read books. This is not a device that I'll take with me outside the home. Although the quality of the text on the screen is good it is not a compelling enough experience for me to use it regularly.
Will it change publishing? - There has been a huge amount of talk about how the iPad and other tablet PC devices could revolutionise publishing. I must admit after living with the iPad for a few weeks I am not sure this is the case. I downloaded Zinio, one of the many versions available, and was mildly impressed by the magazines it gave me. I do have some reservations though. The pages don't load instantaneously, which means it is very easy for users to skip ads. Secondly the pages don't look anything near as dazzling as I imagined they would. Even after looking at iPad versions of things like The New York Times and USA Today I found myself scurrying back to the websites which I think look better. However where magazines might work, and this is a really good opportunity for customer publishers, is when they incorporate video. I can imagine a supermarket magazine with some recipe ideas and then you click on an embedded video to watch someone showing you how to make the dish that has been written about. Or it could work for car brands? They could combine magazine style features with videos of the car in action and tutorials showing owners how they can keep their cars pristine. I think information driven magazines, as opposed to entertainment focused ones, will work best on the iPad and tablet PCs and therein lies an opportunity for customer publishers. I can also see customer publishers marrying their content with apps for the iPad. So the app might help the user choose items of food that go well together, but will also feature articles and features from the magazine company.
So is it worth buying one? - As someone who loves the web and gadgets and is passionate about both professional and social media I had to have one. To be honest I haven't l used it quite as much as I thought. I'll concede that there are limitations to the number of apps that I can access at the moment which makes the iPad less appealing. This will change when the full UK launch happens shortly. However Apple products tend to mature (the first iPhone was rubbish, the third was irresistible) and as developers offer more and more apps for the iPad so it will be a compelling proposition. Don't rule out other tablet devices though. Within a few months there might be several better specified devices on sale with much cheaper price tags. It is probably best to wait and see.