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7 juin 2010 1 07 /06 /juin /2010 08:27

Operating system / User interface

By now you should know that the iPad's interface is nearly identical in every way to the iPhone or iPod touch UI. The reason for that is obvious: it's built on the same operating system, a derivation of OS X for mobile devices. As far as actual navigation on the device goes, it really is exactly like the iPhone. You have pages and pages made up of grids of icons, a dock for your favorite apps (up to six, mind you), and a persistent status bar which displays the time and other information. In our opinion Apple has missed a huge opportunity to open up the "desktop" space on the iPad and allow for micro-apps or widgets on these screens      (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ battery).

On the iPad there isn't really a single glanceable piece of information you can get at beyond the time and WiFi status -- and using all of that gorgeous screen real estate just to display a widely spaced grid of icons is not only a waste, but just kind of looks silly. In truth, if Apple's developers believe that it's not helpful to give people more than a single thing to look at at one time, they're not only wrong, but they're contradicting years of improvements to the company's desktop OS. That said, thereare a few new components present in the iPad UI which shows that Apple has put some effort into expanding the language of this OS   (Sony VGP-BPS8 battery).

Besides those quirks we've come to know, love, and / or gripe about on the iPhone, the company has augmented the existing user interface with a small handful of tools. Before we talk about the overall feel of using this device, we wanted to break down those new elements    (Sony VGP-BPL9 battery):

Pop-overs (modals): Windows which pop up and hover above the content you're interacting with, used to excellent effect within the iPod app for displaying track listings when you touch an album, or getting information on books or music to purchase in the iBookstore and iTunes. These modals have their own navigation and points of interaction separate from the main content you're working with    (Sony VGP-BPL11 battery).

Split screens: Exactly what it sounds like. Apple is using all that big real estate to break up what would have been multiple pages on an iPhone, dividing up the content into segments of the same screen. In the mail app, that means you can look at the list of your emails while keeping a message in view, or keep your multi-page work in Keynote available to you even when editing (think how Preview handles a folder of images  (Sony VGP-BPL15 battery)).

Tap-and-hold: Now, this is present in some places on the iPhone, but Apple has really expanded its use with the iPad, offering lots of situations where a long press gets you deeper, contextual interactivity and functionality. We're big fans of this gesture on other devices (hello, Android), and it's nice to see Apple putting it to better use within the iPad's UI. We hope this trend continues throughout the company's mobile OSs    (ASUS A3000 Battery).

Contextual menus: While tap-and-hold gets you some options for context-specific menus, the iPad interface is littered with other single tap buttons that pop open those same kind of options. The shift certainly seems to be towards these transient menus as opposed to paging through screens like we're used to on the iPhone   (ASUS Eee PC 1000HE Battery).

Toolbar drop-downs: Apple hammered on toolbar items with previous iterations of the iPhone OS, but on the iPad, toolbars aren't just links to deeper pages -- they're self-contained menus, often with lots of levels and options for tweaking the work you're doing. They are literally all over the iPad    (Dell Inspiron 6400 battery).

Tabs (or Cover Flow) everywhere: You know how Safari handles multiple pages? Well that behavior is used throughout the iPad to navigate through files or lists of options. In Safari, as in other apps, the content is presented as a grid, while elsewhere it's a scrollable list akin to Mobile Safari's present use (or webOS cards)  (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ4000 Battery).

Nearly full-sized virtual keyboards: In portrait mode, we were able to tap out some messages using our thumbs, but we mostly did single finger typing. On the other hand, the landscape keyboard is big and totally usable. In fact, we were surprised at how quickly and accurately we could bang out emails on it   (Toshiba PA3399U-2BAS Battery).

So what does this all mean for the experience of using the device? Well if you're not getting the message, we'd like to point out that we haven't mentioned files, folders, or windows. That's because there's no such thing in the universe of the iPad. This isn't a computer the way you think of a computer. All of these UI additions to the iPhone vocabulary help you do more and go further than what is possible on an iPhone, and a lot of the applications you'll use on the iPad are far more expansive than what the iPhone offers, but it's not like any computer you've ever used    (IBM ThinkPad T40 Battery).

This is something totally different -- a hybrid of sorts -- and while the user interface will feel familiar to most, it's also simply not a PC in any way. You will get work done with it, play with it, consume content with it, but the underlying framework of the real operating system is almost completely invisible. For instance, in applications like Numbers or Keynote, you don't have "files," rather a long, Cover Flow-style list of work to scroll through. Have 200 documents you've "saved"? Tough -- you just have to scroll through them all to get to the last one. To say that sometimes it feels like a computer for beginners might be overkill. But it's close    (Dell Inspiron 6000 battery).

There's no question that the route Apple has taken is genius; they've built a "computer" that's so obvious and easy to use that anyone can pick it up and understand it immediately. And there's a lot to like, particularly in some of the innovative and engaging applications being built by third party developers right now, like the Marvel app, TweetDeck, or SketchBook Pro. But there are holes here too -- big ones -- and not just in the user interface   (Dell INSPIRON 1420 Battery).

For starters, as we mentioned earlier the iPad doesn't support multitasking, save for Apple's own applications: Safari, iPod, and Mail. Everything else you use on the device is a jump-into and then jump-out experience, which means that for things like IM apps, you're either having a conversation or you're not. For those of us who are used to the iPhone way of doing things, that's at least familiar, but if you're looking to have a conversation while getting your email in order (as you would on a laptop), you're out of luck. The same goes for those of us who like to keep a Twitter app open in the background to monitor updates    (Dell Inspiron E1505 Battery).

Even updating settings or downloading software is a chore due to the stop-start nature of the OS. You just have to go one. at. a. time.That's almost acceptable for a smartphone -- you don't expect laptop performance -- but this is different. Admittedly, there aren't a huge number of scenarios where you need to be multitasking, but it's not uncommon for Engadget editors to keep a running IRC session, AIM, a browser, Twitter app, Skype, and music player open at the same time, and we suspect a lot of you out there do the same (or similar). So how much of a stumbling block is the lack of multitasking? The honest truth is that a large number of users won't notice or care, which is why it's easy for Apple to ignore the problem (or claim that their OS supports the functionality because they allow a handful of their native apps to run in the background). For the rest of us, this is starting to feel just like copy and paste -- a problem so obvious and so easy to fix that it's just perplexing Apple doesn't come up with a solution and end the conversation. The iPad may do many things better than a netbook, but multitasking is not one of them    (Fujitsu Lifebook S6120 battery).

Adding difficulty to that lack of multitasking is the way the iPad handles notifications. As you know, Apple provides a method of utilizing push notifications to circumvent backgrounding an app. For instance, with AIM set to deliver push messages, you can still see what your contacts are IM'ing at you, and jump back into the app when you need to respond. That's all well and good, but Apple is still handling notifications in the same terrible, interruptive manner that it uses on the iPhone. Namely, pop-up messages that must be dismissed by the user. Imagine if you had to repeatedly click "OK" on a pop-up window which froze you out of the application you were working in every time you got an IM on your laptop, and you'll start to get the idea. Again, this isn't great on a phone, but hey -- it's a phone. On your revolutionary new computer-like device? It's extremely annoying. You can always set the notifications to just a sound and badge, but we know Android and webOS handle this more elegantly, and can't figure out why Apple won't do the same     (HP PAVILION DV2000 Battery).

To put a point on the iPad's UI and the user experience: there is no question that Apple has created an engaging, simple, and surprisingly powerful platform for this device. For many of the applications -- especially some of the third party titles starting to trickle out -- the stuff people are coming up with is insanely clever, just plain cool, or both. For many consumers, it will be easy enough to accomplish much of what you would with a netbook or laptop on the iPad, and yet other experiences will extend far beyond what you would do on a typical computer. It's not a laptop replacement, and this OS can't do everything a laptop can do -- but maybe it doesn't have to    (HP PAVILION DV3000 Battery).

Included applications


We're not going to go super deep into all of the bundled applications, but we feel quite a few deserve special mention. There are brand new applications that are hugely important to what the iPad is and does, and we wanted to take a moment to give an overview and opinion on what we felt really stood out   (ACER Travelmate 2300 Battery).

Mobile Safari

Apple promises that web browsing on the iPad will be, to quote Steve Jobs, "The best browsing experience you've ever had." Let's just go over that one more time -- Steve Jobs says that the browsing experience will be the best you've ever had. So, is it? Well, we can tell you this: the browsing experience on the iPad is amazing  (COMPAQ Presario 2100 Battery).

It is smooth, fast, and fluid. The screen displays beautifully in landscape or portrait, the scrolling is buttery, touch response is out of this world, and you can easily pinch-to-zoom all over the place with nary a hiccup. The finger-based navigation really is kind of spectacular, and it makes browsing weirdly like rediscovering an old friend. Other additions to the app like a proper bookmarks bar, use of toolbar drop downs, and an improved tab grid make it a pleasure to use. It is without question one of the best browsing experiences we've encountered. But is it the best? Well, not really   (ACER Aspire 3020 Battery).

Why, you ask? Well that answer is simple and extremely complicated at the same time. Currently, there is a web standard called Flash, developed by a company named Adobe, which allows for the easy insertion of rich media into webpages. That's everything from streaming video and audio files, online gaming, to entire websites made using its broad and deep development tools. The penetration percentage for Flash on PCs around the world is something like 98 -- that's almost everyone -- and many, many sites employ the standard on their pages  (COMPAQ Presario R3000 Battery).

When we say many, we mean most if not all of the pages you typically visit use Flash to display some of their content. The iPad browser doesn't support Flash, and won't support Flash, perhaps ever. Apple has not only turned away from what is the industry standard for rich media in webpages, but it instead is pushing a newer standard called HTML5. Apple has been very successful thus far in moving its agenda forward and bringing websites into the fold of HTML5, but we're talking maybe, say, one percent of websites on the internet. Probably way less   (ACER Aspire 3000 Battery). 

So what does this mean for an end user? Well it means that when you visit a site like Hulu, HBO, NBC, Lala (which ironically, Apple just purchased), Engadget, Gizmodo, or many, many others, you will have a broken experience. That means there will be certain elements of these sites (in the case of HBO, the entire site itself) that simply won't work. Now, we're geeks. We get it. We know what's going on when a site shows the broken plugin icon, or says we need Flash. But to the wide world of "everyone" that Apple wants to sell this product to, this will result in a confusing and frustrating experience... a broken experience. That may be fine to Apple, but it isn't fine to us, and shouldn't be fine to the rest of the world   (Dell INSPIRON 1420 Battery).

As an aside, we've been surprised other iPad reviews have not been more forthcoming in pointing this problem out -- this is not a small thing; it's is a major deficit in the iPad's browser. Now keep in mind we're not saying we love Flash and want to marry it -- in fact, we'd love to see a less CPU intensive format take its place -- but HTML5 isn't that format, at least not yet. It's important to understand that a lot of users will see the lack of Flash as a drawback, even if Apple doesn't like the standard, and even if Safari on the iPad is a brilliant experience (which it frankly is)   (Fujitsu Lifebook S6120 battery).

iBooks

To say Apple is about to put a major dent in Kindleworld is an understatement. The iBooks app is one of the most beautiful and thoughtful uses of the iPad screen real estate on the device. It would be easy to rattle off a thousand words alone on how good of an e-book experience this is, but we'll try to keep it brief considering how much there is to say about the iPad. Simply put, it's a great e-reader with enough options to please even the most strident critic     (FUJITSU LIFEBOOK P2120 Battery).

The layout is quite simple; along the top of the page in portrait mode you have a button to flip to your library (a very slick hidden room kind of effect), a chapter button, brightness control, font size and face options, and a search drop down. Within the book you can long press to bring up copy / paste, dictionary (a beautiful implementation which pops up right over your content), bookmark (another perfect implementation), or search options. Besides the incredibly sexy page turning animations -- useless but gorgeous nonetheless -- the entire package is just so airtight. It's the first e-book reading experience we've seen that seems to truly understand the visceral, sensual enjoyment of holding an actual volume in your hand   (HP PAVILION DV9700t Battery).

Calendar / Contacts

The calendar and contacts apps on the device aren't exactly groundbreaking, but they are far more usable and information heavy on the iPad. Both utilize -- at different intervals -- split screen, book-like displays. The calendar app actually gives you a proper full month view and lets you interact with your schedule much like the iCal application for OS X does     (HP PAVILION DV8000 Battery).

Mail

This is a biggie for Engadget. Much of our time is spent dealing with email, and it hasn't always been a pleasure on the iPhone. Has that changed on the iPad? Not quite. As Gmail enthusiasts, we're sort of locked into the label / archiving / conversation scheme the big G has worked up. Honestly, we think it's a smarter, faster way to handle lots of email from lots of places. On Mail for OS X, Apple at least adopts threaded messages to keep your conversations under control, but no such luck here   (HP PAVILION DV5000 Battery).

In other "the iPad is not a computer" news, we couldn't find a way to export a .txt file to any of the applications on the device, thus seriously hamstringing our ability to finish this review on the iPad itself. We also take issue with how Apple wants you to handle attachments here. They have to be done from the source app out into Mail -- what the hell kind of sense does that make? In all, we love the split screen displays and real estate for composing, but still feel like we're floating out in the ether when managing our email. It works, it's fast, it's consistent... it's just not what it could be   (HP PAVILION DV6000 Battery).

iTunes / iBookstore / App Store

All three of these money-shredding stores on the iPad hew much more closely to the desktop version of iTunes, which is a really good thing. Finding, previewing, and buying titles is super simple due to the vast amount of data you get in a single view, and the modals which Apple uses to perfect effect here to pop over info about the content as you're checking it out.The iBookstore is a perfect companion to the reader, but we did find the current selection lacking (very little Philip K. Dick and George R.R. Martin -- for shame!)

(IBM ThinkPad T40 Battery).

Downloading was clear and simple, and there are free samples (as well as lots of free titles) to pick up if you just want to test the waters. It's obvious that publishers who aren't yet involved with Apple will see the light on this -- if the company is half as successful at pushing books as it has been at pushing music, this is indeed a game changer. We're not saying there's no room for improvement, because there is plenty (such as a clearer and more coherent periodicals strategy). Still, this is a tried and tested model for the company, and the iPad versions deliver (well, the iBookstore delivers for the first time ever)    (IBM THINKPAD R50 Battery).

Video / iPod / YouTube

The entertainment portions of the iPad aren't going to blow anyone away, but they all do an admirable job. The iPod app is actually much, much better than its smaller cousin, though we're surprised that Apple hasn't leveraged its new-ish iTunes LP content here. The iPad is the perfect place to view all that rich media, yet it's nowhere to be found on the tablet. A real miss, guys! Otherwise, the video player takes on the task of running your video (up to 720p, with restrictions) in a solid if spartan manner. We'd like to pause and just mention how sweet the marriage of HD content and the iPad's display is. Video really does look absolutely stunning on this screen -- Apple has done its homework on the tech, and we couldn't be more impressed with the results   (SONY VGP-BPS2 Battery).

YouTube makes big use of the segmented windows concept you see all over the device, giving you the option to browse other videos or even comment on what you're watching while it's playing. Of course, it also allows for YouTube HD content, which looks fairly sharp most of the time    (TOSHIBA Pa3465u-1brs Battery).

iPhone apps on the iPad

Yes -- the iPad can run almost all 150,000 of the iPhone and iPod touch apps you know and love (not every one is compatible, but the vast majority). It does this in two modes, the first is a scaled down version in the middle of your giant screen, while the other is a pixel doubled iteration. Both of these leave something to be desired, and we can't say that anything besides gaming really ends up looking okay. It's nice that Apple has included the functionality, but keep in mind that you are locked into what is essentially an iPhone simulator, complete with an iPhone keyboard (scaled up if you're using the pixel doubling, which doesn't look that great). It's tremendous because you have access to applications you may need to use, but it's not something you're probably going to spend a lot of time with    (Toshiba PA3399U-2BAS Battery).

The iWork suite

If you doubt the claim that the iPad can be a viable tool for creating content -- even stuffy businessman content -- then these apps should seriously make you clam up. They are superb, surprisingly useful, amazingly robust applications. We don't necessarily agree with Apple's saving scheme (in that, there really isn't one), but you can't knock the core functionality of these apps. It's clear that at some point Apple is going to have to open up some kind of shared file repository on these devices to make them truly effective tools, but the combo of Numbers, Keynote, and Pages show that getting work done on these devices is not only possible, but actually kind of good in the right hands   (Toshiba PA3399U-1BRS battery).

Our columnist and friend Michael Gartenberg has a done lengthier piece for us right here that goes a bit deeper on these apps -- if you're interested to hear how they fare for a very busy man, you'll want to read it  (SONY VGP-BPS8 battery).

Third-party apps

There are really far too many third-party apps to do a deep dive on, but we want to call out a few innovators that we feel are making the iPad seem like a viable fourth screen we want to engage with. Here's a lightning-round rundown of what we saw and liked the most, but you can see a much larger and more detailed list right here  (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ Battery):

Marvel: This is just a cool application, and really gets our juices flowing about what will be possible with this larger format. Excellent execution, but they need to convert the whole catalog into this format. When we can re-read the Secret Wars on our iPad, we'll be seriously happy campers  (sony vgp-bpl9 battery).

ABC video player: Even though it feels like a sidestep around the Flash issue, this iPad app does a perfect job of managing the network's online video assets. We can only imagine Hulu will stir things up in a similar manner.

Netflix: It's Netflix. On the iPad. And now apparently it's headed to the iPhone and iPod touch as well   (HP Pavilion dv2000 battery).

USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times: If this is printed media's last gasp, it's definitely a lungful. All three of these apps show that the big boys still have some fight in them, and while we can't abide the WSJ's zany pricing scheme, we will admit that each of these does a beautiful job of delivering the newspaper in a whole new way. Kudos, boys(Dell Inspiron 1420 battery).

Yahoo! Entertainment: This one was an honest surprise. We didn't expect Yahoo!'s first iPad product to be either handsome or useful... and it's both. The TV schedule and news presentation is top notch, though we're hoping they take things a little deeper in future updates. And when it comes to entertainment gossip, we won't really be satisfied till an US Weekly app appears   (Dell Inspiron 6400 battery).

Photogene, SketchBook Pro, and Brushes: Three apps that show the iPad can and will be a content creation tool as well as a content consuming tool. We used and loved all of them, and think they show amazing potential for this platform.

TweetDeck: Just a really, really good way to use Twitter. A lot like the desktop app. If only we could run it in the background...(Dell Inspiron 6000 battery)

Battery life

It's almost impossible to believe, but during our initial tests, using the iPad pretty heavily, downloading and using lots of new apps, doing some 3D gaming, watching HD video, all the while getting email downloaded in the background, we got just about what Apple claims this device will do. In fact, it went a little better -- we managed to get 10 hours and 43 minutes of life out of the iPad before we had to plug it in again in our first run through  (ACER Travelmate 2300 Battery).

That's pretty crazy endurance considering what we were doing with it. Now, we were not watching HD video the whole time, or running the music player in the background while streaming Netflix movies, so we can't promise this will be the case in every situation. Still, it did a pretty amazing job of matching up to Apple's numbers, and you may color us impressed  (ASUS Eee PC Battery).


We're going to be doing further battery testing once some other team members get their devices, so hopefully we'll be able to report back with a more well-rounded assessment of what this thing is capable (or not capable) of  (COMPAQ Presario M2000 Battery).

Wrap-up

At this point we've run the full spectrum on iPad opinion. It should be clear that there are aspects of this device which we love, and others which we clearly do not. In summarizing our feelings about the iPad, we're forced to take two paths -- one which analyzes the device's position in relation to the advancement of the personal computer, and one which clearly speaks to whether or not we think you should spend your money on this thing   (Dell Inspiron E1505 battery).


Path one: the iPad as a computing revolution. Does the iPad evolve the personal computer in a significant way? Yeah, actually, it kind of does. Despite what you think right now, and despite the limitations Apple has put on some aspects of this device, what it says to the market is significant. The iPad is powerful, elegant, and largely unlike any computer you've ever used. You know how first generation games for a console look kind of dated when you put them against titles released after years of honing   (Dell Inspiron 1525 battery)?

Imagine what will be happening with something like the iPad in a year or two. This stuff is legitimately important. It's not magical, but it's a little bit revolutionary, and you have to at least give Apple that. They've pulled off a cohesive touch computing platform with very few rough edges -- and that's no small feat  (Sony VGP-BPS2 battery).

Path two: should you buy into the revolution today? The first thing that must be said -- although we've already stated it -- is that we don't think the iPad is a laptop replacement. Not yet. What that means is that if you need a laptop to work in something like Excel, Word, or countless other PC or Mac applications, you shouldn't expect the iPad to take its place  (Sony VGP-BPS3 battery).

But, if you're like a lot of computer users, you don't really do much on your system except for listen to music, casually browse the web and read news sites, watch some online video, play games, and keep in touch with friends via Twitter, IM, and Facebook. If you fit that description, you might just fall in love with Apple's $499 bundle of joy -- because it does the majority of those things much better than its laptop counterparts (granted, one at a time, and, er... not online video) (ASUS Eee PC 900 Battery).


So the verdict? The buyer of an iPad is one of two people, the first is someone who sees not just the present, but the potential of a product like the iPad... and believes in and is excited about that potential. This is also a person who can afford what amounts to a luxury item. The second is an individual who simply doesn't need to get that much work done, and would prefer their computing experience to be easier, faster, and simpler. Does that sound like anyone you know  (ACER Aspire 3020 Battery)?

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