EHS 4D Digital managing director Craig Walmsley puts the iPad through its paces and explains why Apple's new device isn't the saviour of print, it's the evolution of digital. After all the pre-show hype about the new tablet computer from Apple, the reality revealed at the launch event seemed a distinct let down.
We were going to have a new category of device, something that would completely change the way we worked with computers, something that would change the world the way the iPhone changed the world, something that would create world peace and make us all better looking, better adjusted individuals.
And what did we get? A big iPhone? What was with that big black bezel around the screen? How are you supposed to type on that thing? No-multi-tasking? Books? Nothing interesting TV-wise? Touch-enabled iWork? – Double-you, tea, eff, as the youngsters in the audience might say.
Well, that was the hype meeting the fan – the question is how it stacks up hands-on:
- It's smaller and lighter than you think – a little bit bigger, thinner and slightly heavier than one of those moleskin notebooks that media types like to cart around.
The screen is stunning – crisp, clear and beautiful whether browsing, watching, reading, mapping, swiping or typing.
That bezel is essential – you need a place to put your thumb when holding it that doesn't confuse the touch-screen.
You will adapt to it. Different devices engender different physical relationships: TV - lean-back; PC – lean-forward; Smartphone – the "Blackberry Prayer". This is a "feet-up" device - raise your plates and rest it on your knees.
Which, it turns out, is perfect because this device will live primarily on the sofa or in bed – both of which are "feet up" places.
Typing isn't that bad once your feet are up. In landscape mode you can more or less touch type - slower than on a normal keyboard but more sure than on the iPhone.
Portrait, you can thumb it as in the aforementioned Blackberry prayer. You won't write a novel on this, but you will tweet, email and IM.
Being a big iPhone is actually brilliant. Browsing the web is amazingly ergonomic and beautiful, YouTube videos look and sound great, the iBooks are fluid, clear and lovely to page turn.
You put down the iPad and go back to the iPhone and rather than thinking "oh, the iPad is just a big iPhone" you think "the iPhone is an undersized iPad". Because, let's remember, what's good about the iPhone is not that it's a good phone – it's not, it's a rubbish phone – in truth, the iPhone is a really good internet-enabled, app'd up, touchscreen computing thing – being a phone is almost beside the point.
The iPad doesn't try to be a phone, it's just better at whatever the iPhone was good at. What made the iPhone great were the apps, and at first glance, the same will be true of the iPad.
You are going to tweet, Facebook, play, read and whatever, just like you do on the iPhone, but with a load more luxurious space to get things done.
The only major disappointment of the apps I looked at were the print-titles – the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and GQ. Bless them, they have tried to recreate the print edition of their papers, adding just a little bit of interaction to the mix. So you have the same basic layout as the paper, the same font, the same column layout. And its crap.
You go to NYTimes.com on the iPad and think "wow – this is a cool and useful site now with über-easy browsing and added on-screen beautifulness". You go to the NYT app, and you think "wow – this is a rubbish newspaper format munged into a rubbish website".
You can understand what they were trying to do, but their paradigm is all wrong – this isn't the saviour of print, it's the evolution of digital.
In their defence, they only had a couple of months to get the app done, so the fact that they did something is commendable, and they will doubtless evolve it into a more suitable experience shortly.
A more promising example might be the Gap 1696 Stream app – a nice interactive experience at the top level, leading into an ecommerce experience. As a first glimpse of ecommerce in this paradigm, it's one that is very promising.
Which brings us to brands and marketing. Brands will want their own iPad apps as they do with the iPhone, and the same rule will apply – the more useful you can make the app, the better it will serve your brand.
Retail ecommerce are going to go nuts for this – high end fashion in a luxuriously large, scrollable, zoomable, touchable format with a simple press to buy.
Automotive will love this too – hands-on car configurators, full screen videos, glorious photography. Delicious.
If you are Sky Sports, you are going to create an even more souped-up version of your iPhone app, so that people can sit and watch the footie, feet up, and see the scores, news and commentary roll in.
Finally, the new iAd "in app" ad format, that Apple announced about an hour after I'd been grappling with the iPad, will create new formats and opportunities to give useful and engaging experiences to people.
"Magical and revolutionary?" Maybe not – the revolution has already happened with the iPhone – this is an evolution of that.
Its edges are still rough – no camera, multi-tasking only later in the year, few killer apps as yet. And it's not a laptop replacement – you won't want to type for hours.
But if you like to spend a good part of an evening pootering about on the net while you watch telly, or watching iPlayer in bed, or Facebooking in the middle of the night, or tweeting what you are eating for breakfast, and, it seems, more and more of us do, you are going to want one of these things. I do.