The iPad vs. Everything Else

Can Apple's much-hyped tablet replace your notebook, e-reader, smartphone, audio player, magazines, or gaming device?

By  |  Sunday, May 2, 2010 at 9:56 pm

The iPad vs. the BlackBerry

On mobile devices, movies, music, and social networking are all very well; but the classic mobile application remains unglam orous, invaluable e-mail. And RIM’s BlackBerry phones are still synonymous with mobile e-mail. Is the iPad–which in cludes Mail among its handful of bundled apps–a plausible substitute for a BlackBerry device? Definitely not, if you’re the archetypal jittery CrackBerry addict who is always checking messages.

The iPad is best used when you are sitting down, and it does not lend itself to quick, inconspicuous peeks at your inbox. Furthermore, while every BlackBerry is an always-on data device that provides access to e-mail anywhere you have a cell signal, only the 3G iPads–which may be released just after this article is posted–will match that feature. With the Wi-Fi-only models, you’ll need to hunt for a hotspot or in vest in a portable router such as the MiFi.

For relatively unhurried mail access, though, the iPad is certainly okay–and is faster than booting up a laptop and diving into Outlook. For my money, the roomier display and the on-screen keyboard together beat the BlackBerry for reading and writing messages that are more than a few paragraphs long, and the built-in file viewers work well for checking out Office and PDF documents. Gmail users can choose between Apple’s Mail app and Google’s outstanding browser-based Gmail client, which provides you with instant access to gigabytes of mail.

The iPad’s Mail app does have some limitations. For in stance, while you can set up multiple e-mail accounts, you can’t merge them into one inbox, and you can have only one Microsoft Exchange account at a time. You also can’t open file attachments in anything except the file viewers and Apple’s own iWork apps. Apple says that it will fix these issues when it up grades the iPad’s software in the fall. Here’s hoping Apple also improves the search feature, which doesn’t look within message text (it checks only the To, From, and Subject lines).

VERDICT: Even if you like the Mail app, you won’t be tempted to ditch your BlackBerry. Or your iPhone, or your Droid, or any other pocketable e-mail device.

The iPad vs. the iPod

iPad skeptics are fond of slagging the tablet for being nothing more than a humongous iPod Touch. When it comes to playing music and movies, they have a point–the iPad does feel a lot like a Touch with a 9.7-inch display. That’s not an entirely bad thing, however.

For many people–such as those who opt for the pinky-size iPod Shuffle–the iPad’s heft alone is reason to eliminate it as an iPod replacement. A gizmo you can’t slip into a pocket or strap to your arm is one you’re not going to take on a stroll or to the gym. You can even make a case that the venerable Click Wheel on the iPod Nano and iPod Classic is superior to the iPad’s on-screen controls for music navigation. (Oddly, the iPad’s iPod app doesn’t even have Apple’s signature Cover Flow view for browsing through albums.)

But wait: With the exception of the Shuffle, all iPods have long done video as well as audio–and the iPad’s comparative Jumbotron of a display makes it the best “iPod” for movie-watching yet. It’s the first one that two or more people can comfortably watch together, at least if they’re in close quarters, such as in adjacent airplane seats (and if they have the device nicely propped up). In fact, the iPad may be the best in-flight entertainment system ever designed, with enough battery life to keep you entertained from New York to Athens. And around the house, the tablet can serve as a sort of portable TV/boom box–its built-in speaker may be mono, but it’s loud and clear.

When it comes to content, the iPad gives you everything that you can get on any iPod, plus more. And even if you don’t feel like buying your entertainment from iTunes, a wealth of stuff to see and hear is available, thanks to impressive iPad apps from ABC, Netflix, NPR, and others.

VERDICT: The iPad is not an iPod substitute–it’s really a different critter. But on its own terms, it’s one of the most en tertaining entertainment devices since the original iPod.

Does the iWork Suite Work? Not Yet

When Apple unveiled its tablet at a press event back in January, it also introduced three unexpected flagship applications: iPad versions of the Pages word processor, the Numbers spreadsheet, and the Keynote presentation package that make up its iWork office suite for the Mac. On stage, they looked irresistible, with ingenious interfaces that made finger-driven productivity look not just possible but also fun. And they were priced at a reasonable $10 each.

Interface-wise, the versions of the iWork apps that Apple shipped in April for the iPad remain standouts–once you’ve positioned an image in a document by slipping it into place with your fingertip, any other method is clunky by comparison. And while the list of features in the three apps doesn’t rival that of Microsoft Office or the Mac version of iWork, that’s not a huge issue given the relatively simple tasks you’re likely to undertake on an iPad.

But Pages, Numbers, and Keynote all have one gigantic, overriding problem: Their support for document exchange with the non-iPad world is dismal. If you start a message in Mail, you have no way to attach an iWorks document. You also can’t hook up your iPad to a computer via USB and simply drag documents back and forth. Instead, you must export documents from within iWork–as attachments, using iTunes as a conduit, or via the not-nearly-as-useful-as-it-sounds

All three apps claim to open Office documents, but some such documents appear garbled, and others–such as the multiple PowerPoint files I tried–produce only a cryptic error message. The programs strip out formatting that they don’t understand; as a result, that formatting disappears if you try to move the file back to a desktop suite. And you might not even be able to do that: Pages can export Word files, but Numbers can’t save in Excel format, and Keynote doesn’t do PowerPoint. (If you happen to use iWork on a Mac, the situation is only slightly better.)

These issues are so ugly for iWork, and for the iPad in general, that it’s hard to imagine they won’t get fixed. But suite users may not have to wait for Apple: iPad versions of the Quickoffice suite for handhelds and DataViz’s similar Documents to Go are in the works. Both of those mobile productivity packages have long histories of handling documents that were created elsewhere with panache. And they might turn out to be better options than the current version of iWork even if they aren’t as elegant.



Read more: , ,

16 Comments For This Post

  1. ediedi Says:

    So, in conclusion, why would one (who presumably owns a laptop and a smartphone) get an iPad, unless one is a gadget freak?

  2. Harry McCracken Says:

    Being a gadget freak definitely helps. And nobody -needs- an iPad (except, maybe, for people in the media and software business–if you create content or write apps, I think you need to understand this gadget by using it).

    After a month, I’m finding myself using the iPad as a reading device (very often), a music and movie device (sometimes), a gaming machine (not too often, but I plan to do more), and a miscellaneous app platform (Facebook, Foursquare, etc). I use it a lot around the house, and sometimes around town (especially on the subway), and had a blast with it on the one plane trip I’ve been on.

    When I want to write (such as blog), I use a notebook. When I want to do graphics work (such as images for my blog), I use Photoshop on a notebook.

    In the old days, many of us had a desktop and a laptop; today, the desktop is optional. For those of us who are down to just a notebook, I see the iPad as serving a similar role to that which the laptop did in desktop-dominated days–a secondary, more convenient device.


  3. Phil Says:

    I totally disagree on the iPad/Kindle part. The Kindle is fabulous – I don’t need color to read and on the Kindle I can read with one hand, turn pages without fingerprints, read on the beach, download a book from anywhere, I could go on and on. The Kindle is the best device I have ever purchased – it goes everywhere with me. I can’t see buying an iPad unless I wanted a toy, and had a ton of expendable money that I couldn’t put to better use. And I don’t want to be tethered to a computer, OR Apple’s iTunes programs to do anything. A Kindle needs no computer. Look at the instructions – “System Requirements: None”.

  4. Ediedi Says:

    ” I see the iPad as serving a similar role to that which the laptop did in desktop-dominated days–a secondary, more convenient device.” – thats the best definition i heard for the ipad. Put this way, it kinda makes me consider one.

  5. Ed Renehan Says:

    I’m loving the Kindle for iPad app. Complete Kindle functionality with additional iPad bells and whistles available via the same device.

  6. Dru Richman Says:

    Harry McCracken said: “And nobody -needs- an iPad (except, maybe, for people in the media and software business…”

    And my Mom who is happily computer challenged. Oh, and my grandparents. And, of course, my physician who uses it to take notes during patient visits (that are then send to the patient’s file, wirelessly). Then there’s my neighbor’s kids, who carry almost 50 pounds of books home with them every day would probably appreciate carrying a 1.5 pound device with ALL of their textbooks inside. I’d imagine that the auto technician would be happy NOT to have to paw through four hugh technical manuals to find the parts to repair my car…I could go on, but you get the point.

  7. axt113 Says:

    Yeah like any idiot would give their kid a $500 Ipad to carry around, ROFLMAO

    Next day kid comes home with a broken Ipad, or saying their ipad was lost/stolen, parent is out $500, and needs to buy replacement books for kid.

    As for the other people, just use android, more powerful and cheaper

  8. Dru Richman Says:

    axt113 said: “Yeah like any idiot would give their kid a $500 Ipad to carry around…”

    You obviously either don’t have kids or have such a low opinion of them that you probably shouldn’t.

    In reality over 50% of kids under 15 own a cell phone or smartphone. In Maine, every student from the 6th grade onward is provided with an Apple laptop. Are the parents ultimately responsible. You betcha! And while there have been some instance of problems, the most striking result is that test scores have dramatically increased and truancy has dramatically decreased.

  9. Tech Says:

    The iPad still comes out on top.

  10. Gp Says:

    Always was anti Apple, tIll I had a stroke, then saw how useful the iPhone was. Liked the ease of use and convenient size/screen, along with huge choice of useful free n cheap apps. So I was really open to the iPad, and bought one 1st day while passing Apple store in late morning after the initial rush and saw only 3 people in line. Used/played with it for 2 weeks, returned it within return period, and bought the 3G version for use while traveling x-country.
    Really handy for reading Nytimes, emails etc, perfect for watching Netlix and ABC past shows, can’t wait for Hulu app. The instant “ON” makes it so convenient in addition to true 10 hr battery. Lots of plusses.

  11. William Carr Says:

    You kind of dropped the ball in comparing the Kindle to the iPad when you listed the Kindle as $259.

    The Kindle DX is the same size as the iPad, and costs $489.00

    So you’re comparing the mini-size Kindle without automatic rotation to the iPad.

    That’s not quite honest, is it?

  12. Harry McCracken Says:

    @William Carr: Hmmm? Not sure if I get your point, especially about not being honest. I’m aware of the Kindle DX but chose to compare the iPad against what’s clearly the best-selling Kindle, the standard version. I made no claims that I was comparing the iPad against the model closest to it in pricetag and screen size.


  13. kindle books Says:

    i like your product more reliable first time i get this useful thing so i will use it in my regular data.

  14. Facebook Likes Says:

    Mostly people prefer kindle reason is that kindle Amazon product in this time Amazon is a company that gave you quick response like replacement and other problems.
    Amazon worked all over the world like from advanced country to third world country provide kindle book with out delivery charges.
    So mostly guys like this company and trust on kindle books.

  15. Web Develpment Says:

    I pad is urgent use packet directory that help your urgent response when you went any where then you solve your problems. computer is a heavy device you can handle easily so if you use Ipad that good for you.

  16. Fiddle Lessons Says:

    I have I pad problem with operating like when i open Ms Office 2007 don't open excel file error in different type other language appear. How i solve this problems if you have any guide please share here.