3 quick impressions after one day of testing the iPad

So I braved the lines, which weren't outrageously long, at my local Apple store, and picked up an iPad yesterday morning. To be honest, my kids spent more time with it since then than I did, but I played with it enough to offer my first impressions to the growing multitude of iPad commentary.

So I braved the lines, which weren't outrageously long, at my local Apple store, and picked up an iPad yesterday morning. To be honest, my kids spent more time with it since then than I did, but I played with it enough to offer my first impressions to the growing multitude of iPad commentary.

1) No multitasking is the iPad's biggest current drawback. I'm sure as I do more Web surfing the lack of Flash support will bother me more and more, but I'm not a Web video addict so I tend not to watch as many Flash clips as other people might. What was painfully obvious to me as I fired up the free Pandora app was that, as worthy an attempt as Pandora made to fill up the display with info to accompany each track, all I wanted to do was click a minimize button and do something else.

I'm well aware of this limitation on the iPhone, but I may be more forgiving because of the cramped screen. With the 9.7-inch display on the iPad, it seems worthless to devote the whole screen to a music streaming or an IM app.

Multitasking is rumored to be coming in iPhone OS 4.0 and iPad customers will receive it as a free upgrade. Free advice to Apple: Make that update soon and don't make iPad owners pay more than a couple of shekels for OS updates after that. (Given that people are spending 2x-3x more than for an iPhone, iPad owners really shouldn't have pay anything for upgrades, but that doesn't appear to be likely).

2) Netflix is already a killer app for the iPad. If you're on the fence about getting one, and you're a Netflix subscriber, this should tip you into the buy column. I won't attest to extensive testing of video quality (yet), but the fact that I was sitting in bed with my four-year-old and was able to fire up an episode of Caillou (parents will know what that is) in about 60 seconds that was almost completely stutter-free should give you an idea of the possibilities this app brings. Sure, you won't get new DVD releases, but there's enough in the Watch Instantly catalog to help you kill a lot of hours.

The one missing feature that would make this even more indispensable would be the ability to download movies for times when you aren't near a Wi-Fi connection. It could be just a single title for a 24-hour duration, but you would want such an option if you're traveling on a plane or out of 3G range if you have the 3G iPad. (Of course, you could do that with iTunes, but for an extra fee.)

3) You can read a newspaper like a newspaper on the iPad, but that won't necessarily make more people read newspapers. People who grew reading (or even writing for) newspapers will delight in the Wall St Journal and New York Times apps, which make reading that content as much like reading the printed version as they can currently can. I read a piece from the Sunday Times Magazine about as easily as I could with the printed version downstairs.

But while the experience may get some downloads from curious people who've rarely or never picked up a paper (or magazine, for that matter), it doesn't address the larger issue: A whole generation has grown up completely ignoring this material, whether because they were watching hours and hours of TV or gaining information from new Web sites and blogs. They're not trained to read a paper at all, so making your content look like a paper doesn't inspire nostalgia and familiarity in them. Some magazines are trying to think outside the box for this new, erm, box, and other print media need to do the same, because the future of media isn't in looking like the past.

This does bring up another interesting issue, however, and that's how the app revolution is making it easier for sites to abandon the browser and the typical browsing experience. Anyone involved in Web production knows the issues with creating a site: limited selection of fonts, Javascript hacks, and countless other compromises that need to be made in order for sites to render across multiple browser types with a minimum of difference. And while CSS 3 and HTML 5 are helping to break Web designers free of these limitations, these are a couple of years away from being mainstream. But with an iPad app, I can mostly throw that whole model out and design something that doesn't have to rely on Arial and Verdana fonts, a 960-pixel width, etc. You can hate on Apple all you want (the closed system and so forth), but you can't say the company hasn't stirred up a big debate on how online information should look and work.

Speaking of work, that's one aspect of the iPad I haven't tested at all yet. Hopefully, I'll get an opportunity to put it through some productivity paces this week, and report back on whether it has any chance of replacing a laptop when it comes to getting things done.

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