The New iPad: Welcome to the Future

Apple's new full-touchscreen iPad just hit store shelves, and after spending some time road-testing it, here's what I've discovered: The iPad is an evil genius mashup of your computer and your television. It's a flexible, ever-changing window for your media, one that lets you consume it, discover it and interact with it in totally different ways—it might just change the way you see digital entertainment.

The iPad is roughly the size of a sheet of printer paper and weighs under 2 pounds. It runs the same operating system as Apple's wildly popular iPhone and iPod Touch, which brought the full-touchscreen experience into everyday life. With built in Wi-Fi, the iPad lets you sit on the couch and do all of the stuff you normally do online, like e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, news and gossip—whatever. And instead of hunching over a desk, hauling out a laptop or squinting down at a cell phone, I found that the flat shape and big, bright screen of the iPad lent itself to being held like a newspaper or magazine; I was amazed at how natural it felt to sit back and casually flick through my digital world. On a Saturday morning, I read the Arts section of the New York Times online on the iPad while my wife read a physical newspaper, and our experiences were almost identical—only the newspaper doesn't let you copy-paste cool stories onto Facebook.

By combining print readability and online interactivity, the iPad as a mainstream touch device is leading big media companies to drastically rethink how they give you what you want. The key is the App Store, a gateway to a world of software. The iPad will run the all of iPhone Apps already out there, but new iPad-exclusive apps really flex the device's muscle. Not even a week after the device was released, iPad Apps from places like ABC, the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo! let you tap and slide your way through top news stories, the latest TV shows, magazines, blogs and more. You get the constantly evolving nature of the Internet paired with the comfort factor of a magazine. And don’t forget about games: Everything from classics like Scrabble to modern video games like Real Racing are at your fingertips.

Of all the apps available, Apple is possibly most proud of the new iBookstore, an e-reader program and online storefront for tens of thousands of digital books. The goal is to do for e-books what iTunes did for digital music and movies: create a one-stop shop that lets people easily browse, buy and organize their library. Here, the flat format of the iPad works beautifully; it is just like holding a thin hardcover novel, and you can even flick the pages back and forth. But this hardcover novel also has a built-in dictionary, bookmarking and highlighting features, plus you can fit thousands of books in one bag!

The iPad isn't quite a full computer, but it can deftly handle tasks such as word processing, spreadsheets and slideshow presentations; in fact, I'm writing this very review on the iPad, on a bumpy bus ride into Manhattan. As skeptical as I was about the onscreen keyboard, even I have to admit it's surprisingly usable. There’s a definite learning curve, like the first few times you tried to write a text message, but it's perfect for short e-mails, URLs and Tweets. For power typing, you can pair a Bluetooth wireless keyboard to the iPad and peck away to your heart’s content.

Amid all of this cool software, it’s easy to forget that the iPad is also an iPod! With up to 64GB of hard drive space, the iPad can connect to your home computer's iTunes library and store your music, pictures, movies and TV shows. The 9.7-inch screen shows off music videos and movies, and having all of your tunes and flicks with you means there's no car ride long enough to bore you.

The truth, though? It's capable and powerful, but the most appealing part of the iPad is that it's just plain fun to use. It's a wholly new way to experience the Internet, it gives media companies an exciting chance to reimagine how they give you the good stuff, and it's the perfect gateway to your digital jukebox (or a great reason to start building one!) Plus, if you want more on the go, different iPad models coming out later this year will also offer 3G data plans that let you go online anywhere there's a cell phone signal! Whether you're interested in digital books, cutting-edge interactive magazines, intuitive Web surfing or just the hottest tech toy that everyone's buzzing about, the iPad has something for you. It definitely lives up to the hype.

 

iPad starts at $499 for 16GB Wi-Fi only model; apple.com

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