OK, herewith my first impressions of the thing. (As if nobody else weren’t posting theirs, too… I suppose this will be mainly of historical interest to Future Me.)
The name: iPad, not Magic Whatever. It could have been worse, at least it’s short and easy to remember; on the downside, I gather there are some unfortunate connotations to the name in English, and it’s a little too close to “iPod” typographically and phonetically. One possible consequence is that the iPod touch may be phased out soon, or renamed to “iPad mini”… <insert more connotation jokes here>.
Form factor: looks reasonable to me. Pity it doesn’t fold in half, but you can’t have everything. In vertical (ebook) position, it’s as tall as a trade paperback, but wider and thinner. Not optimal, maybe, for books and watching HD video, but the 4:3 aspect size makes for a less expensive display and easy connection to a presentation projector. Speaking of which, porting Keynote was a good idea; we’ll see a lot of iPads at conferences in the future. I suppose an IR receiver/remote control pair for presenters who prefer to pace back and forth will be out soon from the usual third parties.
Display: 1024×768 at 132 dpi. Quite vanilla-basic, but it means Apple wanted to hold the price down instead of going with seriously new technology here. It also means there’s plenty of things to build into a second-generation device later in the year.
It’s not a cellphone, just as I thought. Avoids the hassles of dealing with subventions and plans, selling through cellphone companies, and all that. I suppose it signals a future for VoIP over 3G for all but the most basic cellphones. The microSIM form factor is quite new, and it will no doubt make for slow adoption in many countries; ideally Apple would have made the device accept both old and new SIM types.
What’s missing from the hardware? Camera(s): a front-facing camera would be great for chatting/video conferences, and no doubt will appear in a future version. A back-facing camera, as in the iPhone? Probably not; the iPad is too large to use as a regular camera, and remember, this is not a convergence device; it’s directed at a market gap. Also missing: GPS. Again, something to build into a second-generation iPad. The “assisted GPS” feature is less precise and, as far as I know, only works well in some cities (most of which are in the USA).
The Apple A4 chip: information is scarce on that, beyond the 1GHz clock speed. I suppose Apple published that because it’s a round number, and contrasts nicely with the 600MHz previously published for the latest iPhone. Beyond that, we can safely assume that it runs the ARM instruction set – I haven’t seen the SDK yet, but I hear gcc 4.2 is the default compiler; that it was designed by the former PA Semi people; and that its built-in GPU has been heavily optimized for the iPhone OS X. Future systems may not be bound to ARM, once Apple deems Clang/LLVM production-ready.
Software: I can follow the reasoning of using a modified iPhone OS X – all the pieces are in place, zillions of users already know the GUI, the developer SDK and the AppStore are out there. On the other hand, the iPad inherits all their problems, too. Granted that those problems are mostly on the developer’s side. For me, it means that the type of utility I like to write can’t be done; there’s no multitasking, the APIs are too closed, applications can’t communicate easily, and Apple allows no replacement or supplementation of the basic interface.
Will I buy one? Well, eventually. Just a few months ago I almost bought a 64GB iPod Touch – the 8GB one I have now is too cramped for my music library. I use it only for playing music, and in 2 years of carrying it around I haven’t thought of a single app I would like to write for myself; maybe that will change with the larger screen. An iPad would be great to have as a general book/web reading device, especially on shorter trips. Unless Apple ports Xcode to it, I wouldn’t take it on a longer trip instead of a laptop, and even so the screen is too small. The MacBook Air’s screen is already cramped for development, and in terms of volume, better to carry the Air instead of an iPad with the keyboard/dock. The Air also allows me to run Eudora to check my email; I’ve tried Mail.app in the past and just couldn’t get used to it.
For general use, I’ve no doubt the iPad will sell well, and the vertical markets developers seem to be impressed. Let’s see what the future (and the next WWDC) will bring.