In the March edition of the Journal we covered the announcement of Apple’s new iPad device by accessing the views and opinions of some of the leading Japan-based professionals in publishing, marketing and content distribution. Since then the iPad has debuted in the U.S. to mostly rave reviews, accompanied by the now par for the course long lines at Apple’s stores.
Confounding the brand’s skeptics, Apple managed to sell 500,000 iPads in its first week, leading the company to announce a supply shortage that will delay the device’s international distribution until late May (which, in Apple-speak, really means around mid-June). The initial lack of international availability has given rise to a black market for the device on the Internet and in tiny gadget shops as far flung as Beijing, where some customers are paying as much as $1,060 for the $499 16-gigabyte model (the 32GB and 64GB models sell for $599 and $699 respectively. Japan pricing will be announced on May 10th).
Thankfully, we didn’t have to resort to such measures, and managed to have an iPad delivered to us in Tokyo (at normal cost) by a friend just a few days after its U.S. release. In fact, this very article was composed on the iPad.
After going through the initial stage of geek glory at being one of the few in Japan to have the iPad, then allowing friends and office mates to take the unit for a brief (and closely monitored!) spin, it was time to settle in and figure out if this could indeed act as a netbook-like companion to my main computers at home and the office.
In the first week after the iPad’s release I followed the efforts of a few well-known U.S.-based tech pundits to see if the device could be used as a full-fledged “laptop” replacement. With one exception, they all determined that the iPad “could not” function as a laptop replacement. From my vantage point their primary mistakes were setting the bar too high in terms of performance/features, and not using that first week to first acclimate themselves to this totally new computing paradigm. Despite those who dismiss the iPad as just a big iPod Touch, this really is a new kind of computing that the iPod Touch and iPhone only hinted at.
Thus, I spent my first week with the device not trying to force it to suddenly do everything I’m accustomed to on my laptop; instead I spent that time simply becoming comfortable with a new style of computing. The closest thing I can reference, for those who haven’t handled the device, is the touch panel computers seen on television’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Using it really does feel a bit like science fiction.
The screen is better than any laptop I’ve used, the Apple-made A4 processor makes the computer’s functions incredibly fast, and I’ve yet to feel even a hint of heat from the unit. The speakers are surprisingly loud, and surfing the Web is faster on the iPad than any device I own. In terms of WiFi, unlike some rumors on the Web, I had no problems consistently connecting wirelessly.
I went in with low expectations (a good idea with new category, first generation devices), and as a result I had few disappointments.
That said, there are downsides. I have large hands, but at times the device felt a bit heavy after prolonged use in a traditional book reading position. The iPad has no USB or other data ports through which to transfer your information, making it a closed device, unless you’re someone who uses cloud services to store your data. Finally, to even get the iPad started you must connect it to iTunes (my least favorite app) on another computer. While strategically understandable, it will likely stop many from purchasing the device. In the long term, I expect this limitation to vanish when the operating system matures.
At present, the amount of truly useful iPad apps is somewhat low, but growing daily. Apple’s iBooks app is definitely the best in its class, but has the smallest selection of titles. Amazon’s Kindle iPad app will likely be the choice for voracious book readers. Along the same lines, the Bloomberg stock and world index app was simply amazing. In the area of news apps, Reuters outclasses the competition by including—along with its world news coverage—visually stunning real-time world stock market info-graphics and currency exchange rate updates.
Perhaps the most amazing example of an app that points the way towards the future of education is the “Theodore Gray: The Elements” app. This app-meets-book takes you into the periodic table of elements with detailed information and fully interactive 360-degree rotating videos that can be manipulated by touch. By far this is the app that wows most first-time iPad onlookers, and with good reason. How these kinds of text and interactive content apps will play out in Japan’s vastly different publishing market is something worth keeping a close eye on.