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The iPad: Pros and Cons

So: if you have just awoken from a coma and/or discovered the Internet, Apple rolled out their tablet today. It’s called the iPad. After the wave of iTampon/Max-iPad/other feminine hygiene product-related jokes died down, folks came to this realization: there are some good things about the iPad, and some bad things about it.

It’s fair to say that the reaction to the iPad has been mixed. This can be explained away, in part, by the absurd buildup to the thing. But what substantive features define it? The good and the bad:

Pro

  • Third-party support: the iPad will be able to run third-party apps without modifications. Kind of like the iPhone! Yes, Apple will profit off of an even more hyped-up app store, but users will benefit from the flexibility and creativity brought in by (mostly profit-seeking) developers. Also key: the iBooks e-reader app. It may not instantly rescue all of journalism, but it’s a start, and this may make the iPad an attractive choice for consumers who don’t want to buy black-and-white, restricted Internet e-readers. More broadly, in the words of David Carr, “the iPad is creating and killing categories at the same time;” the free market says that third-party devs will best be able to figure out what to do with all of that potential.

Con

  • It’s running on the iPhone operating system (currently, version 3.2); no OS X. Among other things, this means no multitasking: as in, you can’t run two applications at the same time. Also: no Flash (see below). Engadget: “There’s no multitasking at all. It’s a real disappointment. All this power and very little you can do with it at once. No multitasking means no streaming Pandora when you’re working in Pages… you can figure it out. It’s a real setback for this device.”

Pro

  • HTML5, the still-developing next generation of HTML, has been thoroughly embraced by the iPhone’s OS, and, by extension, the iPad’s. HTML5 isn’t yet fully there, but it’s promising: Ask a bunch of web geeks about HTML5 and you’ll hear a lot of answers to the effect that it’s the future of the Internet, both because it patches up much of HTML4′s clutter and because it’s seen as a freer, more open development platform. (Counterpoint: see H.264 codec)

Con

  • The flipside of that: no Flash. This isn’t totally a minus — see above —  but the Web is a long way to go from being all HTML5, with the result that big chunks of it will be shut off to early iPad users. The top comment on a critical thread on Reddit:  “[N]o Flash support. It literally is just a big iPod Touch with some free apps included.”

Pro

  • The cheapest iPad, which has the minimum 16 gigabytes of storage, costs $500; this is well below the $1000 pricetag predicted by some.

Con

  • The cheapest iPad doesn’t come with 3G coverage; for that, you’ll need to bump it up to $629, which doesn’t factor in the $30/month you’ll be paying for unlimited data. (because you will be paying for unlimited data and not 250 MB a month, right?)

Pro

  • 10 hours of battery life while watching video, with up to a month of standby! At least according to Steve Jobs. Given that it’s so thin and weighs only 1.5 pounds, this is pretty remarkable.

Con

  • The battery is built in, which means you’re screwed if it conks out. This was one of the things that people most disliked about the MacBook Air.

Pro

  • The iPad has a digital compass, 3G-assisted GPS, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, Apple’s custom 1 GHz Apple A4 chip, and is multitouch-compatible.

Con

  • For all of that, no camera, at all. No Skype, no augmented reality, no photos on the go. Seriously: the accelerometer over that?

Again: the iPad is a mixed bag, and it is not the mythical unicorn-like creature that the hype cycle inevitably built it up to be. But there’s a lot to like about it, and, like it or not, when it hits shelves two months down the road, there are going to be some long, long lines outside the Apple Store.

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