Dawn of the iPad
It's 9:45 a.m. on a Thursday, and the Apple Store at Denver's Cherry Creek Mall is already buzzing. A diverse group is checking out all of the gadgets on display - most of all the myriad iPads.
Launched in early April, the latest and greatest toy from Apple sold more than a million units in its first month, easily outpacing the iPod and iPhone's respective launches in 2001 and 2007. It's particularly impressive considering the iPad's higher price tag ($499 to $829, depending on the amount of memory and 3G capabilities), but it also shows the rise of Apple in the new portable paradigm for consumer electronics.
I'm here partly because of the product's uber-popularity. Apple didn't respond to several requests for an interview, and when I called the Cherry Creek store, an employee referred me back to Apple HQ - a public-relations Moebius strip.
I approach an iPad display at the front of the store, and my fingertip touches the screen on one of the demo units. It takes me a minute to get the hang of the navigation. I check out a few of the apps, the e-mail interface, and watch a cartoon on YouTube.
A few minutes later, an employee is giving me a demo, showing off the neoprene case ($39.95), the iBooks, and the brightness and font-size control. He downloads the free 4,000-page "Complete Works of William Shakespeare" in a minute flat, searches for Juliet, and uses a pop-up dictionary to look up "methinks." Then he plays the opening scene from "The Dark Knight," the screen's crisp resolution showing off the clown masks nicely.
I want one. Alas, there are none in stock - I'm promised an e-mail when the store has fresh inventory.
After the mall, I stop by Super Target and am underwhelmed by an in-store display for the Sony Reader ($199 to $299): no e-mail, no video, no working demo unit, no customer service. (I was actually hoping to find an Amazon Kindle 2 here, but no such luck.)
A few blocks south at Barnes & Noble, I check out the store's proprietary electronic reader, Nook, launched last fall. The navigation is anything but intuitive, but the e-ink display is easier on the eyes than the iPad's LED touchscreen. And the $259 price tag is easier on the pocketbook.
It's nifty, but I'm not tempted. I just can't keep the visions of mad clowns on the iPad from dancing through my head.
It's all about apps
Ted Guggenheim, CEO of Boulder-based Rage Digital, a developer specializing in business-to-consumer iPhone and iPad applications, got his iPad on day one and soon thereafter ended up on a plane next to two Amazon Kindle users.
"They just read their books," he says of Amazon's e-reader. "I watched an episode of ‘Lost,' read the New York Times, managed my e-mail, listened to music - and read a book. I might have wanted to show it off a little."
Since the launch, Rage Digital ported an apartment-finder iPhone app to the iPad and partnered with another Boulder company, cypher13, to develop Helvetinotes, which Guggenheim dubs "the premiere note-taking app for the iPad."
"It lends itself to more scenarios than the iPhone largely because of the size of the screen," says Guggenheim, describing a potential market that veers from health care to real estate. "We definitely think it's a game-changer. The mobile work force is definitely going to benefit. It definitely lends itself to enterprise deployments for medical or any other industry that needs a larger screen."
Guggenheim is especially bullish on the iPad's potential for doctors. "The doctors in a number of hospitals have changed the pockets on their white coats to accommodate an iPad. And doctors don't have the time to learn something new. The beauty of the iPad is you can take information and display it in a way that's extremely intuitive." YouTube proves his point: Videos of toddlers, nonagenarians, and even cats navigating the iPad's intuitive controls popped up within weeks of its launch.
He also touts the iPad's rapid boot-up - "pretty much instantaneous" - and its long-lasting battery - "up to two days." Not that it's a complete panacea. "I think there's a certain speed and efficiency to managing documents on a desktop that's not going to go away anytime soon," Guggenheim says.
"It's funny, the iPhone cut my time on the laptop, and it's happening again. My laptop is collecting dust as my other two devices have taken over. I don't think we've really seen what this new device is going to lend to our lives, and I think a lot of the ingenuity is going to come from third-party developers like ourselves."
Tim Shisler, a Boulder-based freelance writer and videographer, learned the ins and outs of iPhone development while laid up with the swine flu last year, but has been pitching apps as content to magazines since 2008. Back then, "No one really bit," he says. "Now it's starting to pick up a lot."
Shisler already bought and returned an iPad, "eating the 10 percent restocking fee," he says. "I realized I could wait until the next version was out." He sees the impact on publishing as huge, describing "interactive guidebooks that go beyond the short snippet and the stock photo."
"They've given businesses the ability to succeed in a rich media environment," Shisler says of the iPad and the iPhone. "These devices not only are changing the way we distribute information, but also the way we consume it." He touts the possibility of geo-location as something of a holy grail. "Knowing where your customers are at any given point in time and feeding them information that leads to the point of sale is huge."
Shisler notes that big brands that took a wait-and-see approach to iPhone apps are diving into the iPad pool headfirst. "They're starting to think long tail," he says, and recognize the value of content across different platforms.
Daniel Brogan, founder/editor/publisher of 5280 magazine in Denver, pre-ordered his iPad so he could have it as soon as it hit the market. And he's not disappointed. "It's everything Apple said it would be. It's amazing to play with - it pulls you in. They use the word magic, and there are times I have to agree," Brogan says.
"On the other hand, it's pretty frustrating too. It's very much a first version. It doesn't yet replace the devices you already have." He says it's clumsy managing documents and laborious for "power e-mail sessions."
Brogan sees the touch-based interface as a huge leap forward and the large screen and high resolution as ideal for reading.
"The difference between browsing with your fingertips and browsing with a mouse is significant. When you read on an iPad, it's very easy to forget about the device." A 5280 app is in the works, and Brogan is quick to tout the benefits of reading on an iPad: searchable, storable, taggable back issues, no dead trees, and instantaneous delivery. Long-form journalism - features of 5,000 words or more - "are not great to read on the Web," he adds, "but they can be turned into something that's good to read on the iPad."
Before launching 5280 magazine in 1993, Brogan cut his teeth writing for technology magazines and worked at Denver tech powerhouse Quark, so he's something of a techie. And in his eyes, the hype is real: The iPad is no flash in the pan.
"It's great for leisure," he says. "It's great for on the couch. It's great for dinner by yourself. But it won't replace your laptop" - at least not yet.