First, a disclaimer before my daughter and I review our shiny new iPad: our religious leaning; we are regular visitors to the high church of Jobs. We kneel at Apple's beautifully designed altar and not just on Sundays. We believe.
So, an unbiased review? Perhaps not, but we'll try.
My 9 year old, who I will call Munch to protect her fledgling privacy (some internet folk don't respect privacy, I hear) owns her own MacBook. An alternative gift to a baby brother or sister and just slightly cheaper. We visit Apple stores when we are on holiday (the San Francisco mothership a particular favourite). Munch's Christmas list last year included an 'Anything from the Apple store' entry. Steve Jobs has worked his magic; she is a convert.
Our new iPad arrived on Saturday. I'm guessing the UPS man had never spent a day delivering to such happy and welcoming people. As always, Apple excel themselves in packaging and understand the joy of opening their products; no detail too small, no cable not deliciously wrapped or instruction manual not impeccably designed.
After setting up and syncing the iPad with iTunes, I was ready to go. I downloaded all of my most useful iPhone apps - Facebook, Tweetie, Guardian, Huffington Post, Jamie Oliver etc. This throws up my first observation: iPhone apps have been designed for their tiny screens and once on an iPad they look rubbish. You are given an option to expand them to fit the iPad but the quality of text and images distort. It's more than that though. Their functionality and usability fall apart on the bigger screen.
So off to the App store for some proper iPad apps. All a bit thin on the ground. I'd heard great things about the Wired magazine app, so for want of something else, I downloaded it. A bargain at £2.99/$4.99.
The Wired app looks gorgeous; visually stunning. You can flick horizontally through pages and articles can be read in full by vertical scrolling. At any point you can overlay the contents page and move around the magazine. Some of the ads had embedded video, interactive elements, others click through to a Safari page. I spent my time in vain clicking on the remaining ads wondering what was going to happen. Amazingly no interactive elements at all - missed opportunities galore (they have sold 24,000 apps in 24 hours). Those advertisers must be kicking themselves. They'll never repeat this success when the really good apps hit the App store.
(There are many glowing reviews of the Wired app on the web, but if you're interested, here's a rather scathing one to balance them out.)
Then Munch got her hands on the iPad. Her very first impression was 'It's like a big iPhone' but on closer inspection her thoughts turned into 'It's awesome' (thank you Hannah Montana for the choice of adjective). I left her to investigate the iPad without my prompting; a quick game of DoodleJump, Pac-Man and then, refreshed by a giant iPint, she moved on to the book apps.
The Alice in Wonderland Lite app (a free teaser) offers beautifully illustrated pages that come to life through clever use of in-page animated elements: a shrinking Alice, a smoking chimney and a bouncing dodo. Curiouser and curiouser! The Munch thought this was very cool but after some iPad shaking she definitely wanted more.
Guinness World Records' GWR lite app up next. Now we're getting somewhere. GWR have not reproduced the book, they've re-imagined it for the iPad. You can investigate the 'Fastest' section where you can watch video of Usain Bolt's 100m dash, look at facts about him, see pictures - all intuitively laid out. The images sparkle on this app. A big thumbs up from the Munch for the GWR app.
Both the Alice and GWR apps made me think where children's book apps could go. I asked Munch what she thought of watching film clips as part of a book 'Yeh, cool' she replied. Of course it's cool. Stupid question. So will we see a book app with embedded film clips as a teaser to watch the film? Interactive competitions within an app to win cinema tickets? Or at the end of a cinema visit, an ad for a book app? The possibilities are endless and very exciting. And in an age when children are endlessly bombarded, I think the winners will be the publishers who push this the furthest; with the biggest imaginations.
I also downloaded the Kindle app and iBookstore. A few observations here. Very few books in the iBookstore as opposed to shedloads available through the Kindle/Amazon app. And price - I did one price comparison for a Neil Gaiman book. The Kindle price was $5.10 (equivalent to £3.51), and on the iBookstore the same book was £4.49.
This begs the fundamental question: who would choose to buy something where there is less choice and the books are more expensive? Plus, unless I'm missing something, iBookstore books can only be read on the iPad, as opposed to Kindle books that can be read on six different devices (including PCs, Macs and the iPad).
To roundup. The Alice, GWR and Wired apps all go some way to using the iPad's potential. But they feel like driving 40mph in a Ferrari. Who's going to push this platform to the speed limit and beyond?
As for the e-book store battleground, I'm assuming that my opinion will reflect most book buying punters: I'm not interested in agency models, walled gardens, DRM and the like; I just want the best value e-books, the widest choice available to download and the ability to read them on as many devices as possible: Choice. Simple.
Is this where Mr Jobs will lose some of his followers?
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