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What do you want it for?
on 11 September 2012
I bought the iPad 3 at release, which at the time of writing was about six months ago. This review is not so much about the technical abilities of the iPad (which are well covered elsewhere), but more about the difficult-to-define allure of the product.
People I know who also own an iPad, or who are considering buying one, often seem to spend some time coming up with justifications for the purchase: it'll help with their work, it will be great to watch movies on the train, it will keep the kids amused. After all, no-one *needs* an iPad; we can all get along quite adequately without one and at the back of our minds we are well aware of this. The iPad is expensive and for most of us it's a lot of money to fork out on what is essentially a luxury item. Deciding what you want to get out of the iPad, and whether there's a cheaper alternative available might be questions worth considering before committing.
Having thought through the sensible stuff though, I, like many others was seduced, and parted quite happily with £500 odd in the expectation of...what exactly? You often see the words "Apple" and "magic" in the same sentence, and this ability to produce products which go beyond one's expectations are at the core of the company's success. Having bought an iMac a year or so ago, I was confident that I would again have my investment in an Apple device repaid several times over in the sheer enjoyment which goes with an amazement at the uncanny perfection of the product's capabilities.
So, there I was in the Apple store, seated at a table, an attendant at the quasi-mystical ceremony at which my own iPad was removed from its packaging and prepared for set up. As this was the first day on sale, various people gathered to watch in awe. I was required to do the unboxing and unveiling, instructed in every move by the assistant. After removing the protective sleeve it was time to flick the button and bring life to the screen. A hush descended. As smooth as silk, the interface appeared in all its cool beauty. This truly was a work of art.
Six months on and it's almost always in constant use, whether by me or another member of the family. Interestingly, different aspects seem to appeal to different people.
For me it's the mail which is probably the singularly most useful feature. I have my work email as well as private email accounts all in the mail application. The messages are clearly laid out, and writing and responding I find is easy enough on the keyboard, though I know a lot of people don't find it so; it takes a while to adapt your hand shape to the keyboard, but the predictive text ensures that even if you hit the wrong key the word will probably still appear as you intended. Somehow Apple have made even such a mundane program as mail glamorous, and Excel, Word and pdf documents look spectacularly clear and professional on the retina display.
Kids love the apps, particularly the gaming ones of course, and there's always a new one coming along in this seemingly inexhaustible supply of the new and extraordinary.
Photos look a million dollars on the new screen and iPhoto ensures that albums can be easily organised. The iPad cleverly syncs with your PC so not just photos, but music moves seamlessly between the two.
iTunes, YouTube and the BBC app mean you could be entertained for hours, if you should so choose. Whatever you watch you'll be treated to pin-sharp definition. The sound is fine on the basic headphones.
All these things, in my opinion, make this a luxury worth having. However, the iPad is somehow more than the sum of its parts, and the robustness of its manufacture (I can attest to this as it's been dropped from a height on more than one occasion) together with the absolute lack of any indication whatsoever that there are actually processors whirring and chips buzzing below that crystalline surface, instil a confidence that this is somehow more than just a mass-market device. I defy you not to be beguiled...