Since Apple is marketing the iPad as a new type of device sitting between the phone and the laptop, the question on many minds is “How is the iPad different?” Allow us to lay out a few of the key differences.
Some people want to know if the iPad is like a “little computer”. I would hesitate to make that comparison. If you want to describe it that way, I would rather say it’s like a “big iPhone”. The iPad lacks many of the more advanced features found in traditional computers.
Running more than one program at a time on the same computer is multi-tasking. In a system that does not multitasking, you must quit one program before running another. At first the iPad did not support this, but now multitasking is possible in iOS.
The iPad does not permit the user to access its file system. On a traditional computer you can create folder hierarchies, move files around, use your own naming schemes, etc… Conversely, the iPad’s file system is completely invisible to the user. The only way to work with objects such as photos, music, movies, documents and contacts is to use the options presented by the Apps with which these things are associated.
With traditional computers, anyone can create and distribute software. Users may install any programs they choose. But on the iPad, all software, called “Apps” must be approved by Apple and distributed through the official App Store in iTunes.
The iPad’s touch screen interface replaces a mouse and keyboard. Two-handed typing is possible with the on-screen keyboard. I am still getting used to it and my speed is pretty low at the moment. There is a physical keyboard that can dock with the iPad, but I have not used it.
Aside from these major points, here are a few more minor differences:
- There is no ethernet jack, only WiFi and 3G (on select models).
- No USB of FireWire inputs, just the Dock Connector like what’s found on iPods and iPhones.
- At the time of this writing there is no built-in printer support. There are a few apps that add this functionality in a limited manner.
- The early iPad did not have a built-in camera, but the latest models do come with still and video recording.
The iPad is far removed from traditional computers, and is a much closer relative to the iPhone. Users may only interact with the device through the applications they install, and the availability of that software is strictly controlled by Apple. Customization is limited to simple adjustments such as setting the wallpaper.
The question of whether or not the iPad is useful to you is a personal question. I’ll have a bit more of an opinion on this after I use the device more and get to collect my thoughts into a full review. For the moment, I’ll say that the iPad is geared towards those who spend time consuming digital content but have little use for the flexibility of a traditional computer.