First, a confession. I'm not a Mac-o-phile. I use a PC at home and in my office, and I've written a fair number of software programs for the PC Windows environment. Nonetheless, I much admire Steve Jobs' style and the cult-like following his products have engendered. I have an Iphone 4, and I consider it one of the finest bits of technology that I've ever seen. The fuss about the antenna on the Iphone 4 is grossly over-hyped. The number of applications (Apps) is mind boggling and continues to grow daily. If you can tolerate the small screen and keyboard necessary to make this a pocket item, there's almost nothing you cannot do with it. For example, by installing the University's VPN client, I can signout my surgical pathology reports over my Iphone. I won't deal with the merits and failures of ATT's cellphone system, but rumor has it that Verizon will also get the Iphone after the first of the year.
Against this background, I thought that I'd give the Ipad a try. Overall the experience has been a positive one and it continues to impress me daily as new Apps appear, but it doesn't have the "gee whiz" factor of the Iphone. If you're thinking about getting an Ipad, keep in mind that this is NOT a laptop computer. You can get a quite nice, though probably slightly larger laptop for what you'll pay for an Ipad. If you want/need a laptop, get one instead.
My goal was to get enough functionality on the Ipad that I did not have to take my trusty (and now rather ancient) laptop with me on my travels. That meant, first, the ability to check my e-mails and respond as needed. The Ipad handles this extremely well. The much larger keyboard than the Iphone's makes typing almost as easy as on a standard keyboard and e-mail responses, even lengthy ones, are easily handled. Second, I needed internet access to handle my editorial duties for AJSP and Path Network. The Safari web browser on the Ipad is extremely fast. Unfortunately, though, the Ipad and Iphone do not support "Flash" plug-ins, and Editorial Manager uses a Flash plug-in to "assemble" a manuscript from the cover letter, text, figures, and tables. This is at most an inconvenience as each of the components can be downloaded separately for viewing. Alternately, using a "thin client" and a VPN connection, I can connect to a Windows server here at U.Va. and create a "virtual PC" window on the Ipad. This is only a little slower than a direct connection. At the moment, methods of moving around in the virtual PC window are not as easy as I would like, but these Apps are improving daily. Using the thin client connection I can, as with the Iphone, signout my pathology reports with the Ipad and doing so is much easier on the larger screen.
Another major requirement was the ability to view and ideally edit my PowerPoint presentations on the Ipad. Currently, there is no true PowerPoint App for the Ipad/Iphone. There are, however, excellent PowerPoint viewers which allow one to review PowerPoint presentations (the images look fantastic on the Ipad screen), but they cannot be edited and exported as a PowerPoint presentation. Not ideal, but not a major problem and with luck a full function PowerPoint App will eventually appear. Though I have not done it yet, I'm told that there is also the ability to connect the Ipad output to a video projector, and run your PowerPoint talks directly from the Ipad. This requires a separte interface cord.
So with just a little bit of effort, I got the Ipad up to speed for my major out of town requirements and it is considerably smaller and has a much higher resolution screen than my trusty old laptop. Of course, the Ipad excels at tasks like displaying YouTube or Netflix videos and it is very simple to download one of these and view it in lieu of the inflight movie when you're travelling. All the music functionality of the Iphone is also present on the Ipad and it's simple to synchronize between the two.
Here are a few of the downsides that I don't see and would like to.
1. Data/file transfer. The Ipad could REALLY use a USB port or a card port such that files could easily be transferred to/from the Ipad with a USB thumbdrive or data card. Instead, files need to be loaded to a server site like "MobileMe" and then downloaded from there with appropriate software onto the Ipad.
2. No directory structure. The Ipad doesn't have a classic directory system and there's no equivalent to Windows Explorer to see what files are present. I really miss this feature. It would be fantastic to be able to scroll through the directory, click on a file, and have the appropriate software open it. In fairness, there are ways around this that generally involve starting a software App first, then having it list the available files to be opened.
3. No case. I hate to be a whiner, but for what an Ipad costs, Apple should throw in a case! This thing really has to have one for protection of the screen.
The Ipad can be thought of as a large Iphone, minus the phone, or as a hybrid between a laptop and an Iphone. Like all hybrids, its somewhat nebulous existence between two worlds makes its longevity questionable. As Iphones get faster and faster processors, might the Ipad simply be replaced with an "Iscreen" and keyboard that your Iphone connects to, giving you all of the functionality of the Ipad, without the added cost of a separate processor, memory, etc? Makes sense to me!