I don't exactly remember when I stopped using the iPad, but it wasn't without me trying to use it. We reviewed the WiFi version on AnandTech last year but it was the AT&T 3G version that I ended up using most of the time. For short trips around NC I'd carry it with me. It was the perfect car companion. Smaller and lighter than a notebook but functional enough to get me through any short trip. I tried carrying it to lunch and meetings around town but for the most part it wasn't portable enough for that to make sense. A smartphone was a far better companion.

For several trips around the country I remember trying to take just the iPad, but I always needed to work on an article or publish something extensive while I was gone. For months I boarded every plane with the intention of bringing only the iPad but I always ended up bringing a notebook as well. Even when I went on vacation last year I had to finish a review and ended up bringing a notebook just for three days of use. Eventually I just gave up completely and left the iPad at home. As I mentioned in our review of the first iPad last year, this is a device that augments your existing setup - it replaces nothing. You'll still need a computer of some sort and you'll still need a phone, you just get to have another device that's more convenient than both of those occasionally.

These days my iPad sits docked at my desk doing nothing more than charging and receiving updates. Yet every time I'm at an airport I look around and see tons of passengers with their iPads. It's the new ThinkPad. I see it everywhere and people seem to be happy with it. In fact, last quarter 17% of Apple's total revenue came from iPad sales.

AAPL Revenue Sources - Q1 2011
  iPad iPhone iPod Mac iTunes Store Software/Services Peripherals
Percentage 17.2% 39.1% 12.8% 20.3% 5.4% 2.9% 2.2%

Clearly there are some users who love tablets and can use them on a regular basis, I'm just apparently not one of them. That's not to say that I don't like the iPad, in fact there are a number of things I still love about it. In our original iPad review I wrote about the more relaxed computing experience the iPad offers for those of us who work at a computer during the day. It's fun to just sit on a couch and surf the web on a tablet. It's easier to show your friends web pages and videos on the iPad than it is on a notebook. You can pass a tablet around like a pad of paper while a notebook is far more clunky. The overall experience is just so much more intimate. In using the iPad, Xoom and iPad 2 for this review I even found myself missing parts of the experience that I'd forgotten about. Overall my stance hadn't changed. While I enjoy using a tablet and find it to be a more relaxed way of computing, it's the lack of performance, still not quite perfect ergonomics, the clunky multitasking UI and the lack of a convenient physical input devices that keep the iPad from being a part of my daily life. Don't get me wrong, I do believe there's clearly a future for tablets - the present day sales alone are proof of that. It's just that I believe tablets are on an evolutionary course towards perfection.

I'm currently typing this paragraph on an iPad 2 connected via HDMI to a Dell 24" display. If I wanted to I could even push the iPad to the side and use a bluetooth keyboard. This thing could easily replace a mainstream PC, it's just missing a few features.

There's no support for Flash. Like it or not Flash support is still an important part of the overall PC experience. Eventually Apple will either cave, become irrelevant or HTML5 will replace Flash entirely on the web. One way or another, this problem gets solved.

Multitasking is a pain. When the iPad first debuted there was no hope for multitasking, but now with the feature it's still far from magical. I need to tap the home button twice to bring up a task switcher, then tap or swipe/type before getting to the application I'm trying to switch to. There's no alt+tab (or cmd+tab) and no immediately visible task/dock bar of my currently running apps. Copying data between apps is a pain as I can't physically look at two things at once, there's just constant switching required to get things done. When I get a new email on the iPad I have to stop what I'm doing, go read the email and then switch back to what I was doing. The same goes for if I need to respond to an IM quickly while writing in Pages. With apps only running full screen and no support for windows, using a tablet can often times seriously reduce productivity. These are solvable problems. Apple and Microsoft figured out how to do it on the desktop after all, but we're just not there yet with tablets.

Alongside multitasking is the performance problem. With the original iPad even deleting several emails at a time was a bit choppy, and web page rendering performance needed tons of work. As always Apple does its best to hide the limitations of the platform but I must point out that even the iPad 2 with a pair of ARM Cortex A9s has lower CPU performance than a netbook with a single core Atom. The fact that you can't really tell most of the time is a testament to Apple's software engineering, but it doesn't change reality.

Ergonomics aren't perfect either. Brian Klug actually helped me realize this next point but the iPad and other tablets aren't great on-the-go devices. Tablets work very well when you're stationary but if you're up and about, moving around, a smartphone is a much better fit. Even when you're stationary there are issues. You have to be in the right physical position to comfortably use a tablet. Simply plopping it down on your lap like you would a notebook won't always work.

There's also the idea of synergy among devices. Even if you play within the Apple universe and own a Mac, an iPhone and an iPad, there's no magical way of sharing data and applications between them. I should be able to work on my Mac, step away and have my apps/data come with me. Your best bet is something like Dropbox but that's no where near the type of cohesive solution I'm talking about. Think HP's webOS touch-to-share but on steroids and you're on the right track.

The list goes on and on. If you've ever spent sufficient time with a tablet you'll quickly be able to add to this list. The tablet is still in its infancy as a computing device and as successful as the iPad may be, it still has a long road ahead before it's anywhere near perfect. Just the items I've mentioned above are too much to address with a single product update, but remember that revolution comes about via constant evolution.


Apple iPad 2 (left), Apple iPad (right)

Meet the iPad 2.

The iPad 2
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  • VivekGowri - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    I think it's $799, but I agree, it's too high. The equivalent iPad, at $729, is also way up there - really the only iPad that makes much sense as far as value goes is the base 16GB WiFi. I think the Xoom is probably going to have it's price cut by at least $100, if not $200, before it actually gets anywhere - ASUS took the right tack by putting it's lowest end Honeycomb tablet at $399. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    Where the iPad really works for me is as a travel device and in the living room. The iPad is just much nicer to use with in-flight wifi. Small, no cable management, and the battery will outlast a LAX-JFK roundtrip. My laptop lives in the overhead storage bin.

    You mentioned that the iPad has replaced the ThinkPad in airports, and I think that is spot-on. It is just so much more convenient and manageable to use compared to a laptop. I've left the laptop at home twice and I didn't miss it much, aside from not being able to play Starcraft 2 when I'm on the road. :)

    The "sharing" aspect of the device has great advantages in a work environment, especially when you want to go over PDFs with a group of people. No need to crowd around or turn a laptop, just pass around the iPad.

    As for the living room and bedroom, self explanatory. Not being tethered to the home office in order to fire off email is nice. Ditto using it as a universal remote in the living room.

    It is a luxury device and a supplement, absolutely, but a damn good one.
    Reply
  • nickdoc - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Finally a sensible person. We are definitely on the same page. Reply
  • kevith - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    "You're absolutely right" almost always really means: "I totally agree..." :-) Reply
  • relentlessfocus - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    As always a real insight into the hardware. I'd like to make an observation about generalising from your own inability to find something that tablets add to your PC./smartphone mix to the larger sphere of buyers. Indeed most are not crazy and overly rich.

    My friends have a 2 year old child. I have no doubt that eventually she'll be reacting with laptops and desktops but my oh my how much my friends talk about the 3 of them with the iPad. Not an Anandtech thing... fine. A real life use. I think so.

    Jake Humphrys is the lead for BBC's Formula 1 coverage here in the UK. While talking live in the pits with his co-commentators he now holds an iPad cupped in his hand that he gracefully reads from and then puts to his side as he gets live update info from his directors as the show is broadcast. OK, its not an Anandtech thing but its a real life use for a tablet that you wouldn't do with a netbook or notebook.

    It's being used by coaching staff in sports and by doctors making their rounds in hospitals. It's used by major corporations for field workers running in house bespoke apps for catalogues and inventory and real time pricing etc. It's used by estate agents in the field with their clients and its used in trendy clothing shops like All Saints to display the entire store catalog for customers to browse. I could without a doubt put together 100 real life uses that "did figure out a use for it" distinctive from what you might do with a netbook or laptop or even desktop.

    Your reviews set the gold standard in so many ways but in this one way its a shame you brought such a limited perspective to the usefulness of touch tablets in the world at large. I understand that people who do certain kinds of work really do find that a touch tablet device may not be useful, indeed you may not own a pickup truck or headphone amplifier. But the slant of your article and some of the comments above implies a great generality than I think can be justified.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, March 19, 2011 - link

    First of all, thank you for your kind words - I really do appreciate them.

    I don't doubt that there are specific uses for a tablet that a notebook cannot do as well. I mentioned one of these in the review - simply passing around the iPad for others to look at, information sharing, it's a lot easier to do this than with a clunky notebook.

    My point about the usefulness is that it's currently not powerful enough, flexible enough and ergonomic enough to completely replace a notebook. I'm not saying it won't get there, but I don't believe it's there today. The iPad 2 is a great device, but it's an augment to existing computing devices - and for some users that's tough to integrate into their existing workflow.

    If you can find a fit that makes sense however, it's a great device.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Azethoth - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    Good article. However I do not think the point of tablets and smartphones are to replace netbooks. I think their point is to compete on apps. If they can do something critical to someone better than another form factor then they win a sale. I think it will turn out there are more apps that are tablet appropriate than netbook appropriate.

    Unless there are more interface revolutions I just do not think there can be a 100% intersection between netbook and tablet utility. So while netbooks will remain better at the things a lot of people complain about not being able to do on a tablet, tablets will eat their lunch market share wise because of the many more things they do good enough or perfectly.
    Reply
  • Fontanka - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    "Workflow ", "Use", "Users","Usefulness".........

    That's not what most of the 15 million purchasers (and counting) are thinking about....they want to communicate, be entertained and diverted when NOT WORKING. The iPad delivers.

    Fontanka
    Reply
  • WaltFrench - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    @Anand, let me second the kind words of @relentlessfocus.

    And also his point: a tablet and a notebook are largely incommensurable.

    Lightweight, sub $1000 notebooks with 11-hour battery life, compressed learning times and near-instant app startup don't exist.

    Likewise, notebooks don't have anywhere near the touchscreen's I/O capabilities, which you call out as great in iMovie and GarageBand. (I'd add the iOS app I use for writing Chinese as part of my studies, and the painting app used by high profile artists to create New Yorker covers.) Then, there's a new mix of software appropriate to mobile life, including the many “specialized” apps @relentlessfocus offered.

    I get that, by definition, our current workflows can't be optimized on a tablet. (Mine, with multiple screens on the desktop, and a bigscreen laptop, would be horrible. Why would I even think to try?) These things are "technical disruptors," "creative destructors," "inventor's dilemmas," however you want to characterize them. They enable new usage modes at the same time that they're not as good, or downright awful, for the old ones. They serve new customers better than the old; this is all old hat ever since Shiva got incorporated into the pantheon.

    But thanks for such a complete review, for those of us who happen to be dabbling in devices that enable new functions, new activities.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Sunday, March 20, 2011 - link

    I believe we're actually in agreement here. The tablet is a disruptive form factor and a disruptive device. In the article I state that I believe there's a glorious future for tablets, however I believe we're still at an early point in the evolution. Since we're operating on a faster-than-moore'slaw-curve here, you're looking at a 12 month product cycle with these things. As such I believe a cautious approach to investment is better, especially given the price points we're talking about.

    By all means, if you have the money to spend and have a genuine use for it - the iPad 2 is a great device. I'm genuinely giving the iPad 2 another chance, I really wanted to use the iPad 1 I just found myself carrying it and a notebook wherever I went.

    For example, I'm traveling now for CTIA but I brought the MacBook Air. I'd much prefer reading comments on the iPad 2, but I like responding to them on the Air. I don't really know what the right solution is to that problem. It can't be to have one device for reading web pages and another device for contributing to web sites? I believe there's still a lot of work to be done here, that's all I'm saying - not that the iPad or the tablet are doomed.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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