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This is not our review of the new iPad

There are lots of reviews of the new iPad. Lots and lots. My review? In deeply abbreviated form, here it is:

The screen is amazing. You must see it before you make up your mind. It's pretty much every superlative people have thrown at it, aside from the glare and brightness all of these suffer from in direct sunlight. Everything else is nearly the same as the iPad 2, save slightly more weight and thickness, but if you're going from an iPad 1 to the new one (as I did), you won't be bothered a bit -- you're still saving weight and thickness over the first-gen.

Charging takes forever; it's a big mother of a battery in there, capacity-wise. 4G is flipping awesome, I watch my bandwidth like I used to count my minutes on AOL. The graphics are insane in terms of fluidity; Infinity Blade 2 wasn't as detailed as a PS3, but the polygons and texturing in such a small device are getting close fast. Battery life is great in my limited usage so far. Fingerprint magnet, as always.

I don't care for the more recessed power button versus the topmost button on the iPad 1. The camera is just like my 4S: gorgeous stills and video, and that makes photo and video apps fun to use, unlike my 4S. FaceTime on this screen is really some Jetsons-age business (but that's not new). Everything is zippy, and I feel like using gestures more often. I'm guessing the additional RAM is why apps aren't crashing left and right.

If you have a first generation iPad, update. If you have an iPad 2, you're probably fine unless you feel you need the better screen or 4G. I chose the Verizon 32 GB model because I wanted plenty of room for apps and I wanted to use it as a hotspot. Still the best tablet available at any price. Five stars.

Rather than add another thousand words to the review pile, let's spend some time looking at why the iPad matters and where Apple may be going with it. I suggest Apple is working towards the invisible computer, towards a seamless integration of technology and humanity, and the iPad is one of the last abstractions of technology between man and computer. Think of it as a battery-powered window to the future...

The Magic of Faking Reality

The haptic screen rumor that hit the wires just before the new iPad was unveiled was just the sort of crazy tidbit that kicks things up to the next level in the preamble to any major Apple announcement. But it made sense because it's an evolutionary step towards the goal of "invisible" computers -- or, computers which aren't called computers at all.

Why did we want to believe the haptic rumor? When I look back, it seems ridiculously gimmicky -- for now. But a lot of crazy things are bandied about before an iPad announcement. The one we all knew had to be true was the Retina display screen, and it not only makes a big difference, it does an incredible job (as Apple nearly always does) of transitioning us from the less-than-real to the I-can't-believe-it's-not-real. That's why the first iPad was called "magical" and that's why this iPad is just called iPad, while Tim Cook said Apple is revolutionizing the category it created. It's also why the transition to Retina on the iPad works so well. And again, the iPad is just one slab of metal and glass between us and pervasive technology.

Something that has surprised me is how good even very old apps look on the new iPad. Apple has made some stunning technology transitions. From classic Mac OS to OS X, from PowerPC to Intel chips, from beige boxes to leading the way in design -- so it's no real surprise that the transition from one resolution to another would be handled well. iOS developers also have the example of the iPhone 4's Retina transition to work from. But I was struck by the display, and I think it speaks to the future where Apple will continue to work towards duplicating reality as much as possible.

Speaking of reality, as I said before, sometimes Apple uses familiar design cues, and sometimes it reinvents them. Take the "no home button" weirdness that swirled around Apple's invitation. Add to this the Apple TV iteration and people wound up declaring a voice-enabled iPad HDTV Apple Docking Coffee Table was on the way.

Here's my point: Apple called the new iPad just "iPad" for a reason: it is everything, and it is nothing. If you were nonplussed by the design, or even "let down" that it was slightly heavier or thicker, you were missing the point. You really missed the point if you think the Retina display was a disappointment. Apple will sell a ton of these for the same reason samurai warriors went to a very few guys for their swords -- because they did it exactly right. The iPad continues a relentless pursuit towards the creation of the perfect tablet, the tabula rasa, or even the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. Either way, in the end the technology disappears. The iPad is the invisible computer, or at least a step on the way.

Apple likes to use skeuomorphic, "realistically rendered" design for apps like GarageBand and your contacts, notes and calendar. Not everyone enjoys this look (some really hate it) because the apps are, like Siri, merely an abstracted simulation of reality -- and a leaky abstraction at that. Where the apps abandon real world models (iMovie or iPhoto as examples) they help make complex tasks simple by making interfaces work for the user.

Haptics will happen on Apple devices, but only when the technology creates a seamless experience, from buttons to sliders to knobs or feathers. I wrote this entire analysis/slash review on the new iPad, but I'm reminded of the old 40-column text word processor I used on my Apple II. You knew that was a computer. Despite using a Bluetooth keyboard, this new iPad feels so much less like a "computer" and more like a "word machine" or even just a quiet, brilliant typewriter.

Does the Retina Display help? Yes it does, quite a bit. On the iPad 1, I could still see pixels, which reminded me of that old phosphorescent monitor. The new iPad merely presents the letters. I'm using Byword to write, so all I see are words and a word count. It's lovely. It no longer feels appropriate to compare this to a "computer," it's more like an appliance -- which was the point all along.

A Computer for the Rest of Us

There's a spot in Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs where, just before the Macintosh launched, Steve pulls out a prototype of a laptop using a folio, and shows it to the Mac team. "This is the computer we'll be making some day," he tells them. Of course the MacBook Air is basically what that turned out to be, but if you look at someone using a small folio case with keyboard and an iPad... That sure seems aligned with Steve's vision.

More than that, the iPad's interface, "pictures under glass" that it may be, is such a powerful illusion that the original was called "magical" but I would say the new iPad is truly magical. Interfaces look real. We wanted to believe in haptics because it makes sense to take the illusion further. As an aspiring magician myself, the struggle is to perfect an illusion in a way that what you are saying you are doing is exactly what you appear to be doing (even if it isn't).

In the case of an iPad, turning a knob in GarageBand is a somewhat less than satisfactory experience versus doing the same thing in real life. There's no click, no force feedback in your fingers, etc. Simulating this on as elegant a machine as an iPad, as of today, would be clunky. So I'm glad they didn't go gimmicky. But the tech will advance, and we'll keep seeing ever more magical things.

These advances will be iterations, logical and relentless and wonderful. That's the type of company and culture that exists at Apple, despite the issues people write about (us included). If people talk about the spark being gone from Apple, I would suggest that while it may have lost its greatest showman, his genius lives on in the form of the ethos and passion behind every Apple product. The climbing stock price and sales numbers are good evidence of this.

You Say You Want a Resolution

I sort of chuckle when Tim Cook says that the iPhone and iPad's success has startled them. That's true, of course, because the transformation of consumer electronics has been sweeping. Going to CES for just a couple of years has shown me how rapidly the uptake in "pictures under glass" has become. I mean, before the iPhone, look at what Engadget was excited about at CES back in 2005! So yes, the adoption rate of touchscreen devices by consumers has been shocking. How fortuitous that Apple dropped "computer" from the company name before the iPad!

Let's revisit the Pepper Pad from that dark CES many years ago. Can you imagine normal people using that as we use iPads? Of course not. It reeks of computer. It declares, "I am for people who may be inclined to read manuals, and I require a learning curve and many settings."

Now, there's something to be said for not catering to the lowest common denominator if you want to make beautiful things. I have been guilty of thinking some people are just too dumb to be allowed to use an iPhone, for example. But when Apple dropped "computer" from its title, it was prescient for so many reasons. The company has allowed itself to become transformed by a revolution we all knew was coming; the integration of technology into our society, not as a compartmentalized, specialized job track or skill set, but a pervasive use of technology to augment our minds and bodies to do amazing things. The iPad, remember, is made to disappear.

Some might say that our better and better machines are like the wings of Icarus, but I like Steve's description of "bicycles for the mind." And once you step out of the "computer" paradigm, anything is possible. We're starting the post-PC era not just because we have new ways of synchronizing, hosting or sharing our data. We're starting the post-PC era because "personal computers" no longer necessarily need to be traditional "computers" -- they merely need to be personal.

Cloud aside: On my new iPad I'm experimenting with a hybrid cloud approach. I don't yet use iTunes Match (hundreds of mashups won't match anything), so I'm only using my 13" MacBook Air for iTunes music sync. Everything else is via iCloud or WiFi sync (apps, mostly). The biggest pain point thus far has just been waiting to download apps on my miserable Internet connection at home (my ISP is AT&T). I am careful not to download dozens of large apps on Verizon's 4G because it'll blow through that data cap in a hurry. So far it's worked well, however, as I avoid many of the weird and annoying iTunes sync issues I have had with numerous other iDevices going all the way back to my monochrome iPods.

Resolutionary

The iPad, especially the new iPad, with a screen that will make you believe anything is real within its borders, is Apple's next step towards the future, where devices merely work to assist us, and specialized knowledge is only needed in the field where one works. In other words, the tools get out of the way.

We've seen patents for haptics, 3D, advanced image and motion sensing and lots of other great ideas. I think what we can expect going forward is a refining of the tools we use, and a natural evolution of the product lines. The Apple TV of the future, for example, will be revolutionary, perhaps, but not so much in raw technology as in implementation. The new iPad is not revolutionary so much in raw technology (the screen, made by Apple's phone rival Samsung, will soon be incorporated by others) as it is in implementation. From old apps holding up well to new apps looking incredible, Apple has moved the game further down the road without being beholden to the past or leaving its customers too far behind. Eventually the screen won't be the point because the screen will be everywhere.

Apple doesn't have to build a car or a refrigerator. Manufacturers already have incentives to make their devices compatible, and they have. What I look forward to is a deepening of the ecosystem, perhaps even widening it a bit, and a continuing investment in materials science, software and hardware engineering, and more. Apple's influence goes beyond its own ecosystem, clearly impacting the consumer electronics industry, education, research, design, manufacturing and more. Look for more of that in the future as well.

The iPad represents the future direction of technology, I believe, more so than any other Apple product available. It is the high-tech made simple, potent and distilled into a simple slab of metal and glass, designed to become the tool you need when you need it. If you're wondering what Apple will do next, just look at what it continues to do each year and add a little magic once in a while when it knocks our socks off with a real revolution.

The iPad may someday give way to wrist-based holographic "eyePads" or add scratch-and-sniff capabilities, but the philosophy behind it will remain. It's that philosophy that will continue to shape our lives by integrating so seamlessly with them.

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