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The iPad is out - but is it worth having?

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Legendary Apple cofounder and engineer extraordinaire Steve Wozniak loves his new iPad, saying it's better than he imagined. To older Apple fans like myself, that's really saying something.

Woz stayed out all night at the Valley Fair Apple store in Santa Clara, California, apparently, but seems somehow to have got his iPad early. He is heard to have said said "iPad delight...wow, this is better than I ever imagined!"

Wozniak was the original business partner of Steve Jobs. While Jobs provided the business smarts, Wozniak set about designing and refining technology so it could be used by the nascent Apple Computer. It was Wozniak who got Xerox PARC's clunky great mouse designed to the point at where it could be manufactured, and used by ordinary mortals.

It's hard to work out what Wozniak actually has to do with Apple these days – officially, possibly nothing at all. But he's a figurehead in the Valley and he is known to back various start-ups, do charity IT work with schools and ride a mean Segway (which I have witnessed myself, down at Western Springs Park in Auckland – 'Woz' has been in New Zealand at least twice and even considered moving here, he told me).

But hey, back to the iPad. This has been one of the most discussed devices ever, and that was well before launch.

Now people actually have them, what are they saying?

They're saying it's fast: web browsing is fast, games are fast, app switching is fast. Especially compared to the iPhone (which may well be due a faster replacement by mid-year).

This is despite iPad apps only seeming to access to 256MB of RAM, despite the iFixit teardown revealing 512MB installed. It seems at least 200MB RAM is reserved for the system. So it seems a good deal of lean coding has been achieved by Apple and quick-to-market app developers.

Many getting their hot hands on them in the States on the weekend (upwards of 300,000 people) were surprised they carried full charges right out of the box. The iPad is apparently difficult to use on a flat surface – an Apple iPad Case and iPad Keyboard Dock that hold the device upright are both due later this month.

New iPads charged easily on 27-inch iMac desktop or via the USB port on MacBook Pros, according to initial consumer reports, but difficulties were experienced charging the device via the USB ports on various Windows-installed computers.

Some 150,000 mobile apps are available for the iPad, including a Kindle for iPad app that displays ebooks from Amazon.com, which is a little odd since Amazon's Kindle compete with the iPad for the e-reader market.

Of course, many iPhone apps work on iPad straight away, but iPad users will hanker for iPad-customised apps. For, as Seth Weintraub on 9 to 5 Mac noticed after having an iPad for 24 hours, iPhone applications just don't cut it. He has already deleted just about every iPhone application he had on his iPad except for Skype, Remote, Dragon Dictation and FaceBook.

This is mostly because having tiny applications in the centre of the bigger iPad screen or blown up at half-resolution is not a very Apple-y experience.

Cult of Mac is surprised there's no cleaning cloth in the box. Now there's an opportunity for someone! That is one big touch-greasy piece of glass to clean. Cloths should be bundled with all iPad bags and cases.

I, personally, am surprised the iPad does not support iTunes LP or iTunes Extras content. I would have thought it was a perfect candidate with its lavish screen, but it seems not.

Another surprise is Hyundai's announcement that an iPad is the Korean car firm's luxury-car manual. That's right – buy a new Apple iPad for more than US$50,000 (over $70,000 NZ) and Hyundai throws in a free luxury car.

That car is the new Equus, and all the features on the new Equus will be contained in the included iPad for quick reference. But owners can use it for any of its other features too. Phew. Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik referred to the iPad as an 'interactive' owners manual. Yes. And the car is interactive too ...

Some people love to reverently 'unbox' Apple products and photograph the process, posting the results online.

OK, for the record, even I think this is weird, although I have to admit Apple has perfected the art of packaging, seemingly taking cues from Japanese bento boxes and origami.

There are iPad unboxing galleries online.

There has been lots of speculation on how many apps would be ready for iPad. Then they started appearing in Apple's updated iTunes last week – but how good were they? We are starting to find out.

Apple did not bundle a calculator app with the iPad (unlike the handy iPhone calculator), but Shift Apps has Digits Calculator all ready and it sounds good.

Google has announced a new iPad-optimised version of Gmail for Mobile. This is essentially an HTML5 web app.

Cult of Mac has been raving about Popular Science+, a trial magazine format tailored to the iPad and available now.

There are several roundups of good iPad apps online – at iLounge and at iPodNN, for example.

There are also discussions about the Apple iPad keyboard accessory – but you can pair Bluetooth keyboards with is easily.

Note that the keyboard is not available yet, but Macworld has tried one out. It notes the iPad Keyboard Dock is essentially Apple's current wireless keyboard with some slightly different keys and a dock attached.

Its dock-connector port and audio output mean you can also charge the iPad, connect external (powered) speakers, and sync it with your computer. It has iPad-specific keys along the top, in place of a standard keyboard's function keys. Using them you can control screen brightness and audio volume, perform searches, display photos and go to the iPad's home screen.

A blank button in the middle of the top row remains a mystery.

Oh, and the iPad has a compass of sorts – in Maps, you double-tap the location button and the map view will orient itself to whatever direction you're pointing the iPad, just as with an iPhone in Maps.

Macworld already has a page up answering many questions about the iPad.

Personally, I look forward to seeing one soon, but unfortunately I am overseas between the 6th-14th April. And I won't be in the US. Since I know of a couple of iPads landing in NZ during this period, I hope to bring you a hands-on when I can.

Also, if you've been waiting for updated MacBook Pros, I think they are still on the cards. Apple is probably waiting for the iPad dust to settle ...

- Mark Webster mac-nz.com

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