The new iPad came out today. I pre-ordered it, and it arrived just after noon. To put this in perspective, the only thing I've ever pre-ordered for delivery before was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, right at the height of my obsession with those stories. So I was quite keen to get this device, for one simple reason: the display.
I had other excuses that I made to myself of course:
- It has faster graphics (I'll rarely notice - I don't play games like Infinity Blade. I'm happy with Angry Birds levels of realism);
- I wanted a model with 3G;
Actually, on paper, I can't think of any other reason to upgrade from the iPad 2. Retina Display, graphics, wi-fi only to 3G.
For most of my life, the computer has been something you ”have a go on”, something you switch on to achieve a particular task. Homework for example. Since I got my first iPod Touch in 2008, I've had a computer with me all the time and it changed my life. Not in any meaningful way of course; it just meant I had one single, handy device on which I could check football scores, play a game, read a book, or check the past roles of a particular actor to find out where I know him from. The small screen of this and the iPhone meant that it was really convenient, always in my pocket, but not preferable to a ”real” computer if one happened to be on. Not preferable to a real book if I had that instead.
In August 2010 I got my first significant pay check, and blew it all on the iPad after playing with one for two minutes in an Apple Store. The iPad is a brilliant device because it is much more casual than a computer. Sitting at a desk is no fun, and laptops are burdened with a keyboard that often doesn't need to be there. It has all the strengths of the iPhone but without the disadvantage of being pocket-sized (remember when people said the iPad would struggle for popularity because it wouldn't fit in your pocket?). Curling up with the iPad to read a book or browse the Internet, or watch TV on demand with iPlayer or Netflix, don't require much typing, and the iPad reflects this by only showing the keyboard when you actually need it. This lets it be far smaller than a laptop but still just as useful. It also wakes immediately, as soon as you want to use it, rather than having to be switched on, and it never needs restarted. This is the way personal computing should be, and I believe this explains why the iPad has been such a massive success - everyone knows why they need a computer, but the iPad is the first time that a good, as opposed to convenient, form factor has been available.
So, back to the Retina Display. The iPad is almost all display. And the first two generations of iPad were the same as any computer screen. This, however, is very different, although it doesn't look that way when the devices are switched off. Whereas before you knew you were looking at, and touching, a computer screen, the new iPad has a display far more reminiscent of the paper in a glossy magazine. This makes it so much more comfortable to read on than the previous generation that it just isn't playing the same game any more. In much the same way that a newspaper with moving pictures seems exciting to readers of Harry Potter, the idea of having a much more paper-like display on my most oft-used device was a no-brainer, but reality is even more advanced than my dream. This truly does feel like I'm carrying magic paper around with me, albeit slightly thicker and heavier than real paper. But that's the trade-off that we have to make on the first couple of iterations of something so fantastic. Much like the screen was something you could accept in the first two iPads because the rest was so fantastic, the iPad of five years from now could well be paper-thin, or it could have a battery that lasts a month. I'm really excited for the future, but right now I'm just delighted with the present.