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I’m a bit wishy washy about the title of this article as the iPad has had it’s US launch, but it hasn’t launched in Japan (or anywhere else in the world) yet, and we are still a weeks away from Apple’s “magic” device arriving on our shores officially.

Through the efforts of great friends at Rinkya (a must use service for non-Japan based people to purchase hard to find Japanese goods), I was able to procure a 16GB wi-fi iPad just a couple days after the US launch.  I’ve had it for several weeks now and have been trying to figure out what the iPad is and what it isn’t, and most importantly, is it worth getting one.  After spending many hours with the device (it has hardly left my sight since I first got my hands on it), I can confidently say “maybe”.

What the iPad is:

The iPad of course is the new tablet device released by Apple to fill the void between the mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPod Touch, and the laptop Macbook line.  With a 9.7 inch capacitive resistant, LED backlit screen, the iPad is much more than just a “big iPod touch”.
While it runs a similar OS to the iPhone and iPod Touch, the iPad’s larger screen makes a world of difference to the overall experience.  Remember, the iPhone’s OS has been  billed by Apple as a full (albeit customized) version of OSX, so the new 3.2 OS adds support for 1024×768 pixel screens, a Safari browser much closer to the desktop version with support for html5, and a new category of iPad only applications which are optimized for the larger screen and more powerful device.
For over a year I have dragged a MacBook Air around with me as my mobile office solution.  It’s been great and I love the design and slim design of the Air, but with the iPad I have been able to knock off about half of the weight.  For a setup that I usually just carry around with me in case I want to get some productivity out of a hour in-between appointments, this has been great on my shoulder.  Throw in a small stand and an Apple bluetooth keyboard and I have pretty much everything I need while on the run.  A powerful web browser, word processor (I am using the iPad only Pages app to write this), and apps that cover my major productivity needs, NewsRack for Google Reader RSS feeds, Twittelator for iPad for twitter, and LogMeIn Ignition for when I need to access my more powerful system at home.  Note that I do more complicated work at home on a full desktop system, such as anything multi-media related or data management tasks.
In particular, I really like using the Safari browser and am starting to feel that touch is the killer app for browsing.  The in-line video support is very impressive and the A4 processor of the iPad seems to handle high quality video without even breaking a sweat.  I now feel pity for anyone watching TV on the sofa who does not have an iPad within reach.

What the iPad is not:

Well, for starters, the iPad is not small or light.  While it is quite thin, the iPad is still about as large and heavy as a hardback book.  This is not a mobile device that you carry with you all the time, but instead is more of a ultralight laptop or netbook.  In fact I often find myself typing on the iPad at the same time as I am checking up on things with my iPhone.  It’s a bit too heavy to pull out while I am walking around the streets of Tokyo and feels quite unwieldy when I try to use it while standing on the subway.
But it’s not quite a computer either.  It’s certainly more limited than a laptop computer.  No open file area I can use freely, means I have to rely on apps to take care of any complicated tasks I want to do via the iPad.  I like how it takes up much less table space when I want to work in a Starbucks, however, even with an external keyboard.  And the 10 hours of battery life (about what I have experienced even with wi-fi on) is miles better than my Air was capable of.

What about eBooks?

When I first saw the demo of the ipad I declared Amazon was doomed.  I now feel that sentiment was very premature.  Comparing the iPad to a Kindle2 is pretty much impossible.  The iPad looks gorgeous and offers color, backlit screen, animation, and tons of other features to boot.  But compared to the Kindle it weighs a ton.  The backlit screen is hard on the eyes in completely dark room and I just can’t see that reading on the iPad for hours on end will be either comfortable or good for your optical health.
The Kindle on the other hand has a much smaller screen, relies completely on available light, has  limited expandability and a prehistoric interface when compared to the iPad.  However with a weight only a fraction of the iPad it’s much easier to sit by the pool for a few hours catching up on a good trashy novel (yeah, I know. I never do this either, but I think I read a book where people do it).  The e-Ink technology, while still very limited compared to full displays, still gives the Kindle a battery life that makes even the iPad green with envy.  Simply put, the Kindle is a great single purpose ebook reader, the iPad is a much more powerful, and complicated computing device.

My suggestion, get both :)
If anything, I think that Amazon will come out a big winner here.  The Kindle App for iPad is great and in fact has some features that even the iBook app can’t match such as whipersync, allowing me to read one book on my Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Mac, and PC and have them all stay in sync so I never lose my place even when I swap devices.  While Kindle may lose some hardware sales to people who will stick to just the iPad, I think Amazon should see even better book sales (the Kindle store has much better selection) and I can see some people buying from the Kindle store now without even owning a Kindle.


To 3G or not to 3G

The US has just seen the launch of the 3G version of the iPad, and so far, the reviews are not stellar.  Basically, the 3G version only adds cellular wireless capability, giving the iPad the same data capability as the iPhone.  I am very amused by all the people who expected that the somehow the iPad would be exempted from all the restrictions.
When using the iPhone over 3G network, there are download caps, streaming video is restricted to low bandwidth resolutions and VOIP applications are for the most part unavailable.  Of course the iPad suffers the same limitations, and while high resolution video from YouTube on the iPad over wi-fi networks is amazing, I can imagine the disappointment of the blocky, rough 3G throttled version.
I have been using my iPad with an EMobile Pocket Wifi portable router, which has for the most part performed like a champ.  I can get data access for my iPad wherever I go, giving me pretty much the exact same functionality as a 3G version, with the bonus of a faster upload speed and ability to connect the internet to another four devices.  One problem I have noticed is that the iPad drains the battery on my portable router much faster that I have experienced in the past.  I think this may be due to the iPad forcing the connection to stay active, even when the device is in sleep mode, but need to do a bit more testing to confirm.  As such I had to pick up a spare battery for the Pocket Wifi to ensure I can keep the iPad properly fed and happy.
I can see the benefit of the 3G connection, but am not convinced that the additional monthly bill will be worth it for me as I have no plans to drop the EMobile.  And with still no official launch date in Japan (announcement expected on May 10), and no idea what kind of pricing plans we will see here, It’s still a very big question mark.  Also i am not in love with the big black plastic bar across the top side of the iPad 3G.  Love the clean back of the wi-fi version.

So is the iPad for you?

Well, for now, if you have to ask the question, probably not.  The people getting iPads right now are die-hard Apple fans, developers, journalists, and people with too much money (no comment on which categorie(s) might apply to me).
The iPad will continue to develop it’s own ecosystem, and soon we’ll see a pattern of what type of people get what kind of benefits from this new device.  But for the most part, the iPad does not replace any mainstream device.  And since it does not rely replace anything, it’s hard to make the case that it is necessary for anyone.  What we need to see is for the iPad to develop a new niche for casual computing hereto unseen similar to the iPhone revolution.  Judging from the response I have seen from Japanese consumers getting their first touch experience with the iPad, I think there are a lot of reasons for Apple to be optimistic about their chances here.

Follow our complete iPad landing in Japan coverage

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