Think you want an iPad? Read this first!

Apple's much-hyped gadget may not fill the bill

Is the Apple iPad good enough for government work? The early reviews are in, and they bring mixed results. Overall, the iPad wins praise for its speed, touch-screen interface, battery life and overall user experience. But it garners complaints for what's missing, including support for Flash, a camera and the ability to print.

The GCN Lab is in the process of obtaining an iPad for review, and we'll soon run our own tests, with a particular eye to how iPad would work in an office setting. In the meantime, a roundup of reviews from those who got the devices in advance of last week’s rollout might provide some clues to whether the iPad is likely to begin showing up in government circles.

The New York Times’ David Pogue, noting that the iPad is the most polarizing device he’d ever come across, split his review into two sections, one for techies and one for everyone else.

For the techies, he complained about the onscreen keyboard, the lack of Flash support and the iPad’s inability to multitask. For everyone else, he praised the multitouch screen, e-reader and user-friendliness. “The iPad is so fast and light, the multitouch screen so bright and responsive, the software so easy to navigate, that it really does qualify as a new category of gadget,” he writes. “Some have suggested that it might make a good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged and the young; they’re absolutely right.”

He also gives high marks to the device’s battery life, noting that it exceeded Apple’s claims of running for 10 hours on a single charge – in his case running for more than 12 hours.


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USA Today’s Edward C. Baig gives the iPod 3 ½ stars out of four, lauding the experience of using the device: “The iPad is not so much about what you can do — browse, do e-mail, play games, read e-books and more — but how you can do it.”

Slate’s Farhad Manjoo agreed, writing that he can’t do anything on the iPad that he can’t do on his phone or computer, but that the user experience makes it irresistible.

Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal concludes that, “while it has compromises and drawbacks, the iPad can indeed replace a laptop for most data communication, content consumption and even limited content creation, a lot of the time. But it all depends on how you use your computer.”

But the question for potential government users is whether the iPad will allow you to mix business with all this pleasure.

Baig, is his praise, wrote: “An often-asked question after Jobs unveiled the tablet at the end of January was: What is iPad's purpose for being? I answered that question by surfing the Web, watching the movies ‘Up’ and Michael Jackson's ‘This Is It,’ reading the late Sen. Edward Kennedy's ‘True Compass,’ playing Scrabble and an accelerometer-driven game called RealRacing HD, and boning up on the periodic table of elements.”

All fine activities, but do they apply on the job (at least, officially)?

Eric Zeman of InformationWeek thinks not. “Apple's iPad can handle office fundamentals pretty well, but a significant e-mail weakness and its lack of cloud support are among the reasons it can't seriously be considered a laptop replacement.”

An ability to print could be a deal-breaker for feds, although that might not be a problem, at least with wireless printers. At the moment, it appears that you can’t print anything from the iPad, although there will soon be an app for that and more likely will follow.

But it could have other shortcomings on the job. PC World’s Melissa J. Perenson writes that the iPad doesn’t let you manage files, lacks a camera (although that could actually be a plus at agencies concerned about security) and doesn’t allow multitasking. And not having Flash support makes many Web sites nonfunctional.

Apple doesn’t claim the iPad is ruggedized, of course, but if durability is a concern, Macworld advises that you buy a protective case. In stress tests, the iPad started showing signs of damage after a few drops.

On the bright side for the iPad’s job prospects, Mocana Corp. announced that it has earned the government's first FIPS 140-2 Level 1 validation for an encryption product running on the Apple iPhone or iPad.

It’s likely too early to tell if the iPad has a real future in government or private-sector work. But for now, the reviews suggest that it’s more of a great second car – stylish, sporty and innovative – than a sturdy everyday vehicle.

Even the Chicago Sun-Time’s Andy Ihnatko, who calls the iPad “one the of the best computers ever,” also notes that not quite enough for everything. “As impressed as I am by the iPad, I’d soon go stir crazy if I had to rely on it as my one and only full-time computer,” he writes.

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