After spending a few days with our new iPad, we thought we’d share our thoughts about this curious little computer.
Our first impression: Straight out of the box, the Apple iPad is the most elegant device for displaying pictures we’ve ever seen. If you’re a photographer or someone who works with images professionally, consider getting one.
We’ll return to that in a minute, but first we should make it clear that the iPad is not a miracle tablet that does everything well.
The iPad excels at delivering stuff that already exists—books, web pages, movies, photos, songs—but it is not a great tool for creating stuff. Do not think of the iPad as a replacement for a laptop. Typing is slow on the on-screen keyboard. The process of copying files to and from the iPad feels restrictive. (You use iTunes to sync it with your computer.) We tried noodling around with a few graphics editing apps and found nothing that knocked our socks off. You can connect the iPad to a digital camera or an external monitor, but doing so requires extra accessories, and the iPad itself cannot function as a camera. For now, forget about using an iPad to print anything.
Using the device will be familiar to anyone who has used an iPhone or iPod Touch. We had no problems syncing the iPad to a Windows XP computer and connecting to the Internet over a password-protected WiFi connection. For browsing the web, the iPad uses the mobile version of Apple’s Safari browser, which has limitations. For example, it cannot download photos, which means you won’t be using the iPad to source stock photos from Shutterstock (or any other web site). That capability may come in a future upgrade, but right now if you try to download an image, you’ll hit an iPad error message. Web functions that require Adobe Flash do not work at all.
Limitations aside, the iPad could become a useful tool in a digital photo studio. The DSLR Camera Remote iPhone app is supposed to work on the iPad (though we didn’t test it), and we bet more programs will become available to enable the iPad to work as a remote viewfinder.
Photographers and designers might find that the iPad is a superior way to show off a portfolio than a traditional book of prints. The screen is crisp, vivid and bright. Photos appear surrounded by a simple black frame, free from buttons or other distractions. The photos look rich and illuminated; one of our staff compared it to viewing slides on a light table. It feels as if the people who designed the iPad understood what it means to respect a photograph. A photographer who walked into our office and started showing off pictures with an iPad would likely receive a warm reception.
What’s more, anyone you hand an iPad can figure out how to operate it, even someone with clumsy computer skills. The process of navigating from one photo to the next with a finger swipe is idiot-proof.
To our eyes, the screen did not look as sharp as the crisp-but-tiny iPhone and iPod Touch screens, but the iPad’s size more than makes up for that; you hold the iPad farther from your eyes than you would a phone. Our main gripes are that the slick screen gets quickly smudged with finger grease and reflects glare from overhead lights, but we found we could live with those issues.
You have to spend some time with an iPad to really get to know it, but we’ve tried to give you a taste of what it’s like with the video you see above. This short clip shows us flipping through some flower photographs from Shutterstock.
These days, photo professionals are expected to be experts on new technology, which makes it easier to justify a few hundred dollars for a first-generation iPad as a work expense. You could wait a year for a better and cheaper version, but you would be missing out on a very strong and useful product. Once you see a photo on that screen, you’ll realize it’s not a question of if, but when.
Update: We got a great question on Facebook that deserves to be repeated here. Alex Huppenthal asked, “Can the iPad be calibrated?” As far as we can tell, no, the screen cannot be color-calibrated. The only adjustment you get is brightness. So that’s a potential downside.