Product Review: The Apple iPad

The possibilities are infinite

Is the iPad going to revolutionize displaying and editing photographs, or self-publishing electronic photo books? Here’s a look at the first generation.

It’s old news now, but when I’d ordered an Apple iPad, I was thinking it may turn out to be a flop like the original Newton (don’t laugh, I had one of those too) or a runaway success like the iPod. When the iPad finally arrived it, met all of my expectations, and then some. It’s not a laptop and it’s not an iPhone or even an iPod Touch, but represents a hybrid of the three.

Apple launched the Wi-Fi version that I have before the 3G models, which they now expect to ship around April 30. The 3G model requires a modest ($14.95) monthly data plan fee from AT&T. If you have to be connected anywhere anytime, this latter, more expensive option is the model for you. If, like me, you hate the idea of a monthly contract, get the Wi-Fi version and visit the Free Wi-Fi Directory that provides listings of Wi-Fi hotspot locations that are, well, free.

The current iPad is available in 16, 32, and 64GB versions and being a thrifty shopper I went for the 16GB model to save money. My philosophy is by the time I really get into the iPad’s capabilities, the next model will be out and I’ll pass this one along to my wife as a way for her to organize her iTunes library.

An AppleCare Protection Plan for the iPad costs $99 and if that seems like a lot, it is. By now you’ve probably already figured out that I am a cheapskate, so you’ll be surprised that I ordered my iPad with AppleCare because this is another extended warranty that isn’t worth anything unless you need and when you do, as I have had to do with my MacBook Pro laptop, it’s worth every penny and then some. My experience told to me to order AppleCare, and so I did.


iPad Possibilities

For photographers, the iPad will be used in, at least, some of the following categories. I say “at least” because eventually somebody is going to come up with a “killer app” for the iPad that may change all this overnight. Or not.

Some people initially criticized the iPad because it didn’t have a built-in camera but the iPad’s form factor doesn’t seem conducive to shooting photographs, so why bother? One accessory that you will want, after a case to keep it in, is the iPad Camera Connection Kit (right) that lets you import photos and videos from a digital camera using the camera’s USB cable or the included SD card reader. As I write this, this kit is not currently available so I can’t rate its effectiveness. Even 64MB doesn’t seem like all that much storage space to dump all the images from a shoot, but if you can just browse the images directly from the card or the camera. That’s a cool idea, because the iPad is hand-down the best portable presentation tool you’ll ever find. (More later)

Apps: OK for serious shooters?

Most current iPad photo apps are aimed at the generation of photographers for whom making prints does not exist. Their all-digital-and-stay-that-way images are posted on Flickr or Facebook…and that’s it. That’s why there are lots of what would otherwise be considered rudimentary photo editing apps available for the iPad that are little more than conversions for black-and-white, sepia, and special effects. If you use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, you will find the controls on these apps somewhat limiting. But if you want to convert an image to monochrome or add a tint, they’re useful for a quick conversion and upload to whatever.

Some existing iPhone apps, such as OnOne Software’s DSLR Remote work perfectly on the iPad, albeit in a smaller iPhone-shaped window. You can enlarge it with the iPad’s 2X app button and it doesn’t look to bad, but is far for being tack-sharp. OnOne Software tells me they are looking at the iPad. Adobe’s free Photoshop Mobile app for iPhone that I use on my iPod Touch (an iPhone without the phone) works as good as any and I would hope that—notwithstanding the current animosity between Apple and Adobe—that they will develop an iPad version to take advantage of it larger screen.

And while these kinds of photo apps may not be useful for serious or commercial photography, those such as iDisplay that’s optimized for iPad and iPhone Touch screens and turns your iPad/iPhone into a convenient side monitor for your Mac desktop is worth a look. One potential use for iDisplay in your studio is to use it for wireless image viewing by a client, while your laptop and camera are tethered for making shots.

Presentation & Portfolio

The quality of the images on the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen is nothing short of stunning. I collected all of the photographs from an upcoming book into a folder on my Mac Pro desktop and transferred the files to an album on the iPad using the device’s Photo function. One touch of the screen lets me view all my images in an album and the first time you see your photographs filling the screen, you will be more than thrilled by how well they are showcased. Of course, the old computer rule of “Garbage in, Garbage out” applies here as well.
In a few hours I’m meeting with an Art Director to discuss a project. I’ll be showing her the images from my new book on the iPad and feel confident that she will be impressed with the presentation. I have already heard that some wedding photographers plan to deliver albums on an iPad to clients that’s part of the package but I wonder about how when direct printing comes to the device (and it surely will) this delivery method might mean a loss of revenue.

My friend Ralph plans on sending an iPad as his portfolio to clients he has worked with before. I hope he gets it back. I have had an 11x17 print portfolio “disappear” at one unnamed magazine, so I’ll hand the iPad to the Art Director and sit there waiting for her to hand it back to me. With iPad prices ranging from $499 to $829, I don’t want to take any chances.

Surfing, emailing, and communicating

Here is where the built-in camera might just come in handy. Apple’s iChat videoconferencing software is a delight to use on its laptop computers and would be welcome addition to the iPad. Will it show up on future versions? That’s hard to say because while the iPad touch lacks a camera the tiny iPod Nano has one along with its video recording (but not iChat) capability. While the iPad may lack iChat, it is a formidable communications tool for e-mail and Internet searches.

With a keyboard you can use with your fingers instead of your thumbs, the iPad is a delightful device to use. Surfing the Web on my Wi-Fi edition is fast, even with heavy-duty requirements such as streaming video movies from Netflix who offers a free app that lets subscribers view a large selection of film and TV shows at no additional cost on the iPad.

Setting up my e-mail account has proven to be a challenge even though the iPad’s Mail app is similar to Apple Mail on my desktop computer. I tried using identical settings and so far have only able to send but not receive e-mail. I asked a Mac consultant friend to give it a try and as of yet he has not figured it out either. I’m going to make an appointment at the Genius Bar at an Apple Store and I’ll guess they’ll sort it out.

Day Planner

Apple includes the Calendar and Contacts apps carried over from the iPhone (and iPod Touch), so if you’re already using them, all your data will be synchronized with the iPad when you connect it to your desktop computer the first time. The larger interface makes it slightly more useful and easier to read than the small screens on those hand-held devices but any organizing software is only worthwhile if you use it. If you only use it some of the time it’s useless, so this is an all-in or all-out proposition. Truly organized (not me) Day Timer users will like it a lot better than the iPhone because the iPad is much much smaller than my wife’s bulging-at-the-seams Franklin Covey binder.

iBooks: Open questions for self-publishers

One of the things that initially attracted me to the iPad was being able to read books and magazines. Unlike the less expensive Kindle, iPad has a bigger screen and the ability to display color images, making it a natural for photo books and magazines. Apple’s iBooks app is a wonderful translation of iTunes to the world of books and Amazon offers a free but somewhat less capable Kindle app that lets you download and read books.

But the question ‘ya gotta ask yourself is: Why are these downloads so expensive? My book “Better Available Light Digital Photography” is available from Amazon for $16.47 and in print for $22.67. My recollection is that $16.47 was the price of the print edition before Kindle price adjustments but I may be wrong. Thrifty shoppers can enjoy free classic books through iBooks and one of the first I got was Dickens' “Tale of Two Cities.” that are being made available at no cost through Project Gutenberg.

One of the questions that may be on your mind is: Where does self-publishing fit into the world of iPad books? What’s needed is a way to create the books and sell them, otherwise what’s the point? Blurb and other sites already have a model for printed books and when I asked Blurb if they intended to allow books created with their really cool BookSmart software to be offered for sale as print or for the iPad they said, “were looking into this option for the future…” Whether Blurb or somebody else does it, it’s going to happen. [Editor's note: On the same day this story went live, Blurb announced BookShow, a new online book sharing tool that will allow users to share their photo books on the iPad and via various social network sites. It is unclear whether it will allow users to sell these on the iBooks platform, or to simply share them for free.]

Sooner or later, lots of magazines will be coming to the iPad. The Zinio app provides the same function as iBooks except it’s for magazines. Right now when you download Zinio you get sample iPad versions of magazines such as MacWorld (big surprise), National Geographic, and Car & Driver, all of which are somewhat interactive. Because of the superb quality of the screen, photographs are displayed much, much better than even the highest quality printed magazine page. Here, if there is any, lies the future of magazines.

Want one? Need one?

Do you need an iPad? As a portfolio tool, you won’t find a better way to display your images that is as easily updated or customized to create albums aimed at specific clients or subject matter. If you’re a voracious reader, the iBook and Kindle apps allow you to take lots of books when traveling at a significantly lighter weight.

An iPad weights 1.5 pounds. David Halberstam’s “The Longest Winter,” which I’m currently reading, weighs 2.5 pounds and I can stash a whole bunch of books on the iPad. Need to communicate? Internet access at free Wi-Fi spots in diverse places such as Starbucks, McDonalds, and Panera bread has been superb. I expect to get my e-mail problems sorted out and when I do, it will be a useful way to deal with e-mail when stopping in for a cup of Earl Grey.

If you’re an organized shooter, the iPad will help you become even more so with its Calendar and Contacts apps and even a “sticky note” guy like me will find that having Contacts information while on location will be an asset. Also the Notes app built into the iPad is a great way to write notes about an assignment’s technical details and a way to keep track of expenses for a client shoot. And the big screen makes these tools much more useful than the small screen on the iPhone or iPod Touch.

If you’re not an early adopter, you may want to wait until prices come down and features (like multitasking, which currently doesn’t exist for the iPad) come, up but in these situations I’m always reminded of my dear old dad. Up until the day he passed away, he watched his beloved Orioles play ball on a black-and-white TV because he was “waiting for color TV to be perfected.” The irony is that Dad took me to one of the very first public demonstrations of color TV in the early 1950’s fueling my growing interest in technology. I was amazed when I saw those color images on a TV back then, just as I am thrilled with how my digital images look on the iPad today.

Joe Farace is the author of “Creative Digital Monochrome Special Effects” published by Lark Books and available in all the best bookstores as well as but not, so far anyway, in a Kindle or iPad version.

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