The iPad has landed!

And so the iPad finally touches down in the UK, and Friday saw impressive news coverage of around-the-block queues at the central London Apple Store on Regent Street. Twitter has been full of people tracking their package deliveries via FedEx, TNT and the like (some with more success than others …) or regaling us with tales of getting their new babies home and unwrapping them for the first time, and I don’t mind admitting that I’m as jealous as hell.

For all the sound and fury, through, I wonder if the launch is as wildly successful as it initially appeared? At my local Apple Store (in Kingston-upon-Thames in the Bentalls Centre) there was certainly a long line first thing on launch day, but by the time I ambled in mid-morning the store – while undoubtedly busy – was not unreasonable. I got to have some hands-on time with an iPad, and even spoke to a member of staff about what the deal was with 3G contracts in the UK. I repeated the feat mid-morning on the Saturday, too – more hands-on time with an iPad, and a question (about Mac OS upgrades) with a different member of staff.

Apparently things did get busier later on (I was told on good authority that by mid-afternoon on Saturday, the store was operating a “one in, one out” system of letting people in, and the waiting line was a good 20 people long.) But crowds do not make for sales, and I had it from another reliable source that they had sold only 40 units in the first 24 hours and that there were plenty of stocks of all the different types of iPads. Maybe 40 is a high figure for a product of this type and cost, but it did seem like there were more watchers and triers than actual buyers out there.

So anyway, how do I feel about the iPad now I’ve had some actual hands-on experience with it? I always say that you can’t know your true feelings about an Apple product until you’ve seen in the in the flesh (the iPhone wowed me far more than I could believe; the iPod nano 5th gen was also quietly more impressive in person than just looking at photos, whereas the 2007 white iMac model is a computer that looked fine in pictures but which I took against viscerally in person because of its cheap, plastic feel. Fortunately later models set this right.)

So the surprising thing about my encounter with the iPad is that there was absolutely no surprise at all. No re-evaluation required. That’s not a bad thing – it delivered on my every expectation – but it’s not a great thing, in that I didn’t get swept away by the emotion to go and buy one. Possibly it’s because I have an iPhone, and let’s be honest – the iPad is, physically at least, a very large iPhone/iPod Touch, so it’s form can’t really surprise you if you’re familiar with its siblings. However, the friend I went with who doesn’t have an iPhone seemed to fall completely and utterly in love at their first swipe, pinch and scroll so maybe the iPad allure will work on the less technically blasé.

Okay, there were a few things: it wasn’t as heavy as reviews had led me to expect, although a few minutes of holding it did make me think that some weight training down the gym might be required to prepare for extended use. The screen was utterly dazzling – very bright, incredibly high resolution, making even the most ordinary web sites look gorgeous in Safari. And the speed of it was stunning too, so much faster and responsive than anything else I’d tried. But overall, what I saw was exactly what I had expected.

So I end up at the same place I was back in January, when I asked “iPad, but do iWant“? And in fact my thinking has moved on some way from this early bewilderment as to what I would actually use an iPad for, should I fork out the £500 or so required.

I can really see this replacing magazines and newspapers; perhaps Murdoch is right to firewall the Times after all, despite my scepticism, because with a custom iPad app it would be like having the paper to hand to flick over some stories, put down, come back to, read over lunch. That would be worth a sub, although I still reckon that Murdoch’s initial pricing is wildly over-ambitious.

For myself, I find that I leave my desktop Mac system on for most of the day because I’ll want to pop over, check email and Twitter messages, or look up something on the Internet that’s occurred to me; during motor races I’ll want to look up the live news, commentary and timing services. So rather than waking and sleeping the Mac every 20 minutes, I’ll leave it on for much of the day, which is both convenient and also distracting (since “because it’s on, I should use it”) and of course not exactly environmentally responsible.

An iPad would replace much if not all of that use. Want to look up something on IMDb? No problem. Tweets? Right there. Mail? Sure thing. All of it right there, and instantly (the iPad wakes up and connects to wifi with astonishing speed; a second would be sluggish for it.) In other words, it makes the Internet and everything on it as convenient to access as picking up a magazine.

So, yes, alright, I admit it. I finally get the iPad. I want the iPad. I’m struggling to resist actually going and buying one. Like, right now. But did I mention it’s my birthday in three and a half weeks?

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