The Apple iPad, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Tablet

Looking to surprise an older relative with an Apple iPad this Christmas, but worried they won’t know what to do with it? Or thinking about dipping your toe into the tablet market but not sure if it’s for you? Check out our no-nonsense guide below to put your mind at rest. 

Don’t be confused by the lingo: these days if you’re reaching for a tablet to solve a medical problem, you may just be looking up symptoms on the NHS Direct website. Tablet computers are like laptops without the keyboards, boasting massive screens that can be touched to browse, type, select things and zoom in and out. They can be tilted from side to side and back and forth to play games and they make excellent companions on a long trip, carrying content such as movies, music, books and photos.

King of the tablets is Apple’s iPad and part of its stylish appeal is its aluminium unibody. That is just a fancy way of saying it has been built out of a single, attractive piece of metal. Given the device’s multimedia capabilities, the fantastic, pin-sharp screen is also a major draw. Apple calls it a ‘Retina’ display. To put it in perspective, the high-definition TV in your living room uses 2.1 megapixels to create a screen resolution of 1920 × 1080. In comparison, the iPad’s Retina display has a resolution of 1536 x 2048 thanks to its 3.1 million pixels – a million more than your average HD TV! The result is vibrant colours, razor sharp text and photos and videos that are rich with detail.

The other big plus of owning an iPad over other tablet brands is the amount of software written specifically for it. There’s a reason the saying, “There’s an app for that” has made its way into the modern phrasebook. Apple has its own App Store, with ‘app’ being short for applications.

More than 775,000 apps exist, with 250,000 of those specifically built to take advantage of the iPad’s bigger screen. The huge number available means there are apps to do just about everything. Software can be downloaded that makes a long journey more entertaining, a presentation more interesting or school work more inspiring. Installing an app is as simple as browsing or searching Apple’s App Store, clicking on a likely piece of software and then hitting download. As Alexandria the meerkat would say, “Simples!”

With so much software on offer, instead of sitting there scratching your head thinking of ways to entertain the grandkids you can put those fingers to better use on the iPad’s screen. Multimedia content such as photos, music and video, which is so key to the tablet experience, obviously has its fair share of apps. For example, if they love performing why not load up GarageBand and let them play away on the virtual instruments? Having them record and mix a track and then play it back to their parents will make you – and them – very proud.

Or if they have a particular Cbeebies programme they like, you can find it on the BBC iPlayer app. This software used to only allow them to watch content at home over an internet connection but has now evolved so you can download and take shows with you. If you forget to capture their favourites and have an iPad with a mobile phone Sim card inside, they can watch or listen live on the move instead.

It’s not all about keeping the kids happy, though and there are plenty of apps to enhance your own life. These are as different as the day is long. For starters, most tablets have the ability to work just like Amazon’s Kindle e-readers. This allows you to take all your favourite digital books with you wherever you go, without being laden down with paperbacks. In a completely different area, do you need a gentle nudge next time you need to take your medication? Enter the name, dosage, frequency and times of day and Pill Reminder alerts you. Want to tell the council about something that’s gone wrong in your neighbourhood so they come to fix it? Download and use the FixMyStreet app to report a problem direct from phone, such as graffiti, a pothole in the road or an abandoned vehicle. And because no-one wants to be a loser, especially when the iPad costs so much, should you happen to leave the tablet behind somewhere there’s even an app to track it so you can find it again.

Tablets such as the iPad also make it much easier to keep in touch with your children and grandchildren. If you use one of the major email services such as Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail it’s a doddle to set up your personal account on the iPad in just a few clicks. You can then do everything using email that you could do on your home computer, the only difference being that the system travels with you.

Email is still a great form of communication but these days the younger generation are more likely to stay in touch on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Naturally, the iPad allows you to keep track of those sites, too. Both have dedicated apps to make viewing and responding to messages, status updates and pictures very quick and easy. Apple has also integrated Facebook and Twitter much deeper into its latest software. So now, rather than having to open up the individual apps to post that picture of your granddaughter, the command appears automatically when you take or view a photo on the iPad. Remember that if you are going to take advantage of closer ties with your family, you need to keep the embarrassment factor low. Posting pics of them in their PJs at an early age where their friends can see them is likely to get you defriended!

There are, however, a couple of downsides to Apple’s collection of tablet computers. First, their price is usually more than other, similar products, with the cost based on the amount of data they hold: 16GB (£399), 32GB (£479) or 64GB (£559). Second, when some HD films are as large as 3GB or 4GB, it would be nice to see a model with 128GB of storage so you don’t have to keep deleting content to make space for new films or music. Other tablets get around this problem by allowing you to insert extra memory, but Apple’s revenue model is built on memory so sadly there’s no slot included.

In the end, the Apple iPad is like a fine wine. It travels well, weighing just 652g and being smaller and thinner than some glossy magazines. Yet it also hits the spot when you’re sat at home on the sofa, with a processor capable of handling almost anything the internet or modern life can throw at it. And if you’re looking for something that’s even easier to carry around, there’s now an iPad mini measuring just 200mm x 134.7mm x 7.2 mm.

As the glib (but true!) saying goes, the thing you’re holding in your hand has more computing power than the whole of NASA circa 1969. NASA used it to send astronauts to the moon, we use it to send Angry Birds flying into pigs.