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The Night Owl Chooses Between the iPhone and the iPad

This may seem to be an odd comparison. The iPhone is what is commonly known as a smartphone, a mobile device that handles wireless phone calls, plus email, Web access and other functions. You might compare the iPad more to a netbook, essentially a shrunken portable PC or even a regular note-book in terms of its basic functionality.

But I’m not concerned so much whether I can toss my MacBook Pro overboard, or sell it off. I’m more interested in how the iPad compares to the iPhone for my specific purposes. That’s all!

It all goes back to shortly after the iPhone’s 2007 debut. I received a review sample from Apple and, on the day I was about to return the unit, decided to buy one for myself, without a moment’s hesitation.

That was then, this is now.

With the iPad, I find my impressions rather more mixed, on the day before I’m due to return the unit to Apple. I received the 64GB Wi-Fi version for review, but didn’t bother to consider the 3G model. If I need access outside of the range of a hotspot, the iPhone will do that job nicely.

Part of my difficulties with the iPad are due to the fact that it feels just plain awkward. With the iPhone, it fits comfortably at hand, even in my bed. But should I grab an iPad instead, I have to hold it in two hands, and, usually, prop myself up on my pillow to use it comfortably when I need to enter text. As a consumption device, particularly reading e-books and watching videos, it’s simply marvelous. But that virtual keyboard is positively awkward under those circumstances. Indeed, I never did become that comfortable with the setup. Should I actually acquire an iPad down the line, I would expect it to fulfill reading and watching functions, and email and other text-based chores won’t get priority.

I do agree with such commentators as Adam Engst, who regards the iPad as a blank slate. Depending on your needs, and the applications you plan to run, it feels reasonably adaptable. But it doesn’t serve as the device I prefer to grab late at night, when I need to check for an important email message. For that function, the iPhone takes first priority.

I’m also not enamored with the Mail for iPad setup. Putting account and mailbox info in a separate pop-up menu makes it more difficult to see a full hierarchy of waiting messages in the various accounts I regularly use when I click the Mail icon. Apple will be adding a global Inbox in the iPhone 4.0 update, which may address that limitation somewhat. Right now, I’m willing to sacrifice the larger screen size and snappier interface for the single-handed, single-screen convenience of the iPhone.

So does that mean I don’t plan to buy an iPad. Well, forgetting any financial considerations, I admire the way Apple figured out how to solve the tablet dilemma. For years, beginning with Microsoft’s initial demonstration, PC makers have struggled to make sense out of the concept. They best they’ve managed to deliver was a regular PC note-book with a movable screen that can be managed by both keyboard and stylus. These days, they are struggling to add touch-based interfaces, simply because of the unexpected success of Apple’s mobile platform. They’ve failed.

Indeed, two of the notable tablet prototypes demonstrated at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show ahead of Apple’s iPad launch may never see the light of day. One came from Microsoft, which has a nasty habit of demonstrating product concepts that seldom see the light of day, or end up late, crippled and overpriced. Another tablet contender came from HP, but that seems to have vanished as the tech media ponders the impact of the purchase of Palm.

Yes, Palm was once successful with handhelds and with the first smartphones, but they have no experience whatever scaling even their latest user interface, WebOS, to a larger screen. Even assuming HP can rescue a failing company, it remains to be seen if they can expand the platform.

There’s also a report that Google is working on a tablet employing the Chrome OS. But the company has absolutely no experience with such products. That highly-touted Nexus One smartphone was merely an HTC product utilizing Google’s Android OS, but it was also largely perceived as a big failure in the marketplace.

With Apple, they do have the tradition of the original Newton and the eMate 300, which I suspect you can consider a progenitor of the iPad. It can also be considered the original netbook, if you want to take it that far.

With the iPad, certainly sales are off the charts. But once the initial adopters have their fill, will it last? I honestly haven’t a clue, nor do I know, yet, whether I plan to buy one. Maybe I’ll miss it after the one I have is shipped back to Apple. We’ll see.