The Apple iPad was announced today, which pretty much everyone expected. The device is basically a large iPod Touch, except with some variances. The iPad has a faster processor, and from what people who played with it report, it appears to be very speedy. Also, it will have the ability to use 3G, so it can access the Internet from anywhere. We won't be able to buy one for between 60 and 90 days (depending on if you want the 3G model or not). Until it is released into the wild, it's hard to say what the real potential of this device is. My question is: how might this device be of help to lawyers.
First, it will run all of the 140,000 applications that are currently available for the iPhone or iPod Touch. So that means that all of the legal applications that folks have been putting on those devices will now be usable on the iPad. But the screen is bigger, and that's a huge advantage for most of the legal apps because it will be easier to read the text of laws. The iPhone size is okay, but bigger would obviously better.
However, the iPad is not a laptop computer, so it doesn't boot up in the way that a laptop would. If I grasp how it would work, the device will be instant on in the same way that an iPhone or iPod Touch comes on. The battery life is supposedly about 10 hours, which we can presume is optimistic. But even if it's about 7 hours it means that it's usable as a 'digital reference tool'. And so a lawyer in court or at a hearing could certainly use it to quickly access information. The simple form is more natural than a laptop, and therefore less obtrusive if used during a meeting or for quickly reading text. Lawyers who simply want a device to access digital documents would, theoretically, have a strong interest in this device.
Still, we don't know enough yet to really say how lawyers could use this device beyond how they use their iPhones. True, the iPad will be able to display PDFs (just as the iPhone does), but will it be able to manipulate PDFs? Would you be able to create a signature on a document using this device? There are ways to do this on the iPhone, but they're kind of clunky. I'm pretty sure that lawyers would want to have more PDF functionality on a device like this than currently exists on the iPhone and iPod Touch.
True, there is a new developer SDK kit being released today and perhaps development for this device will create the possibility of applications that don't currently exist on the iPhone. I would like to have the ability to annotate PDFs the way that I can on my computer. I would also like to be able to use a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. The device has bluetooth capabilities, but the optional keyboard that Steve Jobs talked about was one that attaches physically to the iPad. Does that mean the Apple bluetooth keyboard and (recently released) Magic Mouse won't work with the iPad? We don't know, but I get the sense that they won't be compatible with the iPad. And that's a shame.
The iPad has a microphone, but I'm sure that it's not optimal for voice dictation. Can you use third party microphones to get better quality audio in? We don't know, and probably won't until after the device is on sale.
I'm excited that this kind of product is being created by Apple, and I think the price point is decent. I'm just not sure if it will fulfill all my hopes of what a medium sized tablet device could be. Of course, this is the first iteration and we can certainly expect it to become more powerful over time. I'm glad that Apple finally took an important step in filling this void. One reason for the success of the iPhone is the many applications that are available. But not everyone wants to use an iPhone or be tied to AT&T. Presumably many of those people would find the iPad appealing as a way to get access to the many applications, and also have the ability to surf the web via WiFi or 3G.
I'll almost certainly wind up buying one, mostly out of a strong desire to experiment with what I'm sure will wind up being a popular and useful digital tool. There are several price options based on different storage capacity (16, 32, or 64 GBs) and based on whether 3G capability is included. I will probably get the maximum storage capacity. I don't know if I want the 3G capability. I probably don't, but we'll see.
I'm not ready to proclaim this device a 'game changer.' It seems pretty niche, but for lawyers I can see it as a very versatile tool. If it has the PDF capabilities that I mentioned, that is.