It’s that time of the year again. Apple is about to release a new, shiny iThing and I am getting flooded with questions from friends. They are (in order of occurrence)-
- Should I buy one?
- When are you buying it? (notice the presence of ‘when’ instead of ‘are you buying it’. If you want to know why I wear seedy, underwhelming clothes, you can thank Apple and Nikon for it!).
- Should I buy black or white?
The iThing this time round is the second version of Apple’s hugely successful tablet – iPad, called, unsurprisingly, iPad 2. The original iPad was a runaway hit with photographers. Imagine the convenience of carrying your entire photo library around on a shiny device with a gorgeous 10 inch screen. I kept seeing more and more of them at photography classes and meet-and-greets (while I was carrying my trusty MacBook Pro). Some wedding photographers came up with a neat idea to bundle an iPad with their photos on it and it became an instant hit for the groom, who all of a sudden became very attentive to snag this piece of technology.
I will answer the questions above in reverse order -
Black or White bezel
The iPad 2 comes in two colors of its front bezel (area around the screen)- black or white. This bezel is thick enough to affect the photo viewing experience. In my asking various reviewers on Twitter about the difference between the two colors while viewing photographs, I got a mixed bag of responses. Most of them said they did not notice any difference in their photos, some said black was better, and cited reasons why most laptop screens and TV sets have black bezels so as not to distract from the photo or video watching experience. I expect most people not to notice a huge difference in photos on either bezel either.
This question leads to a more basic question about framing photos (not composition, but the borders). If you look at framed photos around your house, you may see equal number of frames with white and black surrounding the photos. When you look at a photo, the frame is an important, although very often neglected, part of the experience. A white frame will make a washed out image look better. That is, the whites and brighter colors in the photo will look less bright compared to the frame. A dark frame will make the darker colors look richer, and the blacks blacker. This is why images containing a lot of white in them, like a bright summer’s day or a beach photo look best on a white frame. More somber, moody pictures, including most portraits, look better with a black frame. Flickr for years had a white background as the only option for photos, but last year changed the default frame color (background) to black when viewing photos as a slideshow. Facebook also started using a black frame for its photo viewer recently.
The best way would be to go to an Apple store, and look at the stored photos on the black and white iPad (they will be the same stock photos), and see which one you like. If you can’t, then see what kind of photos your photo library has and decide on your future iPad’s color that way.
You can click on the bright and sunny picture below (actually a stitched panorama) to go to Flickr and see it on a white or black background to see the difference-
The very colorful, yet dark interior of the Siena Cathedral in Italy almost always looks better on black -
When am I buying it ?
As soon as possible. You see, Apple products don’t drop in price throughout their life cycle (the first iPhone was an exception, dropping by around $300 after 6 months, but early buyers were compensated somewhat with store credit). So if you plan on buying an Apple product, you should do so when it is released to get the most ‘value for money’ (let’s say!) out of it. The only time I expect the iPad 2 to be reduced in price, is when the new iPad comes along in a year. And that reduction comes just around a month before the new one hits the stores. The original iPad, by the way, can still be picked up for $100 less in the Apple Store clearance section online.
Should you buy it ?
If you like carrying around and showing your photographs on a big (yet light) screen, then yes. Know the limitations though- don’t expect to do any solid post-processing on it. Even using Adobe LightRoom 3 on my MacBook Pro uses up its battery faster than you can say ‘post-crop vignette’. To use it with your camera, you will need the Camera Connection Kit from Apple, priced at $30. Another idea is to get the modestly priced and very useful Photo Transfer App from the App Store for $2.99, which lets to wirelessly transfer photos to your iPad or iPhone from any computer as long as they are on the same wireless network.
Some people have asked me what I think of reports that the camera on the device is subpar (including Walt Mossberg’s review here) compared to the iPhone 4, and not capable to taking high-resolution stills. The answer is I don’t think this is an important issue at all. Can you really think of a situation where you would use the iPad screen as a still camera viewfinder? The point of the front and back cameras is to enable FaceTime and video recording (720p HD at the back camera), which it does very well. The important point was that the iPad keep its competitive pricing advantage over the competition, which it also does very well.