The Apple iPad… it’ll never catch on. But we (i.e. the IBM Lotus team in the UK) decided to see what all the fuss is about – and kudos to my manager Sian, she set out to acquire one for demos and succeeded. Today Sian handed me the box and gave me the honour of opening it, setting it up and looking after it until someone came on bended knees with a good-enough reason to borrow it.

It wasn’t the first time I’d handled an iPad – my frolleague Lewis (he of the disposable income) already had one, and my first impression was that it was much lighter than I expected. The user experience was very familiar… after all, it’s just a big iPod touch, right?

One of the reasons for getting it out of the box today is that I’ll be demonstrating it at Polymorph’s Lotusphere Comes To You event tomorrow. So this morning I set up Lotus Traveler. As I don’t have an iPhone (I have a BlackBerry and Traveler on the Nokia E72) I hadn’t been through the Apple-based Travleler set-up before. Talk about easy – I connected to the IBM wi-fi network (more on that later), installed the VPN client, and then browsed to an internal web page. I clicked on the install option, entered my user-name and password, and it was done.

Obviously the iPad has a bigger screen than the iPhone, so the e-mail experience is much better. Simple but very effective. But the killer improvement is the calendar – great layout for all of the day / week / month options. I also tried LotusLive Meetings – apparently not supported on the iPad yet, but it worked and the presentation content scaled up perfectly.

The web browsing experience, with the bigger screen, is very good – but it’s applications like TweetDeck and Maps that really benefit.

Looking at the screen now, I’m glad my Archos 605 is operated with a stylus – after a day being passed around eager geeks in the office the iPad’s screen sports enough dabs and DNA to keep a forensic team busy for a year.

So, what’s the verdict? It’s a beautifully-crafted device, it’s a good size – light but big enough to ensure things like e-mail aren’t a chore as they sometimes are on smaller devices – and it’s easy to use. But I have to admit, it doesn’t fill me with a burning desire to own one personally. If I had a lot more disposable income (these days I have even less thanks to the taxman) I’d buy one tomorrow, but right now I can think of many better uses of £500. However, I can see the attraction of being out and about with a 3G iPad, so maybe in the future…

As a footnote, while in the Staines office today I connected to the IBM wireless network using the iPad, the MacBook Pro and the ThinkPad W500 with a Ubuntu Linux 10.04 install. All of these connected without complaint or coercing. But there was one operating system which refused… Windows XP (also on the W500 after I swapped hard disks). Is the wireless networking improved in Windows 7?

One other thing I noticed… on my iPod touch I access music by pressing the ‘music’ button. Pretty obvious. On the iPad, music is accessed by pressing the ‘iPod’ button. If there’s some cunning reason behind that, I don’t get it.