When I was an intern at Us Weekly years ago, my boss asked me to pick up a diamond and emerald ring from Fred Leighton in Manhattan: Julia Roberts had just been married and the magazine wanted to shoot a ring that looked like hers. The store sent me back to the office with two options that together cost roughly $80,000. At about $500, the Apple iPad is far less expensive, but carrying it around Toronto on Wednesday made me feel like I was in possession of something almost as valuable.
Having launched just last Saturday and only south of the border, the iPad is as novel as it gets. I lost count of how many times I heard "Whoa!" from acquaintances and bystanders alike in the span of a few hours. "Can I touch it?" came a close second.
What interested me most, however, is whether it would measure up as a worthy accessory for your average urban stylista or whether the iPad's core user is someone primarily concerned with gaming, stock quotes and e-books. With that in mind, I took out a borrowed model for a test run on a typical midweek day, gauging its attributes as I made my way around town.
My first stop: a media preview for Toronto-based fashion designer Marika Brose. Her dresses and cocktail separates are known for their gorgeous detailing, from feather trim to velvet rosettes. As the sneak peek progressed, I wanted to take notes, but found that the 10-inch iPad is too wide for me to type on with both hands while standing, no matter which way I turned the tablet. I also attempted to take a picture of one of the dresses - only to realize that it has no camera. Already, my BlackBerry was starting to look like a miracle gadget by comparison.
Still, the response around me bordered on reverential. "My wife keeps asking what I'll do with it," said local scene blogger JJ Thompson. "And I'm like, 'Are you kidding? I'll buy it first and then figure out what to do with it.' " PR rep Tatiana Read gushed, "It's a big celebrity!"
On the streetcar afterward, I expected riders to huddle around in similar fashion, but I didn't even get a prolonged stare. In transit, I started reading the one installed book, Winnie the Pooh. Its charming E.H. Shepherd illustrations offered a neat counterpoint to the device's high-tech lines. Finally, a woman in her mid-60s inquired about it as I got up to disembark. She said she can't wait to get one. Why? "I like gadgets, that's why."
My friend Sean Chambers, a lawyer, joked that taking the iPad to Dark Horse Espresso Bar, a Spadina Avenue coffee joint teeming with freelancers, would be like "pouring blood into a shark tank." But when we did, the hipsters in the house turned out to be a shy bunch. One man looked like he might approach us but reached for a newspaper instead. (Frankly, I found the blasé attitude both expected and reassuring.)
At the café, we had no luck connecting to the free Wi-Fi and, as Sean tapped away at the screen, I noted that (a) I was unable to see the screen even though I was sitting beside him and (b) the fingerprints he left on the glass were way more obvious than they are on iPhones. I wasn't particularly impressed, but he offered a fairer assessment. "It's like looking into a window," Sean said. "How exciting is a window? It all depends on what's on the other side."
Of the limited style apps that we managed to check out, Cool Hunting takes the top prize. The site, practically basking in early-adopter glow, comes across like a glossy magazine, not the blog it looks like on computers. Another cool-looking app is that of the Vancouver-based independent clothing label Dace; I did note, however, that I could buy three of its soft, feminine blouses for the price of a single iPad.
The Gap, meanwhile, sets the bar high for mass retailers; the opening screen is an homage to denim (it features a patchwork of campaign images interspersed with pics of celebs such as Halle Berry and Kate Beckinsale) and the shopping interface is idiot-proof. Among other successful style apps, Gilt Groupe, the online luxury sample-sale site, has a head start on rivals Net-a-Porter and Rue La La, while The Sartorialist benefits from the larger screen, which displays subjects' outfits with incomparable clarity.
At my final destination of the day - Lux, a nail spa in Yorkville - the iPad provoked as enthusiastic a reaction as a newborn baby might. While the aestheticians there clearly appreciated the aesthetics, balancing the device on my knees during a foot soak just seemed too risky. (On this score, old-fashioned media like newspapers and magazines have got it all over iPads.)
Seated next to me at the salon was a woman named Patricia Walsh, who used to write operating systems and is currently working on an online price-comparison service. After taking a closer look at the iPad, she declared that she had never seen fashion look more beautiful onscreen, but expressed concern that it's a big screen to be carrying around unprotected. In a pinch, my Miu Miu shoe bag had been the best option I could think of.
Of course, a number of iPad-compatible vests with pockets deep enough to store the device have already made their debut online, although to call them geek chic would be overly generous. Time will tell whether Louis Vuitton or Gucci create posh pouches. In the meantime, I defer to a comedy sketch on Funnyordie.com in which Pee Wee Herman gets an iPad. He ends up using it as a tray to serve milk and lemonade to his friends in Puppetland.
I'm not saying that Apple's tablet a lemon - it's sleek and it's intuitive and it does offer a sumptuous new way to experience lifestyle media - but it has some ripening to do.