">

">

" />
The Daily Flux

code/life imbalance

My first week with the iPad

13 April 2010

After spending time with the iPad, I have to admit: it does feel like I’m interacting with the future of computing. Simple, elegant, fun, hassle-free. I don’t think you should have to tether to a computer to get this experience, but it’s a pretty decent start. Here are my “notes from the field” after a week with an iPad:

THE HARDWARE

The first thing I did was to put the precious iPad into its first-party case (more on that below), so it took a few days for me to wrest the iPad from of its case and get a feel for how precise and perfect everything feels. I’ve come to expect that from Ive and the team at Apple, but it’s nice to feel that kind of quality in something this compact. It’s a big jump up from the iPhone 3GS.

Battery life is just astonishing. It is like witchcraft. I am a heavy, heavy user, and I recharge 1 time a day. Yesterday, after using it for a little email and web surfing, I had 97% when I got home from work.

THE ACCESSORIES

The case is substandard, but that’s to be expected. My experience with Apple is that they lack the kind of passion for their accessories that they have for their hardware/software. If you remember the first iPod case, packed-in with the 3rd-gen iPod: A flat piece of nylon, bent into a U shape, with a piece of elastic sewn in to hold the iPod inside the U (but leaving the top and sides exposed). It was a piece of crap, but it had a belt clip. It would do until the third parties caught on (and catch on they did).

Apple only produces an accessory when they don’t want to wait for accessory makers to take the lead. In this (ahem) case, Apple saw that a thin cover that makes a wedge, covers the screen, and can stand up is of great utility. And it is! It’s just a piece of crap. The edges are heat-fused, sharp and plasticky, it feels cheap, and the material picks up dog hair better than most lint rollers.

Still, the case offers screen protection (a must) and decent utility as a wedge (however, it makes for a pretty wobbly stand when set up to watch movies).

Aside from those, the best thing about the case is that it provides anonymity. Unless you want to be the “iPad Guy (or Girl)”, I thought it was cool to be the “guy with an iPod” all those years ago, but with the iPad, it’s a bit more conspicuous than I care for anymore. Most can’t tell whether you’re rocking a Kindle, iPad, or even a little pad of paper with the case on.

For typing in-lap, the Apple case is a requirement. I’d love to see someone take a stab at a nicer, classier version.

The iPad is so hard to get out of the case that I haven’t even had occasion to use the Dock yet.

THE KEYBOARD

I was surprised I didn’t miss a physical keyboard. I still haven’t paired it with the Bluetooth Keyboard, something I’d planned to do on Day 1.

There’s an unexpectedly satisfying drumbeat to the tapping of fingers on the screen that’s vastly superior to the iPhone, and maybe even more fun than clacking away on the real thing.

The keyboard is a cruel taskmaster, though: any resting of fingers, even for a millisecond, is met with a jumble of letters on the screen, a kind of rap across the knuckles from an angry typing teacher. Between the iPad keyboard and the Magic Mouse, it seems Apple is trying to teach people to hover their fingers over touch surfaces, and never to lazily rest your hands on anything. It can get tiring.

Ergonomically dubious though it may be, it really only requires a few hours of retraining muscle memory to get used to the idea. At this point, I’m pretty comfortable with it.

The best tip I heard all week was to hold down the comma key to get an apostrophe, solving one of my biggest gripes.

BUILT-IN SOFTWARE

It’s a huge pain to constantly exit my app, go back to the home screen, click settings, click General, adjust the brightness, return to my app’s screen, and re-open the app. I’m honestly considering giving a coveted Dock spot to Settings, due to its all-too-frequent use. It’d be great to have some more convenient access to brightness control in more apps (or even by some tweak to the Volume switch).

At no point have I missed multitasking. My thinking is that when OS 4.0 comes out, it’ll be exactly the sort of feature I wonder how I ever lived without.

Spell check and its “replace” function was a fantastic surprise, and worked well in everything but text-entry fields in Safari (which seemed odd).

My family loved the Photos app. It makes the iPad the best photo album on the planet right now. Some of your photos may go on the iPhone, but all of them go on the iPad. It just feels like this is where your pictures go. Browseable, shareable, emailable… My sister spent 2 hours looking through old photos and emailing herself photos of interest.

Also interesting is that all photos seem to be sized down to around 3 megapixels before being transferred to iPad. They look great, and photos now email in full-resolution, unlike the automatic resizing that happens when you email a photo on the iPhone (so no need for copy-paste workarounds).

Getting files on & off the iPad is a well-documented nightmare. Hopefully Apple has some plan to move toward cloud-based storage of this stuff. Photos would be a great start.

BROWSING THE WEB

This is a good news/bad news scenario. The good news: Browsing the web on a tablet seems like the “proper” way to surf. It just feels better than on a computer. Surprisingly, I didn’t miss Flash, especially since inline YouTube plays without issue… lots better than the way iPhone launches a separate app.

Browsing the Web in a portrait orientation feels like I’m seeing movies on a widescreen TV for the first time. Like “oh, that’s how that’s supposed to look.” Amazing stuff.

The bad news: I really, really miss tabbed browsing. You have to hunt down the multi-page button, just like on iPhone, but it pulls up an array of pages to tap, rather than a row to browse through. It’s a pain to hunt down a dedicated button to see which pages are currently open.

Ah, but that’s the trick: they’re not open at all. I usually see one or 2 thumbnails and 6 blank pages. It seems the iPad can only cache one site (two max) at a time, so with 4 or 5 tabs open, it throws up a blank screen, and forces me to reload the entire page.

That’s time-consuming and irritating in itself, but if you have a half-written blog entry, forum post, or email in a browser window, you’d just better finish it up before opening another tab, because once you do, buddy, it’s gone.

All told, there needs to be some polish done on the mechanics of Safari for iPad to bring it closer to its Mac cousin, but I haven’t touched on how fun it is. Browsing the web on a portrait-oriented touch screen just feels like the way the web was meant to be explored.

APP STORE

This is the killer app, period. I find myself checking for changes to the “top 100” and for updates at least twice a day.

Two apps that I missed last time are Twitterific and NetNewsWire. These are used so frequently that I treat them like built-in apps. Email, RSS, Twitter, Web. That’s 75% of my iPad use.

One more piece of app news: Air Video went HD for iPad (at no additional charge!), and transcodes my movies into high-res, iPad-friendly movies and streams them to me like a champ. After iBooks, it’s the app I show people to really show off the fact that the iPad really is the future.

GAMES

“iPad as gaming platform” is not as ludicrous as it sounded to me at first. As I posted before, I am finding myself drawn to the games on iPad as I rarely do the games on my console systems.

Interestingly, the accelerometer seems friskier and more accurate on the iPad. I don’t know if it’s due to the iPad’s size (and therefore takes longer to move around), but Real Racing seems to be vastly more accurate on the iPad than iPhone. Controls are tight and fun.

I have nearly worn blisters on my thumbs from playing Geometry Wars so much. Seriously, my thumbs hurt. This could become a phenomenon.

EBOOKS

I bought a Kindle a year ago. It lasted a month. I bought a Sony Reader afterwards, and it lasted for 2.

I love e-ink. It’s like a miracle, with no discernable pixels, even though the iPad has a higher-res screen than the e-ink crowd (1024×768 vs. 800×600). Text on the iPad is a bit rough around the edges, literally: you can see jaggies, anti-aliasing tricks, and most importantly, the backlight (I’ll get to that in a sec).

And if you’re planning on reading outdoors, well… you may want to budget an extra $260 for a Kindle, or skip the iPad altogether. I don’t care what I’ve read elsewhere, it’s damn-near useless outdoors, even on a somewhat overcast day. I don’t really read outdoors, but the combination of backlit LCD and mirror-reflective screen make it even less tempting.

All that said, what’s the verdict as an e-reader? I choose the iPad as my e-reader, hands down. I was really worried about eyestrain, and was an issue at first, but as I learned to really dial down the screen’s brightness, I’ve found myself using the iPad as my preferred way to read. I actually have a physical book sitting on my dresser, begging for attention, but reading on the iPad is my preferred mode.

GoodReader is a great, powerful little app for organizing, managing, and reading PDF content. It’s got a couple of quirks that I’d like to see resolved (how about using the left/right edges of the screen for page turning, for one?). But for someone learning to program, or anyone with PDF e-books, it’s a godsend.

The biggest surprise to me in the whole iPad experience is how good Kindle for iPad is. I’ve tried to buy 3 books on the iBooks store, with no success. So I jumped over to Kindle, and bang, bang, bang… all there. The reading experience has fewer graphical flourishes, and is generally easier to use than iBooks. It’s obvious they put their best developers on this one.

The side benefit to Kindle is that if I do get a Kindle again as a backup reader, all my books are there via whispersync.

One side note about reading: I was worried that I’d never get anything read on the iPad because I would be too distracted with

other possible uses of this many-purposed device. That’s not true, as the iPad melts into whatever configuration best suits the task at hand. It’s an awesome dedicated e-Reader. Just turn off email notifications. Every time I hear the “Bong!” of a new email, my curiosity gets the better of me and I’ve lost my momentum.

The best thing about it is that it’s easy to be in the middle of however many books you want, in one of the many ebook readers for iPad. Currently, I’ve got bookmarks in no less than 15 different books. Since I’m reading programming books, it can be slow going, so it’s nice to have a place to keep track of my place in my entire library, without resorting to a foot-tall stack on my nightstand (which I actually do currently have).

CONCLUSION

I was a fanboy from day 1. But what has surprised me is how the iPad has worked its way into my life. I thought I would be playing with Pages and reading e-books, and the Wi-Fi-only model would be perfect.

The trend that’s emerged is that I find myself picking up the iPad when I want to relax. I’ll catch up on RSS, the latest tweets, read some books, surf the web… and I’ll pick up the laptop when it’s time to work.

I suspect that this will lead to a kind of tech “Disneland Dad” mentality, where people love the iPad so much because it does all the fun things while the laptop nags us to get back to work.

In terms of screen size and usability, it’s a lot tougher to go from iPad to iPhone than it is from laptop to iPad. I can’t explain why, it’s just utility is somewhat retained on the iPad, where the iPhone’s tiny screen just obliterates it.

Anyone with an iPhone is going to be disappointed with the Wi-Fi version, because eventually, you’ll wind up somewhere with no (or flaky) Wi-Fi, and you just want to check Twitter or send an email. I am absolutely upgrading when the 3G version comes out, and that was not what I’d expected.

You’ve probably already made up your mind as to whether you have any reason in your life to own an iPad, but I’ve obviously found many, and as more apps pour into the App Store, I suspect the number of people who have a good reason to buy an iPad is going to steadily grow.