Just a big iPad Touch? Maybe not...
On April 3, 2010 Apple started selling the iPad. I followed the hype leading up to the release and it didn't really seem like a toy for me. OTOH, I wondered if it would be good for my folks. Mom really seemed to like my iPhone - she liked tapping on it and seeing the photos. Dad gave it a good one over too. My plan was to wait a bit and buy one for them. I think they'd like to use it while sitting in the TV room.
Alas, the third is also my birthday. She was traveling with her aunt and that Saturday I was having coffee at Great Bear watching the long line of acolytes waiting for their bit of the host. I got home and Facebook said that Chuck Storla had already gotten his delivered. That's it, no way I was going to wait. Luckily the Apple web site was very responsive and I was able to order my iPad in a few clicks. A week later it arrived at work.
Well, I was underwhelmed. Sure it was cool looking. (And it *was* the latest toy to have and I had one.) But was it really more than just a big version of the iPhone? I couldn't find anything that it was really better at.
The first thing I though is that I'll break the damn thing. I've dropped my iPhone more times that I can remember and I think the incase shell I bought has saved it many times. (The incase has quite a few killer dings in it.) I went out the next day and spent $40 on a rubberized case. (Another aside, the guy in front of me at the Apple store was exchanging a rubber iPad case just like the one I was about to buy. I asked the girl, which one did he get? I bought that one instead of the one I had in my hand. If you buy a rubber case, get the one with the big bumps in the back. It is very hard to tell from the packaging. They all look alike but they are at least two kinds.)
Then there's the big glass screen. How long before I slam that into the pointy corner of a desk and kiss $400 goodbye? I wasn't planning to carry it around with me and this just solidified the point. The iPad is a living room device.
I love my Kindle and I tried the Kindle reader on the iPad. Sure the text is bigger, but that back lit screen hurt my eyes after a while. I can read the Kindle all day; the iPad can only go for 15 minutes. And it's heavy. It doesn't seem like much, but compared to the Kindle, the iPad is a rock. I have to sit it on something to use it. I don't hold it in front of my face with one hand like I can with the Kindle.
I found the controls a bit awkward. The apps have control points around the perimeter of the screen. On the iPhone this is great as it spreads them out and I can use them all with my thumb. On the iPad they are too far apart. I find myself scanning the edges of the screen to see where some button might be. And then I have to lift my arm to touch the button. It feels like those old touch screen PCs from the early 90's. No one wanted to hold their arm up while working the device. We're all too lazy. And it just takes some time to physically move my arm up to the left to go "back" in the browser. I wish they had some kind of short cut controls near one corner so I could quickly tap them.
Then there's the main menu. The app icons are arranged in rows of 4x6 or 6x4, depending upon the orientation. Sounds like a good idea except that this means the relative position of the apps moves. So I'm used to tapping the second row on the right for Pandora, unless I rotate the screen and then Pandora is in the middle of the third row. Again, I find myself scanning to locate a task. Not good. With all that extra space between the icons they could easily squeeze them together and use the same layout with either orientation. Clearly a mistake in UI design.
The wireless does suck as much as the reports say. My iPhone will be showing full strength WiFi at home and downloading like crazy. The iPad, sitting right next to the iPhone, will show one tiny arc and be having trouble bringing up a web page. I hope they can fix that with a software update.
Some things are better for sure. eMail is a ton easier on the iPad. I've even learned to type with five fingers on their keypad. Surfing the net is easier with the bigger screen - although lack of flash support is the pits; so many sites I can't view and have to go back to my Microsoft laptop!
And one thing is great: photos. Big, beautiful, full color, vivid photos. (Although photo albums are still non-existent and that is dumb.) Video is the same. The iPad is like a mini TV. Nice.
So, a month later my summary: ehh. I think the iPad will be heading to Pacifica.
Two weekends ago we had an open house to celebrate the end of the remodel. I left the iPad on a corner table in case one of my techie friends wanted to play, but it was ignored. Then one of our older friends was asking me how the WII worked. Her grandkids were coming up later in the month and she wanted to know a bit more. That somehow led to my iPhone which intrigued her, but was really too small to see. I picked up the iPad to show her and her eyes lit up. She wanted to tap here, swipe there. I showed her how to pinch and pull web pages. And then I went into the kitchen.
A few minutes later I came out and she was showing it to someone else. Then another person took it. And another person said, "let me see that." It wasn't just our tech friends, everyone wanted to play with it. They didn't play with it alone either. Groups of three would collaborate on the iPad. They were laughing about it and pointing out different things to each other. They used Google Earth, Flickr, the tilt ball maze game, the USA Today and NY Times applications. One person came to find me to ask for my YouTube password. Another group changed my Facebook status message. I even found my dad playing with the iPad.
All this spontaneous collaboration was unexpected. I got my camera and took a few photos to document it.
Last weekend we were in Twain Harte with Bob. I brought the iPad and used it instead of my laptop or iPhone (I use the iPhone when Bob was on the iPad). Another interesting experience. There's no wispernet in TH so I couldn't use the Kindle for my news. I downloaded the NYTimes app and read that each day. Now that I'm home I'm still reading it. I'm not a USA Today fan, but their iPad app displays 8 great photos each day. I've become a fan of it.
So now I'm conflicted. There is something to this. It certainly is a big iPod Touch - and more. This iPad is heading to my folks. It's clear that they like it. I think I'm going to have to buy another one for me to keep around.
I have some recommendations for apps that you should get. Check it out.
Jim Schrempp is a sometimes freelance writer (only Vanity Press will publish his work) living in Saratoga, California. His writings have appeared on numerous pages on his own web site. The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else (although Jim wishes more people shared his opinions)