Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ipad Experience

So, to mark the completion of a metric ton of writing on Friday, I hit the Apple store to see if I could get lucky and snag a 3g Ipad. Turns out I could, and I've been running around with it for the past few days. It's a pretty spiffy device, and I figured I'd share my observations so far.

  • I have wanted a tablet computer for 10 years or more at this point. Apple has done a lot of not-great stuff, but by actually opening this market up to devices that cost less than 2 or 3 thousand dollars, they have earned a lot of points in my book. Also, this totally looks like I always envisioned the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy looking (though in my mind the HHGTTG was the size of a Kindle).

  • As other reviewers have noted, the battery on this thing is a beast. 12 hours of use, no problem. The downside is that it takes a long time to charge, so developing a habit of plugging it in at night is a good idea.

  • The 3g seems to work like a charm. Coverage has been good, data flows nicely. The speed difference from wifi is noticeable, but not onerous. . I shelled out for the unlimited 30 days for $30 because the alternate plan (250MB for $15) doesn't hold up for me. 250mb is a trivial amount of data - for comparison, I've used 344 MB on my phone over the past 7 days. The $15 plan exists primarily for marketing purposes and as emergency connectivity, and possibly for people who will be in and around wifi 90% of the time.

  • I also shelled out for larger storage capacity, going for the full 64 gigs. In retrospect, I think that may prove to be an unwise decision. The Ipad is a little half-assed at handling local content - it's real strength is as a conduit for remote content. Certainly, it's nice to be able to upload my gaming PDFs and a little music, but since I'm not actually uploading a ton of movies to this thing or treating it as an ipod, I'm not sure I'm really going to stretch its storage limits.

  • That said, the gaming PDFs? Oh man. They're a delight to read. Goodreader is the best 99 cents I've spent yet.

  • Similarly, what comic books are available (through the Marvel and Comix apps) are incredible. The convenience and readability has resulted in my dropping money for a few BOOM titles (Irredeemable and Unknown) purely out of curiosity and giving them a read. I think pricing needs to still be sorted out, and different titles are doing it in different ways. The smartest ones are offering collections/trades of old issues as cheaper bundles, and charging more for more recent titles. If they can find the right price to content ratio, then this will be a gold mine. However, the comics industry is so intensely trained to overcharge that I'm not entirely confident that they won't kill the goose, especially since this model would KILL the secondary market, which might have some pretty dire ramifications.

  • I've been trying to use it for work, for note-taking and other things I might use a laptop for. So far, it's ok. The big limitation is the apps. Some apps are good at taking notes, some are good at organizing them, but I have yet to find one that's does both. That said, I expect the solution to that will present itself in time. The onscreen keyboard definitely seems up to the job, but it's less useful than bringing laptop to do the same work. However, it is also a less of a barrier between you and the other people, and when it come time to brainstorm and collaborate, the ipad excels, if only as a fantastic digital whiteboard.

  • And speaking of apps, you can see the evolution of the apps as they go. Most of the first generation apps are in need of UI fixes because they were based on a best guess about how the Ipad would work, but they're getting those fixes quickly. There are still plenty of iphone apps that clearly SHOULD exist on the Ipad, but they're just not there yet.

  • And yes, I know the app store is closed and evil and stuff, but compared to it, the Android store mildly sucks, the Blackberry store is like punching myself in the face, and maintaining apps on a truly open device, like the Nokia n series is like dental surgery. I am tolerating closed and questionable in favor of "works"

  • I'm still carrying my kindle. For straight reading it remains superior, but it remains to be seen if the difference is so great as to support the need for a second device. The reality is that since the ipad can't fit in my pocket, it's going in a bag, and if I already have a bag, I probably have room for the kindle.[1]

  • I also got a bluetooth keyboard and have been pretty happy with it. It's not quite as nice as a laptop for writing, but it works pretty well if you just intend to write. Doing anything more complicated than that is actually a bit of a pain - keyboard and touchscreen is far more awkward to me than keyboard and mouse, especially when you have to worry about knocking over the touchscreen. That said, it's actually kind of fun to use it in a NON-writing configuration - typing into the keyboard with the device off to the side. I wouldn't do anything long that way, but it's kind of novel.

  • The apple case has worked fine for me, and because it's not obvious, I mention that I think that flappy bit is supposed to get tucked under your ipad. Strangely, it is often more comfortable to hold it in my hand with the case in display mode, effectively making the grip portion much bigger. Doing so opens up the hand and makes the weight of the device much less noticeable.

  • I have yet to be too impressed with any of the games, except maybe Plants vs. Zombies. I'm delighted that Small World is there, but it requires a second player and the interface is occasionally weird.

  • Todo and calorie counting apps are still fighting it out to see who the heck is actually going to be useful for less than $20.

  • Tweetdeck is visually fantastic, but I'm sticking with twitteriffic because it actually has all the listed functionality. In a rev or two, I'll probably switch.

  • Yes the RPG potential is huge. No, it's not even faintly there yet.

  • The mail client is not as good as the gmail web interface, but *is* good enough that it has made yahoo mail useful again.

  • Using the Ipad for a while has made me realize a few things about the rest of the market, most importantly about Android. If an android tablet can really offer strong Google integration, especially with docs, that's going to be HUGE. The Ipad excels at handling material that's in the cloud, so to speak, and you can see people fumbling their way to figuring out what that should look like. This is finally the device for which a google office suite is something other than a novelty or a statement of rebellion (or cheapness). The bad news is Android doesn't get a free pass. I dig my Droid, but it's got to be better than it is now to play in this space.
When the ipad was announced, I was on the verge of replacing my netbook (a first gen HP with terrible battery life, a half-broken charger and a too-small hard drive) for portable writing purposes. I put off doing so in the hopes that the ipad could serve that purpose. So far it seems to be, but to be honest it has yet to really be put through the paces. Novelty is distracting, and it puts a bit of a rosy glow over things. I still love my Ipad, and I expect I'll continue to love it for things like watching netflix, reading comics and doodling, but will it hold up for real work? I look forward to finding out.

1 - And a Towel


  1. re: capacity:

    It is better to have and not need, etc, etc. I don't have any need to put music on mine, but video takes up a lot of space, especially at good-looking resolutions, and while I didn't have much call to put video on my iPod, the screen real estate really does change the game. I'm planning on having the iPad be my only computing device when I do some school travel later this summer, and having some locally-stored viewing options is a big part of that decision.

  2. I have had the non-3g version since it came out. If I were doing it again I would go for the 3g and probably less storage space to save on cost. EVERYTHING you said above is spot on. All hail Goodreader for game PDF's. The Netflix app is awesome condensed into a tiny ball of superawesome that is in danger of becoming a singularity.

  3. "The $15 plan exists primarily for marketing purposes and as emergency connectivity, and possibly for people who will be in and around wifi 90% of the time."

    I fit that latter description and thus will be testing your hypothesis over the course of May. Stay tuned.

  4. Consider Air Video for video streaming from your home desktop. I just got it and haven't used it much, but it continues the trend of not needing much capacity for the iPad itself.

    I'm really looking forward to having mine at Origins this year, and I don't miss my already-resold netbook.

  5. Can you say more about Air Video? What's the requirement on the home desktop side?

  6. I like what you're saying. Apple has always exemplified the trade-off where they work properly but have a pretty closed system. I've been digging the hell out of that as far as their computers go but I've been inclined to try and support some android stuff to encourage market diversity... the problem is, getting an iphone is easy, getting an android phone involves sacrificing my left testicle then mail ordering the shattered nut to Mars at which point I'll be given a number to call that will reach a man that we will meet at an undisclosed location at an undisclosed time and he will give me my phone in exchange for all my parts south of the spleen sight unseen.

    Then we'll talk about what to do if the thing breaks...

    I shouldn't really gripe. I bought my HTC P4000 a week before the first gen iphone was released, and that phone is just now coming to the end of it's contract (and it's life). The iphone took 2.5 years to gain enough market penetration that it was viable in my remote region. I suspect it will be another year at least until Android starts to show real promise up here.

  7. Have you downloaded the Kindle app for the iPad? From what I hear, that's pretty much the "carry two devices" killer.

  8. @GMS I have, and it's spectacular. It's definitely good enough that i don't _need_ to read on my kindle, but I still prefer it for the reading part. (for choosing which book to read, syncing and such, the Kindle App is WAY better).

    As a point of contrast, the iBook store really kind of sucks. Itunes style lists and categories work less well for books than you'd think, and I've become fond of Amazon's recommendation engine.

  9. I have been using StreamToMe rather than AirVideo, since it handles music also. The server side app runs on Mac or PC, looks for about a 2 ghz dual core if you are going to be recoding videos.

  10. Using a Blutooth keyboard, I have been pretty impressed by my ability to actually write. I don't think the iPad is a good choice for _editing_, but for straight-ahead, no distraction writing, I think it's pretty great. It certainly forces you into a modality where you are writing and not doing anything else. That said, I eagerly await an iPad-optimized WriteRoom.
    I spent way too much time initially with We Rule and Godfinger. For the sake of your sanity, do not install those games.
    I've been using my jailbroken iPhone to get 3G on my wifi-only iPad. Works well enough.
    The cloud sync features of the iPad just seems like such a missed boat for Apple. I assume that they will get there, but the synergistic possibilities of iPhone + iPad + MobileMe + LaLa + Mac... How the iPad didn't launch with that stuff baked in is beyond me.
    I do love the portability. I have taken to carrying a heavy-duty expandable file folder into which I can put the iPad and whatever folder I need for whatever meeting I am attending, rather than carrying a bag or something. I can stick the Apple Blutooth keyboard in there as necessary.
    Great comments!

  11. So far, the things I use my iPad the most for are:

    1.) Viewing technical/reference books or pulling up equivalent webpages while I'm working on another machine.

    2.) Technical doodling. Experimentally, I have been trying to use my iPad, instead of graph paper, for all of my math and other personal whiteboardy stuff. It works great, except when I need to refer to a technical document that I was also reading on the same device, per #1.

    3.) Quick on-the-spot webpage lookups. It can turn on, unlock, and load a webpage faster than it takes my darn laptop just to come out of hibernation.

    4.) Math simplifications that I can't remember from school. Go to Numbers. Plug in a couple of input values. Drag a whole column of them. Plug formula into next column. Drag a whole column of results. Graph. Oh, that curve is just 0.5 * cos(2 * theta)!

    5.) Listening to music. If I'm somewhere where I have both devices, I prefer to use the iPad, and spare the battery on my phone.

    6.) Hey, did you see that YouTube video... oh, never mind. Let me just show it to you.

    7.) Portable wireless network drive. Air Sharing is pretty cool.

    I find the game selection, as of yet, a bit anemic, so it doesn't surprise me that you haven't found one that really grabs you yet. The iPad port of Battle for Wesnoth is not bad, but it's the kind of game I would normally play on my DS. I am sensing a lot of untapped potential, here. Unfortunately, many would-be iPad game developers are sitting out, for the moment, while they figure out how Apple's new developer agreement changes in OS 4.0 affect them.

    The most interesting effect that the iPad has had on me is that I now find my beloved, sleek little laptop to be hot, noisy, and even fragile (due to the mechanical hard-drive, and the perils of jostling the darn thing). However, I still find the iPad to be heavy, because my usage patterns are different. I'm usually not trying to hold my laptop up, while I'm using it. :-D

  12. @Rob: We have a Droid and an iPod in the house, and I'm not sure what you mean about the Droid market "mildly sucking" in comparison? How so?

    @Helmsman: Really? I just walked into our local Verizon store and said "Hey, I want a Droid." Got it right then, right there, walked out of the store with it that night. Took maybe a half-hour to fill out the paperwork, activate, show me the features, and transfer my contacts from my old phone.

  13. (Helmsman, sorry I should have mentioned that's relevant because I live in the middle of nowhere as well.)

  14. The android marketplace has two problems - the first is that it's a pretty immature market. Few reviews, minimal lists, very poor "if you like x then y" functionality and so on. That will get better with time.

    More problematically, the lack of filters on content means that it's one great soup of unsegregated content. Seperating the wheat from the chaff is hard and its only going to get harder as time goes on.


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