Friday, May 21, 2010

Ipad Follow Up

Man, this has been a long week. I've been sick since Saturday and I think this is the first day I may have finally fully shaken it. I feel like I've been running with three engines down, so as we come into Friday, I'm going abit less thoughtful and a bit more nerdy, and following up on my previous post about my experience with the iPad.

I've now had a lot more time to use it in what I consider a "Grown up" context, that is to say in my day job, and by and large I have gotten more impressed with it, but certain small things have gotten on my nerves.

First and foremost - the wifi thing. The ipad's handling of wifi connections is flaky at best. There seem to be several underlying expressions of this - DHCP issues and such - but my sense is that it all stems from overzealous power management. I suspect it lets wifi connections die when you're not using them, and then is pretty bad about re-establishing them, sometimes losing networks entirely. This would be crappy for another product but it's terrible for apple whose selling point is that this stuff is supposed to work. They apparently have a fix in the works, but I'm not holding my breath.

It's not a crippling problem, but it's definitely an annoying one, especially in the absence of multi-tasking. Having to swap apps to the "Settings" app to fix a network connection (for me, swapping to airplane mode then back fixes everything) is clunky and frustrating.

Thankfully, it's only a fraction of the experience, even less so than normal for me because I have the 3g model, so I only notice wifi shenanigans when I'm at home. 3g has been totally worth the investment, and at the price, I end up feeling like I'm overpaying for my phone (which is to say, I'm happy to pay for the ipad, and if contracts allowed, I'd probably switch to a less smart phone to more than make up for the cost of connectivity). It has weird hiccups, like any cellular coverage, but since I don't live in NYC or San Francisco, it holds up pretty well. It does have weird limits - I discovered today you can't buy apps over 20 megs over it, for example - and it makes for choppy video streaming, but it's worked reliably enough that I look forward to having it for connectivity on the road.

Speaking of which, HOLY CRAP the GPS is good, especially compared to my droid. I can literally zoom in on google maps picture view and watch it accurately reflect me walking around the house. Combined with the 3g, it's the ultimate triptych. When my family goes driving (which we do for fun), my wife drives and I navigate, which usually means I have to deal with map books or google maps printouts. Ditching all that and just using the ipad is an unbelievable upgrade.

The external bluetooth keyboard continues to hold up very well - I find I actually very much enjoy writing on it. I've seen the case made that if you use the external kb a lot you'd be better off with a macbook air, but I don't see it. I get plenty of use out of the iPad in normal form, but have the keyboard on hand to write and take notes (and their combined footprint is still crazy small). My only complaint is that the keyboard was not designed for travel, and it's very easy for it to get turned on in my bag. Once it's on, it syncs itself, and when I pull out the ipad, I discover I'm getting no onscreen keyboard because it thinks I have the keyboard out. Fixable, but annoying. On the whole, keyboard support in the apps is kind of lacking, but I hope that changes with time.

I'm still using the kindle for most of my reading, but I have ended up doing a little reading form the Ipad and I could see it growing on me. Still, Kindle's benefits are just overwhelming for now.

Battery life is still awesome. I have charging stations in a few locations, just to be safe, but keeping it charged is mostly just an afterthought.

Anyway, onto the real rub of it: Apps

I have, er, 68 apps installed over and above the ones it came with. Scarily, this is fewer than are on my iPod Touch. I am an absolute junkie for trying out new apps to try to find just the right tool for my needs. I'm not going to run through them all, but I'll hit the highlights:

Kindle, Netflix, ABC Player, Comix and Goodreader - I'm not even going to bother talking about these except to say that every iPad should have them for reasons that become apparent almost immediately.

Note Taking - This is the category where I have the most contenders. They're all pretty similar structurally - like the built in Notes app with more features. Some offer interesting organization schemas (the corkboard of Corkulous), some offer the ability to insert images (Sundry Notes, Sketchnotes, Paperdesk) or record (Soundpaper). There are even some mind mapping apps (Mindnode and iThoughtsHD) which work less well than you'd imagine, but are kind of neat. None of these are bad (though Sundry Notes seems to trip over its own features and some of them lack any means to export content - a death knell for me) I have settled on the simplest yet best looking of the lot, Notably. It just handles text, and it does that well. Solid reliability wins out for me when I need to take notes in a meeting. That said, nothing handles tabs and outlining in a way that's actually well suited to notetaking, so I'm still on the lookout.

Writing - I'm ok using Notably for longer writing as well, but I did shell out $10 for a copy of Pages, so I keep trying to use it, and it keeps being...kind of ok. I have some apps designed to play well with google docs (GoDocs, Office2 HD) but mostly they just suggest to me how good google docs integration _could_ be. Net result being I have done writing in everything from Pages to a email composition window, and it's all pretty much the same. I'd kill for Scrivener lite.

Art - Sketchbook pro pretty much kicks everything else's ass in this category, but I do want to mention Penultimate, which is a virtual notebook that you scribble in with a sharpie (your finger). It's great setup, and in a true stylus environment, it'd be genuinely brilliant. I haven't picked up the $50 omnigraffle software yet because, well, $50, but I keep eyeing it.

Play - Plants v.s Zombies works great in this medium. Nothing else has really grabbed me yet.

Blogging - The Wordpress app is decent is you want to do simple things, but that's about all you're going to find. I picked up BlogPress to see if I could use it with this blog, and while I technically can, it does all its drafting locally, which is useless (at least for me)

Health -Most of the good iphone apps for fitness have not yet made it to the ipad, and those that have are mostly plugins for subscription services. No winners here yet.

Communication - IM+ lite for IM, skype (iphone version) for skype. Twitter...well, I have Tweetdeck, Twitteriffic and Twittelator installed. Twitellator is the prettiest, but most useless. Tweetdeck _should_ be the best, but the inability to casually see conversations kills it for me. Twitteriffic (pro in my case) is the only Good Enough solution at the moment, though I keep checking Tweetdeck in hopes for magical improvements.

Tasks - Remember the Milk has no Ipad app yet, and Toodledo is its poor cousin. I don't want to spend $20 on Things, so I have settled on Appigo's ToDo, which is functionally strong (but not overwhelmingly so) and visually VERY appealing. Well worth the $5.

Content - Most of my content comes over safari, but exceptions include the NPR app, Weatherbug, and my profoundly beloved Instapaper.

Other - I've got Bento and Keynote, but haven't messed with them much yet. Got some dice apps, but none grab me at this point. I have the software for Square, but am still waiting for the swiper. The one random thinkg I need to plug is Starwalk. This is one of those apps that truly needs to be seen to be believed - just hold it up, and it's a window into the sky. I have not seen anything more magical.


  1. My WiFi issues all amount to the pad semi-frequently prompting me for the password for my house's network as if it doesn't already know it. Someone gave me a tip: hit the "sleep" (lock) button when this happens, then wake the device right back up. When you do, that prompt is gone and the network's already reestablished.

    It's still annoying enough for me to mark the device several points down from "10" on the "1-10" scale. I'd probably rate it at a 7.5 right now with those issues. Eliminate them and we're in 9+ territory.

  2. One notable exception to the 20 MB 3G cap on roaming downloads - it will allow you to download trailers of any size from Go figure.

  3. Thanks for this post, Rob. I was already a definite purchase, but you've raised some interesting points --

    For example: when you refer to the keyboard, are you using the Apple bluetooth keyboard, or are you using the Official Snazzy iPad keyboard + dock?

    Also -- would you find the keyboard necessary, or is the virtual keyboard serviceable?

  4. @gareth It's the apple bluetooth keyboard. I am tempted by the keyboard and dock setup, but I worry that the shape might lose me portability (and since my need is not pressing, I'm also put off by the price tag).

    The onscreen keyboard is actually *very* good, and for twitter, short emails, form filling and such I'm delighted with it. For medium stuff (a paragraph or two) it works ok, and beyond that it starts to gt awkward.

    My take on it is that it's effectively an order of magnitude improvement over a smartphone. If you could _possibly_ do it on your smartphone, you can comfortably do it on the ipad. If it would just be too much of a pain on your smartphone, it's probably doable but awkward on the ipad.

    -Rob D.

  5. @gareth Oh, right, other point: I think the external KB is only necessary of you want to use it as a writing device. Like, real, honest to god, sit down at starbucks and crank out a thousand words kind of writing. Short of that, It's nice, but probably not worth the hassle of carrying around.

    -Rob D.

  6. Rob--

    Thanks. I'll probably hold off on the keyboard for now, then. I can always pick one up later.


  7. Is Dicenomicon among the dice apps you have? Because, wow, is it cool. I don't know if it's iPad ready yet.

  8. I've got Dicenomicon for the Ipod touch, and it rocked, but at last check, no ipad version yet. However, I am hopeful, and this reminds me to check again.

  9. Update your apps. Dicenomicon got an iPad update a couple days back.


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