My Initial Thoughts on the iPad


Screen shot of Apple iPad in use

Image by Tom Raftery via Flickr

On Saturday, the UPS truck pulled up to the front of my house and dropped off a couple of iPads (32Gb, no 3G). The driver said they were delivering about 350 of them around Utah County that day. I spent a good part of rest of the weekend playing, exploring, and evalutating it. Here are my initial thoughts.

First, as many have already said, the screen is gorgeous and the form factor incredible. The first thing many comment on when they first hold it is: this is beautiful. The device was a little smaller than I expected (maybe an inch each direction), but after holding it and using it, I think it's a good size. I expect larger one's will be available in later versions--like anything else.

I haven't missed 3G yet, although I only had it out of the house a little. I have a MiFi for those times when I'm mobiled and need a connection. That said, this is a device that cries out to be continuously connected. While I'm really not prepared to buy a third data plan (iPhone and MiFi are my first two), I expect I'll cave and do that for the convenience at some point.

I bought around $40 dollars with of apps, including Keynote and Pages. I also downloaded another dozen or so iPad specific apps. I think the iPad will further fuel the growing app marketplace. The iPad shows that apps are not just about mobile (as in mobile phones).

One complaint about apps: it's too easy to buy and iPhone app when you wanted the iPad app. I did that once this weekend and was pretty mad about it. When I'm buying an app on the iPad, iTunes Store ought to recognize that I probably want the iPad version and ask me to confirm if I really want to by the iPhone version. There's just one place where that difference is highlighted after a search. In fact, I think that more apps ought to be universal: less for me to manage. I'd be willing to pay more for many universal apps (although not the same as buying both versions).

My kids loved playing with it. They were on it for hours. I bought the Scrabble game and my daughter and I played that Saturday night. It was an enjoyable time since we sat next to each other on the couch and passed the iPad back and forth--I actually liked it better than sitting across a board from her. I see the iPad as a gaming device that's completely different from what we normally expect from computer gaming because of it's form factor. The iPad makes the game go quicker than normal because it takes the accounting work out of it.

Speaking of being on it for hours, the battery life is phenomenal. We used it all day and spent only 50% of the battery. I expect I can get several days out of it in typical use. That's good because having yet another device to dock and charge is a pain.

The soft keyboard is quite usable for simple tasks like responding to email. The email app is nice and much better than using email on a mobile phone because of it's size. On my iPhone I mostly do email triage--responding to urgent things, deleting email that just needs to be read, and so one. But I rarely do important email tasks on the phone because it's small size and limited keyboard get in the way. Not true with the iPad. It's big enough to do serious work. I paired my Bluetooth keyboard with it to see how that worked and I'm sure I'll be using it that way a lot.

I've only played a little with Pages and Keynote, but they seem very capable of being used for creating, rather than merely consuming, on the iPad. After spending 20 or 30 minutes in them, I can imaging creating a complete presentation or document on the iPad--especially with a Bluetooth keyboard. One thing: I kept reaching for a mouse when I was in Pages and using an external keyboard. I'm not sure I'll ever be comfortable pointing at the screen when I'm editing a document. It's a lot more work than moving a few inches to the mouse.

I love the iPad when I'm in a position to hold it, but when I'm not, it's difficult to use. Laying it flat on the table--for reading the news while eating breakfast, for example--is unsatisfactory because it's glossy surface reflects light too well--a matte screen would be better for this kind of device. It's hard to prop up because it's too slick. I ordered the leather case and that might help, but it hasn't come yet. I'll probably get a dock for home, but I doubt I'll carry it around with me.

Some, like Cory Doctorow have complained about the iPad's closed nature. I share those concerns. i think if computing, in general, goes toward closed devices that can't be used to program themselves (a major telling point, I think) we're in trouble of losing something truly important.

A related fact is that you can't use an iPad without a computer running iTunes. That's really a broken model. Using iTunes as the gate to get things on and off my computer is a pain. The iPad--or its competitors--will have to be stand alone in order to be really great. Using iTunes has more to do with Apple's business model of command and control than it does with ease of use.

I can see the iPad replacing a lot of other devices I might have bought. For example, while I wanted a Kindle, I didn't want to buy a device that was pretty just an ebook reader. I have bought and read several Kindle books over the week end using the excellent Kindle for iPad. I also looked at some books in Apple's iBook application. I expect I'll use them both, but I am pretty loyal to Amazon, so I look there first. I'm miffed that I have to buy books in a format that work on one reader and not the other. Publishers ought to push for a single standard and more people will be willing to invest money in eBooks. There are still so many limitations that a physical book doesn't have. I'm likely to still buy most of my books in paper.

On a related note: I love reading on the Kindle in bed. I was afraid it might be awkward, but it's better than a real book. The form factor and weight are great and it has it's own light source. Reading outside--something I did for 30 minutes on Saturday isn't as nice on the iPad as a Kindle, but it works.

As almost everyone knows, the iPad is missing some important things like a camera and multi-tasking. I rarely miss multi-tasking in my phone. I missed it all the time in the iPad. Rumors are that version 4 of the iPhone OS will have it and that's good. The iPad needs it in a major way. The missing camera will be taken care of in future editions I'm sure and for now, there's so many other things to do with this version I doubt I'll miss it much.

There's probably a lot more I could say, but I'm running out of steam. Final thought: this is a device worth owning. I think it's evocative of many of the ways using computing devices could be better. I expect my iPad will get a lot of use over the coming months. I'm taking it with me to New York this week and while I'm not comfortable enough with it to leave my laptop behind, I expect that will be more and more possible for me in the future.