The iPad Post

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I received an iPad for my birthday. The gift came most directly from my wife and my roommate, but I understand that many people chipped in for it. There has been a fair bit of anticipation, and I know I'm beholden to that community that contributed. Everyone wants to know whether the iPad lives up to its hype or down to its detractors' rants. I need to give a shareholder report.

The main concern for people who have seriously investigated the iPad is that it's a tweener-- more expensive than a netbook, but not as fully capable as comparably-priced laptops; bigger than an iPhone but not big/powerful enough to do real work; with a pseudo-keyboard that makes you think you can do more than you can with its form factor. Certainly those were the reasons that I initially decided to stick with my Hackintoshed netbook until hardware rev 2 came along, presumably with a 'retina' display, maybe a camera, iOS 4 and multitasking.

It has more than replaced the netbook, though, and is certainly not a tweener. I can edit nearly all the documents that I could on the netbook, and in fact with the 3GS edition and a data plan, I have more ready access to my documents in the cloud and don't have to plan as far ahead about what I'm going to work on. It's light enough to carry anywhere, and it's battery lasts forever compared to the netbook. It is much faster than the netbook on everything that it does.

It has, hands-down, the best web-browsing experience that I've ever had -- far better than on the netbook with its unusual screen aspect ratio and squirrelly trackpad. I can sit anywhere with it. I can pinch and zoom and rotate at will to fix any little issues with a page's layout or styling ... a feature that is invisible until you've gotten to use it, and which proves useful every few minutes when you have it.

Many, many of the features at make it appear at first glance to be a tweener have proven in my experience to be very savvy decisions about what's necessary in a focused user experience. The keyboard takes half the screen in landscape mode; but you can type at nearly full speed and it's nearly full-size while still leaving you most of the context that you need for typing. When you're not typing, it isn't taking any space on the screen or on your desk. In portrait mode, the keyboard feels small for regular typing ... but with some practice is of a decent size for thumb-typing, if a little large.

Another 'tweener' feature is its single-app focus. Like the iPhone, there's only one app visible at a time, regardless of what is active or processing in the background. To switch apps, you need to back out to the main menu, then focus in on the other app. Having migrated from a netbook, though, I've been grateful for the dedication of the screen's real estate to the current app. The alternative is to put in some persistent interface for active apps, and ... I just don't need it that often.

I'll admit that i don't see what the fuss is about multitasking, honestly. The apps that I want working while I'm focused on something else all have notifications and even push turned on, so they feel like they're still running. The only thing that I have missed multitasking for is letting downloads or loading webpages do their thing while i hop over to another app to take a note. Otherwise, the quick switching between recently used apps with push notification is 95% of what I need multitasking for in the work that I would do in the situations where i would be using an iPad.

There's a larger issue here, and an important one. Getting one as a gift let me step back from it and play a little more easily, and I think that's key with this device. Because I didn't have to justify the expenditure to myself, because I could fall back to the netbook if I needed to, I simply didn't have to use it and I had room to consider what it could really do free of any expectations borne of my existing needs. After a few days of trying to use it as my primary internet device in that context, I could see all kinds of new ways of working that it facilitates, and a lot of "habits" (call them workflow optimizations) from other devices that I actually don't need in the places where i would use an iPad.

It is not a laptop. It's not an oversized iPhone, though that is the easier comparison to make. If you approach it as either of those, if you demand that it be one of those things, you will be frustrated. If you can give it a few days' use as it is, work the way that it works, then it becomes a new kind of device. When I'm browsing the web, I rarely need five other apps running. When I am typing a document, I need files on hand, but I rarely need them all up in front of me simultaneously. Meanwhile, I often want to spin the screen around and hand it to someone else in the room. I want to stretch and resize what I'm working on quickly and intuitively, rather than having to search for five handles in tiny corners, move three palettes, and rearrange other windows. I rarely need access to a hierarchical filesystem, and I often enjoy having just the files that I need right there, and having the system be savvy to what I can do with a document. With the battery life, I rarely need to turn it off, which means that it is often just there and ready with 0 seconds to 'wake up', and it is almost always on my person or within arm's reach. I can take notes in it almost as easily as i can in a paper notepad, except that the notes are then available immediately to the rest of my digital life.

It's by no means perfect. I often would like to browse sites that use Flash, though that should not be confused with a desire to use Flash itself. There are also some places where the interface has underestimated what I would like to do -- most notably, there's no ready way to print, or to take any old web page and save it for offline browsing.

So I think that I was lucky to get it as a gift, because I had that distance. I didn't end up demanding that I get my money's worth of my expectations, and as a result, it's pretty amazing, and I think I'm more likely to actually get ... well, my friends' money worth.

I am still advising many friends, especially those with iPhones or Android phones, to wait for (the unannounced) rev 2. I think that there are many little kinks to be worked out, and a year of seeing how people actually use the devices, and what apps people make, will make for a much better version. But I'm really happy with the version that i have!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Scott Price published on September 13, 2010 11:48 PM.

Recent podcast appearances was the previous entry in this blog.

Mechanic's Report: Super 7 HD (iPad) is the next entry in this blog.

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