4 June 2010

I've not seen myself as an iFanboy. I didn't get an iPhone for ages after it came out, and only got one because it was the only way to upgrade my data plan to 3G. I use a mac, but I also have an Ubuntu desktop. But I have got an iPad, and I think it's a significant product.

I knew I wanted one right from the announcement. A while ago I used my desktop for work and kept my laptop floating about the house. I liked that arrangement as it allowed me to get away from my desk for reading the web and doing email. But now that I use Keynote, Aperture, and Omnigraffle I need to use my Mac with a big screen. So my laptop is stuck on my desktop while I'm at home. To compensate I bought a cheap laptop. But using a laptop like this was always kludgy. The clam shell is awkward when I'm reading rather than typing. The low battery life means I try to keep plugged in as much as I can. So a few weeks ago I splashed out.

The Good

  • The form factor and low weight makes it comfortable to use on a sofa.
  • There's enough battery life that I can forget about it as long as I charge it overnight.
  • The screen is gorgeous: bright, clear and sharp.
  • The touch UI is familiar (due to the iPhone) and works really well on a tablet device.
  • Reading books using the Kindle app works really well. I don't miss having a paper book and I appreciate the lighter weight.
  • Web surfing is mostly very good. I find myself using the news apps from BBC, New York Times and NPR a lot.
  • It's good for watching a movie. (The Netflix app could be really big here, although I haven't used it yet.) I appreciated the mix of reading and movie watching while flying back and forth to San Francisco in a middle seat; not to mention the fact that I used less than half my battery in the process.

The Bad

  • I worry about the lock-in when buying an electronic book. So far I'm thinking Amazon is less likely to lock me into a specific platform than iBooks. But I do worry that I'll have lots of books that I can't read any more some day.
  • Web-app sites, such as Google's, often don't work too well. For regular use they make good use of the difference between hover and click - and this doesn't work with the iPad. This pushed me to get an app for reading my news feeds, even though I like Google Reader.
  • Like with my Android phone and the iPhone, it's awkward to sync some text or html files from my other computers to my iPad. This is annoying as I like sharing information this way. Dropbox may be the answer, we'll see.
  • Hotels with restrictive wifi are a real pain. I want to work on my laptop with wifi and use that nice Netflix app on my iPad. Paying for wifi is bad enough, being unable to use it on multiple devices is awful.
  • While it's ok to look at my inbox, the mail app doesn't work well for threaded discussions on mailing lists.
  • I would really like to be able to change the font size in the web browser.

The Puzzling

  • Apple gets a lot of heat for being a curated software system, rather than the traditional open one. Given how much of my life I've lost to sorting out software incompatibilities I'm not sure whether to like curation of not. In any case the competition with Android and the like will prove interesting.

The Bottom Line

After a few hours with the iPad, I realized that I was feeling a sensation I'd only remembered once before: back in 1995 when someone showed me the World Wide Web. There's no dramatic new technology, we've seen tablets before just as we'd seen hypertext before. But the overall package was game-changer. I don't know if the iPad will be The Device, but I do think that this kind of device will make huge difference to how we read and watch things in the future. I certainly need to work at making sure what I produce in the future is built with these kinds of devices in mind.