iPad-so far

Two weeks ago, I counted myself one among the hoards of silly sods who queued early in the morning for the chance to see, touch and indeed buy the much-hyped iPad. My justification for this lameness is that the next day, I was scheduled to fly out for a week-long conference and wanted to try the new device in that context. Talis, my employer, has purchased a few now, but I was the only fool to queue for one. No doubt this is something the support team continues to find justifiably humorous.

Standing in the line and being offered croissants, coffee and advice by brightly T-shirted and strangely too-good-looking Apple staff, my expectations were mixed. As I’ve tweeted before ever actually seeing an iPad, I’m not entirely convinced by the form: the tablet layout and touch screen. It looks slightly awkward to hold, and even that huge keyboard doesn’t look particularly useful for anything beyond quick notes. A screen that big that you’re supposed to touch pretty well continuously will surely be begrimed very quickly. I kept trying to work out what the iPad would be for. Does it replace the laptop for most things? Does it replace the TV, the book, the bedside lamp? (In fact, the thing it’s most usefully and utterly replaced is the shaving mirror, but more on that below.) The fact that it needs the now hugely-inflated iTunes to sync and run, and the fact that it’s running iPhone OS are both factors I’ve been unhappily anticipating for a few months.

But I was exceedingly interested in trying it out, in seeing the way the designs are different, and the way content feels when it’s not part of a computer. The idea of holding a page in your hands, and flicking through images, text and ideas does appeal enormously. Also, the power behind the device, the clear display and proven track-history of innovation piqued my curiosity to see how clever developers will put them to use.

So, with all these factors swirling around in my mind, and the desire for my not having to take a stack of printed books, papers and PDF files with me overseas, I looked into the Kindle and a few other e-readers. The Kindle is expensive, virtually impossible to justify given the multi-purpose nature of the iPad. Even if it proved to be a poor overall experience, the iPad would at least allow me to do everything the Kindle does, plus check email, twitter, blog and browse the whole web of content for only a little more money. The Kindle’s main advantage in the market, however, is access to far more books and resources than any other. So, with the announcement of the Kindle for iPad app, and my boss’s suggestion I pick up an iPad to test for Talis, I found myself among 50 or so pony-tailed die-hards and chirpy Apple Geniuses waiting for my chance to be kitted out with the most lusted-for piece of kit since the last Apple device.

Below are the notes I sent to the Sysadmin team after two weeks of use.

The iPad has been a very interesting thing to use, with it’s novel form-factor and innovative UI (though it’s like nothing more than a big iPhone…). It’s a brilliant device for consuming information, so long as one is indoors. I’ve been very happy to read whole academic papers and about 1/4 of a novel so far on it, and for that alone, it’s been a useful tool for travelling and research. Also, it’s more interactive than the iPhone for email/twitter and, surprisingly, colloquy [IRC client].

So, for being exceedingly portable and present at conferences, it’s been great. Also, because the battery life is actually up to scratch, you don’t have to join the fray of geeks fighting over the single power strip in an undignified yet necessary battle in the corner of any given keynote presentation.

It’s got some strong shortcomings which have proven annoying, however.

While it’s great for consuming, it’s cumbersome and slow for producing. It’s OK for taking quick notes, and perfect for tweeting/short emails, but I wouldn’t want to write a whole blog post on it. (I got the bluetooth keyboard and WordPress app, which together work a treat, but require you to drag around an external keyboard).

It fails in even the tiniest bit of sunlight. So, on Crete [where I was for a week at the ESWC conference], it made a fantastic shaving mirror.

I think there may be some potential for RSI, too, if one types for any extended period of time on it. I touch-type, meaning that I end up resting my fingers on the screen, printing many ffffffffffffffffff’s and llllllllllllllll’s and needing to tap the backspace again and again.

Finally, as a team device, I’m not sure how useful they’d be. So far, the majority of the benefit this has made has been through personalising it a lot. So, if I wanted to share a quick photo with folk, I need to sync it with my photos. If I wanted to blog, I’d need to sync with flickr or similar to have a ready supply of licensed images to use. Likewise with reading (Dropbox, Kindle and Goodreader) all need to know who I am and what I want to read. Same with video, Keynote etc… Unless Talis made them into extremely corporate-oriented devices (which would suck, methinks) and filled them all with Talis-only designs, images, videos and generic slides, they’re pretty person-specific.

So, after just under two weeks of use, I’d say it’s great for travel (I’m looking forward to having it on the 14hr flight to and from San Francisco in a couple weeks, for example), and it’s great for reading (Kindle App, GoodReader and Dropbox). I could see, with additional apps, it being an interesting device for sharing information to a small group. As another colleague pointed out, as a presenting tool for a large audience, it fails at a few hurdles. Firstly, the Keynote app that is so fantastic to use on OS X is woefully lacking on the iPad. Any presentations imported from the Mac lose fonts and transitions (even if they’re possible to re-create in the iPad itself!), and the presenter’s screen doesn’t display next slide and presenters notes. It lacks all the things that make Keynote so great to use. The VGA tie-in means it’s even more awkward to hold, so you’re left leaning it against the lectern in exactly the place your laptop would have been. The form factor is exceedingly social, however, so showing a bunch of select slides at a table, or having a shared mini-whiteboard could be cool.

It’s made much, much better with the bluetooth keyboard, and I couldn’t imagine using it without the Apple cover (which props it up in a variety of ways, and makes it less slipperyf). Some key apps are: sketchbookpro (for white-boarding), Kindle, Goodreader, Dropbox, Colloquy and the twitterrific twitter client.

I couldn’t see it replacing a laptop at any time soon, and if it weren’t for the vast amount of reading I tend to do, I probably wouldn’t feel particularly comfortable with Talis buying this one for my sole use. As it is, I’m happy to use this one for the trip over to the States, and it is growing on me the more I use it for reading and consuming information on.

I hope, as has been said, that version 2 will be more useful, and that OS4 will be a lot more useful even before then.

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