So, I have been borrowing an iPad for the last couple of weeks. I realize given my critique of the device that it might seem a bit bizarre for me to be using one. But, I consider it research, a way to have an informed position, and since this is really one of our lab computers, I didn’t have to purchase one. I have been trying to use it for everything I need a computer to do, forcing myself to use it over my laptop. What follows is my now informed researched critique of the iPad.
My initial thought: I would pay $1000 for one of these tomorrow, but only if they unlocked the damn thing. This (I am typing on it now, more on this later) is perhaps the most frustrating computer experience I have ever had. Frustrating not because the iPad is difficult to use, it is anything but. Rather, it is frustrating because it is such an artificially unnecessarily crippled device. Or as I have said to those who have seen me carrying one around, “It’s like being given a Ferrari, only to discover that is has been equipped with a VW bug engine.” The iPad looks nice, and shows what is possible, but only shows, never really delivers. Like I posited earlier this is an appliance not a computer, but if this was open, operating a full OS . . .
In this respect I think David Pogue’s schizophrenic review, one I sort of initially thought was a little cheeky, to clever by half, is pretty much dead on. If you buy one wanting a computer you will be disappointed, but if you buy one wanting a device for consuming all your digital content, it is well worth the price tag. Consider it is a video game platform, an ebook reader, and a way to surf the web. Quite a bargain in some respect. (But, and I stress this is strictly a consumption based device right now, you really have to fight it to use it to create and compose.)
On being an ebook reader:
Initially I thought that the iPad with it’s backlit screen could not compete with the Kindle or Sony eReader and eink, but after using the iPad I think the difference is not all that large. I have read for several hours at a stretch on the iPad and it doesn’t produce the eye strain I am used to associating with screen reading (Instapaper was one of my favorite uses of the iPad). To be sure, eink is still better, but the difference is nowhere near as large as I expected. Add to that the much easier (theoretically) ability to annotate your reading, and I could for see a future where I carry a slate style computer around to do most of my reading, especially journal articles and student papers. Furthermore the ability to do creative things, think beyond the book, embed video, dynamically update, nonlinear presentation, makes it promosing. I downloaded one “instructional app” a Stastics program that is textbook, plus quizzes etc, and it definitely points to a future for class content distribution that is much better than the current model. Plus I could carry around all my student papers, syllabi, important documents in one small form object. I do this already on the iPhone via Dropbox (minus the student paper part) but having it on a larger screen would make them far more useable. With an iPad I could truly go paperless.
This is where the iPad really shines. Multi-touch screen interface changes the way you interact with a computer. Sitting down at a computer with a mouse and a keyboard just seems primitive now. The web surfing experience is so vastly superior. It’s honestly difficult to describe, the zoom in zoom out, slide objects around tactile nature of viewing. The iPad begins to change not only he way you interact with he web, but what can be done in terms of design and presentation. The best way to describe this is think Minority Report (note to Apple Minority Report serves as a proof of prior art so don’t be assholes and try and patent all of his). Very few applications have taken advantage of this yet, but the ones that harness the power of multi-touch really are a different sort of experience. I have been using iThought for mindmapping lately and there is a huge difference between clicking on a branch and moving it (as in with Nova Mind or other desktop based applications) and actually grabbing/touching the branch and moving it to where you want. The future is in touch screen interfaces, and I can’t wait for more of them.
The keyboard is not bad, I can use it for most of my typing. I am still slower than on a laptop with a full keyboard, but getting better, and I am sure I could retrain myself given another month or so. I also think that a case which would prop it up a bit or using the external keyboard could help. Certainly the keyboard would not limit me from using this as my primary computer, especially if I kept a full size keyboard at work for long composition, but I did write this whole blog post on the iPad.
Battery life is wicked good. I can easily go a whole day without charging it, more like two days.
This is where the iPad really sucks. There is no desktop, no place to store all of your data. For example if you want to build a Keynote presentation (the Keynote app is horribly crippled by he way, many of the features I am used to are not there) this can be incredibly frustrating. So you are in Keynote and you want a picture for your slide. You have to exit Keynote, go over to Safari open it up find the photo you want, copy it (if you want more than one you have to save them to iPhoto, if it is jut one you can save it to the clipboard), close Safari, go to Keynote and import the picture from the clipboard or iPhoto. Now say you need to give credit for the photo, you have to close Keynote again open back up Safari copy the URL, close Safari, open Keynote back up and then paste the URL into your credits slide. Seriously frustrating. I know the next release of the OS promises to allow multi-tasking, but the real issue here is not having a desktop to which you can save all the images, video, text, etc, you want. Or an open design platform so somebody could design me a clipboard with a 50 item cache. Applications for the most part can’t talk to each other and can’t pass data back and forth. So you have to develop all of these work arounds to have access to files. Right now the best way i think is thru Dropbox, but your Keynote presentation can’t save to Dropbox it can only save locally. So, you have to email it to yourself, and then from your home computer upload it to Dropbox. See, ridiculous, frustrating.
This above is really a problem because of the way the iPad is locked down, you can only have apps which Apple wants you to have (can we talk about the fact that Apple denied a cartoonist application because it might be offensive, do we really want one company building that kind of media influence). I get what Steven Johnson is saying, that the device can be seen as generative, that the app store provides a certain amount of stability and funding guarantee for developers. So that what we have seen is an incredible explosion of iPhone apps, which is likely to be reproduced on the iPad. The problem with Johnson’s argument is that an open system is not mutually exclusive with an app store. Apple could provide an app store for the iPad, one with safe approved apps, and still allow others to install apps they didn’t get from the app store. This is how the iTunes music works. You can by songs from Apple, from Amazon, or upload your own, all of which iTunes can handle. Apple as large media conglomerate, hardware and software distributor scares me. How many people would leave their Apple’s behind if Jobs went to a App Store model for laptops and desktops? Many of my favorite Mac apps are ones that probably would not have gotten approved.
What developers would build for the iPad will no doubt be amazing, and this for sometime will probably continue to drive popularity, but also developers might start to balk at Apples tight control. I really want to see what developers could do if they had root access to this thing, my guess it would be pretty f’in amazing.
I wont be buying one. I am going to wait. Having said that, I think if I was a developer or teaching web design directly I would. Why? Because it really changes the way you can compute and having a device that provokes this type of thinking is useful, a device that points to the future. But I still stand by the fact that I wouldn’t want these for my students as their computing devices. I would hate to see what type of student would develop if this were their only or primary means of computing. Instead I am holding out hope that the the competitors will will quickly get an open one to market. As for me I am going to go learn android so when a slate running android gets to the market Ill be ready to use it as my primary device.