How do you like it?
That’s certainly the most popular question, and a surprisingly difficult one to answer.
When someone asks how you like the new lawnmower you just bought, there is an implied context to the answer (the questioner has a lawn that needs mowing).
The challenge with the iPad is that it doesn’t have a single purpose, so you need to answer how you like it for a particular use-case.
So here are my early impressions…
As your primary browser at home – After one week of forcing myself to use it, I’d still far prefer to be on my laptop. I think I actually prefer the laptop form-factor on my couch, but even if I preferred the slate form-factor the iPad browser isn’t up to snuff to be a primary browser. Lack of flash support aside, I need background rendering of multiple tabs, I need to be able to open multiple tabs w/o switching to them, I need faster rendering, i need easier bookmark syncing w/ Firefox, and better password syncing/management. Frankly, I think a primary browser needs plug-ins.
Mobile Safari is my favorite handheld browser, it’s just not up to being a primary browser. It’s like taking the worlds greatest golf cart and trying to use it on the freeway. Apple could fix a lot of this with future software upgrades.
I do like browsing with my fingers. I’ve owned tablet PC’s for many years, but I’ve always owned stylus only models. I have a new Lenovo X201T on order that will be my first multi-touch enabled tablet, so it will be interesting to see if I use the touch screen on it.
Home Browser score: D.
As an eBook Reader – It’s more enjoyable to read than my Kindle is. The screen is beautiful, I like turning pages with my fingers (except while eating lunch). The larger screen, backlit display, and color all add to the reading experience. The iBooks store has a long way to go (availability of titles is very limited), but the Kindle app on the iPad is an excellent experience.
I expected the iBooks version of books to be better than the Amazon versions because I assumed the books would be in color and feel “richer.” So far, the titles available on booth platforms look the same on both, it turns out the Amazon books can be in color (it just won’t be visible when reading on Kindle hardware), and I’ve yet to find a title that makes you want to own the iBook version over the Amazon version.
So right now, I’m mainly buying books from Amazon, and reading them on the Kindle app on the iPad. It’s great because the same books are also available on my Kindle hardware, Laptop, and IPhone. Thanks to whispersync, if I read a few pages on my kindle, when I pick up the iPad and launch the kindle app it syncs to the last page I read. Ironically for now you can read your Kindle books on the iPad, iPhone, iPod, and Mac (along with Windows and Kindles), while iBooks can only be read on the iPad.
Using the iPad as a ebook reader does have some trade offs vs. Kindle hardware. Buying Amazon books on the Ipad isn’t a great experience (did I mention the iPad needs a better browser?). When I buy books on my laptop, they automatically are immediately delivered to my kindle, on the iPad I have to launch the Kindle app and sync before I can see the new books. On the kindle I can buy books on the device while the iPad Kindle app doesn’t support in-app purchases. My Kindle battery lasts a week (2 if I turn off wireless); the IPad needs to be charged every night. The kindle can be read in bright sunlight, the iPad can’t. The Kindle is smaller and easier to carry with you. I never hesitated to take my kindle when I go out (just in case I have some downtime). I don’t think I’ll carry the iPad with me unless I plan to use it. I’m fearful of breaking the iPad, and when I do it will be expensive and annoying to repair. I’ve owned Kindles since launch in November 2007. In that time, I’ve abused the heck of of them, and I’ve had two problems; both were arguably my fault. Both times, Amazon over-nighted me a replacement (they even shipped the replacement to my hotel). When you break your iPad, you’ll go online to make an appointment at the genius bar 1-2 weeks out, wait for 15-30 minutes when you get there, and then pay a minimum $200 (probably more for the iPad).
The bottom line is that if I had to recommend a device exclusively for reading, I’d still suggest a Kindle. But the iPad is very good (with some advantages) and because it can do so much more than read books, it’s probably the better choice for most people.
ebook Reader Score: B
As a multi-media viewer – It pretty much rocks as a media player. Music and Video are great. You’d rather have your music on something smaller like an iPod or an IPhone, but if you’re carrying the iPad anyway, it might as well have your music. It’s fun to watch video content, it would be great for kids in the car (way better than a portable DVD player). It will rock on the plane. The iPad is also a great photo viewer. The Photo app is pretty strong, the screen is great.
It even makes for a decent (albeit overpriced) photo frame. The desk accessories have a way to go, but I have no doubt they will get there.
It’s not perfect of course. I wish it could accept 1080i video files (and scale them down to play), so I didn’t have to re-encode everything in handbreak before I put it on the iPad. I wish I could use a windows app to tag photos with events and faces (this is a Mac only feature).
I wish it had a disc mode so I could move images on and off without being synced to iTunes. I really wish I could sync photo’s to the cloud (even if I had to use mobileme). It could support more media types, and sync with media media managers other than itunes, but it’s an Apple product so that is not realistic.
I have my work portfolio and videos on the iPad and will use it a lot with customers (too bad all my client meetings this week and next seem to be with Microsoft).
Multimedia Viewer Score: A-
As a Business Meeting Device – For checking your e-mail or a web-page during a meeting (that is losing your attention) it’s great. For managing your calendar to schedule follow-up meetings, it’s perfect. For looking up a fact you need in an excel spreadsheet, a PDF, on a web-site, or from a useful reference app (Anayltics HD, Wolfram Alpha, Roambi, Dictionary) it’s very helpful.
For taking meeting notes it’s pretty good. I use Evernote and the IPad version is terrific. Although, I’d love to be able to sort/organize my notes on the App.
Some salespeople may even use this as their presentation tool, using the VGA adaptor to run a projector, although at 1024 x 768 it’s a bit low res.
Meetings could have been the killer app for the iPad if Apple didn’t have a stylus phobia. If I could take ink notes on this thing and have that ink converted to searchable text in the background (i.e. Tablet PC with OneNote), it would simply rock.
Business Meeting Score: B
As a gadget – It’s well built, well designed, fun to use, and fun to own. There are going to be a ton of interesting apps for this thing. Some of the early apps are very well done, some are pretty rough; it isn’t a surprise given that developers didn’t have access to devices until launch day. Alias Sketechbook is cool, although it’s really not a practical drawing tool given that you can’t rest your hand on the screen while drawing with a stylus; it’s not going to replace sketching on a Tablet PC with the windows version of Sketchbook. Evernote is by far my most used app for now.
I’m really eager to see MindManager (or another mind mapper) done for the iPad. I need a vector based diagramming tool; OmniGraffle is available but it’s $50 and has bad reviews, so I’m waiting for an update or an alternative. Salesforce.com will be great in an HD version. It’s surprising that Apples own Remote application isn’t available in a Universal or HD version yet.
I expect it to be a good platform for social gaming, but the titles aren’t hear yet. The screen is big enough for real time strategy games. Two people can sit around the screen for head to head board games or cards.
On the downside, ITunes weaknesses are really highlighted with the iPad. Managing the apps you own is a real pain (keeping versions straight, tracking HD vs non-HD versions, organizing apps, etc…).
The iPad really needs universal docs storage. It’s shocking that the OS doesn’t natively sync some file storage with the cloud (mobileme) that all apps have access to.
It’s not intended to be anyone’s only computing device, but for those that asked it’s a non-starter. Lack of a file system and the need to sync with iTunes mean this is a shuttle not a mother ship.
I expected text entry to be better than it is. The portrait still requires hunting and pecking but your fingers have to travel further than they do on the iPhone. In landscape you can touch type, but I haven’t mastered it, and the ergonomics are wrong, with the screen in the same plane as the keyboard. I wouldn’t be willing to type much more text on the iPad than I’d be willing to do on on an iPhone. That limits the usefulness of the iWorks apps.
Most people are going to want the 3G version. The Wifi only experience is dicey once you leave your home or office. Having to login every time you want to access a network is too much effort for a quick e-mail check. I own a 4G to WiFi router, and that works but is another gadget to carry. Only the 3G version supports GPS (although many location services work on the iPad using Wi-Fi estimates). I pre-ordered a 3G on the announcement day, so I’ll be able to compare the two.
Gadget Score: A
Conclusion – Early adaptors, jump on in… the water is fine. You’ll find enough useful things to do with it to not feel bad about your investment. If you need a practical tool for a particular purpose, it’s doubtful the iPad is your best choice.
I don’t think the iPad is a game changer. It’s an interesting platform that is primarily a mashup of existing Apple products. It’s a capable hardware platform that Apple could develop some unique new capabilities for, but so was the AppleTV so it’s not a given that Apple will do so.
As for me, I’ll happily be using an iPad to show off photo’s, watch media, and play with new apps.
Steve Holden says
Nice review Jason. I agree with much of what you wrote. I think the tablet platform may finally have some traction now with a good example of what can be done that is more than TabletPCs in the past. It will be interesting to see what Google, Microsoft, and others will be offering in the next year. Competition is good.
Thanks Steve. As an FYI, no one is more familiar with all of Apples tablet/slate efforts than Steve who was the original editor of the NewtonNews. His more detailed thoughts on the iPad can be found here: