Two Weeks of iPad

The Apple iPad lives up to its billing as a “game changer”.

After two weeks of using the Apple iPad, I am confident that the introduction of this device is going to be seen as a major event in the history of computing (despite the overwhelming hype trying to convince me of exactly that).  There is a reason that more than half a million iPads were sold in the first week, and that is before the 3G and international releases.

It is not that the iPad itself is a perfect device; it is not.  Nor is it that the idea is unprecedented, as tablet computers have been available for years (and it has been called merely a big iPod Touch).  However, where Apple excelled (in this case) was in the product design of both the hardware and the software, and coupled with the small technological advances, the result is significantly more than the sum of the parts.  Finally, Apple has successfully conveyed this “vision” to the consumer.

What makes the iPad special is the flexibility that the very simple physical interface (basically, just a big multitouch screen) affords.  When an application is launched, the iPad takes the desired form, whether that be a book, a map, a browser, or a game, and it does so wherever the user wants to be.  Psychologically, this makes a really big difference, which is probably why so many people are raving about the iPad.

In our household, we have already run into device contention.  My wife has laid on the living room floor using the iPad to map out a High Adventure canoeing trip for this summer.  My son gets up early in the morning to play games on it, or to use it to browse for information related to games he plays on his computer or video games consoles.  I have gotten back into reading literature for pleasure (which I have been intending for a while) because iBooks is well-suited for that.  In the evenings, we generally have the iPad nearby as we watch television or movies because we inevitably want to look something up on IMDb (instead of getting out a heavy laptop or going to the office desktop as we did previously).  Of course, there are sighs of discontent during the day when the hardware is roped into the office for its original purpose: software development.

Personally, I think that the iPad will anchor a new category of computers that fits among the various other kinds of computing devices  Most of the general complaints about the iPad I have read are in comparison to these types: it does not function as a smart phone; it is too big to put in your pocket/not portable enough; it does not do as much/is not as powerful as a laptop; it not as productive as a desktop system.  I think that smart phones, portable game systems, laptops and desktop computers are here to stay, but they will have to make room for the iPad and other slate computers.  That said, I think that the category of “NetBook” computers may be done for.

In practical terms, here are the three largest (albeit minor) complaints I have found about this first generation iPad:

  1. The reflective screen really shows smudges and gunk (such as cat hair).  I have no problem reading it, but I compulsively wipe fingerprints or grit from the screen, and I cannot count the number of times I have unintentionally turned book pages or linked to an unwanted web page doing this.  (I suppose the lock button solves this, if I can train myself to use it.)
  2. The clock application was omitted from the list of provided applications.  The iPod Touch is my only alarm clock, and it only makes sense that I should be able to take the iPad to read in bed and also set it to wake me in the morning, especially since the same program would already work.  (One can set a reminder with an audible alert, but it is not the same as an old car horn.)
  3. The iBooks application, while ostensibly providing a virtual bookshelf, does not allow freeform rearranging of books on those shelves.  Sure, one can delete books and change their order, but they always gravitate to the top left.  What if I want to put my books on the left, and Sherry’s books on the right, and those that we have already read on the bottom shelf, huh?

The final unfortunate aspect of the iPad is that, due to its popularity, I have to start a pool for the date of the first time that the iPad is dropped on the floor (or sat upon), and for when it will actually be broken in such an incident.  Those who chose “less than two weeks” have, thankfully, lost.

I Got Mine

The Apple iPad arrives, right on time.

At 11:14 this morning [Saturday, April 3, 2010], our Apple iPad was delivered to our office door.

This is the first piece of hardware that I can recall ever pre-ordering, and I actually placed the order within the first minute that it was possible.  Since the iPad was announced, I have read lots of skepticism about its value and usefulness, and I am resistant to hype.  (In fact, I often avoid things that are probably quite good simply because of the hype attached; for example, I have thus far refused to see Avatar.)  With the iPad, though, I could immediately comprehend its potential, especially for games and particularly for the kind of games that I enjoy creating and playing.

While awaiting a delivery, whether it be books, music, or hardware, I tend to almost obsessively check the package tracking.  In the case of this highly anticipated product release (witness the latest episode of Modern Family), I was apparently not alone.  Despite several different rumors to explain the odd tracking data from UPS, many of which ended with a conclusion about shipments being delayed, the actual explanation is likely to be much simpler.  My guess:  Because there were 200,000 units being shipped from China, they were originally packaged in huge lots destined for each distribution point (in our case, Louisville, Kentucky) and not scanned individually until they arrived there.  (I seriously doubt my iPad flew nonstop from Guangzhou to the Bluegrass State.)

Interestingly, I happened to be awake at around 5:33am, having just watched an exciting (and wet) Formula One qualifying session live from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  The wind was apparently coming from the right direction, and I heard the airplane carrying my shipment fly almost directly overhead.  The “arrival scan” was 22 minutes later, though it actually took two more trucks, and a couple more scans, before it arrived here.  (The iPad Dock is still in transit, via a different carrier with distribution in a different, albeit neighboring, state.)

Anyway, there will certainly be a proper review in the future, but right now I feel that it is time to get started playing around with our latest software platform.

The most surprising aspect so far was that Apple had UPS require identification in order to receive delivery of the iPad package.  The only “problem” so far is that I did not get to use my alternative title, “iSad” (had it not arrived).

Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me

My iPod is Dirty.

A couple weeks ago, we ordered our latest toy, I mean, tool for development. We got a new iPod Touch, deliberately choosing the smaller (8G) model available and receiving it before the iPhone 3.0 Software Update was automatically installed.

Initially, the intent was to familiarize ourselves with the technology, from a user perspective, but this device turned out to be much more than mere technology. I am astounded at the design (and/or happy coincidence) that went into the iPod Touch (and, presumably, the iPhone). It arrives in a plastic box the width and length of a 3×5 index card, and only about an inch thick. By “it”, I mean everything that one needs: the device, the USB (data/charging) cable, a set of ear buds, a cleaning cloth, the Quick Start guide, and two of the ubiquitous Apple stickers. Also, the device comes fully charged, like other Apple products and unlike most other battery-operated devices. The first impression is just brilliant.

The iPod Touch itself is about 2.5 x 4.25 inches, and only a quarter inch thick, but it has enough heft to feel substantial. Shiny does not hurt at all (and ordering directly from Apple allows one to personalize the back with two lines of laser engraving). The genius of the device, however, is not in the specifications, but in how everything works together to create a physically satisfactory experience. One wants to pick it up, hold it, use it, even if there is not that much to do with the default applications. (I suppose that if it were an iPhone, we would be making unnecessary phone calls, too.)

The pre-installed software is sufficient to show off the basic features, and I imagine that most users try almost every application at least once and probably even make an excuse to use some. (I tried the alarm clock feature to avoid a four foot journey to the real alarm clock.) However, these programs are quickly exhausted, so the “App Store” becomes important for finding something else to do, another justification for playing/working with the iPod Touch. I believe that this contributes greatly to the success of this channel.

One thing that would be a great application for playing with the curiously magnetic iPod Touch would be a solitaire game (or many) that worked particularly well with this hardware. Speculation about the possibility of a top brand of solitaire coming to this platform would be entirely justified.

(with apologies to Richard O’Brien)