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.

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