13 Juli 2010

1½ months with an iPad

This entry was first published on the German forums of sf-commuity.de in response to 13 posts, which seemed to be either directed against Apple, Inc. as a whole or recent developments regarding the company’s policies surrounding the App Store, but not regarding the iPad directly, or they had listed reasons to why they would not need such a device. None of the writers seemed to have had an iPad in the first place or even tried it, so in my opinion, they had no real basis to built their opinion on.

I, on the other hand, did have an iPad for almost a month at that point and decided to give a more balanced view, which you will find below. I incorporated the posts, following my initial one, into this blog entry.

If you want to read the whole thing in German, you’ll be able to find it following his link: "iPad nur Hype oder mehr ...?"


I own an iPad since May 27th (thanks to UPS it arrived a day early) and I am really into it. For the sake of my argument, I’ll elaborate a bit: somewhat a year ago my best friend got an eReader from IREX for his work. He keeps all his documentation, manuals, private books and comics on it. His use case is clear: saves dead trees, can carry around lots of PDFs for his work as an IT guy, allows for taking notes. The price for those gorgeous 10.2" (A4) was set around $849 at the time. It was the only device with a useful sized display and the usual ePaper problems (screen needs to switch for any page flip) and benefits (infinite battery life) but it can’t do much more than that.

My initial reaction: do want! For university. I hate printing out papers/materials/scripts or reading them on a vertical screen. Furthermore it costs money, time and nerves, while I could also read normal books on such a reader as a “bonus”. It doesn’t hurt the eyes, reading just is comfortable. But: I don’t work for a company, that would sponsor me one. And then, there’s the rumor mill: Apple is building something. So I told myself to keep calm and wait. Others (as in PlasticLogic) had also announced products for those purposes, which would be cheaper and faster – in short - promised to do away with the problems of earlier eInk displays. An Apple event came and went and still there was no tablet or reader from Apple in sight.

Entrance: Courier concept videos by Microsoft. Gizmodo leaked those pictures and videos and I thought, that this is exactly how such a device, a digital companion with borrowings from the real world, should look and behave. I’d grab one of those from the guys from Redmond, the second they would release it. Now we know, this will never be built, at least not as seen in the concepts. Recent restructuring within Microsoft has made everything a bit unclear, with what is happening in the company. I won’t even mention the Kin debacle.

So far, so dissatisfying.

As soon as Apple announced they would indeed release a tablet computer, which would be their answer to netbooks, my decision was already set in stone (Apple actually does not believe in netbooks. Strongly. I would go as far and say, that the MacBook Air really was their answer to that market at the time, but anyhow). With the Apps from the App Store in the back and the already known, and since its inception matured platform (iOS), this device would be able to do much more, than a simple eBook reader, but at the same time it would not replace a workstation computer or laptop for certain tasks and did not set out to do so.

I now own the device for about six weeks and this is merely a field report.


Apple definitively manages so raise some amount of suspense and – due to elongated waiting periods for customers outside the U.S. – frustration as well. The upside was, we got the 3G models on launch day. Relatively soon it became clear, that I would need the model with the biggest storage capacity and 3G. A MiFi in the pocket would’ve sufficed, but then there would’ve been another device, hungry for power, needing to be charged. Should my smartphone get its hotspot functionality with Android 2.2 Froyo, this whole thing might take a whole new direction, but the possibility (and the option to cancel the data plan monthly) to use 3G justifies the extra charge.

At his moment I’m still within the first two free months, Vodafone Germany is offering with their unlimited iPad data plan. At month’s end I’ll see how the different plans have changed (at the moment, there’s a good chance, I’ll switch to O2 Germany, with their nice balance between cost and network quality) or if I’ll grab a pair of scissors and use a multiSIM (microSIMs, which are used in iPads, are technically identical with normal sized SIMs, just less plastic). On my journeys within the last weeks I found myself in situations, in which there was no Wi-Fi available and the 3G option came in handy. This is, of course, a detail, which has to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis: will the device be sitting on the couch/in the bathroom/in the kitchen all the time (meaning: Wi-Fi model suffices) or does it accompany you on your trips and where do those lead you to? Should you choose the 3G model, be aware, that you’re setting out to deal with telco companies and their shananigans on yet another level. In Germany all carriers using the network of ePlus will only offer less speed or no 3G at all in some areas, because the network is still not well developed. If you are in an urban environment, though, this will be not a problem. On that note all carriers/networks have white spots in rural areas, even if they claim otherwise. With the initial order in the online Apple Store, one can choose between the three big carriers (O2, Vodafone and Telekom) and a microSIM will come in an extra envelope (not pre-installed as in the U.S.) with the package. I chose Vodafone, because I only had good experiences with their service as a customer in the past, as well as with their network (I was already a customer of theirs, when they were called D2 Mannesmann).


After all these precursory considerations, the day of delivery came and it’s nearly impossible to objectively report from those hours, but I think, this rings true to anyone, who’s eagerly awaiting something and can finally unwrap it (there are basically two birthdays worth of cash in this for me). The inevitable unwrapping ceremony is, of course, available: iPad unwrapping on PicasaWeb.

After a day of constant play (the battery was working through 12 hours of constant usage, in a Wi-Fi, with the charge it came with) I decided for me, that this purchase was absolutely the right thing to do. I’m writing and reading my e-mails, with only minor exceptions, on the iPad. Although it is surprisingly comfortable to type on the onscreen keyboard in landscape mode, I refrain from typing longer texts on it, mostly because the document roundtrip in Pages is nothing you can really work with, yet.

Generally, you want to hold or place the device in landscape mode (well, I do), which does bring up the question, why Apple left out a second dock connector at the long side. Even in its function as a digital picture frame (I don’t overuse this feature), one would rather have the iPad sideways - showing pictures WHILE charging the battery - than in portrait mode. Most pictures are shot in landscape anyway. Without the keyboard dock and without a bluetooth keyboard, I couldn’t test typing that way, but it shouldn’t differ much from a laptop experience (yes, you can do away with the onscreen touch keyboard and pair the iPad with an old school keyed keyboard) and Pages would be a bit more useful, I guess.


What really doesn’t work well out of the box, is transferring documents. Apple gets a v1.0 bonus on this, but not for much longer now. They really should work on this and maybe we can some of what is to come in this area, with the OTA (over-the-air) bookmarks synchronization now available for the iBooks App on iPad and iPhone. At the moment, though, you have to put whatever iWork documents you want to work on with your iPad versions of Pages, Numbers and Keynote, into iTunes and sync them onto the device with the cable and back again. Nobody really does that. There is no version control, no structure, nothing. It’s really nice, that there’s Dropbox for iPad, so I don’t have to mail documents to myself (which is the other, way to do it) and I have all the same documents on all my devices, that run a version of Dropbox.


Simple reading is very nice - so was throwing all my already owned (DRM free) ePubs into iTunes and finding them in iBooks. PDF support has found its way into said app, although some features are sadly missing. I didn’t really miss this feature, because I was using Dropbox and GoodReader, which can do this just fine. All my stuff from university is now in there and gets distributed to all devices. In the first few hours only Project Gutenberg books were available in the iBook Store, so I downloaded me a nice collection of those classics. I’ve read three books so far and the display was really easy on the eyes, although ePaper devices are still better in this department. I really don’t like reading longer texts on a vertical PC screen, it is much too bright and puts strain on my eyes. On the iPad, you’ll find several possibilities to set the display right for reading and laying down while doing so. On one hand, there’s the lock switch to shut off auto-rotation, which comes in handy, if you want to read laying sideways in your bed and on the other hand, you can increase or decrease the font size however you wish and decrease brightness or invert the screen (white text on a black background). So, for my intended use, the iPad does fit extremely well and gets used for those purposes in abundance.


I don’t read newspapers or magazines, I haven’t for quite some time.  I’m part of the news-RSS-Google-reader-faction. The funny thing herein is, that I installed several apps, released by publishers and I am reading their editorial again. I’ll be honest here. My main motivation was to see, how those publishers try to fit their formats onto the platform and how they utilize the given possibilities. There’s plenty of room for improvement. Does one want to read a daily newspaper and reload content into a never-changing layout, much like “Die Welt” does it right now?  Or does one want an experimental 500MB-per-issue magazine, with some animation, video and audio, like WIRED? At the moment, “Der Spiegel” does a lot of things right (not talking about content here) with letting you download recent and previous issues in one big “album view” of covers. Single articles are then presented in a nice and clean way. Very diverse. Of course, they’re all special formats, but do I want to pay for an in-app subscription, which merely gives me the contents of the (free) website in a nice layout (“Die Welt”)? There are examples, that are much worse, though. Some apps are a simple, somewhat pimped out PDF reader, which downloads PDF versions of the magazine or newspaper into the app, without any consideration for UI possibilities. They didn’t put any extra work into there digital version. No one can really want something like this. I know the term “multimedia” has been overused, but it would be exactly the right entry point for editorial. WIRED does some stuff in this regard, but has other problems.


Aside from those first attempts, the iPad has become the center of news for me. Thanks to exquisite apps like Reeder and Instapaper, which display and process RSS feeds in their fitted UIs really nice, I can skim through my Google reader subscriptions, save articles for a later review, forward them to anywhere I want to, the usual. Furthermore, the iPad is made for reading comic books and thanks to a full color display, it surpasses eInk/ePaper readers in that regard, unless all comic books you’re reading, are black & white. Marvel has done a good job with their app and it does enhance reading. You can read a book panel-by-panel and use the usual gestures to flip between panels and pages. Basically any studio can publish their own app that works as a store and bookshelf, much like the original iBooks app. Marvel, IDW, BOOM! and DC already did. Then there is “Comics” from comiXology, a comic book-catalog/library (comiXology also developed the DC and BOOM! apps), which contains titles from various publishers. Should you already own a collection, sitting somewhere on your PC or Mac in cbz/cbr/rar/zip formats, then there’s Comic Zeal Comic Reader 4 by bitolithic for you.

Then there are games. I think they’re an integral part to the platform and especially digital versions of board games, even more than on the iPhone or iPod Touch, for they have much more pixels at their disposal. I wouldn’t want to use the iPad for, lets say a racing game, because I’d need to steer with holding the iPad in both hands and that just gets too heavy too soon. Not too long ago the German developers The Coding Monkeys published their digital version of the Game of the Year 2001 “Carcassonne” and even the iPhone/iPod Touch-only app does not only look good in 2x mode, but is highly addictive as well. Generally any app, that’s been written for the iPhone or the iPod Touch, can be used on the iPad as well. With the double pixel approach (2x mode) the graphical results vary from each app to the next, but doesn’t really change anything in regards to their functionality. My next favorite is “Broken Sword” (“Baphomets Fluch””) in its Director’s Cut by Revolution. Actually I think, every adventure game ever written should be redone for the iPad. Touch input is just right for this game and I’ve never played it before! Since then “Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge” has been released by LucasArts in its Special Edition, after the success of “The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition” (which is also available for iPhone and iPod Touch). In comparison with Broken Sword, though, MI2 lacks originality in its UI and stability. The console and Steam versions seem to have gotten more attention, since I read about said stability issues, which I on the other hand never encountered.  

Movies, television shows, YouTube. Everything that’s video and doesn’t need to be watched on a 50” HD screen, I watch on my iPad. The screen of my smartphone is already nice (and was already near those magical 300dpi, the iPhone 4’s “Retina Display” surpasses) but still small, so I never really watched anything on it, but YouTube videos.


The iPad is a device for consumption, but that’s only half of the truth. It can replace certain functions of other devices or real world utilities and combine them into one, ascetically designed, smart object. I for one don’t want to do without the iPad anymore. I still have a PC and a MacBook, and they won’t be recycled soon.

This device does indeed lower the bar for the entrance into “the internet” or into “the technology” for people, that aren’t fluid in l33t. I’ve seen it with my parents, who could look up some neighborhood regulations (without me) or watch their most beloved episode of some crime show, because there wasn’t anything worth watching on normal TV. I admit, that this sounds like a script from a commercial, but that’s how it is. Mouse, keyboard, screen. There’s a barrier, which we don’t recognize as one and because of that, devices like the iPad seem to be uninteresting or unnecessary to us. Let me tell you: pulling and pushing your own photos around, zooming in and out in maps works like a charm and without a delay, as fast and smooth as advertised. There is no “disconnect” between touching the glass and the reaction of the virtual object we intend to manipulate. It’s really hard sometimes to let go of the iPad.

The content policies of the manufacturer should be critically analyzed, be it app rejections, the necessity for self-censorship (doesn’t matter if “BILD” removes a pair of naked breasts or if a revealing comic some of its panels). Some healthy competition for Apple wouldn’t be too bad for us customers. I’m stoked for future developments. Maybe HP will still build their WebOS slate (if not some with Windows 7). I also like the idea behind the WeTab, especially, since it is a German project, unfortunately a lot of things surrounding the project were awkward or unnecessary unprofessional (there was a video, “demonstrating” the UI, running in loops, at the first live presentation). The iPad is real, available and purchasable, all the other contestants aren’t (or haven’t been heard of in a while). Other companies present the fifth prototype, leak some very intriguing concept videos, but nothing enters marketability in any volume, one could call a critical mass. I kind of look forward to the Adam by NotionInk, which sports one much famed PixelQi display. As I wrote in other words earlier: exciting times!

- Amujan

PS. You’ll want to keep your iPad in some kind of case. It can give the iPad a nice angle if needed or allows for vertical placement as a secondary monitor, next to a PC, for your documentation or your Twitter stream.

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