Thu, Apr 08, 2010

: More iPad Thoughts

I’ve had a few days to use this thing and think about it a bit more. As with anything new, experiences are mixed, but am learning more how to use the iPad and how it can fit into my life. What is most interesting is the way my perspective is changing. Things I had assumed before I got it, I’m not so sure about any more.

For instance, I never really considered the iPad as a “real” computer. For me, it would be more of a consumption device, not a laptop. But already that perspective is changing. First, this thing is so light and yet still functional, that I am finding it a joy to use. It is blazingly fast — apps launch instantly and scrolling, zooming, and other functions feel so quick and responsive that I just love using this. There are still many areas where it cannot replace my laptop, but some of those are unique to my needs: for many people, an iPad is all the computer they need.

Another area is typing. Prior to trying the iPad, that was a minor concern. I am comfortable with my iPhone typing, so I wasn’t too worried, but I also wasn’t sure it would be that much better. My first tries at typing on iPad were a disaster: I struggled and made constant errors and the process felt painful. But today I decided to really try to type as though this was a real keyboard, with all hands on the home keys. To my shock and amazement, it works far better! It’s not perfect, and I still make some errors, but I just need practice. I downloaded a typing app and with 10 minutes of practice I found I could type “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog” at a rate of 60 words per minute without a single error! (More significantly, it felt comfortable and effortless, as typing without physical keys requires only the faintest touch.) That is impressive, and convinces me that with a little work I could do just fine without a real keyboard and probably be almost as fast. In fact, because my main problem seems to be carelessness on my part of using the wrong fingers (especially for keys like Q, where I’m used to a hard keyboard where I can feel the right key) and the iPad keyboard works much better when you use the correct fingers, getting good on iPad will probably improve my regular keyboarding.

The biggest obstacle is punctuation, as those characters are oddly placed, but practice will help with that. The auto-correction works much better when you use your hands in the right position. It must be optimized for that: when I used two fingers, like I prefer on iPhone, auto-correct didn’t work most of the time. (And yes, in case you were wondering, this post was written entirely on my iPad. Compared to my previous post, which felt like I was running uphill with weights on my limbs, this time it feels like running on a level surface with no excess weight: far smoother. Ultimately still tiring, but not bad at all.) The biggest problem with iPad typing is that many won’t give the glass keyboard a chance — they’ll give it the 30 second try and when it doesn’t work they’ll give up and connect a Bluetooth keyboard.

Another change is my attitude toward the 3G version. Originally I wasn’t in the least bit interested in that model. I did not want another monthly fee, and I figured I already had mobile internet on my iPhone. Besides, I work from home and I’m usually there and so WiFi is all I need. That’s all my laptop has and it’s worked fine for me.

Now that I have an iPad, I’m am rethinking that. First, this thing is so light and useful, I can picture myself taking it with me everywhere. It really is like carrying a magazine. Where I only take a laptop when absolutely necessary, iPad I can take to the doctor’s office to read books on in the waiting room or when meeting someone at a restaurant. That means that with iPad, I’m more likely to be away from home with it. Second, because iPad is based on the iPhone OS, most of the apps expect you to have an internet connection. It is surprising how many rely on that feature and don’t work at all or ¬†suffer from a major lack of functionality without internet. I had considered demoing it to someone and realized that the demo would be limited because so many of the coolest apps wouldn’t even work without an Internet connection.

I had been planning on purchasing a new iPhone this summer. After all, I’ve got the original version and it will be three years old. But doing so undoubtedly means upgrading my cheap data plan to the new 3G plan that costs $15 more per month. Suddenly I am thinking, if I’m going to pay that anyway, maybe I’d be better off to just get an iPad data connection and keep my old phone. It works fine. I’d have the best of both worlds. (The best option of all would be a new iPhone that would give my iPad a mobile hot spot, but tethering still isn’t available here thanks to ATT’s greed/incompetence.)

I won’t make a decision on this for a while: I’ll wait and see what features the new iPhone this summer has, and what my costs might be, but it is interesting that I’m considering the 3G iPad when just a few days ago I was dead-set against it!

Apps I’ve had more time to play with various iPad apps and I can report on them now. First, let me say that after using native apps, running iPhone apps in double-size mode is painful. Apps that you run only occasionally or for a brief tasks aren’t too bad, but you really want native apps on this thing. I have some apps that are merely displaying info from a website, and I find using those sites on Safari is easier than using the doubled iPhone app.

Fortunately many of my favorites have already been rewritten, and they are great. Words With Friends is excellent in full screen. One of my most important finds is a terrific PDF viewer called GoodReader that is only a dollar (I think that’s a limited time offer). It gives you several ways of wirelessly transmitting your files to it, which is far better than Apple’s approach which requires hooking your iPad to your computer via USB and using iTunes. I tested my magazine in the app and it worked great: all the links worked (it even displays web links right within the app so you don’t have go into Safari) and you can add your own bookmarks. Recommended.

The new IMDB app is incredible on iPad. The interface features a lot more photos, quite large thumbnails, in fact, and the presentation of the information is different and excellent for the most part. (My main complaint is that the full casting info is now a popover window, so when you scroll down a long list and click on an actor to read about that person, when you come back, the popover is collapsed and now you have to scroll through the list again to find where you were. On the iPhone, leaving a list and coming back to it puts you right where you were on the list. I don’t see the advantage of using a popover control for long lists like the cast. It’s great for quotes or trivia, though.)

I bought a racing game just to try the feature of “steering” the entire screen to turn and it really was fun. I’m not much of an “action” gamer and I’m usually horrible at driving games, but I came in second in my first race which felt like an accomplishment. I put it down to the more natural controls — I’ve never used a steering wheel controller and other controls have always felt awkward for driving. Though the iPad is light, it is solid, and I wonder how the weight feels after holding the thing up for hours while playing — but perhaps that’s good exercise!

I haven’t been much of a news reader in the past decade: I overdosed during the “hanging chad” election and have boycotted all news since. I find news websites to be ridiculously cluttered and distracting, but I have downloaded several news apps for iPad and I must say, I am impressed. Some, like the USA Today app, are simple, but work well, with a multicolumn newspaper-like layout. (That app is clever: it shows two columns in portrait orientation and three in landscape. It also has a nifty navigation feature: scrolling vertically goes through the current article, but swiping left-right moves you to the previous or next story.) The BBC app had some bugs (stuff wasn’t showing up), but showed promise and I think will always be free. With apps like these, I might start reading the news again! (Another interesting app I found is one called SkyGrid that is a sort of news aggregator. You put in a term, like “iPad” and it returns all sorts of web articles on that topic. It updates continuously, with trending topics toward the top. Tapping on a link brings it up within the built-in browser, so browsing through material is quick and convenient. Early days, but this could end up being one of my favorite apps.)

It is worth noting that many iPad apps are buggy. For instance, I downloaded a simple drawing app and it looks neat but I can’t get the eraser to work. That makes the app rather useless until that’s fixed. As an early adopter, I don’t mind these problems — most developers got their iPads on Saturday like me and are working frantically to fix bugs now that they can test their apps on a real machine.

Topic: [/technology]