iPad: Trial By Fire

My initial thoughts on Apple's latest geek toy were clouded by hype. I knew that going in. When I was a kid, I remember sitting on the floor Christmas morning and looking at my first bicycle, and thinking, verbally and clearly and with full internal dialog, "how will my life be different now that this thing is in it."

While a ludicrous piece of materialist existentialism in retrospect, I can't help but put the iPad in the same category as that bicycle. On day one, flipping through dozens of shiny new games and apps, it was impossible to have any perspective. Everything new was awesome, every wart a fatal flaw that would doom it to irrelevancy.

I was lucky enough to get the iPad immediately before a major rash of travel. I made the decision to eschew any of my normal travel toys. No DS, no PSP. I did pack my laptop, because I couldn't risk the grand experiment being a failure, and being thousands of miles from home in a foreign country unable to work.

I needn't have worried.

As a travel companion, the iPad has shown its true colors, and with some caveats, they're bright and shiny. Here are my discoveries in the last week.

Airplane: The iPad can be criticized for being too in-between. Not as big as a laptop, not as small as a phone. However, that middling size is perfect for the airplane seat. Small enough that it can easily slide into the magazine pouch on the seatback, it's still large enough to kick the pants off that portable DVD player showing Avatar in seat 2b.

More to the point, on an 8 hour transatlantic journey, it was the only thing I ever needed. No fumbling between laptop, DS, Kindle, iPod, magazine and book, it served as all 6 at once. Unlike a laptop, it doesn't require a tray table to be used comfortably. When my food arrived, I could easily keep watching Netflix (thank you onboard WiFi!) just by leaning the iPad against the seatback in front of me.

And while much has been made of the battery life, it truly was a joy to get off the plane at the end of a long day with 30% battery, having used the thing incessantly for work and entertainment.

Cab & Train: After a week I had become used to not pulling out my iPhone for casual emails or web lookups any more. But once I left the confines of my usual WiFi saturated environment, I immediately felt the loss of connectivity. In this case, my trip brought me to Europe, where AT&T has a convenient pay as you go 3G system. Still, it became clear that if I truly come to rely on the iPad as my main travel gizmo, I will need to upgrade to the 3G model, or hope that the next version is 3G by default, or that some enterprising set of hackers figure out a tethering solution.

Still, I used the iPad regularly in cabs and on subway cars, in situations I certainly couldn't have used a laptop. My iPhone would have been fine for most of this, but I was able to catch up on dozens of emails and write lengthy responses with the iPad propped on my lap in the back of a cab without difficulty, something much more difficult on the phone.

Restaurant: Ah the plight of the lonely traveler eating alone at the bar with a glass of scotch and a book. While I've seen plenty of businessmen who put their laptops on the bar, it's always struck me as a bit much. But I found that I resorted to carrying my iPad around like a Moleskine or a small portfolio, a constant companion in its small rubber case, perfect for these kinds of situations. Being smaller than a magazine, it easily fits on the table next to innocuous businessman hotel fare, serving up newspapers, books, or Words With Friends. Again, I could have sat squinting at my phone during dinner, but it wouldn't have been comfortable or nearly as hands-off.

Conference: The novelty of being at a conference with an iPad the week after launch meant that hordes of strangers walked up to me and asked to play with it. Reactions were mixed, but it was definitely a great icebreaker. That novelty quickly wore off, and once people stopped noticing it for a toy, the iPad became invaluable. In most small conferences, checking your phone every few minutes would seem rude, pulling out a laptop insulting. Oddly, it felt very natural to use my iPad as I would have used a small notebook, taking notes on sessions, reading the conference agenda, browsing speaker's slides. Of course, that I could very inconspicuously and silently check my email or play chess was an added bonus.

I also found that the iPad is incredibly helpful in small meetings, around a meal or side by side at a coffee shop. Instead of pulling out a laptop to show a clip, a slide, or a website relevant to the conversation, I just pulled it up on the iPad and handed it across the table. The effect was fantastic, and I can't imagine being a modern day traveling salesman without one.

"Real" Work: It's hard to say whether the iPad is capable of real work, because it depends on your definition. Most of what I do is write, and for that task, the iPad is good, but not great. My typing speed on the virtual keyboard is now up to my norm, but my accuracy is slightly worse. This means it's great for first drafts, but requires caution for finished work.

Unfortunately, the only real word processor on the platform, Apple's Pages, is a terrible editor, lacking a good grammar checker, a thesaurus, word counts, revisioning, or any of a dozen things I rely on. Worse, without a mouse and keyboard, it's effectively impossible to move large blocks of text efficiently. Some of these are solvable problems, but there's no doubt that I couldn't replace all the other computers in my life with an iPad (not that anyone's ever suggested that it could.)

Beyond word processing, I'm afraid I think the other iWork apps are a bust. Numbers is an exceptionally poor replacement for excel, and again, without a mouse, working on spreadsheets is impossible. Keynote is fine if you happened to live in an entirely closed mac ecosystem, but I don't. I work with PowerPoint files going between multiple reviewers, and the list of incompatibilities and missing features in iPad Keynote is long. Could you make a budget or a presentation Numbers and Keynote? Sure. Will I? Not likely I'm afraid.

Tourist: I was surprised by how useful having the iPad with me was. While it lacks a GPS, it didn't matter in this case since I had no data coverage to drive Google maps. However, I was able to download PDF maps, guidebooks, and website pages using GoodReader and thus carried around a complete library of everything I could ever have wanted in my travel backpack. Inside museums, I was able to browse the museum websites or online catalogs in a manner that felt much more like toting a clipboard than squinting at my phone.

Even better, the iPad turns out to be a phenomenal sketchbook. While I am a terrible artist, when I have the chance I love to sketch street scenes, architecture and copy art from a quiet bench in a gallery. Usually, I'd carry a backpack with a sketchbook and supplies. I forewent all of that on this trip, and used just the iPad and the phenomena AutoDesk SketchBook Pro application. While the iPad isn't pressure sensitive, the experience is still finely tuned and feels just right, not technological at all -- like drawing in ink.

Goofing Off The irony of my attempt at living laptop free on this trip was that I was forced on only one occasion to dig the laptop out of my bag - to play World of Warcraft.

I found myself playing mostly "small" games on the iPad during the week, things like the excellent GalCon update or WarpGate. The most exciting game experience for the iPad so far has been Sam and Max: The Penal Zone. With Penal Zone, telltale brought the full experience of playing their point and click adventure on the pc right into the iPad, and it's actually better experience than the series has been on the PC. It is, after all, point and click. It also shows that fairly hefty games are easily doable on the platform.

But the sad truth is that when I wanted a real social experience in the lonely hours of the hotel room night, it was impossible to beat a big laptop with Ventrillo and 11 gigabytes of Azeroth.

Living with the iPad for an intense week gave it a chance to show it's stuff, to prove there was a place that it truly "fit." But that place isn't the be-all and end-all of the digital world. Instead, it fills a hollow center between "serious" work and the casual communication of a phone, pressing into the territory once occupied by both.

Comments

I'm still trying to convince myself that it provides something useful to me other than being a shiny gadget that will sit next to my other shiny gadgets.

Several members of my pen & paper RPG group kicked over to organizing everything on netbooks and I've been wondering how well the iPad would function in that setting.

LightBender wrote:
I'm still trying to convince myself that it provides something useful to me other than being a shiny gadget that will sit next to my other shiny gadgets.

Several members of my pen & paper RPG group kicked over to organizing everything on netbooks and I've been wondering how well the iPad would function in that setting.

This was one of my use cases as well. I have it loaded with NPC and monster images, location images, etc and I reveal them to the players at the appropriate time to pass around. I also have maps loaded on there to get a sense of place. Since the new WFRP eschews using battle maps in favor of relativistic movement (which speeds up combat enormously I find), showing the battle map on works wonderfully as well. I also have a couple of play lists (temple, town, audience with the lord) that I quickly access.

The form factor (especially once its in a book-jacket style case) lends itself to use on a tabletop much more readily than a laptop. I tried using my MB Air for D&D games for a few sessions, but found it constantly got in the way. This just stacks up with the books.

I completely understand the "where does it fit" issue, and that's why I tried to just say how it ended up in my daily usage on the road.

For example, I am right now about to hop out to the local sandwich shop for lunch. Normally, I'd just take my phone, and fiddle with it or a newspaper. Now, I'll take the iPad and either read something or play a game. Not different activities, but a better experience.

Worth $X? That's obviously your call.

I have to wonder if Google Docs will ultimately (though not currently) solve some of these "editing business document" requirements a bit better. They're phasing out the gears-based offline facility that currently exists and will replace it with something implemented in HTML5, and I have to assume that google will support the iPad a bit more completely over time (well, until there's a reasonable android competitor, at any rate).

I am curious about it. Talking to my boyfriend, it sounds like a great device. Like many of you have said, its bigger than a phone but yet smaller than a laptop. This would make looking something up on youtube or what not quick and simple. It seems like the ipad is the new 'coffee table' book. Just one of those things some people place on a coffee table for visitors to view and something that is easy to use. I think my boyfriend and I will end up getting one for travel and for the convenience it brings being small. We both play with my iphone all the time and I can see many of the benefits just blowing it up a bit. However, I am not a fan of $500 price tag because I can spend that much and build a semi-decent pc off of newegg. I do plan on keeping my eye on how it does. Thanks for the article it helped solidify what I was thinking.

gore wrote:
I have to wonder if Google Docs will ultimately (though not currently) solve some of these "editing business document" requirements a bit better. They're phasing out the gears-based offline facility that currently exists and will replace it with something implemented in HTML5, and I have to assume that google will support the iPad a bit more completely over time (well, until there's a reasonable android competitor, at any rate).

One part of the problem, as I understand it, is that mobile Safari does not support contentEditable which is necessary for a robust text editor.

edit: Now I am told you can just tap and swipe up to get the apostrophe. Magic, I say!

If you hold down the ! key for a few seconds it automatically puts the apostrophe in.

hubbinsd wrote:
I've only messed around with one at work, but I found that the lack of an apostrophe and other punctuation on the on-screen keyboard (without going to a sub-screen) immediately killed my enthusiasm for the device as a work platform. Do you really find that you type just as fast having to constantly go to sub-screens? Or is there a way to expand the default keyboard?

Flying_Norseman wrote:
edit: Now I am told you can just tap and swipe up to get the apostrophe. Magic, I say!

If you hold down the ! key for a few seconds it automatically puts the apostrophe in.

Yeah, I've been posting the press and hold feature, but the tap and swipe method is faster. Thanks for posting that!

WHY ISN'T STUFF LIKE THIS DOCUMENTED?

This kind of thing makes me feel really out of touch. I can't imagine what use I would have for such a device. I've never even felt the need to have internet access on my phone, I just have a crappy old cel phone that just ... makes phone calls. The whole thing baffles me on a fundamental level.

I wish I could get arrow keys to magically appear.

On the question of what the iPad allows you to do, how about:

Govern Norway from an airport!

psu_13 wrote:
draez wrote:
so i can get rid of my laptop and my iPhone if i get the iPad? Because if I can't then what is this the answer to?

"What computer-like device can I use on an airplane for 8 hours for almost anything practical to do on an airplane and not run out of batteries ever?"

also

"What's better than both an iPhone and a laptop at web browsing in bed?"

neither of these fit my scenario since i dont travel much and i dont use it in bed.

i use my laptop at work and at home (like now) and I use the iphone for whenever (like everyone else). From what you are saying and from what i've read it really doesn't replace them. It's an "answer to the question no one is asking" as one article put it.

I think it is somewhat like the DVR; everyone had a VCR already and couldn't imagine spending the money on a proper DVR (especially when Tivo first premiered). That is until they started using one themselves and then they wondered how they got along without one. Same with a smart phone with wifi or a data plan.

It's absolutely a luxury item, and not a must-have. But once you start using yours to check email, browse the web, read PDFs and books, take notes, watch videos and play games on it, you realize there was that niche between your laptop and your desktop that it fits very nicely into. And certainly, for some class of users, they can ditch one or another system.

(PS. there is no reason this is particular to the iPad only. There are going to be a slew of slates coming out in the coming year, with different feature sets and the like, but sufficiently similar. I have a feeling that as people start using that easy carried, instant-on "light" computer, they'll discover that niche pretty quickly)

draez wrote:
It's an "answer to the question no one is asking" as one article put it.

It's fine that it doesn't answer a need for you, but given that several of us here are using it productively and it's selling like hotcakes, I think it's a bit dismissive to say it answers nothing for anyone.

"I don't get it" is legitimate; "everybody actually using it doesn't get it" is presumptuous.

I'm about sold. I've played with my friend's 3G version and love it. I use my iPhone all the time. So having a bigger "iPhone" sound's great for everything non-phone.

I'd really like a 3G version, but could always hand-off the non-3G version to my girlfriend if I get the 3G.

Hmmm.....

AcidCat wrote:
This kind of thing makes me feel really out of touch. I can't imagine what use I would have for such a device. I've never even felt the need to have internet access on my phone, I just have a crappy old cel phone that just ... makes phone calls. The whole thing baffles me on a fundamental level.

I'm like this. I have a cell phone that I only keep around for emergencies. I don't talk to anyone typically unless it's over a land-line.

Then I bought my Kindle, and I thought "boy -- if this had better graphics and an always on internet (beyond the function it does have), I could see using this quite often." I didn't want a phone, just the internet everywhere.

Then I bought my wife her Droid, and it confirmed that despite living in a small town, there were times and places where having the internet helps. Essential, no, but the internet is pervasive in my house. It only makes sense that something we relied on so much for information (not necessarily communication) would be available outside the home too.

I still don't want a phone, but now the iPad has provided me with the potential for what I first realized I thought I might want after using the Kindle. The question I have to answer is whether I purchase a 3G version (Moggy -- I did not realize they were out there yet -- I assume your friend is well connected), or I wait for an Android competitor. My biggest want is not currently a part of the iPad (searchable handwritten notes), but I have faith that some app builder is going to bring it to it soon. My biggest problem with the Android is all talk, no product. Do I have the willpower to wait until late 2010 or early 2011? We shall see.

Hey Julian,
If the Prime Minister of Norway can run his country from the ipad while stuck at JFK, I think you'll manage with it as well.

PC: I guess it doesn't take much to run Norway.
Mac: If he used a PC he would have crashed the Norwegian economy. Right after accidentally nuking Sweden.

I don't know if it's good or bad that I hear Julian's voice in my head when reading his articles. Especially phrases like "REAL work."

sheared wrote:
Moggy -- I did not realize they were out there yet -- I assume your friend is well connected

They're not - supposedly out later this month. He's the hardware architect, so get's early access to play^H^H^H^Hdebug.

On further reflection, I've decided to get the non-3G version now (today, in fact!). I remembered hat I'm so p*ssed off with AT&T 3G I'm going to get the Nexus One just as soon as it's out on Verizon. Dropped calls, poor bandwidth and a freaking memory leak crippling performance within a week has pushed me away from my iPhone. Why, then, would I just repeat the experience with the iPad. I'll just work out some way of tethering the iPad to the Nexus One if I'm at the point of needing to.

BNice wrote:
I don't know if it's good or bad that I hear Julian's voice in my head when reading his articles. Especially phrases like "REAL work."

It's all part of my master plan for world domination (said in the voice of "Max").

I picked up the Zagg Invisible Shield yesterday although I was nervous about losing some response time. It's fantastic. It also does a good job of reducing glare.

Flying_Norseman wrote:
I picked up the Zagg Invisible Shield yesterday although I was nervous about losing some response time. It's fantastic. It also does a good job of reducing glare.

Did it go on without bubbles?

Yes it is pretty much perfect. I am extremely picky about that too. I had my wife help me and we were able to place it precisely. My iPhone one is a tiny bit off and it bugs me. You need to let it sit for at least 12 hours which was the hardest thing about the whole process for me.

rabbit wrote:
Flying_Norseman wrote:
I picked up the Zagg Invisible Shield yesterday although I was nervous about losing some response time. It's fantastic. It also does a good job of reducing glare.

Did it go on without bubbles?

I purchased an HP mini-note last year and thought it would be the perfect size for couch surfing and throwing in the bag to take with me for the day instead of my 17-inch desktop replacement. I tried it a few time while watching TV, but the screen felt small and the device slow (I never got around to installing linux or Win 7). It also felt I bit antisocial booting up a computer when my wife was sitting beside me.

Perhaps due to how much we use our iPhones, surfing with the iPad while watching TV feels quite natural and less exclusive. The form factor also feels ideal for throwing (gently) in bag, without having to debate in advance, "Will I need to use this today?", as I would with my netbook." And instant on and browsing in 5 seconds is bliss.

That said, I've been spolied by the anywhere-access of the iPhone. I took my 32GB WiFi model back on Thursday and pre-ordered a 16GB 3G. I'm no fan of AT&T, but I think the pay-as-you-need-it model is nice, and the usage meters and ability to purchase access from the device is a real plus. And now I wait.

Additional thoughts: Despite my initial reluctance, I think the Apple Ipad case is pretty great. Feels very durable. I like how discrete the device feels when the case is closed, and the two stand positions are good. I've also pre-ordered the Quirky Cloak, though it might be vapor-ware.

I also think there's a lot of money to be made off of selling micro-fiber cloths to iPad owners. Somebody get on this.

Looking forward to giving other goodjer iPad owners the Godfinger soon.

OMG, I forgot to mention that the fingerprint issue has gone down drastically now too!

Flying_Norseman wrote:
Yes it is pretty much perfect. I am extremely picky about that too. I had my wife help me and we were able to place it precisely. My iPhone one is a tiny bit off and it bugs me. You need to let it sit for at least 12 hours which was the hardest thing about the whole process for me.

rabbit wrote:
Flying_Norseman wrote:
I picked up the Zagg Invisible Shield yesterday although I was nervous about losing some response time. It's fantastic. It also does a good job of reducing glare.

Did it go on without bubbles?

Cant seem to find the Zagg thing in stock anywhere.

Is the Zag shield doowhopper the one that Best Buy carries? They had wanted to charge me $36.00 for a screen, which included $8.00 for their Nerd Herd "GEEK SQUAD" to apply. Their online store says sold out, but they may have them in stores...

rabbit wrote:
Cant seem to find the Zagg thing in stock anywhere.

I ordered one from Zagg direct. Got a nifty back cover as well. The cherry Blossoms one:

IMAGE(http://www.zaggimages.com/skins/images/custom_full/image4b8eca476e34e_lg.jpg)

I got mine from Best Buy in Burlington, VT. They had several in stock I also picked up a nice carrying case for a 10.2 inch netbook for my upcoming trip to Florida.

rabbit wrote:
Cant seem to find the Zagg thing in stock anywhere.

Awesome, my girlfriend was given one from her office, so I told her to check out her favorite game, Plants v. Zombies, per your statement in last week's show that the iPad version is better than PC. What other games should I ask her to try? (She's abroad right now, so I can't try it myself).