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 played around with one at the apple Store on Saturday. It's a good thing they were out, or I would have been like Hilden and in some serious trouble with the wife after whipping out the credit card.

I think it feels like a great device that would get a ton of use. I'm not sure I can rationalize the price, though. But I really, really want one now.

It is a damn sexy device, that is for sure. When I think about it practically, though, I can't really find any justification for buying one. When I see that they range in price from $500-$830, I starting thinking that I could spend a little bit more and get the Alienware m11x. It seems like the far better investment for the mobile gamer, in my opinion. I really think people should check out the m11x before they drop a wad of dough on the iPad. I don't know about everybody else, but being able to play Mass Effect 2 on an 11-inch laptop is pretty awesome.

I don't see it a gaming device, even though it would serve that purpose to some degree. It feels more like a information and media delivery device. Surf the web, listen to music, view photos, and watch movies. Then let the apps provide you with information you can use in daily life.

The fact that I can play a little Plants vs. Zombies during some down time is just gravy.

The form factor is just that much nicer than a laptop that does essentially the same thing. It replaces a netbook more than a laptop.

Yes, but all of that can be done on any laptop and laptops, at least in my opinion, are pretty easy to use wherever you want. Especially the smaller ones.

Like I said, I think it is great. I see the appeal. I want one. But, when I do the math it makes more sense for me to get something like the m11x then the iPad. It is more expensive, but you get a lot more out of it in terms of functionality. Particularly if you are a gamer.

heavyfeul wrote:

Yes, but all of that can be done on any laptop and laptops, at least in my opinion, are pretty easy to use wherever you want. Especially the smaller ones.

Like I said, I think it is great. I see the appeal. I want one. But, when I do the math it makes more sense for me to get something like the m11x then the iPad. It is more expensive, but you get a lot more out of it in terms of functionality. Particularly if you are a gamer.

For myself, the instant-on, touch interface, and snappy response times trump the opening and booting/unsuspending of a laptop. There are so many periods throughout the day where I want to look something up, send an email, etc. that having this mini-device that's comfortable enough to type on is something I really enjoy.

The device is also a lot more portable and usable in a confined setting, even over and above a netbook, which gained big points with me. But my use cases are different than many others.

Anytime I need to do some heavy lifting (i.e. work) or deep gaming, I'll turn to my work-provided laptop or my personal desktop.

True. But an iPhone can fill the gap in a pinch and is far easier to tote around and whip out when needed for a quick email, message, Google search, etc. I'm not saying the iPad is not a great web device, it is, but would you whip it out in line at the bank, on the bus, when out to dinner, waiting for someone in your car while they shop, etc.? When you take it out it is in situations where you could take out a small laptop just as easily, like at a coffee shop, on the couch, on a plane, in a hotel room, etc. For those quick and dirty tasks the iPhone is sufficient.

Personally, I am excited for the processor to be used in the next iPhone models. If the iPad development funds a faster, slightly larger, and more efficient iPhone, then all the better. To me that is the killer mobile web device. Apple hit it out of the park with the iPhone. The iPad seems like a niche device, not a game changer.

If you have games downloaded and synced to an iPod, do you have to remove them from it before you can sync them to an iPad, or are they buy once, use anywhere (for devices you own)?

Also, has any statement been made regarding the AT&T pay as you go model and stopping it? Is it definite that there are no stopping/starting fees from AT&T?

HedgeWizard wrote:

...Now, for me, the question is who is going to come out with an equivalently good slate. Most reviews of the Joo Joo and HP slate are far from encouraging. I can't say anything about Google's rumored device yet, but the iPad and it are targeting somewhat different markets.

I think Apple owns this market. Companies are going to be hard pressed to make a better device. When it comes to hardware design Apple has no real competitor. The Lenovo laptops are all I can think of in terms of quality, but those do not look nearly as nice as the Macbooks. Also, they own the company that makes the processor. Will anyone else be able to get the performance and efficiency of the iPad with a different processor?

heavyfeul wrote:
HedgeWizard wrote:

...Now, for me, the question is who is going to come out with an equivalently good slate. Most reviews of the Joo Joo and HP slate are far from encouraging. I can't say anything about Google's rumored device yet, but the iPad and it are targeting somewhat different markets.

I think Apple owns this market. Companies are going to be hard pressed to make a better device. When it comes to hardware design Apple has no real competitor. The Lenovo laptops are all I can think of in terms of quality, but those do not look nearly as nice as the Macbooks. Also, they own the company that makes the processor. Will anyone else be able to get the performance and efficiency of the iPad with a different processor?

I really hope you're wrong, actually. Apple needs the competition. I said in another thread, i think the hardware is pretty duplicatable, its the software I think competitors will be light years behind. I haven't seen ANY windows-based touchscreen stuff that's really good and intuitive (including Surface). I don't think the touchscreen parts of other smartphones I've played with are very good either, particularly in key areas like onscreen keyboard response and editing controls.

But I'm hopeful there's some magic android slate or something that gets it right and keeps apple on their toes and keeps this niche market alive and vibrant.

rabbit wrote:
heavyfeul wrote:
HedgeWizard wrote:

...Now, for me, the question is who is going to come out with an equivalently good slate. Most reviews of the Joo Joo and HP slate are far from encouraging. I can't say anything about Google's rumored device yet, but the iPad and it are targeting somewhat different markets.

I think Apple owns this market. Companies are going to be hard pressed to make a better device. When it comes to hardware design Apple has no real competitor. The Lenovo laptops are all I can think of in terms of quality, but those do not look nearly as nice as the Macbooks. Also, they own the company that makes the processor. Will anyone else be able to get the performance and efficiency of the iPad with a different processor?

I really hope you're wrong, actually. Apple needs the competition. I said in another thread, i think the hardware is pretty duplicatable, its the software I think competitors will be light years behind. I haven't seen ANY windows-based touchscreen stuff that's really good and intuitive (including Surface). I don't think the touchscreen parts of other smartphones I've played with are very good either, particularly in key areas like onscreen keyboard response and editing controls.

But I'm hopeful there's some magic android slate or something that gets it right and keeps apple on their toes and keeps this niche market alive and vibrant.

Plus you have a ton of Macbook, iPod, and iPhone users already dialed into iTunes. It was easy for me, for example, to make the leap from the iPod to the iPhone. All I had to do was sync. I assume adding an iPad to the mix would be just as simple.

Keithustus wrote:

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).

This is probably a good starting place.

rabbit wrote:

But I'm hopeful there's some magic android slate or something that gets it right and keeps apple on their toes and keeps this niche market alive and vibrant.

Me too!

sheared wrote:

If you have games downloaded and synced to an iPod, do you have to remove them from it before you can sync them to an iPad, or are they buy once, use anywhere (for devices you own)?

Also, has any statement been made regarding the AT&T pay as you go model and stopping it? Is it definite that there are no stopping/starting fees from AT&T?

Once d/l you can install them on any licensed device (you get 5 licenses). For instance, I have an ipad, iphone, and ipod touch between my family, all of them have the same apps.

And yes, for the 3G model, there is no contract. You can either activate for a month (date-to-date) or you can purchase a quantity of data. You turn it on via the device, and the charges are billed to a credit card on file.

heavyfeul wrote:

But an iPhone can fill the gap in a pinch and is far easier to tote around and whip out when needed for a quick email, message, Google search, etc. I'm not saying the iPad is not a great web device, it is, but would you whip it out in line at the bank, on the bus, when out to dinner, waiting for someone in your car while they shop, etc.? When you take it out it is in situations where you could take out a small laptop just as easily, like at a coffee shop, on the couch, on a plane, in a hotel room, etc.

True - I have my nexus one wherever I go, and it serves in a pinch. But if I know I am going to be somewhere alone, waiting and would like to read a book, play a game, etc. then I absolutely will bring my iPad over my 13" laptop. For me the size, weight, instant on, 10 hour battery life, etc is all more convenient than toting around a laptop, even a netbook. And on a plane? Fugetaboudit - the iPad is superior to any laptop merely because the douche in front of you is going to recline his chair back and then the laptop is literally at your chest, or you have to decline the lid. With the iPad, it's all screen real estate.

I certainly don't think the ipad is going to have the impact that the iPhone had, I agree on that front. But at least for me, I've found myself using my iPad much more regularly and much more creatively than when I had a netbook, and honestly, there are a lot of developers making very cool applications for it (including games) that I think it's only going to get better.

Now, for me, the question is who is going to come out with an equivalently good slate. Most reviews of the Joo Joo and HP slate are far from encouraging. I can't say anything about Google's rumored device yet, but the iPad and it are targeting somewhat different markets.

rabbit wrote:
heavyfeul wrote:
HedgeWizard wrote:

...Now, for me, the question is who is going to come out with an equivalently good slate. Most reviews of the Joo Joo and HP slate are far from encouraging. I can't say anything about Google's rumored device yet, but the iPad and it are targeting somewhat different markets.

I think Apple owns this market. Companies are going to be hard pressed to make a better device. When it comes to hardware design Apple has no real competitor. The Lenovo laptops are all I can think of in terms of quality, but those do not look nearly as nice as the Macbooks. Also, they own the company that makes the processor. Will anyone else be able to get the performance and efficiency of the iPad with a different processor?

I really hope you're wrong, actually. Apple needs the competition. I said in another thread, i think the hardware is pretty duplicatable, its the software I think competitors will be light years behind. I haven't seen ANY windows-based touchscreen stuff that's really good and intuitive (including Surface). I don't think the touchscreen parts of other smartphones I've played with are very good either, particularly in key areas like onscreen keyboard response and editing controls.

But I'm hopeful there's some magic android slate or something that gets it right and keeps apple on their toes and keeps this niche market alive and vibrant.

I think Android phones are finally catching up, another year or so and I think we'll see some Android tablets giving the iPad a run for it's money.

I'm going to say something very personally embarrassing right now: Though I am an Android user, I can't wait for the end of my new 2-year contract to buy an iPhone. The reason is simple: I can sync music and movies stupidly easily.

Try as I might, doing it reliably is out of reach for me. It's just out of my technical competency range now that I'm a gainfully employed family man. I feel like I need to do research to accomplish almost any task on my Android.

Now that I've been acquainted with my wife's iPad (yes, it's hers goddammit) and I'm truly acquainted with iTunes, I can say this: I don't care how slow and buggy the software may appear to hardened-geeks. For people like me, it's a godsend. It just works.

I will now trade in the appropriate number of geek-cred points as necessary.

docbadwrench wrote:

Now that I've been acquainted with my wife's iPad (yes, it's hers goddammit) and I'm truly acquainted with iTunes, I can say this: I don't care how slow and buggy the software may appear to hardened-geeks. For people like me, it's a godsend. It just works.

I will now trade in the appropriate number of geek-cred points as necessary.

I realise I've mentioned not being an Apple guy I know what you are saying here. I will probably only ever own an iPod as an MP3 player for this reason. iTunes is slow, clunky, installs Quicktime and works seamlessly when I plug my iPod in. The one thing cancels out everything else.

You'll need to trade in a hefty number of geek-cred, doc. I had to pay the piper when I finally gave in to Windows. My friend who's on Linux just loves to taunt me with all the stuff he can do with it.

Used to own a Creative mp3 player, too, until the iPod Touch. I think my impending iPad purchase will just about use up the last of my geek-cred. We'll take the stride toward normally-chic together.

Spoiler:

Dang! And just when being a geek was starting to be cool, too.

docbadwrench wrote:

I'm going to say something very personally embarrassing right now: Though I am an Android user, I can't wait for the end of my new 2-year contract to buy an iPhone. The reason is simple: I can sync music and movies stupidly easily.

Try as I might, doing it reliably is out of reach for me. It's just out of my technical competency range now that I'm a gainfully employed family man. I feel like I need to do research to accomplish almost any task on my Android.

Now that I've been acquainted with my wife's iPad (yes, it's hers goddammit) and I'm truly acquainted with iTunes, I can say this: I don't care how slow and buggy the software may appear to hardened-geeks. For people like me, it's a godsend. It just works.

I will now trade in the appropriate number of geek-cred points as necessary.

I can certainly understand where you are coming from. As a partial solution (because we're in the same boat), have you tried Doubletwist? It's not iTunes, but it does seem to mostly work.

Now back to the iPad.....

After doing some more investigation into the Zagg shield, I learned you can purchase it from the Zagg website for 20% off with the code ZAGG20, but the shipping takes the place of that savings and the order (front shield only) comes to $30.

Right before I pulled the trigger I saw on Amazon that Zagg was selling the same shield, Amazon Prime eligible, for $21.24. The one caveat is that it is listed there as "not released yet".

Since my 3G isn't here yet anyway, I went for the cheaper price.

EDIT: 3G model release date, April 30th.

As long as I have company, I am happy. Oh, and yes, I tried to use Doubletwist. After three frustrating 2-hour sessions inside a week, I threw up my hands. I simply don't have the time that I once had to grind through problem-solving for hours at a time.

What's the startup time for this thing?

It seems like an iphone on steroid. Good for normal business..but a really bad match for an engineer wanna be like me.
If only they would allow bootcamp and real OS on it, I would be ever so happy.

Engineers and tinkerers will be very dissatisfied.

Startup from cold is about is 15-20 seconds. Wake is instant on, and battery drain on sleep is very minimal (unless you are pushing data to it constantly). Application hopping is very snappy.

HedgeWizard wrote:

Engineers and tinkerers will be very dissatisfied.

Ya think?

It's kind of like saying you are into off-roading and camping, and then taking time to talk about how a Mazda Miata doesn't fit your needs.

But if you have an Xterra, a full size sedan, and some disposable income, an little sports car might be kind of fun. It's ability to drive off-road and carry a lot of equipment really isn't an issue.

If the iPad was as full featured as some of you seem to want it to be, it wouldn't be nearly as attractive to a large percentage of the people buying it. Apple is selling it to a certain demographic, and will be happy to let PC companies try their hand at serving the the rest of you.

Jayhawker wrote:
HedgeWizard wrote:

Engineers and tinkerers will be very dissatisfied.

Ya think?

It's kind of like saying you are into off-roading and camping, and then taking time to talk about how a Mazda Miata doesn't fit your needs.

But if you have an Xterra, a full size sedan, and some disposable income, an little sports car might be kind of fun. It's ability to drive off-road and carry a lot of equipment really isn't an issue.

Obviously it was an understatement; I was just confirming the Nahuatl chocolate dude's thoughts.

xocolatl wrote:

It seems like an iphone on steroid. Good for normal business..but a really bad match for an engineer wanna be like me.

xocolatl wrote:

What's the startup time for this thing?

It seems like an iphone on steroid. Good for normal business..but a really bad match for an engineer wanna be like me.
If only they would allow bootcamp and real OS on it, I would be ever so happy.

I think you're right. I haven't actually turned OFF the iPad yet, so I have no idea what the cold boot is.

rabbit wrote:
xocolatl wrote:

What's the startup time for this thing?

It seems like an iphone on steroid. Good for normal business..but a really bad match for an engineer wanna be like me.
If only they would allow bootcamp and real OS on it, I would be ever so happy.

I think you're right. I haven't actually turned OFF the iPad yet, so I have no idea what the cold boot is.

Time to turn on: 20s (64Gb version)

docbadwrench wrote:

I'm going to say something very personally embarrassing right now: Though I am an Android user, I can't wait for the end of my new 2-year contract to buy an iPhone. The reason is simple: I can sync music and movies stupidly easily.

Try as I might, doing it reliably is out of reach for me. It's just out of my technical competency range now that I'm a gainfully employed family man. I feel like I need to do research to accomplish almost any task on my Android.

Now that I've been acquainted with my wife's iPad (yes, it's hers goddammit) and I'm truly acquainted with iTunes, I can say this: I don't care how slow and buggy the software may appear to hardened-geeks. For people like me, it's a godsend. It just works.

I will now trade in the appropriate number of geek-cred points as necessary.

Filthy skimmer and not to derail, but there is an Android app called iSyncr that lets you sync your iTunes playlists onto your Android device. I know it works for audio and I suspect it works for video. It is just playlists, however.

Nevin73 wrote:

Filthy skimmer and not to derail, but there is an Android app called iSyncr that lets you sync your iTunes playlists onto your Android device. I know it works for audio and I suspect it works for video. It is just playlists, however.

Thanks for the tip, Nevin! I'm getting hopeful. I think that a recent update to TuneSync caused my Android to finally re-connect to iTunes. I just need to confirm that I can do it on demand. Strangely, that's been the main problem - that I can't force the thing to sync.

However, if that doesn't work, I will try iSyncr. I appreciate the recommendation. Demiurge sent me a link, too. Tonight, I hope to have time to try both your suggestions out.

HedgeWizard wrote:

Engineers and tinkerers will be very dissatisfied.

Well, unless they're serious about tinkering and are looking for a challenge. I bet the jailbreaking crew is having a blast figuring it out.

I personally won't buy one until/unless it's jailbroken, and I lack the skills to do anything meaningful to help that cause.

TheCounselor wrote:
PseudoKnight wrote:

Personally, I wouldn't invest in a closed device. And frankly it also scares the hell out of me what the iPhone and iPad are doing to the games industry right now. I really hate device exclusive gaming, no matter how cool it might be. It's probably idealistic, but that's how I feel.

The irony in that statement being that the best games are generally designed from the ground up for one specific platform.

I intentionally avoided using the word 'platform' to avoid confusion. I have no problem with the PC platform, as it's not controlled by a single vendor. (MS even practically ignores PC gaming these days, outside of DX updates) I don't think many of the best games necessarily have to be console/device exclusive due to limitations in functionality. Most console games play great on an open platform like the PC that supports multiple control schemes.