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.


This article makes me give some serious thought to getting one, but only once my wife and I are in a better position to travel more. The lack of a good spreadsheet program is a concern, but you have me intrigued. Of course, no mouse could be an issue too.

If anything you have changed my mind about the iPad. Good review.

Any updates you'd like to add? I'm seeing lots of reviews of new apps that are making it even more useful.

Yet another technological temptation....sigh...

Maybe I'll do a retrospective, but it's really just settled into being part of the house. It serves as the couch web device for everyone, I use it for casual gaming in odd moments. I use it as a book reader when my wife has the kindle of vice-versa. I spend a lot of money on comics.

The games, as expected, are a mixed bag. Some are great, some are crap.

Notable apps remain goodreader, which keeps getting better, the Journal, which is now supremely useful and awesome, and the tour de france app, which was completely like living in the future during the tour. It was "only" an iphone app, but the video actually scaled up to higher def on the iPad. Brilliant.

Travelling, it remains a dream.

I would add that the iPad is probably the best way to read comic books. It's cheaper than both real comic books and the trade paperbacks that collect several issues. And it just flat out beats reading the real thing by leaps and bounds.

If your primary need is to read comics, rather than share them, nothing beats it. Once there is a larger selection of tablet PCs, and they become much more common, I expect them to be the primary delivery device of sequential art.

I would say 90% of of our iPad's use is similar to what Rabbit just mentioned. My wife and daughter have a few simple games they like, and it serves up the web and other media very well. My primary use lately has been to track through of as much of Marvel's Civil War series as
I can.

The selection is not where it needs to be, though. But I expect it to improve dramatically.

If I purchase an app on the iphone can I re-download it on the ipad or must I purchase it again?

Purchases are tied to your iTunes account. So as long as both devices are on the same account you do not have to pay twice.

psu_13 wrote:

Purchases are tied to your iTunes account. So as long as both devices are on the same account you do not have to pay twice.

This was one of my keys to adoption as we already had 3 iphone/ipod touches, and now with the iPad, buy an app once, and it extends to all 4 (assuming it is + app which works with all iOS platforms).

My use case is pretty similar at this point: I do a lot of reading via kindle, a good amount of browsing, twitter reading, email, the occasional game. And when we're on long drives, I hand it back to my 2.5 year old daughter to play her games and watch videos.

Nice! This decision is getting easier...

I got a 32-gig Ipad about a month ago and I have to say it's among the best buying decisions I have ever made! The Kindle and iBooks are amazing, Netflix is amazing, PvZ HD is amazing, RealRacing HD is amazing, Wolfram Alpha is amazing... Get the picture? As long as you know going in what the purpose is, you will not be sorry getting one. It is not a laptop replacement. It is a media consumption device. It's pretty hard to create content on it aside from some art apps and such. But as a consumption device, it absolutely rocks! I took it to my 78-year old Mom's house to show her, and let's just say she had one the next day for herself!

My wife was just telling me earlier this week that her iPad was the best Mother's Day present ever. Like you, she uses it everyday for a variety of entertainment uses.

Last night she had it next her with a map of a level in Lego Harry Potter. She uses it the same way when she knits, looking up patterns and having it sit next her as she works on something. She uses it in the kitchen while she cooks.

Recently she began working on puzzles as she goes to bed using Art Puzzle HD. Not only does it have a ton of puzzles to download and work on, but it links to a classical music station on the internet to provide music while she works on puzzles. She is a huge jigsaw puzzle fan, and this app scratches that itch really well for her, without the need for a table. It's actually a really smart interface.

We use it for watching Netflix in bed. It's a fun way to share Youtube videos with each other and out daughter while at home. And I'm getting a ton of use out of the various comic book apps.

And it's a great web surfing tool for the couch. Basically it fills a bunch of needs really well. But it is at its core a media consumption device, not media creator. I've seen complaints about how it lacks these kinds of tools, but that is just missing the point.

It doesn't replace a PC or laptop by any means. But I think it is a perfect replacement for a netbook.

I'm sure this has come up and after looking around in the Tech section and gaming section I thought I throw out the question here (and if I missed it for I'm a bit surprised that a thread hasn't appeared yet, so if I indeed missed it, please give me a link).

Anyway, I have got a hint that someone might be giving me an Ipad for Christmas. Deal is money is tight, and I've heard rumors that a new Ipad may be coming in a few months. I get electronic tech newsletters an one (C/Net; ZD Net...?) that answered the question on wether one should buy one now or wait. He said that the February rumor is probably false and it will probably be April. Lighter, thinner, faster, with a camera for 'Face Time'. His rule of thumb is to wait if less then 6 months. Sooooo, I'm wondering if I should make it known about this and hint to the person to give it a pass and wait (although it will kill me to do so for I sooooo want one).

Any thoughts on this 'rumor' and if it's really worth it to wait (I'm not a 'power user'. More about email and browsing and some games. Face Time is fun on Iphone, but don't see it as a real clincher for Ipad for this very reason. But more bigger cpu might be something to wait for if it really helps).


With PC hardware (of any description) there's always something better over the horizon.

Get it. Enjoy it for 18 months and then get v3

Posted from my iPad

I too use it every day to "consume" media. An an acronym I've heard being used to pigeonhole the iPad is MDD - Media Delivery Device. Spot on if you ask me...

Thanks Rabbit for the review and updates as you use the device, I have to admit the the iPad is tempting. I have generally resisted the 'walled garden' but I find I would like to get one for the ease of use for my wife (who generally doesn't do well with tech) and my son. Yeah that is it, it is for the family. Of course, an occasional 'Plants vs Zombies' for me couldn't hurt :). I held off from getting a smartphone for awhile and found Android a great . The compeitition seems so far behind that an alternative is not really there.

I look forward to your updates......

scootere3 wrote:

Thanks Rabbit for the review and updates as you use the device, I have to admit the the iPad is tempting. I have generally resisted the 'walled garden' but I find I would like to get one for the ease of use for my wife (who generally doesn't do well with tech) and my son. Yeah that is it, it is for the family. Of course, an occasional 'Plants vs Zombies' for me couldn't hurt :). I held off from getting a smartphone for awhile and found Android a great . The compeitition seems so far behind that an alternative is not really there.

I look forward to your updates......

My wife still says the iPad was her favorite all-time Mother's Day gift. I'm not kidding. She uses it daily. As does my daughter, who has Pandora going while she cleans her room as I write this.

And yes, PvZ is awesome on it. It really is the best way to play the game.

This article popped up on the front page and it was interesting to read a year and a half later. I think the best thing Julian did was to go on that trip with just the iPad (well, except for his WoW machine). Last month I want on at two week family vacation, and instead of hauling my laptop, DS, and Nook Color, I just brought my newly purchased Ipad 2. I did not miss the other things a bit, and I have grown quite enamored of the device.