For reasons a little too abstruse to go into here, I recently ended up in possession of a 16 GB wifi iPad. It was hardly planned, and I’ve only had it since Wednesday, but I thought I’d share my take on it.
For starters, yes, it’s basically a big iPhone or iTouch. That’s been the biggest derisive comment levied against the iPad, but if you’ve ever actually used an iPhone, you can see right away what’s wrong with it as a criticism. The iPhone is not a cellular phone and it’s not a smartphone. It’s a pocket computer with GPS, a compass, a triaxial accelerometer and two different kinds of wireless networking (three if you include telephony, four if you count SMS/MMS). About the only thing you can’t do with an iPhone is print from it directly or connect USB devices such as a DVD or external hard drive.
Calling the iPad a large iPhone, then, isn’t an insult; it’s a comment on its functionality. Think of all the iPhone’s strengths, then quadruple your screen real estate.
The iPad is essentially a netbook without a keyboard. Well, it has a keyboard, but it’s software based and onscreen (unless you get the docking keyboard), but that makes it only a little less functional. Also you’re not harnessed to a mouse or one of the many damnable variations on a trackpad.
The touchscreen takes about 3.2 picoseconds to get used to. A current iPad ad assures us that we “already know how to use it”, and that’s actually true. I saw an untutored kid of 17 learn everything he needed to know about the UI in less than half an hour — and prior to that he’d been Windows only. It really is that transparent.
The machine is instant-on in nature, because unless something genuinely surprising happens you never reboot it or shut it down. It just goes into “sleep” mode. So when you hit the home button or the power button, the display lights up instantly and basically awaits your command. Not bad at all, compared to how long it takes even a fast netbook to wake up.
This is not a full-blown desktop machine in a screen, nor is it precisely a netbook. Touch typists in particular will find the surfaceless keyboard to be exasperating, at least at first, and the autocorrection on the text entry is as bizarre as the one on the iPhone, with little popup “suggestions” that, as often as not, are half wrong. With any luck OS 4.0 will address at least some of this.
For connectivity the wifi ought to be fine if you happen to live somewhere that’s crawling with hotspots. I don’t, which means I have to use MyWi on my jailbroken iPhone to have connectivity to the world at large — something neither Apple nor AT&T would be happy to know about. I’m okay with that for two reasons: One, it’s my phone and I believe I have the right to install any damn software I want onto a device I own; and two, I’m paying AT&T $30 per month for an unlimited data plan. That AT&T and I might disagree on the meaning of “unlimited” is hardly my fault. The US is the only major industrialized nation that has iPhones without data tethering, and that omission is due solely and exclusively to AT&T’s policies. So to hell with the rules on both fronts.
What that means in practice is that I use the iPhone as a kind of wireless modem-cum-access point. It works. The 3G network gives me data download rates around 160 K/sec, with bursts higher than 200 K from time to time. Not wifi speed, but still plenty fast for most of my needs. There’s no reason for me to think a 3G iPad would be any faster.
As far as apps go, yes, most of them are still engineered for the iPhone. Native iPad apps are being developed — and with the news that Apple shifted some 2 million pads in the first 60 days, I rather expect more will be coming along. Some are already pre-ported to work on either platform (such as pCalc), but most run in a little rectangle that does nothing more than remind you of what it really means to have quadruple the screen space. You can expand them to fill the screen, but they end up a bit crunchy at the edges if you do that.
For someone like me, whose avocation is commercial art, the iPad is pretty decent. There are some pretty good drawing apps out there already, and I look forward to the day when someone releases a truly competent vector drawing app for iPad.
Does iPad multitask? Well, not yet (another 4.0 enhancement). A fairer question is: Do you? Probably not, unless you’re both ambidextrous and capable of focusing your attention on at least two different things at the same moment. Hint: Cognitive science doesn’t back you up on the second claim. While iPad, like iPhone, is modal — you work on only one task at a time — that’s a fine distinction, probably a little too fine to stand as a real argument against either device.
The best decent argument I’ve seen against the Apple mobile platform in general is that it doesn’t support Flash. Some people really seem to need that, and maybe they do; but I’ve been using Flash blockers on my desktop browsers for a long time, so basically I don’t miss it anyway. Of course that’s just me.
So while the iPad still has some growing to do, I think it’s a solid start; if you’re looking to kit out a college student, for instance, you could do a lot worse than a combo of iPad and desktop system.
Also, for what it’s worth, this entire post was composed on the iPad, in the Safari browser, through the WordPress back end interface. No special apps required. Not too shabby for something that’s “just a big iPhone”.
It ain’t perfect, but it don’t suck.
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