People that know me know that I’m not a big Mac fan. By extension, not a big Apple fan either. That’s why people that know me are astonished when they learn that there’s an iPad in my house. The initial shock gives way to questions so I figured I’d just handle some of them here.
My friend Will, just the other day over on Google+, said “Trims atas advise nya.” Oh, wait a minute. That’s spam from some shitstain with an anonymous gmail account. Will actually said “Rick, what do you use it for? On TV people are watching videos, email or looking at pictures on it – nothing very interesting. Is it a glorified internet appliance?”
Well, it’s a funny thing. Tablets have been the Next Big Thing for a while and everyone has been bringing them to market. For most, er, scratch that, for everyone except Apple, success in the tablet space has been varied. For Apple success has been astounding. Eventually, I figured, we’d have to get one to play around with, to see what all the hype was about.
I think it started with a TV commercial. I casually said to Pam, “So maybe you want one of those?” and she said she wouldn’t mind. So a few days later I drank some Kool-Aid…
I’ve gotta admit, the iPad’s an absolute marvel of design and engineering. It feels really good in your hand, looks really great to your eye (both the display and the form-factor), and the UI is slick and responsive. Besides the device there’s not much in the box: a cable and charger cube (which promptly got lost for weeks) and a cute little Apple sticker. I powered it up, answered a few questions, and in a minute or two I was exploring the built-in apps. Apps. I was playin’ with apps. I felt so… trendy. We picked up the Smart Cover a day or two later. It, too, is a product of incredible thought and design. Just as you hold it near, wondering how it attaches, it attaches itself magnetically, in perfect alignment. Forty bucks.
Getting the iPad onto my network was a bit harder. We have two active WiFi networks in the house. Each serves different purpose and both are reasonably secure. (Hold your comments about being neighborly and running an open hotspot; I don’t care and I’ll only ignore you.) So I cleared the way for the iPad and tried and tried to get authenticated. Didn’t work. A search turned up plenty of others with similar problems. I forget exactly which magic incantation did the trick but after a while it was working. And here’s the thing: other than that initial hurdle the iPad connects and makes itself ready to communicate the moment you pick it up. The secret? It keeps a periodic chatter going with the router or access point, all the time. It’s always ready.
Instant-on network performance like that is usually a battery suck but Apple seems to have nailed the power management. Battery life is several weeks to a month.
“Huh? Did you say a month? Don’t you use it?”
Yup, that’s what I said: a month. And, mostly, nope, we don’t really use it all that much. None of us do. Three different people with three widely varying sets of interests and the iPad hasn’t become relevant to any of us. WTF.
What I sought most from such a device was simple (and, I might add, completely satisfied by my old netbook). I wanted to read, mostly stuff from my network where I keep a fair library of subscription material. I wanted to write, notes, posts like this, etc. And I wanted to be able to control different parts of my network, logging into a Linux console, adjusting this or that, maybe a bit of ftp to import or export a file or two, maybe shutting things down during an extended power failure.
Producing written material with the virtual keyboard is an exercise in futility. I’m not the best keyboardist in the first place but my meager productivity dropped like a stone. Y’know how they say to use strong passwords for stuff? Let me tell you, the way you need to switch modes for numbers, caps, punctuation, and everything else will have you setting your passwords to ‘asd123’ – and wishing you could skip the digits altogether – in no time flat. Forget writing.
On to reading. Well, this is actually pretty good. The display is nice, like I said. Consuming some written matter – WIRED comes to mind – the content designed for this device is, in some ways, superior to the print experience. You miss out on the tactile enjoyment of well-laid-out pulp – the color, the rich fonts – but the ease of navigation (no continued on page 134) and embedded multimedia could be a valid trade. Sometimes, at least. I mentioned that I have a rather large cache of subscription material – professional publications, books, newsletters, etc. – on a server here. The vast majority is in PDF format of one type or another. Reading any of those makes for a pretty good experience. The iPad will try to add them into the built-in iBooks app, which simply means that they’re downloaded and stored locally for use off-network.
Next up, handling network chores. Nope, can’t do that. Maybe buying a terminal app would fix that, maybe not. I’m not pressing because I have other alternatives. Also, you can’t get files onto or off of the iPad. In fact, the very concept of files on the iPad seems profoundly foreign. I’ll bet a dollar Apple would call that a feature.
Now, Pam’s expectations are markedly different from mine. She’ll play a few games, use Google+ and – gasp – Facebook, and use the Web browser. She’s bought a few apps. Sorry, can’t tell you which ones. Since the iPad is hers, it’s tied to her computer and it synced with her iTunes library painlessly and quickly. I can tell you that the Google+ client, while touted as made for the iPad, is simply an iPhone app that lives in the middle of the screen. Sizing it for the larger screen looks chunky and childish. When I tried, Hangouts didn’t work at all. Sort of too bad, that, as the hardware seems like it’d be perfectly suited to video conferencing. YouTube videos play nicely, but content-rich sites that don’t offer Flash alternatives fail.
I expected Damian to play with the iPad but he doesn’t. Not at all. Some weeks after it had been floating around in such obvious places like the dinner table, he said “Oh? We have an iPad now?” That was that. I don’t think he’s touched it since. That was a little unexpected since I think he’s in the target demographic. Oh well.
I’ve got a few closing random thoughts… The lack of multitasking hurts. The instant-on, instantly-connected Web browser – albeit a weak one like Safari – is a definite win. The lack of Flash can sometimes make a Web site unusable. Not that I’m arguing for that insecure wart on the side that is Flash, but some sites, well, that’s what they do. Sort of the way a site might be built for IE and render poorly on a standards-compliant browser. You can wish for a long time that it weren’t so. The security model kinda blows. I wouldn’t store any confidential stuff on the device. The virtual keyboard encourages the use of weak, easy-to-use passwords because good ones are such a pain to type, yet even routine updates prompt for the Apple account password.
The bottom line? I guess all told I spent something under $800 for the device, a cover and some apps. Worth it? For design, lots of points. For usefulness, very few points. Did I learn some stuff? Undoubtedly. Do I feel trendy? No, I feel like I threw away a wad of cash.
If I knew then what I know now, would I buy an iPad? No.
[edited 29 October to include this unique use for the device.]