We got an iPad at work the other week and are sharing it in rotation so here are my thoughts after the first week. Note that this review is written on the iPad as a full test!
Out of the box
The out of the box experience is pretty terrible you sit in the airline lounge and open it up and turn it on and then it just insistently asks for the mothers nipple iTunes parent for imprinting. No playing until that’s done.
It gets better after that though. As you expect it is nice to look at and to use like most Apple products. Pictures in particular look lovely and it is fast smooth and responsive. Web pages vary in how quick they are, but somehow slow pages seem more annoying.
I haven’t installed many apps for various reasons: the UK app store does not have all the apps in, for example none of the Apple ones. The pad won’t even download apps over the air saying “the app store is not supported in your country” but it will sync them. However my work Mac that it was mothered to died leaving it orphaned at a young age.
Comparison to a netbook
I mostly write my blog posts on my Eee PC running Ubuntu netbook remix. The iPad seems noticeably faster. Part of this is clearly the screen rendering which on the Eee is a terrible integrated Intel graphics chipset. Mind you it was much cheaper too. The bigger screen size and higher resolution of the iPad make it nicer to use too. But there is a limit to what you can do as there are very few applications. Personally I like to have a command line and a programming language locally rather than on the web, although I guess one could rig something up in browser with local storage; there seem to be a few editors around now.
Will think about that model although it needs a lot of infrastructure to work.
The web works well. In portrait view which I have mostly been using you can see a long way down a page and generally read the text too. That’s quite a nice page view. The big issue though is browser detection which is a terrible thing. People are detecting browsers not capabilities. For example the BBC iplayer thinks the browser wants flash even though they have a QuickTime iPhone version (the videos may be iPhone resolution only I suppose but that would be better than trying to show flash. Other sites show the mobile version which should mainly be about screen resolution detection not the browser identifier. Some sites just don’t work because they expect hover states. Other than that you just want to manipulate things rather than press buttons, as a mouse interface just feels unnatural. It is going to take a while before many web sites have gestural interfaces.
Google docs turned out to be a bit confused and I was unable to create a new doc on the website for this review I think it was only showing the mobile version even when I selected desktop. I couldn’t bear to use Notes with it’s hideous use of the Marker Felt font. Fortunately I had installed the Evernote app earlier so that’s what I am using. Typing is not great, pressing on glass and you have to hold it up with the other hand as typing on the lap doesn’t feel right. Doable but not ideal. Also I can’t work out how to turn the clickiness off other than just turning the volume down.
After a short time gestural interfaces become very natural. There are a few issues with standards and ways of doing things that are not yet well defined but the basic movements are simple and other operations are easily learned. The big screen makes things much easier than the iPhone and multi finger operations make sense like bunching and spreading out photo albums in the picture viewer. Our hands are good at learning these sorts of operations and being precise about them. Touch is far more natural than say speaking to a computer. It is interesting that Apple and others have gradually been introducing elements of touch such as two finger scrolling on touch pads that I find it hard to manage without. Who wants to move a mouse to a picture of an elevator when you can just stroke the screen?
The iPad feels the write sort of thing to use in meetings for looking at reference material (the Basecamp overview page works well for example), looking at diagrams, the web, taking notes and so on. It is almost as easy to walk around with as a pad of paper and generally as useful although I don’t find diagram drawing very intuitive yet. A camera would be useful for capturing whiteboard pictures and so on; having a device without a way to get rough pictures easily is a bit annoying. Oddly though I don’t feel the same way about the netbook which has a front facing camera for video calls that I don’t use. If the phone could talk to the iPad easily that would help but it doesn’t. It is one of the Apple annoyances that they want to sell iPad 3G contracts rather than make the iPhone and iPad work together as a unit.
Future of portable devices?
I think the gestural touch interface is going to win over the mouse mediated interface. The keyboard will last, but maybe as an accessory like with the iPad rather than joined. However vertical screens don’t work with touch as your arms get tired. Pad is perhaps the right model reflecting how we use paper most of the time. There are issues about how to hold and use it that will need to be ironed out, and there are issues with Apple’s idea that it should be a simplified computer as they have perhaps gone too far. Indeed I would be very happy if it had a gestural version of Ubuntu on it like my netbook I think that might be perfect.