As many of you know who follow me on Twitter, I recently procured the latest gizmo prerequisite for those of us whose veins suffer junkie-esque cravings for connection to the interwebs.
iPad polarizes audiences like a Federal Election. You vote Apple, or you vote The Other Guy. I hate to admit to being an Apple Otaku. I feel my love of [most] of their products is a result of years of experience with their various platforms (largely blissful) contrasted with the indentured servitude I experience locked into my work laptop (a dull HP Compaq) and the distinct lack of envy that clangs down every time I see somebody whip out a Crackberry (or even, dare I say it, an Android).
My family was indoctrinated into the way of the Bitten Fruit early. The father of my best mate growing up was a large jovial Bavarian man with a booming laugh and a bear-hug as-standard. Klaus worked as an Apple rep and technician for CERN (Centre European pour la Recherche Nucleaire) in Geneva, and had done so since the early eighties when he graduated from handling punch-cards for computers the size of studio apartments. Since about ’87 my family have been Mac Addicts. My mother just got herself the latest iteration in her desktop kingdom, a 27” iMac which looms over the living room like a highway billboard.
I never got an iPhone, largely because I struggle with phone contracts, but I have had an iPod Touch for eighteen months and it’s a gem. Until a few weeks ago it was my favourite little device (as opposed to my base computer, a MacBook Pro) and it came with me overseas, replete with movies, music, and the opportunity to note down thoughts and even the outline of blog posts.
I now think of it as a cute little toy.
iPad is seen as a gimmick by some, a flawed opportunity by others, and the future of personal computing by still more. I wouldn’t fit myself neatly into any of the three categories. I bought it, however, with a clear vision in mind, that as a platform I felt it was going to have immense potential, limited primarily by the creativity and interest of App designers. A week into my love-affair with my black-clad little companion (my fiancee is already making jealous remarks), I stand by my assessment.
(A brief nod to all you iPad widows out there. A friend and colleague from the States bought one right after its release. He showed it to me with affection and explained hang-doggedly how he reckoned it might have been the worst thing to happen to his marriage in several decades of happy relationship. After the first week or so of besotted interaction , his wife snapped at him, ‘Get that thing out of the bed!’)
All About Apps
iPad is a platform and a portal. Like many things related to the web these days (including social media platforms like Twitter), it’s less about the architecture, and more about your vision for what you hope to achieve through it. If you approach iPad with a clear idea of what you want to do with it, it will serve you well (providing the necessary apps have been designed yet). If you drift up to it expecting it to entertain you, well, it can do that, and do it with class, but you may be left wondering after a while where the substance behind the style is, or why you just bought a $600 mp3 player.
I bought iPad with the intention of scaling back my need to take a laptop to the field with me, to interact with web content (especially social media), and to engage in content creation (particularly blog posts and other written documentation). With those three key strategies in mind, I’ve been thrilled with the output.
iPad is a pleasure to use. The large touchscreen is beautifully intuitive in true Apple style (I LOVE that the instructions manual is a single glossy post-card sized piece of paper, one side of which is a picture of the iPad with the four buttons labelled). The size is just about perfect- small enough to be portable, large enough to be a pleasure to use, and practical for the fingers. I can type well with the onscreen keyboard, and my eyes soak in that gorgeous screen.
For content creation, representatives of the iWorks suite (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) are arguably the most powerful mobile applications in their field. Although without the full functionality of their computer-anchored counterparts, they are simple to use, with a representative of the most common and important tasks and options which gives you 98% of what you’d want to do under normal circumstances. Multimedia handling and desktop publishing are beautiful- you’re able to caress images into place among a sea of words and watch the architecture arrange everything for you in the way you always feel MS Word should but blatantly doesn’t.
To support that process, I purchased the Bluetooth external keyboard. It was a great buy and I love it. I spent a goodly portion of this weekend in bed, iPad resting lightly on my knees and keyboard in my lap, writing 12,000 words-worth of some upcoming blog posts, and loving it. Far more comfortable than having an overheating laptop sweating on your legs, and highly portable as well.
To engage with social media I finally engaged with TweetDeck, which is a lovely interface and very easy to use and display what’s going on. When I’m within range of a wi-fi network it will become my new default in Twitter interactivity. Better still is the must-have app for anybody inclined towards social, which is Flipboard. The architecture pulls out web content from your RSS feeds (including Facebook and Twitter) and arranges it through a clever use of ever-changing templates into a multimedia magazine format, complete with updates, images, movie clips and articles, all spread out before you in a beautiful interface.
A few other apps out there that I’ve enjoyed using are Informant HD, which is a powerful and extremely enjoyable personal organizer (I am rubbish at using them IRL, but this one is great, and I already have most of the key tasks relating to a certain upcoming wedding mapped out); Disaster Alert, which links in real-time to the Pacific Disaster Centre and updates major disaster events globally in real time (floods, volcanoes, earthquakes, human disasters & tsunamis, among others); and the must-have no-purpose entertainment app Gravilux, which through a complex set of physics formulas lets your fingertips act as points of gravity in a universe of tiny starlike dots. It sounds mundane, but use the colour settings right and the screen can seem to sparkle, and playing with it to a good bit of trance music in the background gives you a euphoric sense of creative joy.
A Little Balance
I’m not so lovestruck that I can’t see the point of some of the iPad’s detractors. There are a couple of flaws, in my opinion largely forgivable. The lack of Flash compatibility is obviously the biggest- and the closest to being unforgivable as well. There are creative workarounds, but in short, finding web functionality reduced on some pages (for example, even the ever-so-important stats graph on my WordPress blog!) is a bit of a drag. The screen definitely smudges- though you only notice it when the iPad is off, because the backlight overpowers your fingerprints. The default case available from Apple is on the flimsy side for those of us who want to whack our devices into our backpacks for long journeys or commutes, and the more padded alternative I’ve chosen to protect that beautiful screen only allows me to set the iPad up vertically on its stand, not horizontally (same complaint with the docking station that Apple offers as well; a landscape orientation option would have been lovely). There are still limited apps out there (though not doing badly considering the things not even been out six months yet) and you can’t find everything you want. And perhaps the most unforgivable crime for those of us in Australia- the rather wonderful iBooks app- which (again, imho) poos all over Kindle with its gorgeous formating- has no books for it! Apple hasn’t managed to secure any Australian copyrights yet, so we’re stranded for the time being and are left using Amazon’s rather bland alternative (though I will say that on the iPad screen it is still a pleasure to read documents).
All up, I rather feel that I’m nitpicking in an effort to sound balanced. But I’d hate to be accused of partisanship.
Aww what the heck. If Steve Jobs were running against Julia and Tony, I know where my vote would go (assuming, that is, that I had Australian citizenship, which I don’t).
My take on the iPad is that it’s a powerful platform whose potential is barely being tapped yet. People talk about waiting for the next iteration, and I wouldn’t stop them from doing so, but I suspect any changes will be iterative, marginal and cosmetic. As it stands, it’s a powerful tool already, with the possibility of becoming moreso by orders of magnitude as more applications are developed, and more content is set up to enage with a mobile platform.
There’s little doubt that mobile connectivity and content creation is an increasing trend, and iPad offers a medium that is both practical, and also enjoyable to use (a crucial facet in consumer choice and in longevity). I feel it strikes a great balance, and while there are features lacking or flawed, they barely rub at the sharp edge of what is without a doubt my favourite toy at the moment- and one which I can already see outstripping my personal computer for most tasks (and with luck, my work computer as well).
I’d go back to my original statement. iPad is for people who have a vision for what they want to do with it, and otherwise it’ll become a very expensive toy in your collection. I see it as a powerful tool, and I can’t wait to watch it and the apps which fill its innards evolve over the coming months.
These fun and colourful Apple-themed wallpapers are freely available from http://applewallpapers.net