Apple iPad Observations From A Skeptic Who Got One For Free

So I got an iPad the other day. From a client, for testing purposes. Thank you client! Incidentally, readers of this here blog may recall my issues with the Apple eco-system, which is why it’s somewhat ironic that I should end up with an iPad. It’s certainly not something I was planning on purchasing for myself.

Incidentally, I think it’s an absolutely delightful device, and I can certainly understand why it sells so well. It brings the boons of computing to the masses in a way computers haven’t been able to for decades.

There’s more to it, of course. And I’m not “won over” by any stretch of the imagination.

What’s good

The UI. Apple knows its UI, and everything slides and flows in a very smooth fashion. The overshoot of homescreens, lists and zooms is silky smooth. Things very rarely feel slow, and the computer reacts to your input. I believe this is the highest praise I can give of this device, and for the vast majority, this will not only be the iPads selling point, it’ll be its killer app.

On top of that, battery life is nice. I’m not as impressed by it as everyone else seems to be, but then I remembered this is a sufficiently backlit screen that runs Plants Vs. Zombies.

The build finish is also worth mentioning in the “What’s good” list. Certainly the thing feels sturdy.

I like that iBooks syncs your bookmarks, and that you can download podcasts and video podcasts directly from iTunes on the device. But that’s about all the praise I’m going to give the iPads sync features.

What’s bad

Prior to engaging in this list of issues I have with the iPad, I ran in to colleagues who fiercely defend the iPad and what seems like every aspect of its ecosystem. As I told them, I’m going to tell you: these are my issues with it. If my praise above doesn’t make it clear that this is a nice device, then let its sales numbers speak for themselves. People like the iPad. I have issues with it. These are issues that can be fixed. Thats’ why I’m writing them here.

One of my issues with the iPad, is likely to be liked by someone else. The iPad weighs too much. There’s no doubt it’s the carved aluminum/unicorn-horn alloy that bogs this thing down, but for what’s essentially a 10 inch slate, this thing is surprisingly heavy. Which I’m reminded of every time I pick up the device in one hand to browse the web. There’s been a lot of talk about the iPad being an Amazon Kindle killer, and I’ve always defended the Kindle for its insane battery life and its non-backlit easy-on-the-eyes E-ink screen. Today, I’m adding weight to the reason why the iPad is not going to be a Kindle killer. One reason to buy an e-book reader, is for invalid or elderly people to be able to read in bed, without having to turn pages or have to lift the weight of Postwar.

Which brings me to the grip. This thing is slippery, and I find, hard to hold in one hand. Sure, the gorgeous black bezel is large upon first glance, but if you want to hold this thing and not drop it, your finger will impose on the screen. Which is rarely a problem due to multi-touch, but which is sometimes a problem. Remember how iPhones used to be plastic? I’m thinking I’d like a tablet in plastic — the rubbery kind you’ll find on Nexus One or HTC Desire phones.

In smaller issues, the onscreen keyboard (which is otherwise excellent), shows no visible difference between lower-case and upper-case letters, when you press shift. Another issue is the speaker and the rather low volume it lets you play at.

Another thing, coming from a not so well-working Android Market, where in Europe we don’t even have access to paid apps yet, I had high expectations for the iPad App Store. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I found the App Store underwhelming. The search feature is near useless, as I can’t search in categories or types. For instance, let’s say I’d search for a free iPad solitaire game. Had this been the Steam app store, I’d be able to check a box called “iPad”, a box called “free” or “below $3”, and I could search in “Card games”.

Additionally, the toplist columns are slow to load, and they aren’t persistent. Let’s say I click “more” beneath the top paid apps column, and at item #43 I find an app I want to read more about. I click that link, but when I click “back”, the top paid apps column has collapsed back in on itself. Finally there’s the “Install” button. Which is to say, there isn’t one. There’s a price button, or a free button, neither of which looks like a button, and when pressed once, turns into a “buy” or “install” button. Paging Jakob Nielsen?

As I have alluded to earlier, I really have a problem with iTunes. I find it extremely annoying that you have to go through this app to manage files on your device, when the thing should simply sync automatically and transparently. But the lack of wifi sync in music and files, it’s something I could live with, if it wasn’t for the fact that you have to have another computer for this device to work. The first thing you see when you turn on an iPad is an animated symbol that tells you to plug it in to a computer running iTunes. What? So you’re saying I can’t buy an iPad for a kid that doesn’t have another computer already? Seriously, what? I know Apple calls this a “companion device”, but in my book it’s a serious black stain on the otherwise pretty chrome finish.

Finally, this brings me to the lack of Over The Air (OTA) updates. You may have heard of a number of Android devices getting Android 2.2 over the last few weeks — these were OTA updates. Which means one day when you turn on the phone, there’s a message that says “There’s s system update. Please plug your device to a power outlet, and install”. What proceeds is a download, a reboot, an install icon on your screen, and your device is updated. This is the way the iPad should be updated, and not just for convenience, but for security reasons as well. Have you heard about the recent PDF exploit on iOS devices? I assure you a number of iPad customers haven’t. If a fragment of those don’t use iTunes on a regular basis, they’ll be open to these security exploits.

7 thoughts on “Apple iPad Observations From A Skeptic Who Got One For Free”

  1. New post: Apple iPad Observations From A Skeptic Who Got One For Free (Noscope) http://noscope.com/journal/2010/08/ipad-quirks

  2. Bojan says:

    Some valid points here, Joen. I enjoyed the read.

  3. Joen says:

    Glad you did, thanks!

  4. Levi says:

    Great write-up Joen, I agree with you completely on both the good and bad points. However, while the iPad is heavy (well, heavier than it looks) I think the weight is justified for the size and the glass front. They could certainly make it lighter by using different materials, but I think that would have sacrificed the that ‘solid feeling’.

    To me the iPad seems like a bed/couch computer (pretty much what I use my iPhone for at the moment) which makes me wonder if the weight becomes more apparent when sitting in a more relaxed position. Any thoughts on that? To me it doesn’t seem super heavy when I’ve used it in the store.

    I’m a little torn on whether or not I want to get one. I think I might wait it out a little longer in the hopes a revision is coming along sometime soon. Something with either a little more resolution, or possible a tweaked hardware/form.

    1. Joen says:

      Great write-up Joen, I agree with you completely on both the good and bad points. However, while the iPad is heavy (well, heavier than it looks) I think the weight is justified for the size and the glass front. They could certainly make it lighter by using different materials, but I think that would have sacrificed the that ‘solid feeling’.

      Oh I completely agree, there’s an incredible value to the sturdiness this thing exudes, and switching to a rubbery plastic finish as I suggested would detract from that. It’s certainly a trade-off, and I’m sure the most people would pick the sturdiness over the grip.

      I don’t think I would, though. Lighter and better grip: I’d love it, and consider it more of an ebook reader. But I understand the opposing point of view.

      To me the iPad seems like a bed/couch computer (pretty much what I use my iPhone for at the moment) which makes me wonder if the weight becomes more apparent when sitting in a more relaxed position. Any thoughts on that? To me it doesn’t seem super heavy when I’ve used it in the store.

      Well yeah. This is part of the problem. When I played plants vs zombies the other day, I found it very hard to find a good position for the pad in my lap. I ended up laying it flat on the table.

      In more anecdotal reports, the girlfriend has gotten really in to video podcasts, and she’s watching them in bed. For her, the weight is really a problem, as there’s no real comfortable position to hold it. She ended up pushing the bed towards the wall so she could lean the iPad against it.

      Now this is still anecdotal, especially because neither of us has tried this hypothetical “lighter rubbery ipad” I’m referring to, and I have no idea whether it would ACTUALLY solve the problem. But I’m confident “lighter” would help.

      I’m a little torn on whether or not I want to get one. I think I might wait it out a little longer in the hopes a revision is coming along sometime soon. Something with either a little more resolution, or possible a tweaked hardware/form.

      Well I’m the wrong person to ask, so I’m not going to answer directly.

      But I’ll tell you that I find the current two offerings — wifi or 3G — kinda annoying. The thing is, the pad seems perfect for bringing with you here and there. Which begs the 3G. But there’s no USB port for those little 3G modems, you have to get a dedicated plan.

      The solution, of course, is to get the Wifi version and then a separate phone that allows you to tether it.

      1. Levi says:

        I ended up laying it flat on the table.

        That must be even slightly more annoying because of the curved back. The 3G/3GS had this same problem which is fortunately fixed in the 4.

        But I’ll tell you that I find the current two offerings — wifi or 3G — kinda annoying.

        Definitely! I’m not sure if the extra cost of the 3G is worth it, especially when the extra cost of a separate data plan is piled on top, though here in Australia the availability of short term pre-paid data plans is pretty good.

        One potential solution to the weight might be the rumours of a smaller ~7″ version. This would increase the pixel density, without changing the resolution (a win for the customers and the developers). The only problem; is ~7″ be big enough?

        I think it’ll be in my best interest to wait it out, the revised version (whatever it brings) will surely be better thought out and a more capable, well rounded device.

        1. Joen says:

          That must be even slightly more annoying because of the curved back. The 3G/3GS had this same problem which is fortunately fixed in the 4.

          That did annoy me a little bit, yeah. But it’s not so bad… there’s a flat area in the middle of the curvy back, so it’s not so bad.

          Definitely! I’m not sure if the extra cost of the 3G is worth it, especially when the extra cost of a separate data plan is piled on top, though here in Australia the availability of short term pre-paid data plans is pretty good.

          You definately have to think about that. If I wanted to buy one in Denmark, with my tether able phone handy, I’d definately go for the wifi only one, as the 3G would be wasteful.

          One potential solution to the weight might be the rumours of a smaller ~7″ version. This would increase the pixel density, without changing the resolution (a win for the customers and the developers). The only problem; is ~7″ be big enough?

          Well, two things.

          1: I’m willing to bet any credibility I have that there will NOT be a 7 inch iPad. New models is something Apple might do once demand for the current one starts to slow down, which it’s not showing signs of.

          2: I would honestly think the space between the 3.something inch iPhone and the 10 inch iPad is sort of a wierd spot to expand to. I really don’t mind the size of the iPad, in fact for a big iPod Touch, this really is the size it should have. I think Apple agrees. If they were to make new pads, I’d bet on it being an iPad with a foldout keyboard, and even then I think they’d call it “Macbook Air”.

          I think it’ll be in my best interest to wait it out, the revised version (whatever it brings) will surely be better thought out and a more capable, well rounded device.

          No doubt!

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