Our fledgling LA office is paying dividends already. A few days after the US launch of the iPad, we had one brought back to the UK office to fiddle with. Clearly I wanted a go and managed to ‘borrow’ it, take it home, show it to my kids and generally pretend it was mine with the aim of answering the $1million question… is there room in my life for one?
First 10 minutes… meh! It’s just a big iPod.
Then I take it home. The vision I have is of a device that sits on the arm of my sofa, neither iPhone nor desktop computer, but somewhere nicely in-between.
First, the good points:
1) It has a big screen
2) The battery lasts longer than I expected. Maybe a day of moderate use when compared to the iPhone 4-6 hours.
3) The kids like it. But they like their DS’s and my iPhone too… and the Xbox 360 and the Wii. To them it’s a chance to play with a gadget when I’ve already told them to switch off the TV and do something more useful. None of them really grasped what the iPad was for though. My son had it about right with “that massive iPhone thing”.
And then the bad points:
1) It’s heavy. Heavier than I imagined. Especially for kids to hold, so games that need accelerometers to control lead to a fair bit of fatigue in small arms.
2) It’s sharp and hurts. The iPhone is rounded and smooth. The iPad has sharp beveled aluminium edges making it feel like a cheap aluminium foldout tray on an economy flight. It’s also partly dur to the small recessed groove around the screen catching your nails or finger joints. Really not much fun after 30 mins or so.
3) It’s hard to hold. Put points 1 and 2 together and pretty soon you figure out it’s hard to hold with one hand. Really not ideal if you have an app that requires typing or screen pressing (like most of them) and you don’t have a flat surface.
4) It spins. The back may be nicely curved but this has a really annoying side-effect. Assuming you have the iPad on a flat, smooth surface, swiping down one side of the screen caused the device to spin. This was really noticeable when my daughter and I played 2 player Air Hockey, one of us had to hold the iPad still. The same was true for drawing applications, requiring delicate strokes nearer the edgest to stop the momentum spinning the iPad around. Likewise, it rocks if you click the screen near the edges.
5) It’s symmetrical and confusing to know which way up it is. Ok, so the screen changes orientation to match but when you need to hit the main menu button, there aren’t enough visual cues to instantly show where the menu button is. You find yourself scrabbling for the volume controls only to find they are on the other corner as you have the iPad upside down. Not a biggie, bit it it annoying.
6) It’s not stereo. For a device with such a beautiful screen for watching movies, bit of a shame.
7) It takes AGES to recharge. Maybe I needed a special iPad charger. Maybe the iPhone charger isn’t beefy enough. But 6 hours? That’s mad. Even then it only got to 85% and I got fed up waiting.
8 ) It has flaky Wifi. Or at least the WiFi re-connection is flaky. My iPhone (and every other device from Nokia N95 to Blackberry) has no problem. So far I’ve had to manually re-connect the WiFi via the Settings menu 3-4 times a day. Curious and irritating in equal measures.
9) It looks obvious. You just can’t get the thing out on the Underground. You’d get mugged the minute you got off the train. Or worse, you’d look like a complete ponce. Either way, not worth the hassle. Obviously it will become less ‘look at me’ as people get used to it but after 7 years, I still have the same feeling with a Sony PSP.
10) It doesn’t play Flash, so ‘browsing the BBC website over breakfast’ (one of my visions of the future) is met by constant “You don’t have flash” warnings. Same with loads of sites. Apple is very vocal about flash. Nice for them, really bad for everyone else. It seems silly that such a capable machine is restricted to the internet we had in the late 1990′s. HTML with stuff in squares. Not ideal.
11) It crashes. It may just be the ‘first release’ HD apps or it may be the older iPhone apps dealing with the on-the-fly rescaling, but some of the apps (mainly games) crash more often than the iPhone. Maybe once every 20 launches. My kids know by habit to hit the round button on the iPad. That’s how often it happens. It hasn’t needed a restart though, which suggests the apps are doing it, but it also happens to the Apple-made apps so it can’t be dismissed as bad app development.
12) The menu is too airy. I want either more icons in the grid or bigger icons. If the iPhone if accurate enough to have them next to each other, why do I need 1inch gaps on the iPad? There’s nothing in the settings that I can find. Just seems pointless to be forced to go through 2 screens when you can fit all the icons on one.
14) The keyboard tries too hard. Now this one got my design / functionality heckles up. The keyboard. Two things. First, look at your keyboard. See those bumps on the F and J keys to help touch-typists and visually impaired people ‘locate’ the keys? Yep, the on-screen keyboard has those. Of course, they are just graphics so are completely useless. An example where attention to detail can be a bad thing. Secondly, you can’t ‘rest’ on the keyboard. On an iPhone, you tend to ‘peck’ at the keyboard. The iPad invites ‘proper typing’ but only as long as you hover above the keys when not typing. Quite a skill.
15) It has no Word Processor. Now you have the new keyboard at your disposal, it’s time to get writing those long Word docs right? Ok, Word = Microsoft so no. Ok, Apple Pages ten. Nope. You get the same basic boy-scout notepad you get with the iPhone. A little restricting.
16) It has no cover. You have to carry a padded envelope with you everywhere to stop it getting scratched (more then the swirly ones on the back from point 4). I can see why Steve Jobs was testing out that prototype envelope at the launch of the MacBook Air.
17) It’s not so portable. You stick an iPhone in your pocket. A laptop goes in its bag with its lid down to protect it. The iPad is in limbo. Too big to go into a pocket (and too heavy) and too exposed to put in something else like a bag with cables and pens. Even carrying it upstairs to put it on charge, you hold the iPad and one other thing, maybe a cup of coffee. It’s a little selfish in that respect.
18) It doesn’t have a stand. So reading the New York Times app (for instance) at the breakfast table requires either an orange placed behind the iPad or the iPad to be laid flat. All content therefore has to be consumed at 45 degrees to your eyes… or you have to lean over the iPad… you have to hold it in one hand (see point 2). Even charging it takes a lot of space as it has to lay on a surface. My bedside cabinet ‘charge station’ looks a bit cramped now.
19) It has no camera. And therefore not even a forward facing webcam. It would be great to sit on the sofa and chill out on a video call with your relatives in Australia or take snaps to put into the Photo app. Currently you have to sync your photos to see them… it’s like having an iPod Photo all over again. Missing a big trick there.
20) It’s not so new. And finally, after following Apple’s recent hard-line strategies on everything from mobile chipset takeovers, lawsuits, patent challenges, forcing developers to use their APIs, changing Terms at the last minute to undermine the Adobe CS5 launch, refusing to allow plugins on their iPhone-based products… I can’t help wanting to take a step back and reassess the Apple bandwagon. I get an uneasy feeling it’s a case of the Emperors New Clothes.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the iPad. It’s sort of nice. But my iPhone made an instant impact. It was a game changer. The iPad seems simply to be a bigger iPod marketed as something truly miraculous. I can’t see past the thought that it’s just an iPod HD upgrade. Like the Nintendo DSi XL is to the DSi. Not sure a larger screen qualifies it as a revolution just yet. I’ll wait for iPad 2 maybe. The one with the rubber back, a stand, a camera, soft sides and hinge in the middle so I can carry it.