I actually got my iPad in the first week of May 2010, and I’ve been using it on and off ever since. So why write a review now? Well, two reasons. One, I haven’t touched this blog in months (it’s been a busy summer), and Two, the release of first the iPhone 4 and then the new MacBook Air helped to provide me a framework to hang a review onto.
I’ll be the first to admit that I fall easily and quickly into the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. Pretty much whenever Apple releases a new product, I’m waiting outside the Apple Store the next day to get my hands on it. I update my computers just about every year, and I’ve updated my iPhone three out of the four times that Apple has announced new models.
So it’s not like I was exactly unbiased when the iPad was announced at the beginning of this year. I was immediately impressed. The iPad seemed to be everything that every previous “tablet” had not been; thin, light, responsive, and with a user interface that was expressly designed to touch. That interacts with your fingers. That responds to sweeping gestures and finger movements. That looked like something that almost literally seemed sent back in time from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
The iPad eventually shipped in April, but I waited until May when the 3G version arrived on the scene. Previously, I would not have cared about 3G – WiFi is fine by me – but I started a new job in February, where we don’t have WiFi in the office. (Not only do we not have WiFi, but apparently, we will never have WiFi. It’s considered too much of a security risk). So, I wanted one that I could use at work to check my personal email, etc.
On May 3rd, my 64GB iPad with WiFi and 3G connectivity arrived, along with the Apple flip cover. I had it set up and working within a few minutes. And for the first few days, I was enthralled. But… after a few days… I stopped bringing it to work. And then I stopped checking email on it. And then I cancelled the 3G coverage. Then I stopped updating my music and photos and videos on it. And then I removed all the music, photos, and videos from it.
Now, the only thing I use it for is to read comic books and use a few recipe applications.
I think my six-month odyssey with the iPad says a lot about what’s wrong (as well as what’s right) with the iPad. The current version is the epitome of the early adopter syndrome. It’s got a lot of neat features, and it’s a great idea… but it’s just not fully baked or ready for prime time yet. And almost every problem with the iPad lies solely in its software and how Apple treats it.
The first thing that quickly annoyed me about the iPad is that you just can’t use it by itself. You’ve got to have a computer to physically connect it to. Now, this has never bothered me much with an old-style iPod, but with this? I don’t get it. The thing has screaming fast WiFi built right in. Why on earth do I need to physically connect it to a computer in order to get my stuff on it? Or to update its operating system? Or to activate the damn thing?
My very first disappointment was thus right out of the box: I turned it on, and it says “Connect to iTunes”. I thought, “You gotta be kidding me. This is an $800 computer in its own right. What the hell do you mean, ‘connect it to iTunes’?” During the first couple of weeks, I was thinking this would be a perfect computer for my Mom. Except… Apple really won’t allow you to use it as a “computer”. They insist that you use it as a giant iPod.
The second thing – which annoyed me more and more as time went on – was the locked down aspect of it. And I think this flows from the same decision, that of Apple forcing the iPad to operate as a peripheral and not as a standalone. They treat it the same way they treat the iPhone: Everything that goes onto the iPad has to be curated through the iTunes App Store. The most aggravating symptom of this is the lack of a Flash Player plug-in.
I don’t give a rat’s hairy ass what Steve Jobs thinks of Adobe and Flash; the fact of the matter is that web site after web site requires Flash. And one night, after hitting three web sites in a row that showed me empty pages with a “Please install the Flash plug-in”, I gave up on web surfing using the iPad and switched back to a laptop. What’s acceptable on a small device that’s also a telephone is simply not acceptable on a much larger device that is not a telephone.
Why is the iPad locked down like this? All the arguments that Apple uses to protect the iPhone don’t apply here. The iPad is not a telephone. It can’t make 911 calls. It’s got a giant battery. And it’s not a toy.
Third thing: I became increasingly disillusioned with the App Store. And occasionally downright angry. It took forever for any decent magazine apps to show up, and when they did (Wired!) they were extremely expensive and didn’t (and still don’t) support subscriptions. And with Wired, I first started to get really ticked at Apple’s condescending, parental approach.
“This applications contains material not suitable for people under the age of 17,” the iPad admonishes me every time I update the application. Or any other application that’s not made for a six-year old. Excuse me? I don’t recall setting any parental controls on this thing. Oh, that’s right, I didn’t. Thanks, Apple, for treating every single one of your users as if they are either a prude or a watchful parent. I don’t have kids, there are no kids in my house, and if any visit, they sure as hell aren’t touching my iPad. So shut up, OK?
The iPad would be absolutely great for some pornographic or adult applications. It would be great for adult-themed or raunchy games. But Apple won’t let you sully its clean little tablet with anything smutty. Hey, you bought it from them, so it’s up to them to make sure that it never gets used for anything unseemly. Right?
The fourth thing is that the screen? It’s really not that great. Seriously. And the fifth thing is that it’s pretty heavy.
I had expected that I would use the iPad as my new eBook reader. The first app I installed was the Kindle App from Amazon (the Apple reading application, iBooks and its related iBookstore, are complete non-starters. Don’t even bother with them). Within seconds, I was synced up with a book I was reading on my Kindle, right to the very same page. But… it didn’t look as good. Sure, the iPad is bright and colorful. Unfortunately, it’s also kinda fuzzy. The resolution, at a mere 1024 x 768, just isn’t high enough for reading text clearly. It’s also not high enough for watching even a 720P HD video. And it’s not even widescreen.
And it’s just plain too heavy. I tried reading a book on it, but after five minutes, I had to find something to prop it up with. A pound and half doesn’t sound like much, but compared to an 8 ounce Kindle? Yeah, it gets heavy fast. Keep in mind that the iPad weighs around the same as a hardcover book, rather than a lightweight magazine.
The screen’s lack of clarity and the general heftiness of the iPad combine to make it not a very good “reading in bed” machine at all. Yeah, it lights up on its own (in that the screen is backlit), but that doesn’t make up for it.
Then the iPhone 4 came out, and I saw how sharp and clear a color screen could actually look. At 326 dots per inch (higher than a classic laser printer), text on the new iPhone looks like it’s on printed paper. Printed paper that is colorful and backlit. Put the iPhone 4 next to the iPad, and the iPad screen no longer looks kinda fuzzy – it looks downright sad.
Then the Kindle 3 came out, with its high contrast screen, months-long battery life, and super light weight. And I saw how lightweight a reading device can be, and how nice it is on the eyes to read a crisp, non-backlit white eInk screen.
So, with the iPhone 4 and Kindle 3 in hand, the only thing I still use the iPad for is reading comic books. That’s it. The comic book applications on the iPad are great. I have the Marvel, DC, Image, and Comixology apps all installed, and I’ve read over a hundred issues of various comic books on it. Paying $1.99 for each issue is a much better bargain than the printed ones, and I get immediate gratification by buying them on the spot.
The only reason I haven’t sold the iPad is because of the comic book support. That’s it. But $800 for a comic book reader? If I had known that was the only thing I’d finally be using it for, I never would have bought the thing.
So my iPad sits off in a corner on its charger. Not doing much. I really think Apple made some terrible mistakes with this device, but the market doesn’t seem to agree with me: iPads fly off the shelves, and as of this writing, Apple has sold over 3 million of them.
Maybe, when they upgrade the operating system next month to support multitasking, I’ll give it another whirl. But I don’t have much enthusiasm for it. The iPad already seems like yesterdays’ technology.