iPad: First impressions

Some of my friends and immediate family already knew this, but I got an iPad a couple of weeks ago. It was the 2nd of May to be exact, purchased in the US by a coworker who was there for a conference. As I’ve lamented about before, it is often tricky to get certain goods in Bermuda. If not tricky then expensive, as I paid a 25% import duty on the device plus the accessories. And although I wanted to write about my experiences sooner, I decided it would be best to hold out and wait until the initial fan-boy excitement wore off. I feel that three weeks in, the time is right.

For those who skim paragraphs, the iPad is amazing.

First a quick introduction. The Apple iPad is a device which is roughly 9.5” tall by 7.5” wide, which is essentially a tablet computer. It has a full screen with multitouch capabilities similar to the popular iPhone. If you’ve seen or used an iPhone the iPad will be very familiar. In fact most of the iPhone applications run on the iPad without change. However, the larger form-factor brings along certain key difference from the iPhone which I will outline in my discussion.

Choosing a version

I ended up getting the 16 GB version which, for those of you not aggressively following along at home, is the version with the least amount of disk space. I didn’t arrive at this decision lightly, my knee-jerk reaction was to get 64 GB—go big or go home. However, I considered the situation and listened to some reason my peers were making as well. First I save a bit of money by going with less. Good. The real question became: what would I put on it?

Photos? Yes, some.

Movies? A couple at a time perhaps.

Music? This was where I paused. Music takes up the majority of the space on my iPhone which is 32 GB. But if my music was already there, why put it on the iPad too. I wasn’t going to ever be somewhere without the iPhone, and the larger screen on the iPad doesn’t really add value to music.

Also a factor was the fact that this is the first generation of the iPad. I waited until the 3rd generation of iPhone to get one. So in all likelihood, I will end up selling and replacing this iPad maybe even within a year. So, yea… I figured that the lowest end model would be fine.

Apps

As I mentioned above, the iPad can run applications from the iPhone and when I first synced it with my computer, all of my iPhone applications (save two) were added to the iPad. The iPad doesn’t have a camera, and as such, all of my camera apps don’t make a lot of sense. Some other apps didn’t make sense like some of my remote control apps and ones for better music control. It was during this process that I learned that some apps were universal apps which means that they are designed both for the iPhone and iPad—you buy it or download it once, it runs optimized for both devices. Nice!

However, only a handful of my apps fell into this category. It was then that I realized that some developers and companies were selling separate “HD” versions of their apps for the iPad. So you may have purchased a game for the iPhone but if you wanted to get a version designed for the iPad you would need to pay again, in most cases even more than the original. Of course you can play the iPhone version on the iPad, but it is confined to a smaller window within the large screen. Fair enough. A few of the better apps, I did end up buying again.

One particular example is Good Reader. This app allows you to view large PDF and text files much more smoothly than the built in viewer. It also can connect to a number of different remote services and your computer in order to retrieve documents. People complain about the interface, and relative to some apps, it isn’t fantastic, but it does the job of viewing large documents well (like books for example).

One class of apps which is taking off with the iPad and I expect to see a lot of competition soon is the note taking apps. Either in class, meetings or just at hand during other tasks, the ability to take quick notes, either on the keyboard or via handwriting is key. I’ve downloaded a few different apps for this, and some are better than others, but I actually use them, and I’m expecting them to improve over the next while as the platform matures.

Utility

With the larger screen, I find myself actually browsing and reading things on the iPad directly. The first week I had it I was up late each night in my living room, just using the browser and a few other apps to do some research and keep up on news and events. My armchair is my new desk. And why not? It is comfortable and convenient. The computer comes to me, and not the other way around.

Originally my intention had been to leave it at home and not take it to work with me every day. This was initially a convenience decision—the thing doesn’t just clip to my belt, so I’d need a case or bag for it. Also I assumed that I would use it for casual browsing and reading, things that I would do at home. However, because of the novelty the first week I was bringing it to work to show it off and to play with it.

What’s this? I found it to be quite useful at work. I found myself bringing it to meetings instead of a laptop. I could put my documents on there to refer to as necessary and that covered like 90% of my meeting needs. There is an app called iAnnotate which can be used to annotate PDF files, which would be useful but it isn’t as good with documents as Good Reader. I haven’t downloaded it, but it would be useful. I’m holding out for Good Reader to add that functionality. With that, I would be fully set. The iPad also supports Citrix Receiver, which means you can run your Xen server apps from work on your iPad. Office, in-house apps, whatever you need. All told, quite a useful tool in the workplace. And since I find myself at work much more than at home these days, that is a good thing. (I’m at the office as I write this).

Conclusions

The iPad is much more than a “big iPhone”. The landscape keyboard is big enough to touch type on. It is a bit awkward since there is not tactile feedback and the layout is slightly different, but I can hammer out text pretty quickly. The only reason I’m not using the iPad to write this review is that I didn’t bring it to the office today. I came in to use the gym and ended up writing this post. Which leads me to another comment. It isn’t something that you are going to bring everywhere. You likely won’t bring it the grocery store, just like you wouldn’t bring your laptop (unless you were stopping between home and work or something like that). You phone is simply a much more convenient factor to walk about with. You can put your grocery list on your phone, it make more sense there. But the iPad is great as a paper replacement in the office in some cases and as a more convenient way to bring the web and your tools to you in your house. I am definitely using my laptop and desktop less.

Would I travel without my laptop, only bringing an iPad. Maybe. It would depend on why and where I was travelling. Home for Christmas? Quite likely. It is good for showing off photos and checking my email, which is all I need when at home. However, as a software developer, I need a fuller computer to do my work, at least for the moment. With more ubiquitous networking, and a better development paradigm (especially the UI), I think that some day this is the form-factor we will all be using. It will be a part of our lives instead of us being apart of its “life”.

May 22, 2010
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