Thoughts on the iPad — Day One

Yesterday was iPad day, and an early start was in order. I headed out to my local Apple store to pick up the 32 GB iPad I had reserved online. I arrived an hour before opening time, and was seventh in line for Reservations. Apple had the crowd divided into two lines, one for reservations and the other for those who wanted to buy an iPad or two on the fly.

The time in line passed quickly, as the party atmosphere in the air made sure everyone had a good time. At precisely 9 AM Apple opened the door and started letting both lines of people in the door. Each person with a reserved iPad (or two) was assigned an Apple representative to aid in the transaction. I left the store with my iPad in hand a mere 10 minutes after the doors opened. It was very well organized and it is obvious Apple is getting a lot of practice doing these launches.

Once home with the iPad, it was out of the box and plugged into my MacBook via the provided cable. The iPad was activated through iTunes and the initial sync ran, bringing all of my music, photos and videos over from the MacBook. I was impressed with the speed of the transfer, it only took about 15 minutes for over 20 GB of data. When the sync was complete iTunes installed all 20 of the apps I had downloaded from the App Store prior to getting the iPad.

Reports have surfaced that the iPad has trouble charging via USB while plugged into some computers. This does not surprise me, as many USB ports do not supply enough power for charging another laptop. The iPad’s battery is obviously pretty substantial to provide the 10 hours that is claimed, and I am not surprised at all if many USB ports have trouble providing ample charge for replenishing the battery of the iPad.

I spent the entire day yesterday exploring every facet of the iPad, the interface and all included apps. I am impressed with the attention to detail that has been given for it all. Using the iPad seems very fluid, and I have yet to run across something that doesn’t feel natural. It is all intuitive and easy to do. While it’s common with a new gadget to want to play with it, the ease of use plays a role in hardly putting the iPad down for very long.

Initially I was surprised how heavy the iPad is when holding it for extended periods. My hands would get tired pretty quickly. I either got used to it or adjusted how I was holding it as it got lighter as the day progressed.

Rather than write a full review of the iPad, since there are hundreds of them on the web already, I felt it better to offer my impressions after a day of using it. I’ll cover the things I like, and the things I don’t. I’ll extend these observations to the apps I am using so far, and share which ones I like and don’t.

The iPad Mail app is great to use in landscape orientation. The two pane approach gets us back to the old desktop app days, and it as productive as desktop equivalents. The single pane display in portrait orientation is OK, but the pop-up mail folder box is not as clean as the two pane method.

Web browsing on the iPad is a real joy. A lot has been said about the lack of Flash, and this is a shame. Truth be told, I have spent hours browsing the web and I have not missed Flash at all. The browser on the iPad is quick to render pages, much faster than on an iPhone. It handles even complicated web pages nicely, and the touch manipulation is really good.

The only area where the browser falls short for me is in the WordPress blogging editor. The editor is a complex web page and while not surprising that the iPad browser can’t handle it perfectly it’s still a shame. The visual editor doesn’t work well at all, although blogging can still be done in HTML. I’m still experimenting with this as I’d like to be able to blog on the iPad in a pinch.

The new WordPress app takes advantage of the bigger screen on the iPad, and I have been using it. I can type the post contents and then save it as a draft for final cleanup on the desktop. It’s working pretty well and I’m enjoying using WordPress.

Speaking of blogging on the iPad, I should mention the on-screen keyboards. It is easy to use the keyboard in portrait orientation with either one or two thumbs. Typing is pretty quick and the auto-correction is very well done. I wouldn’t do a long document this way, but it’s decent for everything else.

The on-screen keyboard in landscape orientation is very nice indeed. While it’s not quite wide enough for touch typing, with a little practice I have gotten pretty good with it. I could see doing short to medium length works on this keyboard with no problem. This surprised me I will admit.

I bought the Apple case with the iPad, strictly for the stand that is integrated into the case. It allows using the iPad in a “typing friendly” configuration by tilting the iPad up a little over an inch. It also is a good stand for watching video hands-free. It’s a nice case, although the iPad is very difficult to remove from it when you want to go bareback.

With the on-screen keyboard working better than I thought it would, this got me thinking about the possibility of using just the iPad when traveling. I can see the iPad replacing a notebook entirely on short trips, but even so it would be nice to have a travel keyboard along just in case. I dug the Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard out of the drawer in which it was hiding and tried to pair it to the iPad. I didn’t think it would work, but I was dead wrong.

The iPad saw the keyboard right away and prompted me to enter the pass code on the keyboard to complete the pairing. I do so and was all ready to go. The Stowaway fits in a pocket but opens up to a full-sized keyboard, so it’s perfect for my “just in case” scenario. The keyboard works flawlessly with the iPad, so it is a viable option for a portable keyboard.

The battery life of the iPad is simply wonderful. It’s rated at 10 hours, and while I haven’t run benchmarks I can tell you with certainty it will last at least that long. I watched the battery meter all day long, and with constant use it barely crawled toward empty. This is definitely an all-day computer.

All of the iPad apps work as expected, and you can check out the many videos Apple has produced if you want to see how well they work. I will add that every single app has been optimized for use with touch, and it shows throughout the entire iPad user experience. All controls open where you expect them to appear, and manipulating them by touch is intuitive and natural. I recently bashed Microsoft for not taking the same care with its products, and I stand by that more than ever. I believe that Microsoft should give an iPad to every software engineer at the company so they can see first-hand how these things should be done.

The iPad is by design a device for consuming media, and it shines in this task. It is so easy to listen to music, watch videos and read content from a number of sources. What has surprised me is that I find creating content a lot easier than I thought it would be. This is the result of the great interface coupled with the on-screen keyboards as detailed earlier. I am doing more than I thought I would with the iPad, and that’s a very good thing.

I am testing a lot of third party apps, and like most of them. I should point out that iPhone apps that are run in the pixel doubling mode to fill up the screen don’t work very well. Oh the apps work fine, but the display is blocky and ugly and not something anyone will want to do for long. I am sticking to iPad apps which are great on the bigger screen of the iPad.

The iBooks app is nicely done, and is typical of e-book readers. Apple’s attention to detail is evident, as iBooks is pretty. I bought a book to test it out, and the purchase process was easy as a click on the screen.

Kindle for iPad is just as good, and so far it is my favorite reader. It has all of the functionality of the Kindle apps for other platforms, and works with the Kindle library as expected. It features the Kindle Whispersync technology, so books and reading locations are synced across all Kindle devices in use. It’s not quite as pretty as iBooks, but it’s just as functional. More so, if you count the ability to make annotations in books being read.

All three of the iWorks apps are outstanding examples of how a production app should work with the touch interface. Nothing in the interface gets in the way of seeing the work on the screen, yet is easily invoked when needed. The attention to detail in Pages, Numbers and Keynote is incredible. I had doubts whether these could turn the iPad into a productive work device — those doubts are gone now.

I spend a lot of time in Twitter during the day, it is a good source for breaking news and keeping up with my friends. I was anxious to give TweetDeck a go on the iPad, as it is my favorite Twitter app on the desktop. The extra screen real estate on the iPad over the iPhone makes it a perfect TweetDeck platform, at least if the app had been done right. For some reason, in portrait orientation the program takes up over a third of the display for creating new tweets. It takes up that space even when not creating one. It’s a terrible waste of resource, and while alone not a reason for me to drop TweetDeck it’s close. Coupled with the other design flaw the app is too limited for daily use, at least for me. The program will not let you tap links in tweets in the river of tweets. You have to select the tweet first, which fills up that third of the screen, and then tap the link which is now active. What makes this a fatal design flaw is that means you cannot tap links or photo links in tweets unless you are in portrait orientation. The app designers made a decision that forces you to change display orientation to access this common function. That’s a big no-no on a handheld device.

I have gravitated to Twitteriffic and while it’s not as useful nor as pretty as TweetDeck, it works as expected and does everything I need. I’m sure there are other choices available, or will be soon, so I’ll keep an eye on this for the future.

Remember the WordPress blogging problem I covered where I have to write draft posts on the iPad and finalize them on the desktop? That’s true, but I have gotten around that shortfall using LogMeIn Ignition on the iPad. I have been experimenting with tapping into my MacBook and a Windows 7 system from the iPad, and while it’s not something you’d want to do for hours it works well for short specific tasks. There is literally nothing you can’t do on the iPad as you can “run” Windows or OS S using LogMeIn. IT support folks who use it on the iPhone now are going to get giddy when they see this in action on the iPad.

You may remember how I recently instituted a file backup/ syncing strategy using SugarSync. It’s been working great and one of the first iPad apps I installed was the SugarSync client. It has worked well, and I have access to my entire document file structure for use on the iPad. It’s not the only solution that will do this, but it’s working good for me so far.

I am a heavy user of Google Reader to keep track of thousands of news items each day, and I spent a lot of time coming up with a scheme to do this on the iPad that works well. The Safari browser does a good job handling the full web version of Google Reader, but you can’t scroll down the page of news items and have them auto-flag as read. You have to tap the little Next Item button at the bottom of the screen to move from one item to the next and have them tag as read.

You can get around this by using the mobile version of the Google Reader site, but this is not as productive as a full version. I tried several RSS reader apps, and so far have settled on NetNewsWire. It syncs with Google Reader so it doesn’t add a layer of complexity to keep my feeds in sync across platforms. It takes full advantage of the iPad’screen, and is fun to use. In landscape orientation the right pane shows the full news item, and I do mean full. It’s actually a mini-browser that handles everything like it should. You can even play embedded Flash video in this browser. It’s working well so far.

I will be continuing my evaluation of the iPad for a while, and sharing pertinent discoveries along the way. You’re probably wondering if all is perfect on the iPad, and if not where does it fail? That’s going to vary from person to person. This is highly personal technology and as everyone’s needs are different there are no doubt some who will not like some things about the iPad.

The biggest shortcoming to me by far seems trivial but it’s irritating the heck out of me. The USB cable supplied that is used to either connect the iPad to a computer or to the power adapter for charging is too darn short. It’s only about 3 feet long and for charging with the adapter you have to be really close to the outlet. It sounds trivial but when you have to rearrange your working environment to accommodate that it’s a fail.

The screen of the iPad has supposedly been coated to prevent smudges, but it is a fingerprint magnet in any case. It’s not noticeable when the screen is displaying, but turn it off and the first thing you say is “ewww.”

Don’t get me wrong, there are things I wish were different and I’ll be sharing those going forward. But for a first effort with a totally new device, Apple has scored a win.

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