iPad, Two Weeks In

Liz Marley of the Omni Group posted a short report about her experience of living off her iPad. The experience seems to have been good.

I thought I would follow up. Of course, I'll go into the excruciating detail, but my friend Matt Gemmell sums it up:

Want Xcode on iPad? No you don't. iPad comes with built-in work/life balance.

I have two jobs: teacher and software developer. 90% of the second job happens on my 27" iMac so I want to really address the first job and general "living with the iPad" topics.

Speed

The iPad is the fastest iPhone OS device that there has ever been. That's not exactly the same thing as "it's a fast device". For many tasks, yes, it is. However, there are some things that are noticeably slow.

HTML rendering seems very sensitive to the complexity of the page. Some pages snap into place, others take some time.

Switching into and out of the iWork apps is slower than I would like. Moving between documents in the same app is also kind of sluggish.

Having said that, there's so much about the device that is also crazy fast that it's hard to complain. One can imagine that this will get a lot better when iPhone OS 4 hits the iPad.

Workflow

I haven't hit too many workflow snags. I've been using a combination of Dropbox and GoodReader to get stuff onto the iPad.

The Dropbox app hasn't been updated for iPad yet, so I'm using that mostly as quick reference to my files rather than a serious work space.

GoodReader is proving useful as a tool to download documents - particularly PDFs - from the web and store them on the iPad. I would really prefer that Dropbox developed the ability to download a PDF into its own file space.

GoodReader has a WiFi file transfer method available, and it can play most audio and video media formats that the iPad supports. I find this really useful for putting the odd video file on the iPad to watch later without having to go through the hassle of putting the videos into iTunes and then syncing. Not sure if this works for DRMed iTunes media.

Killer Apps

For me the iPad is about reading. I tolerate the Kindle app for its vast selection and syncing with the iPhone, I love the reading UI in iBooks but I adore Instapaper. Instapaper turns the iPad from "a great thing to browse the web on" to a "space-age newspaper made from all the most interesting things on the internet".

The other killer app on the iPad is Safari. Quite honestly, every word of hyperbole that anyone on an Apple stage has said about the web on iPad is (almost) true.

The Flash thing? The Flash thing is that fig leaf that journalists reach for to give a glowing iPad review that veneer of balance. Given the HTML5 support on YouTube, the non-existence of Flash is completely irrelevant to my experience of the internet, except in one regard: BBC iPlayer still serves Flash to an iPad.

One Showstopper

There is one major workflow showstopper that I've hit so far and it's to do with online purchasing. Usually, at the end of a transaction, there's a page that you're invited to "print for your records".

On the Mac, I usually 'print' this page to a PDF and stick it in my Dropbox. On the iPad, this is the end of the road. There's no way to store this page.

The only workaround - and it's more of a hack - is to take a screenshot of the iPad display. There are several problems with this but they are principally: your receipt may span more than one page and you can't make a screenshot look like you really did print it (in case of later dispute).

I hope Apple will implement a "Send PDF of this page" feature in Safari that will convert the current page to PDF and email it off somewhere. That would do.

In The Hand

You have to talk about physicality with the iPad since you're handling it so much and so often.

Some people have complained about the weight of the iPad but I haven't found that to be a problem. I have, however, found the smooth texture of the back to be too frictionless for my leathery hands. I never feel like I have a good grip on the device.

Some kind of case is in order. Since the iPad hasn't been released in the UK yet, it's nigh-impossible to find any accessories. Even in the US, most of the popular cases and bags seem to be seriously backordered.

At The Desk

When working on iPad apps, and just to have it nearby, I'm using the Kensington Easy Riser laptop stand to prop up the iPad. It costs a few pounds from Amazon, holds the iPad solidly in both orientations and opens to four different angles to vary the rake of the device. It's not ideal since it takes up more desk space than I would like, but it's a fine stop-gap until better accessories make it to the UK.

At school, I appropriated an old wooden book stand from the library, which I love. It also collapses really small and neat!

Carrying

Again, due to lack of available accessories, I'm basically carrying the iPad around by hand, in the open. This is both risky (see aforementioned leathery hands) and annoying when you also have two kids to juggle.

The second problem with openly carrying an iPad is that you can't get anywhere quickly because .... whoa, is that an iPad?

When I'm taking the laptop too, I'll slip the iPad into the front pocket of my Incase backpack (where it just fits). Carrying a whole laptop backpack just for an iPad is both overkill and crazy-making. Crazy-making because, after years of owning laptops, I get the "OH NO MY BAG IS TOO LIGHT WHERE IS MY LAPTOP" feeling every five minutes.

I've ordered the Tom Bihn Ristretto for iPad bag, but it's also on a two-week wait.

In Use

Let's talk about the screen. I don't care a whit about fingerprints. I can live with that non-problem. I am having a serious problem with screen glare, though. The screen is just too shiny to be not-annoying.

I'm typing this on a 27" iMac with a glossy screen and I don't care about that, because I can arrange my office to be low-glare. With a mobile device, where you have to live with the lighting wherever you find yourself, there are just too many ways to hold the thing that catch a light somewhere.

The day and hour that Power Support USA ship an anti-glare film for the iPad, it's going on and it's never coming off. I've used their covers on my iPhone for a year or so and find them indispensible - particularly since I use my iPhone for GPS navigation in the car.

Let's talk about the battery. Actually, I'm not even sure it is a battery. It might as well be a tiny little nuclear reactor. It just runs and runs and runs.

Here's a simple formula: plug it in when you go to bed. Do that every night and you never have to think about your iPad battery again. Amazing.

In the UK

Since our iPad launch has been delayed, it's probably worth commenting on the ownership experience in the UK. Apart from purchasing the machine the additional costs were $120 shipping via FedEx and, later, a £98 import VAT charge.

The only thing that doesn't work for UK owners is the App Store. You can't access the App Store on the device when authorised with a UK account. You can access the iTunes store and use that to switch the device to a US account. Then, you can browse the App Store and iBooks store.

You can also use iTunes on the desktop to browse the App Store and purchase iPad applications in Sterling for syncing via USB.

A Standalone Machine?

Could an iPad be your only computer today? For all but the most basic of computer users, I have to say not yet. There are still a few things missing.

I will also say, though, that I can see the iPad being many people's only portable computer in quite short order. Indeed, I just sold my 15" MacBook Pro which has lived a rather sad and lonely existence in my backpack since the iPad arrived.