The Core Dump

A strong conviction that something must be done is the parent of many bad measures

[By Nic Lindh on Friday, 14 May 2010]

The iPad, as the dust settles

With all the sturm-und-drang about the iPad turning us all into slobbering idiots, Nic thought it might be a good idea to talk about what it’s actually like to use one.

Hey, remember when you couldn’t turn on a computer or a TV without being lambasted with stories about the iPad and how it was going to save journalism and cure cancer?

Those were good times.

But now it exists as a device—a mundane, ordinary device that people actually use—so the premature ejaculators of the Internet have moved on to hyperventilate about other things.

So what’s the iPad like in actual usage?

Since the Internet does love teh fail, let’s start out with the area where it falls short.

Document management

This is a huge issue for the way alpha nerds use the iPad. I want to be able to bring a document on to the iPad, edit it and bring it back to a computer to put the finishing touches. At this point this is doable but so painful I just won’t do it.

My naïve thought was to use Google Docs for this, circumventing all the distasteful e-mailing of files, etc., but that dream is a ruined wreckage. The iPad can view Google Docs files, but can’t edit them (apart from spreadsheets, in a seriously suboptimal way). Sigh. There are third-party apps that will provide this functionality, but it leaves a bad taste to have to spend money on an application to provide functionality that should just be there.

Both Google and Apple are aware of the issue, and I expect it to be resolved when iPhone OS 4 lands. Not because I have any kind of inside knowledge, but because it would behoove both companies to get this resolved.

The lack of Google Docs editing—sorry to disappoint the fail brigade—is the only real pain point I have with the device at this point. The rest smells a lot like success. At least it does as long as you recognize the iPad for what it is: An information appliance. Technically, it’s a computer—screen, processor, RAM, keyboard, all that computer-y stuff; but functionally it’s an appliance. If you expect a device that will do what it says on the box, you’ll be happy. If you expect to h4x0r it to do all kinds of stuff Apple never intended, you’ll end up wallowing in bitterness and ranting about “not open.”

The iPad and the Web

At first I felt like the iPad is large enough you don’t need native apps—just use the web. But after you use the iPad for a while, you get so used to interacting with it by touching the screen that “normal” Web use becomes jarring.

As an example, Facebook works really well in the browser on the iPad, but let’s say you get a notification. Little red indicator, fine, click it, find out who did what, and then you have a popup menu open on the screen. Which is no problem—click somewhere else. Except clicking somewhere else doesn’t make the popup go away like it does in a native iPad app. That’s not how the Web site works.

So we are in a weird kind of pidgin zone when using Web apps on the iPad.

But in general, the “normal” Web works fantastically, and there’s little of the need for apps you have on the iPhone, where visiting a Web site is a last resort. Which isn’t to say apps aren’t nice, but they’re much less of a necessity than on the iPhone.

Oh, and Flash? I sure don’t miss it. Although it’s a bit of a deal breaker for my seven-year-old who spends her computer time doing nothing but playing Flash games. But she didn’t pay for the damn thing.

Saving the press

I have no idea in what feverish brain this harebrained idea that the iPad was going to (announcer voice) saaaaaave journaliiiiism first appeared, but I wish whoever it was would shut the hell up.

Yes, the iPad is an information appliance. Yes, it provides a very nice experience for watching videos and reading books and magazines. People are going to buy a bunch of books to read on their iPads and they’re going to buy movies. A lot of people will read newspaper and magazine websites. Will that saaaaaave journaliiiiism? Uhm, no.

Here’s a memo for the magazines that sell each month’s copy as an app that (hold on while I roll my eyes) costs more than purchasing the magazine: What are you smoking? Why the hell would anybody spend more on bits than they would on atoms?

At the same time, kudos for trying. Action instead of talk is exactly what the industry needs. And who knows, I may be wrong.

There’ll be revenue dripping in from sales to iPad customers, sure, but will it save an industry hell-bent on its own destruction? Of course not.

You can’t create on an iPad

This is another meme that gives me a nose bleed. Of course you can create on an iPad. You can create with mud. Give me a freaking break.

What the people who get themselves all in a huff about the supposed anti-creativity of the iPad mean is that they can’t use the tools they’re used to on their computer when they’re on the iPad. Which is true. But getting all Byronic over how the iPad will turn you into an extra in Idiocracy is just offensively stupid.

For us old-timers, it’s scary to think that the iPad screen is physically slightly larger than the screen on the Mac Plus. I laid out books on my black-and-white Mac Classic with a 512-by-342 resolution back in the day, and the iPad has a larger screen, color, and is infinity-plus-one faster.

Oh, won’t somebody think of the children! Bite me.

Apple’s “draconian” control

There’s this idea going around that Apple’s gone mad, mad, I say, mad! with their “draconian” control of the software that goes on the iPhone OS. A heuristic here is that if anybody uses the word “draconian” non-ironically in an article about Apple you should stop reading that article and never darken the door of that website again. The author is either a clue bird or just trolling for page views.

Yes, Apple, and Apple alone, gets to decide what software goes on the iPad. That’s not a bug, it’s a feature. When you go to the App Store and download an app, you can be damn sure it’s going to work and do what it says on the tin. And the App Store means there’s one and only one place to get apps for the iPad and that’s the App Store. Which means that everybody can find the apps for the iPad and download them without difficulty. Do not underestimate the power of that. If you don’t understand why that’s such a big deal, find a grizzled nerd and ask her what it was like to find and install software on the PalmPilot. Really. Also ask around at the retirement home and find out how many PalmPilot owners installed any third-party software at all on their devices.

Which is not to say that there aren’t real issues with Apple’s approval process. Investing a lot of time in an application and then having it rejected from the App Store for some arbitrary reason is not exactly a great way to fly. So it’s certainly understandable if some developers don’t want to play by Apple’s rules. That’s their call. If a developer doesn’t want to deal with Apple, there are other smartphone platforms out there, and there’s also this thing called the Web. Build a website. Apple can’t keep you from doing whatever you want on the Web.

Life involves tradeoffs. Deal.

Coda

One side effect of spending a lot of time on the iPad is that when you go back to a “real” computer, the screen feels absolutely huge. Monstrous. Oh, the vast vistas! And hey! A mouse! Whoa! (I’m obviously easily amused.)

If you use the iPad for what it’s made for—an information appliance—it’s an amazing device. And yes, it’s the beginning of a whole new class of computer.

Do you need one? No! You need food, water, and shelter. But if you use an iPad you will definitely want one.

« Adios, GoDaddy

 »


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