Initial Reviews, Random Thoughts, Recommendations After Using the iPad
My observations after three weeks of playing, er, working on Apple's tablet.
I’ve been writing speculative (okay, "wishful") blog posts about an iPad-like device from Apple since 2006.* And now, for the past three weeks, I’ve been able to work (and play) with one daily (and nightly). So I thought it was time to collect and share some of the random thoughts, recommendations and post-launch review-ettes I’ve been collecting during Month One of the iPad Era.
1. If you can wait, wait: This is my standard recommendation to anyone who asks me if they should purchase anything that Apple is launching. Somehow, the whole fan-boy gotta-have-it-first thing you find in any niche spilled over into the mainstream many years ago when it comes to Apple products. (I blame Walt Mossberg.) However, I promise: you can live without an iPad. Probably for years. (If you can’t wait, you’ll know exactly why without me explaining it.) In fact, I strongly recommend waiting until there’s a user-facing camera on the iPad (See #3). It’s like the Seth Myers line on the SNL Weekend Update (see left): Don’t become a part of the new tradition of buying something just to see what it is. (I drive an 11 year old car. My "shiny new" needs are compartmentalized.) I will make an exception for one group of people, however: If you’re in the media business and you want to understand the future, you’re probably more in the "get one now" category than the "I’ll wait until they are more than a fad" category. The pad/slate device is not a fad.
2. The iPad feels familiar: Since purchasing my first Mac in the spring of 1984, there’s always been some tactile or sensory surprise with unboxing and having that first contact with the product. The weight and balance and materials and color-shades usually come together in a way that photos or video can’t convey. Perhaps because I’ve spent so much time thinking about what the iPad would be—and it came so close to my speculation—I felt more relieved, than wow’d.
3. Biggest surprise to me—Not having Flash actually is a problem: In the three years I’ve had an iPhone, I’ve never once missed not having Flash (a type of software that enables lots of the web’s animation and video—but that is not supported by iPod/iPhone/iPad). I even have Flash blocked on my browser. But on my browser, a click allows me to use it when I want to. Using the browser on an iPad is an entirely different experience than on the iPhone—it’s more like using the browser at my desk. Video is much more of an intuitive expectation with a screen the size of the iPad’s. While I was dismissive of those who whined about the lack of support for Flash, I’m totally on board now. FAIL.
4. Not having a user-facing camera is ridiculous: This may be just a personal thing because I constantly use video iChat and Skype to communicate with kids at college and co-workers and clients in other cities. But, to me at least, the lack of a user facing camera is another failure of the product. Macs have trained us to expect to be able to have a camera atop the screen. The lack of such a camera is why I’ve recommended to anyone who asks my advice: "Postpone purchasing an iPad until it has a user-facing camera." As a cynical observer of Apple for 25 years (well, as cynical as a Pavlovian-trained fan-boy can be), since the "lost iPhone incident" revealed the next generation iPhone will have such a camera, I’m now assuming Apple may have feared that including it on the first generation iPad could have cannibalized sales of the next iPhone. Is it too hard to believe some people we all know will purchase the iPad 1, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone w/ the camera(s)? (Okay, stop looking at me.)
5. Why get a 3G iPad when you can purchase a mobile wi-fi device? If you travel a great deal, chances are you’ve done the math on paying for wifi at hotels and airports vs. purchasing a cellular modem. If, like me, your cellular modem is not under contract and the math works, ability to have wifi for up to five devices using a Verizon Mi-fi or Sprint Overdrive seems to trump the potential of spending any more money with AT&T. Now, let me be clear: the math may work in the 3G’s favor is you travel some months, but not others. But for road warriors who may travel with both a notebook and iPad and need wifi for both, the mobile wi-fi option may be a better fit.
6. A Blue-tooth keyboard: I can’t figure out why I’d purchase a $69 iPad keyboard instead of a $69 Blue-tooth keyboard. No brainer: the Bluetooth keyboard is light-weight and, geez, doesn’t have a wire.
7. You need a case: With my iPhone, I’m not a case person. I don’t care if it gets scratched up (it doesn’t), I just prefer not having any extra bulk in my pocket. It took me only a couple of days to realize that a case for an iPad is a requirement. If,for nothing else than to hide the device so I don’t have to talk about it when I’m reading something on it in public, a case adds a little discreetness to the conspicuous new-thinginess of having an iPad. Fortunately, Griffin Technology, the world’s coolest source of iPad/iPod/iPhone accessories, and I both call Nashville home. Some elf (a Canadian one, I believe) there guessed correctly that I would blog how much I’m glad my iPad is sporting a new Elan Passport Case if one magically appeared on my desk. It’s rather swell, if I do say so myself. (Disclosure: The Griffin Technology Elan Passport Case that I’m touting just magically showed up on my desk one day—magically, because I was just about to order one.)
8. How to fix the stomach muffled speaker problem: When lying down on a sofa and listening to music, if the sound is muffled, rotate the screen 180 degrees and you’ll discover the speakers sound much better if pointed upwards and not downwards into ones slightly padded abdomen area.
9. My rapidly evolving theory of what makes a great app: Before the iPad appeared, the pre-release concepts I was seeing reminded me of early 1990s CD-ROM design. Sure enough, some of the early efforts have been along those lines, with many developers apparently believing they can replace intuitive navigation standards with goofy gimmicks. I’m finding my favorite go-to apps are those that emphasize (no surprise here) function over gimmicky features. Indeed, I find the best apps are those that don’t stand between me and the content. Unlike the app from Popular Science that I really, really don’t like, great apps aren’t self-absorbed. They don’t shout, "Hey, watch this cool navigational gimmick we just made up." They don’t assume that you paid $5 to see their navigation, in other words.
Here are a few of my favorite "early apps":
Instapaper: An app so awesome I can’t believe the anti-awesome police haven’t gone after it. The iPhone version is equally awesome. (It’s all function.)
Evernote: It’s the brain-augmentation software I use, so this is no surprise. (Note: I don’t think it’s marketed as "brain augmentation software" —but that’s what I call it.)
Media and Magazine Apps I like: The NYTimes’s Editors Choice app is my go-to news fix when I don’t have time to glance at Google Reader. One of the coolest apps with a Magazine brand is Entertainment Weekly’s Must List app as it demonstrates how to extend a brand onto an app by executing well on a narrow but scalable concept. I think such concept apps, with single sponsors, can be great opportunities for magazine companies—even in he B-to-B field. While it’s not an app, check out Wired.com’s website as viewed on an IPad.
NPR for iPad: Easily, the best designed news app I’ve seen. Takes all the great features of the NPR iPhone app and adds/tweaks features, content and design for better display and bigger format. Wonderful WIN.
Kindle: I’ve blasted the Kindle hardware on my blog many times, but I’ve never had anything but praise for the Kindle book-buying service—or Amazon’s retailing savvy. The iPad using the Kindle app is everything I’d like the Kindle to be. One negative: On the iPad Kindle app, I miss the dictionary that’s integrated into a book’s text when using the Kindle device. I’d also like a copy and paste feature (available neither on the hardware or app except through a rather clumsy way in which one synchs the Kindle with ones computer, something I’ve never done). I’m assuming easy cut and paste is not going to happen in my lifetime as publishers will block it, assuming I’ll copy and paste an entire book, page and by page. I’ve already read three books using the Kindle app on the iPad—no eye problems or straining. I’ve seen the complaints about screen glare when reading outside, but when I’m outside, I’m never reading—so not a problem here. I’ve also seen a news item suggesting the iPad’s back lighting may keep people awake more than the ePaper technology of a Kindle. In my personal studies, no such problem exists. Reading in bed puts me to sleep no matter what the technology.
Kayak Flight and Hotel Search: Sets the standard for an e-commerce app. It is the first app I’ve seen that’s better than the company’s website.
10. Is the iPad a "creation, lean forward, whatever the buzzword is today" device? There’s this debate among the early fringes of the early adopters regarding whether or not the iPad is good for "creating" content (there’s no debate over it being a media consumption masterpiece). As my content creation tends primarily to be in Google docs, the iPad fails big time there, as Google Docs is read-only using the iPad. However, I’m also a big user of Keynote and, while I’d never create an entire presentation on an iPad, I could if I needed to. This whole argument I can outsource to Jeff Smykil at ars technica who has reviewed the iWork suite that I’ve purchased—and concur with his review. I will say this: using a BlueTooth keyboard makes the device much more of a "creation" device than using the screen keyboard. One last "creation" note: If you are a real artist or, like me, a compulsive doodler, check out the iPad version of ArtStudio. It will stop all arguments about the iPad lacking in the creation department.
11. Will the iPad save magazines? Frankly, I’ve never understood the question. If the iPad completely replaced the way we all read content from companies that currently publish magazines, then I can see how that might be interpreted as saving a company. But to me, the magazine is a format and a medium and the iPad is another kind of format, platform and medium. I think the iPad provides lots of opportunities for magazine companies who do something other than replicate magazines on an app. As I’ve said for 20 years, as long as there are coffee tables, there will be magazines.
12. Will magazines be able to charge for content on the iPad? Since purchasing the Kindle on the day it became available, I’ve spent more money on e-books than I ever spent on paper books during a comparable period—and that’s hard for me to believe as I probably scale to the top end of book buyers. When Amazon priced ebooks for less than $10, a brand new price/value light went off in my head—you know, the paradigm shift light bulb. Now that book publishers are doing all they can to push up the pricing of e-books, the paradigm shifting light bulb will start dimming for me and other e-book buyers. I say that to predict magazine publishers can sell content, and a lot of it, if they get the price/perceived value right. Frankly, magazine publishers don’t have lots of the baggage book publishers have with their business model and sales channel, so I don’t know why they’d feel the need to protect something that is obviously broken. The right price will take into consideration the savings in paper, production and distribution of content delivered digitally vs. physically. Prediction: Those who believe people will pay the same price for an iPad "magazine" as they do for a print version will fail. I also have my doubts about those who believe adding some video and interactive features to the magazine will justify a higher price in the reader’s mind (and wallet).
13. The iPad is not a one-shot "launch" product: Every few days, I’ll see an app that will make me realize the iPad is something more—or different—than I thought the day before. It changes every day. In fact, these random thoughts could be out-of-date within a few weeks. At least, I hope they are.
*I wrote my first such speculative (or, wishful thinking) post in July, 2006, before the introduction of either the iPhone or iPod Touch. When the Kindle was launched in November, 2007, I wrote a long blog post comparing an eBook reader with what an oversized iPod Touch could provide the user. And in March, 2009 I went so far as to mis-predict a launch date (I thought it would be tied into a back-to-school push in September, 2009) but came pretty close to describing what would be announced 10 months later—including the price.