The iPad

Due to completion of a fortuitous side job (here’s an interesting fact, knowing assembly language for Freescale based microcontrollers can be extremely profitable) I found myself with a good chunk of extra money in my pocket this month. I’m sure anybody who read the title can figure out where this post is going, I used some of that money to purchase an iPad.

OK just let out your gasps of surprise and outrage, I’ll wait…

Still going?

Done now? Good. I’m sure you’re wondering how after all my bitching, whining, and complaining about Apple’s mobile products why I’d get an iPad. In all honesty for two reasons. First the iPad fulfills a few needs I have. Second as much as I hate the Apple store, iOS development is something I should know how to do as it’s incredibly popular.

First my needs. I’ve been lusting after a tablet device running a mobile operating system for a very long time. A small and portable device that is big enough to do real web browsing on appeases to me. Likewise It would be nice to have something besides my big honking laptop when traveling. I love my laptop but 15″ doesn’t fit on those plane seat-mounted tables very well. Mostly I wanted a mobile media device.

Why not wait for an Android tablet? Because the only decent one announced so far has a 7″ screen is is tied to various cell phone carriers. I wanted a 10″ screen, simple as that. In addition to that I also wanted a Wi-Fi only device that I didn’t have to pay a monthly fee for. The iPad does all of that and any competition won’t be out for quite some time.

This post is mostly going to be about my initial thoughts on the device. To make things more interesting I’m posting this using my iPad with an paired Bluetooth keyboard (yes this is an awesome feature, a tablet that can use a standard Bluetooth keyboard). Because I’m in a positive mood I’ll start with the things I like about the iPad so far.

To begin let me talk battery life. The batter life on the iPad is phenomenal. I mean that. I used the device for roughly five hours last night and was trying to use every battery draining feature I could come across. Out of the box the iPad had a 90% charged battery and by the end of the five hours it was still above 60%. This includes web browsing, playing some games, watching YouTube videos, and having the screen running for almost the entire time. In fact I set the auto-lock timeout to 15 minutes to ensure the screen wouldn’t be off very often just to beat on the battery. Color me impressed.

Next up I want to just say when it comes to polish Apple knows their stuff. The interface on the iPad runs smoothly. There is no lag when scrolling web pages pages, zooming into pictures, or rotating the screen. It all happens instantly and smoothly. In order to get my Evo to rotate the screen I sometimes have to shake it in an exaggerated manner to finally get it to the orientation I want. The iPad also has a switch to lock the orientation so rotating the device won’t cause the screen to re-adjust. Videos, even HD ones, play without so much as a stutter. I used VLC to play a bunch of television shows I have and at no point did I notice any slow down. Everything feels complete and well thought out which is Apple’s modus operandi.

As a media and web device the iPad is great. Of course now it’s time to rattle off when I don’t like so far on the iPad. The biggest drag is the fact that you have this nice, big, and powerful device with wireless network access and you can’t do a damned thing without plugging it into a computer (and the iPad doesn’t charge off of my USB ports, just a small niggle to irritate you). Now only do you have to plug it into a computer, but a computer that has iTunes installed. Getting data onto the iPad is reminiscent of the old Palm OS and Pocket PC days.

Let’s say I want to put a movie onto my Evo. To accomplish this goal I plug my Evo into any computer with a standard USB cable, turn on drive mode, and copy the files to the Evo’s SD card. It’s simple, straight forward, and works very well. Now let’s say I want to put a movie onto my iPad. To accomplish this goal I have to plug my iPad into a computer with iTunes, tell iTunes what movies I want to upload and what application to use those movies on (more on that in a bit), and finally click the sync button and wait. I mention the waiting part because if you try to use the iPad during a sync operating it seems to stall until you lock the screen again. This could be user error as this is an initial thoughts post instead of an actual review.

I mentioned that you have to tell iTunes what application to upload the movie to. Android has a nice setup where anything on external storage is readable by any application on the device. If you have an application that you want to keep the data private one you store that data in the device’s memory which is secure form being read by any other application. iOS lacks the first mentioned mechanism as there is no universal file storage area. Every file on the device is usable by only the single program you copied it to. This means if you want a photo uploaded for use with two applications (let’s say two photo editors that do different things) you need to copy the file onto the device twice. I’m going to be honest here, this is stupid. I understand the desire to sandbox applications, that’s a good thing, but at least have a mechanism for sharing data between applications.

Let me use another example. There is a website I frequent that you probably haven’t heard of. This site has a ton of free PDFs for downloading and reading. On my Evo I just select the PDF, download it to the SD card, and open it with my read of choice. On the iPad I… swear up a storm because I can’t just download a file and open it with another application. When downloaded that PDF is locked to Safari so it can’t be read in another application. I order to get that PDF into a reader application I have to either download it on my desktop and upload the file via iTunes, highlight and copy the URL of the PDF document and then hope the reader application has the ability to download PDF files, or read the PDF in Safari.

To boot the ability to sync with online services just isn’t well implemented. When I add a Google account to my Android phone everything on that account can be synced. This means once setup my phone will automatically pull down my e-mail, contacts, and calendar. The only way to do this on the iPad is using an Exchange server. Adding a Google account only grabs the e-mail. To get your Google stored contacts you have to have Address Book on your Mac sync with your Google account and then use iTunes to sync Address Book with your iPad. The same goes for your Google calendar. I realize that Apple sells their MobileMe servier but frankly if you want to have a device this day an age it should sync with most major online services. There is no reason this day and age to require me to plug one of my portable device into another computer in order to get my contacts and calendar. Fucking ridiculous.

Since I mentioned reading let me get to another task the iPad does poorly. I downloaded the Kindle application and synced Old Man’s War to the iPad. As a reader the iPad sucks. Plain and simple. I don’t like reading on back lit screens now that I’ve experienced the wonders of e-ink. There is no way I could ever go back when it comes to reading novels. On top of that the iPad is very heavy compared to the Kindle meaning you arms are going to tire of holding the iPad for any extensive amount of time. So yeah the Kindle is staying.

One thing I never thought I’d miss on a device is the Android back button. It’s hard to realize how often you just need to go back to a previous screen until you’ve had a device with a dedicated back button and then used a device that doesn’t. It’s a small thing but every time I want to go back in an application I generally have to tap a button at the top of the screen. I’ll admit it’s not a big deal just a little something I noticed.

Overall I like the iPad for the reasons I purchased it. It’s a far more portable device than my laptop and handles media very well. Until iOS 4 becomes available for the iPad I’m not going to give it an serious consideration as a communication device because I need multi-tasking for an IRC client. The iPad also oozes polish and user experience. It’s seriously fast and the interface always runs smoothly. As a phone operating system I don’t think I could get by with it. I’m too used to having a phone that isn’t dependent on being connected do another computer.

The bottom line is I like the iPad for what I bought it for but do not line iOS as anything outside of a media operating system (so far, maybe that will change as I find new things). There are also some seriously fun games for the iPad… just throwing that out there.