My Thoughts on the iPad

I'll say up front that my thoughts are not overwhelmingly positive like some people. A couple of weeks ago I bought an iPad 2; 16GB WiFi Black to be more specific. I did so mostly due to the number of people I know who mark this thing as revolutionary and life changing.  I also figured I could use it as a little portable portfolio and Skype box to see my new nephew in Texas anyway and so I took the plunge. Here we are 2 weeks later and I've sold mine to a friend. So what happened?  Why didn't you love the magic? Well I think there are a number of reasons. Let's run down the list.

Handling I found it awkward to hold. Most of the time I was gripping it tightly for fear of dropping the thing and cracking the screen. When I used the Kindle app to read books, I kept accidentally switching pages by accident because I fidget my hands around the edges of the screen. Which also brings up the fact that you have to hold it and it's not completely insubstantial. (As an aside, I've also got a Kindle which is a far far better reading device and only $130)  Sure, I got the Smart Cover, but it always felt precarious in it's vertical state and far too flat in it's horizontal.  And while it was a beautiful object, I can't stand the Apple products that have their ports on a curved surface so that part of the plug is showing even when it's fully plugged in.

I was also thinking of loading it up with movies and such for use at the gym, but Apple has that annoying thing where you've got to transcode everything to their format before you can play it.  There was VLC for the iPhone for a few weeks apparently but they pulled it from the store. Plus I was always scared of it falling off the perch on the elliptical machine.  As for watching in tv and netflix, my 30" calibrated NEC monitor with a pair of powered event monitors is only a few feet away and is a much more satisfying experience.

And don't get me started on the keyboard.  First you've got to sit it down somewhere and it's almost always at the wrong angle.  On top of that it feels really weird to get no tactile feedback while typing. Somehow on a phone with your thumbs it's not as disembodied.

Readers One of the killer app uses for such a device is devouring information, or so I've been told. My Australian friend Ed Dale even made a screencast of such as use case in a last ditch effort to get me to reconsider my sale. The thing is, I don't read THAT many websites every day. Every minute I spend reading or looking at other people's stuff is a minute that I'm not making my own. And I don't think I'm going to be lying on my deathbed crying because I didn't catch up with every post on Gizmodo.  Plus the sites that I do read, I prefer to go to the sites to read them. Even though I'm a big computer geek and very much understand the coolness of RSS feeds, every time I've tried to use Google Reader, I gave up and went back to the web.  Reading posts from RSS feels too out-of-context for me. It may be far more efficient, but after trying Flipboard and the like for a couple of days I felt the same way about them too.

Don't worry Ed, my recent conversion to Mac OS on the desktop is still holding strong.

Music My college degree is in music and so I'm both a songwriter and an audiophile in different lives.  I'll admit that using the Remote app on the iPad to sit in my B&W 804 speaker's sweet spot and pull up lossless files to stream over to my Adcom DAC was pretty cool.  iPad gets a +1 for this.  That said, not worth $600 when I can do the same with my laptop.

I also played a bit with the iOS version of Garage Band.  Apple came up with some neat interface ideas here, basically turning instruments into something between Band in a Box and an autoharp. I'm sure there are certain types of songwriters who would eat this up. When I write however, I like to sit at a piano and come up with the song, and if I'm playing a part, I feel like it's cheating to let a computer do all the work.  It's a neat app, but not for me.

Photography Here's one place I really don't get it. Showing photos on an iPad is ok.  The screen is pretty nice, though I'd love for it to be higher resolution. And it's annoying how iTunes resizes your images on the way to the device because it would be great to be able to throw the full res jpegs on there and let people zoom into 100% to see details.  There are a number of portfolio apps out there for $10-$20 which might do some of this, but since you can't try before you buy on the iTunes store, I personally don't want to spend $50 on software to figure out which one works.

And as far as using it as a serious tool, everything I've seen makes me sigh and shake my head.  Adobe released a new SDK to connect the iPad to Photoshop CS5. The apps they showed that used this capability did things like give you a tool palate so you could switch from the paint brush to the stamp by pressing the corresponding button on the ipad screen.  Why would I ever have an iPad setup next to my main computer just to switch tools? Keyboard commands and a stylus are far faster.  They even showed off an upcoming test version of Photoshop itself for the iPad where they had layers and masking. Oooooh, amazing!  Not.  The interface looked really awkward to my eyes and your finger isn't nearly accurate enough to do any real work. Plus, my i7 box with 12GB of RAM has a hard time keeping up with me and my 16 bit 22 megapixel files when I'm on a roll.

Even as a Lightroom catalog like device it doesn't make too much sense to me. There's not much space on the thing, so say dumping/editing RAW files while traveling isn't going to work very well.  Maybe if you shot RAW and small JPEG and did selections on the jpegs it would work, but even then, doing it on a machine with a keyboard it going to be far more efficient.

The one place in photography that it might be useful would be as a secondary display to let clients hold and look at while you're on a big shoot.  Apparently Capture One has an iOS app that adds this kind of functionality, but I see this as a pretty limited and niche use case.

Video Chat I do use Skype a lot to talk to my sister in Austin and the new iPad had a camera so I figured it would be a perfect fit to replace my laptop for such things. That front facing camera though is just too crappy for my taste.  I find it far worse than my 3 year old Unibody Macbook. Plus it's easier to get the laptop camera at the right angle.

Final Thoughts So you might be able to wrap all this up by saying, "It's neat, but not for me, and certainly not for $600" and you'd be right. There's nothing that it does that my phone or my laptop doesn't do better.  If I had unlimited funds would I get one?  Probably to play with, but I've learned that I certainly don't need one.  It may be easier for some people to manipulate, but who do you know that doesn't know how to use a mouse anymore?  This isn't 1990.

Yes it's very cool, and I'm sure it's the direction that computing is going in.  Having touch interfaces all around us. But for actually getting work done? To me it's a toy.  Give me a laptop any day of the week. In fact I've been considering rolling the money over into an 11" Air. Now that's the kind of machine I could sink my teeth into.