This is my second attempt at writing a review of the iPad today. I had gotten through a full thousand-word opus earlier this morning and was just about to publish it, when my text editor – the creatively-named Text Editor – decided to replace the entire article with the word “null.” It didn’t help that the essay had been written purely on the iPad either, which in and of itself was already a bit of a feat.
But here we are again, anyway. I’ve resorted to using the built-in Notes app for the rest of this piece, which I had originally rejected because I didn’t especially like the comic-sans-esque font. At this point I’ll be happy with anything that can save my work properly though.
My writing position (and seriously, when was the last time you read anyone describing their posture as they wrote, and it was actually relevant information?) is, in a word, folded. I began this morning sitting on the edge of my bed, the iPad balanced on my lap, and hunched over. My workflow has all the cadence of a funeral march – I poke out three or four sentences, sit up and stretch emphatically, sigh expansively, then fold myself over again, looking for all the world like someone who rings Gothic church bells for a living.
Given these rather torturous working conditions, it may be a surprise that I am experiencing a perverse sense of fun as I do this. There are only a handful of people in the Philippines with iPads right now, and I’m probably the only one who would be willing to go through this seemingly pointless exercise. There is a reason though: I wanted to see if the iPad could work as a decent mobile productivity tool, and the only way to do that is if you actually use it to produce something.
Most of the iPad’s virtues have been espoused at length by other writers, with far better words than mine, so suffice to say that all the good stuff is true. Reading ebooks is a marvelous experience (I’m using the Kindle app), and digital comics via the Marvel app are even more so. (I’ve spent over $50 on digital comics just this week alone.) Touch-centric games like Harbor Master HD took up most of my free time over the weekend, and watching video or viewing websites are, in some ways, superior to their full-sized laptop counterparts. Browsing the web, in particular, has been a really engaging experience. The surprising part is that a lot of common sites look and feel better on the vertically-oriented iPad than in the more traditional landscape orientation. Meanwhile, mainstays such as Tweetdeck and GoodReader look really slick and work very well in their spiffy new iPad guises.
But back to our experiment, and my writing position. At the dinner table, the iPad needs to be at an angle in order to be used properly. I don’t have the official keyboard stand, so I use whatever I can find to prop it up. In this particular instance, “whatever I can find” turns out to be a snoozing 15" Macbook Pro, which I gingerly slip underneath the iPad to give it a small boost. My writing velocity increases slightly.
In many ways, I’ve been waiting for the iPad for the better part of a decade. I’ve been using various small touch devices for most of the 00’s (Palms, PocketPCs, etc) and in early 2005, I was an early adopter of Microsoft’s TabletPC initiative. This was in the form of the HP TC1100, a 1.1Ghz, 4-lb hybrid tablet that used pen and keyboard as its primary input methods. It was slow, buggy, and worst of all, ran a haphazardly modified version of Windows XP. Also, it cost US$2500. Possibly the only thing I liked about the TC1100 was that it included a tiny kickstand. To say that the market response to these half-baked devices was tepid is putting it mildly. Five years later, Apple (and in a few months, HP again) has decided to give the tablet concept another go, and the results are pretty astounding. The iPad soundly trounces the TC1100 in every way, shape and form, and it does so at one-fifth of the cost. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.
The mobile computing experience is forever a compromise between weight, performance, features and battery life, and whether you think the iPad has struck the right balance depends largely on how open you are to learning new things. There are new micro-paradigms to be learned here, and old ones that need to be un-learned. Some people will find that frustrating, others will find it exciting. As mentioned above, the virtual keyboard has a very real learning curve to it. If you write mostly in plain, formal English, it will catch and correct most of your errors as you make them, but other styles (or God forbid, Tagalog) is a real challenge. I’ve spent a total of three hours writing and rewriting this piece, and although I can feel my typing speed increasing with each new paragraph, I’m still nowhere near my speed with a physical keyboard. On the other hand, battery levels have dropped a mere 30% over that period -- leaving with me with about 5 hours of usable power -- so I’m finding it hard to complain too loudly.
Is it the perfect mobile computer? No, of course not, because there’s no such thing. It’s a damned good piece of machinery though, and if you’re thinking of getting one, my advice couldn’t be simpler. Just get one.