Random thoughts, observations, reviews and recommendations about the iPad

[I expanded this post and added an additional week’s thoughts for a post on Foliomag.com.]

After two weeks of daily use, I thought I’d collect together and post some observations about the iPad.

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.) 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.)

2. 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.

3. Not having a user-facing camera is ridiculous: As I anticipated, the lack of a user facing camera is a nuisance to those of us who use video iChat and Skype. 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), I’m now assuming the lack of a user facing camera is due to the inclusion of one on the next iPhone. Such a feature will get fan boys into the store for the next phone. If it had been included on the iPad, such a feature could have cannibalized sales of the next iPhone. Is that too cynical? (Later: As a couple of emails and a comment below points out, maybe the user-facing camera is not that big a deal to others, as it is to me.)

4. 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. (Later: See Aaron Pressman’s comment on the relative costs/value of the iPad 3GS vs. mobile hotspot devices. He also compares the Overdrive and the Mifi 2200 on his blog.)

5. A Blue-tooth keyboard: I can’t figure out why I’d get 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.

griffin ipad case

6. 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.)

7. 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.

8. My rapidly evolving theory of what makes a great app: As I indicated before the iPad appeared, the pre-release concepts I was seeing reminded me of early 1990s CD-ROM goo-gah stuff. 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 have already kicked enough, 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.)

NYTimes’s Editors Choice: When I don’t have time to glance at Google Reader.

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 this blog, but never 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 — but I wrote that in 2007. 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), but I’m assuming that’s not going to happen in my lifetime as publishers will block it, thinking I’ll copy and past an entire book, page and by page. I’ve already read two books using the app — 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.

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.

USA Today app‘s “Today’s Photos” and the Guardian Eyewitness app: Stunning photography inspired by the incredible Big Picture blog on Boston.com.

9. 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 (no debate, it’s a consuming content masterpiece). As my content creation tends primarily to be in Google docs, the iPad fails big time, 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.

10. There is no ten: In other words, this space is left intentionally blank.

  • Awesome post – the thing that has always bothered me about the first-to-market reviewers like Pogue and Mossberg is that they simply don't have the time to truly get what's great and what's horrible in their rush to evaluate all the many features. In our household with three kids, the iPad is in demand all the time and works especially well as a shared web browsing center of attention for all the kids at once.

    I can vouch for several of your points, particularly the surprisingly huge annoyance of not having flash with such a great web browsing device, the flip-it-around speaker hack, the greatness of the bluetooth keyboard and list of good apps. I'd add that Entertainment Weekly's innovative “Most List” app is great on the way to super fantastic once saved-state multi-tasking arrives in the fall.

    That said, I don't think the front-facing camera is automatically a deal breaker for everybody. I have little or no use for one and never miss it on the iPad or my iPhone for that matter. Thus, I don't agree that everyone should wait for another year or more for version 2.0. If it's in your budget, if it seems like it's something you'd use lot, if it's instead of buying yet another iPod or small laptop for web surfing, music and the like, I saw go for it now.

    Finally, one minor point, the data plan for the iPad is significantly cheaper than the data plans for mobile hot spots ($30/month for “unlimited” versus $60/month). The ability to switch between no plan, a little 250MB plan and the “unlimited” plan from month to month is also cool for many people's real-world usage scenarios (one month with lots of travel followed by one month with no travel etc).

  • I wish the apps were better, and faster to market. Partially because I don't listen to music on iPad as much as watch movies. Phone is still better 'iPod' due to size.

  • We love elves too Rex. Glad you're enjoying it. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Dave

  • Aaron – As you're my go-to expert on the topic of mobile hot spots, I'll defer to you. As I wrote, the math needs to be done and you need to consider personal travel needs, i.e., if you want a data plan that can work for both your iPad and Notebook.

    Also, I'll admit that I may over-value the user-facing camera because I use it to communicate with my kids who are in college.

  • Thanks for this review. I've read lots of the iPad reviews but you seemed to say so much more and I am particularly pleased at you app recommendations. I didn't even think to check for an Instapaper app.

    I'm loving my iPad. I agree that it's its potential that makes it a game changer.

  • Thanks for this review. I've read lots of the iPad reviews but you seemed to say so much more and I am particularly pleased at you app recommendations. I didn't even think to check for an Instapaper app.

    I'm loving my iPad. I agree that it's its potential that makes it a game changer.