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The iPad isn't perfect

…but it is magical.

I realise I promised a lengthy review/critique about the iPad but so much has been written about it over the last few months that there’s little I could say about it’s capabilities and short comings which wouldn’t just be a rehash of things written by people far more eloquent than I. Instead I’d like to just offer a few small observations from my experience.

It’s definitely “magical”. 20 seconds after sitting down with it for the first time I got giddy butterflies in my tummy like I haven’t had since puckering up and going in for my first kiss as a pubescent teen. It was, without a word of hyperbole, love at first sight (use). It just felt so right.

That initial flush still hasn’t left me. I use the iPad now as my primary computing device for 95% of my computing needs and I still get that giddy rush every time I hit the home switch to turn the screen on. Not just intellectually but at a basic instinctive level in my gut I feel this form factor and way of interacting with the device can’t be anything but the future of personal computing.

The other incredible thing which the iPad has done is to get me reading “print media” again. I’ve downloaded most of the newspaper apps (not “The Sun” though. I’m not posh or anything but I do like my news to be news rather than gossip and bigotry) and am regularly reading them! (I’ve not read a real newspaper in years). I also find myself plonking big documents on there for reading in preference to printing them out (I’ve always found it incredibly difficult to consume such things “onscreen”). I don’t know whether it’s the screen, resolution, the interaction but I’m actually able to take in the information on the iPad in a way which I can’t on a computer monitor or even, sometimes from paper.

It’s not perfect (gasp! Say it ain’t so!). Four major problems which need to be addressed.

  1. It definitely needs iOS 4 and the multitasking for flipping between apps. I use Keynote and Omnigraffle (both awesome on iPad by the way) pretty extensively together when creating slides with diagrams and without the suspend-switch-awaken multitasking in iOS 4 (I’ve been running it on my phone) the lag in doing real application restarts gets old very fast. Thankfully at least these two applications are well written and return you to where you last were on restart.

  2. I really hoped that Apple would announce more than just the iPhone 4 in Steve Job’s Keynote at WWDC last week. In particular I was hoping for a proper “cloud” for their mobile device platforms. While I’ve no doubt this will eventually come it’s a real hamper to the iPad. The sandbox storage for applications is great and all that but the transferance mechanism (via iTunes) to and from the device and the segregation of my information by virtue of the fact that each application can only see its own data is a pain. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a File Manager/Finder equivalent (heaven forbid! We need to move on from 20th century computing paradigms) but I do want centralised storage and sync built into the OS at core, not as an afterthought so that all applications are using the same mechanisms not the piecemeal mess that exists at present.

  3. Much is talked about the so called “Walled garden” in relation to Apple’s App-Store approval process. I for one am for it. All the arguments against it seem to stem from the same fallacious meme, that it prohibits choice. Bluntly, such arguments are wrong. The iPhone (iPad, iPod) is a package deal. You don’t get to chose the elements of the package, you chose whether to sign up to the package or not. That’s your choice. If you sign up to the package and then whinge about the fact that you can’t change the terms of it that’s your own damned fault. Try talking with a Travel Agent about an all-in package holiday to the Sun and see how you get on with the same approach.

What’s my problem with the iPad in relation to this? Well the App approval process has proved to be very very successful for me in making sure that the quality of software on my iPhone is top notch. I haven’t a single complaint in over 2 years of using it (2g, 3g, 3gs). Not a single one of my apps has ever had a problem which crashes it or the phone. Not so the iPad. In their rush to have lots of apps available at and soon after launch the standards being applied to the iPad apps are much less draconian and I am suffering crashes (including several “reboot the device” doozies) galore. Bring back the rigor! More draconian QA and more in-depth (i.e. longer) review periods before letting apps on the device please! I want the wall of the walled garden thickened and heightened!

  1. The final problem could either be expressed as “price” or “single user”, take your pick. The fact is, at the pricepoint (at present which will, I realise, drop significantly in time) the iPad in my household isn’t just mine, it’s a family purchase, however the device and the OS is designed around a single user. While this would be fine if my wife, my daughter and I could each have our own, obviously for most “ordinary” households this isn’t practical. I would really love to have some form of “multi user” capability so that my wife, daughter and I could share the device and personalise it’s use to our preferences. As it stands the device is basically mine and my daughter occasionally plays on it with me and my wife rarely gets to use it so it’s really geared around my use. Of course that won’t be a problem when the prices for such a device drops to the point where there are multiples in the average household but in the interim I’d love a solution to this.

At the end of the day however, these are very very small niggles on my part. They in no way impinge on the day to day experience of using the device. It’s amazing and the software which is being written for it just keeps getting better and better literally on a daily basis.

One word of caution however. If you are tempted at all by the device, don’t just rock up to an Apple Store and try it out. What you really need to do is find a friend, colleague, family-member who has one, borrow it, go sit in a comfortable easy chair or sofa and go browse your favourite website/blog/newspaper or whatever. I defy anyone who’s first experience of the device is this “intimate” interaction not to fall head over heels in love with it.

Final parting point: The accusation that this is a “consume media” not a “content creation” device. Bull. I’m using it every day for content creation including sophisticated business documents. My laptop hasn’t been opened since the iPad came. My Mac has only been used to play some desktop computer games. The onscreen keyboard, once you get used to it, is awesome. I’ve written this and 2 other 1000 word documents this morning on it in pretty much the same time and at the same speed as on a “desktop”.