On the iPad

I wanted to buy an iPad for Eric’s birthday but he had a high water mark: if Papers, essentially iTunes for research paper and article management, came out with an iPad reader application, Eric would want an iPad (very badly). He has the iPod client and while it works, it is difficult to read papers on an iPod Touch. The screen real estate isn’t there.

Papers came out with a rather nice native iPad reader that syncs with the master Papers application running on Eric’s MacBook Pro. He knew I was taking in my precious MacBook Pro for service — the i key, of all things, died on the keyboard and it turned out to be challenging to type without an i — and if I happened to walk out of the Apple store with one he would not be upset. I asked the guy at the counter if they had any in stock and they had 15 left, so I sucked the cost and took one of them.

Having used one now, I have a bunch of thoughts on it in completely random order:

* If you believe the iPad is the “end of innovation” your mental box is very small indeed. The iPad is disruptive technology. It’s something that fits between laptops and smartphones. We don’t know where it will go (yet). But us in the tech world should be used to this sort of thing by now. The Internet was a disruptive technology. Refridgerators! Telephones! Off-set Printing! They happen.* The world moves on.

* Today, the iPad is a big iPod. This is undeniably true. I will never sell anyone different. Most of the available software is iPod software running in large screen mode**. However, the software coming out natively for the iPad show tantalizing glimpses of the future. The iPod can convey information, play music, and do many excellent PDA things but it does not have a the real estate for comfortable comics, movies, or PDFs.*** The native iPad apps are amazing.

* Katie already has an iPod Touch she adores. At first she complained the iPad was too heavy. Once she got her hands on Peggle she was ready to go. As a device for children, it’s magnificent. It’s hard to say how magnificent it is until you put one in your own child’s hands. Add that with the Kindle app downloading full-color children’s books for easy and comfortable reading and you start to see the future.

* Eric’s Papers reader and the Goodreader PDF reader blew me away with how crisp, clear, and readable the PDFs are. I could not read off an iPad for hours and hours like I can a Kindle but I can manage a PDF. We won’t talk about the comic books apps because I’m in danger of bankrupting us all.

* For scientific research, the iPad is a godsend. Being able to get papers, Omnigraffle, quick sketch, quick note-taking, it is the perfect in-hand device for making quick notes and then syncing them back to the MacBook in the office. It fits comfortable in a hand or on a bench without the clunkiness of the clamshell case of a laptop or the space of an actual computer.

* We showed it to my Mom and she was amazed. The first impulse was getting one for my Grandmother. The 3G version will give her what she doesn’t have now: easy email, an easy way to carry thousands of pictures, an easy way to get to streaming movies. She would never need cords, a router, or have to ever put discs in it or worry about maintaining her hardware. All she needs is a $30/month subsidized no-contract 3G wireless and 16G iPad and it’s a computer my Grandmother can use.

* Eric and Katie have already played two-player checkers while using the iPad as a portable board between the two of them. Having a portable card/board game device is awesome. It’s hard to play board games on the iPod — Eric and I played Catan on his iPod and it was difficult to see the board — but imagine being able to turn and place Carcassone tiles with your fingers. The board games are exciting! They are!

* My impulses for the device usage are completely different from Eric’s or Katie’s or my Mom’s. This is what opens my eyes: we all have this one device and see different things. I see a platform where I can load synthesizers on it and make music easily without having to bring up a whole rig — and a few are already available. I cannot get a full portable keyboard with an iPod, but a multi-touch iPad is a much different story. Katie sees movies and games. Eric sees PDF and information management. My parents want the netflix streaming.

To sum up:

I did not expect to be as blown away by the device as I am. I was somewhat iffy on it when it came out and didn’t expect to want one or need one. After all, my iPod is a 3rd Generation iPod with an 80G hard drive and a clickwheel. I hold the iPad in my hands and it is not my netbook and it is not my MacBook Pro. It is a device I can hold comfortably in my hand and read comics, or make music, or play games without ever having to worry about having to be the system administrator. It’s something else completely different. It’s a powerful concept.

And yeah, sure, we’ve been trying to do tablets for 10 years and they’ve always failed, but isn’t it neat when someone actually gets it right?

Disclaimer: Yes, I am a Mac cultist, but I use an Ubuntu phone and an Ubuntu 9.10 netbook. I dislike Windows on the computer but you will take the Xbox360 from my cold dead hands. I like things that work more than loyalty to a company or a brand. Apple makes things that work. So does Google. If Microsoft wants to play, then perhaps they should make things that work because blue screens are no longer an option.

* Puzzle Quest!
** I will talk more about what industries I see growing out of the iPad tomororow. I have some serious thoughts on this topic but I am still digesting.
*** As a proud owner of a Droid — which I love — I know there are apps that run tiny and great and apps that need room to breathe. Human Interface design is important, folks!