iPad Thoughts

As many of you have probably guessed from some of my recent status updates, I have purchased an Apple iPad 2. This transaction took place during my last trip to New York city, and it involved queueing up at the flagship 5th Avenue Apple store for nearly two hours very early on a Tuesday morning. The model I got (mostly because it was among the only ones left) was the 64gb, black, 3G version.

This is an unusual purchase in many ways, but mostly because I went and bought something for which I didn’t have an immediate need. Most of the time, when I buy something, I have some kind of vision for how I’m going to use it, or integrate it into my life. Each purchase thus has a definite purpose. Not so with the iPad.

When the iPad originally came out, my first thought was “well, it’s really wonderful, but what exactly does it DO?”. In many ways this question still applies. When you take an objective look at something like an iPad, all you can really come up with is that it’s nothing more than the coolest, newest high-tech toy out there.

I think I’ve figured it out. When I first got my iPhone, the reason was immediate and obvious – I needed a new phone (all my stuff was stolen when I was in Colombia the week before). Of course, the iPhone serves the purpose of being a phone just fine, but it has become so much more. As has become obvious from this post, and this one, I use my iPhone for an increasing array of different things from taking notes, to checking the weather, to checking train timetables.

You see, all of those things can be done by a laptop computer, but the added convenience of having them on your phone, which doesn’t have to boot up, which can fit easily into your pocket, and which now has a GPS device installed, is undeniable. You can check train timetables on your computer, but checking them on a phone that knows where you are, on a program that can work out where your closest bus/metro/train station is much more than just a novelty.

Just a week ago, I was out shopping for a dishwasher, and was able to speak on the phone to Xenia, who was at work, and then email her pictures of the interior arrangements of the dishwasher, as well as send her links for the various websites with the specifications for those dishwashers. If we wanted to go the extra mile, we could’ve looked up different distributors for the dishwashers, then used google maps to find out where they were, and send me on a merry wild goose chase on my bike to find the best deal. As it happened, we bought a showroom display model at a discount, but the integration of technology into the buying process probably saved us a few back-and-forth trips, which could easily have dragged out over a week or more, the way our (her) busy scheduling works.

So where am I going with all this? The iPhone was originally bought as a phone, but 95% of the time it is useful for other things. The iPad is like that but to a greater extent. It was originally bought for… umm… yeah. But now it has “found” many uses. In fact, it has become something of a substitute laptop computer.

Many of you already know that I already own a laptop computer – a 15″ MacBook Pro with the intel i7 processor, 8gb of ram, 1TB hard drive, and the optional higher-resolution screen. I don’t own a desktop, so this is my primary computer and I use it for photo and video editing, for which those rather impressive specifications have come in rather handy. However, it is large and relatively heavy for a laptop. At least 80% of my time on it is spent checking emails, browsing the internet, and watching old episodes of Doctor Who.

Most of these “everyday” uses can be covered by the iPad. The interface is very intuitive and it is easily powerful enough to cover those above-mentioned uses. It is also a handy travel-laptop as there exist connectors for reading SD memory cards, as well as plugging in directly to cameras. Over a network, I can even connect to my laptop and basically use the iPad as a remote control, being able to view everything on the screen, and click, drag, and type – basically operate, my laptop remotely on my iPad (theoretically from anywhere in the world, although for some reason, that idea scares me).

Of course, the iPad’s functions don’t stop at substituting laptop functions into a smaller, more portable package. Just as was the case for the iPhone, a host of applications that are more iPad-specific have sprung up. There are, of course, a host of note-taking applications, some of which are designed to work with third-party styluses (stylii?), and then there are the games whith better graphics, or which use the increased screen real estate for more features or simultaneous two-player modes. My favourite app to take advantage of iPad specificity so far is the MusicNotes app.

Musicnotes.com is a website whose purpose is no surprise – they sell sheet music. You can by physical sheet music, or you can purchase it online. However, they have a very annoying DRM system in place which renders their music viewable ONLY with their browser plugin, and then you have a limited number of opportunities to print the music. If you printer stuffs up (or of you don’t have one) then tough luck. Unsurprisingly, this has not been the most liked system of acquiring music out there, but with the advent of their iPad app, things have changed. The setup is essentially the same, but since the iPad is such a convenient size, no printing is necessary, the sheets of music simply come up on the screen, and you swipe them across to turn the pages – no messing around with breaking the spines of music books, or having to deal with sheets of music falling off the music stand (and you can read in the dark!). It’s like having sheet music in convenient electronic format (which is something I would do anyway) along with the convenience of being able to purchase new music right then and there, and having the DRM seamlessley integrated.

The funny thing is, there’s nothing very new about this technology. Slate-tablet computers have been around for a long time (and I’ve even owned a few, in fact, I’ve got an old one sitting on the desk right next to me here), touchscreens have been around for a long time, and network-pcs have been kicking around for as long as networks have. With the iPad however, it seems like the technology has finally matured into a product where all the factors that were supposed to make those concepts successful (they weren’t), have finally come together, and Apple deserves some kudos for making it all click.

My only real gripes with this device, are that typing on the touch-keyboard is a bit of a pain. I’m a bit old-fashioned, and I like the tactile feel of keys that move. The fact that Apple doesn’t support flash is also just a little bit annoying. I would recommend this device to most people.  If you’re a power user, and need big screens and loads of processing power for video editing, and photos (or big games like WoW), then you’ll need a “proper” computer. If the most power-intensive thing you do is word processing, then you can probably get by with an iPad with a wireless keyboard. Almost everything else that most people use a computer for can be covered with an iPad (actually, even an iPhone, but the screen is a bit small).

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