iPad first impressions

My month-old iPad is the first device I have owned which is on the Apple ecosystem. I am very familiar with several smart phone OSs and am currently sporting a Palm Pre which runs the smashingly popular WebOS. Given that, following are some thoughts on the iPad

Screen

    • The large screen is awesome! Going back to my Pre or my wife’s iPhone just feels *really* cramped now.
  • For reading magazines, the screen still feels a touch cramped, but for all other purposes, the size is great.
    • I seriously don’t understand this seemingly industry-wide shift (at least on consumer systems) away from anti-glare screens. If I can see my face in the screen, I don’t care how accurate the colors are!
    • I have been using the iPad a lot at night so have kept the screen brightness really low. However, whenever I use it during the bright of day, the glare/reflections make the thing really hard to use unless I crank the screen brightness way up. Having to manage my own screen brightness is not the hallmark of a “magical” product (and the auto-dim feature doesn’t help a damn!).

UI
As I said, this is really the first time I have spent an extended amount of time in iOS and overall I am pretty underwhelmed. This is one place where I think that WebOS beats the pants off of iOS (well, this and multi-tasking, see below).

    • The UI just feels inconsistent. Options and navigation are scattered throughout the application. Sometimes the back button is on the top, sometimes it is at the bottom, sometimes there is no back button and there is just a global menu at the bottom. Sometimes the setting are in the app sometimes the settings are in the external “settings” program. Every program seems to have full and complete control over it’s UI with no regard for standards or consistency. WebOS just seems to handle this much more cleanly – a consistent gensture for “back,” swipe to delete, app specific menus always in the upper left corner, general WebOS menus in the upper right…
  • In WebOS, it shows the name of the current app in the upper left corner. In iOS it just says “iPad.” For things like iTunes/Video/App store, which are pretty much different views into the same app, this is confusing. And for all other cases… seriously, do I really need to be reminded that I am using an iPad??
  • There is too much functionality overloaded on the little button on the bottom. The single click has a different behavior depending on context, double click is easy to be interpreted as 2 single clicks (or ends up being a triple click, which acts like a single click). Moreover, I am always using the iPad in the dark and can rarely see the damn button. Since I am always rotating the iPad I never have a good sense of where the button is when I need it and have to fumble around to find it. Again, it’s not the biggest deal, but doesn’t make for a “magical” experience.
  • The decision to make the “orientation lock” button into a “mute” in v4 was a terrible one. I use the orientation lock all the time. This iPad never leaves the house so I never need to use mute. And really? From a single click… now I have to go click, click, swipe, click to change this??
  • The only time I am going to want to change a setting of an app is if I am IN the app. Especially with the piss-poor multitasking that is provided, having to exit the app and enter another to change a setting is really annoying.
  • Finally, despite all of my bitching, the interface is really silky smooth and quite pretty to look at. It feels the processor can handle the UI with plenty of cycles left over. This makes for a great feel as opposed to most companies who try to fit in the cheapest processor that still meets spec (yes, it lowers cost, but makes for a laggy experience).

Multitasking
Ok, the lack of any multitasking in iOS 3.2 which the pad shipped with was literally KILLING me (yes, yes, figuratively…). If I didn’t know that multitasking support in 4.0 was on the way “any day now,” I would have returned this iPad and just waited for Dell’s 7″ tablet or the HP’s PalmPad. It hit me almost immediately as I tried to download apps (or movies or magazines) and couldn’t do anything in the meantime except watch the the little status bar creep slooooowly forward… I mean my 486 from 20 years ago running Windows 3.0 could multitask better than this… this is not progress!

When I first read the writeups in terms of how multitasking was going to be implemented in iOS 4, I actually though it seemed prety slick – a good compromise to achieve the functionality but minimize lag and maximize battery life.

Having experienced it, now it just feels like a cop out. It’s the bare minimum that could have been done and places the onus on the developers not the OS. Doubleclicking the button is not particularly intuitive and easy to accidentally be interpreted as two single clicks. The “task manager” (i.e. recently lauched task list) is largely useless. The entire implementation just feels tacked on and highlights the fact that multitasking was not part of the original design of the OS. Let’s be honest, it’s probably good enough for a super casual user, but I would think that such a user would not even appreciate the ability to multitask. For everyone else, it is just not good enough.

Keyboard
I am actually pretty impressed with the keyboard, it is really quite reasonable to type on for short durations. Going back to an iPhone KB feels horridly cramped.

However, I would choose a physical KB over a soft KB any day. Aside from the obvious ease of typing, changing the format of the KB due to the circumstance does not make things easier, rather it makes finding keys more difficult, not less. My wife also pointed out that the KB’s on the iPad and iPhone are different. This is an odd choice that further makes going between the 2 products more difficult.

Feel
The iPad definitely feels solid, as in dense, as in *heavy*. I definitely can’t hold the thing for long periods of time. A case with a stand has helped, but wonder if they coulnd’t have made it lighter. Or I wonder if a 7 inch wouldn’t be a better trade off between size and weight.

I don’t know if I am being paranoid but that large screen feels very fragile to me. Granted I have seen my one year old beat the hell out of my wife’s iPhone with nary a scratch so this may not be justified, but there is just a whole lot more glass on the iPad than the iPhone.

Overall
After the initial release of the iPad, I thought to myself “what’s the big deal, it’s an iPhone (well, mine’s an iPod Touch) with a really big screen. Yes there are a few interesting iPad only apps, but this is really nothing revolutionary.” After having experienced it though, the benefits and experience of a larger screen make the device really compelling in a way I would never have predicted.

Once Google gets off its ass and releases Honeycomb or HP the PalmPad or RIM the PlayBook we’ll see if the tacked on multi-tasking or UI nits becomes a liability for Apple, but for the time being, there is no better device in it’s class.

That being said, I should be clear what that “class” is… the iPad is not good for everything and certainly not even close to a computer replacement. I use it primarily for (roughly in the order of importance to me):

    • Light web surfing. The problem with light surfing is that it often turns into medium to heavy surfing requiring typing multiple URLs and requiring several tabs and then I wished I would have been on the laptop the whole time.
  • iPad games. I love the large screen!
  • A quick reference device. Being able to quickly check the weather or IMDB or [your favorite social networking site] via apps is great.
  • I don’t watch a lot of movies on it, but when I was last on the plane, the large screen was a dream compared to a cramped cell phone screen.
  • Entertaining my baby – Angry Cat, Pocket Pond and Wind Tunnel are her current favorites.

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