iPad first impressions

iCrossing UK colleagues falling for the iPad (via @shortlisted)

Like most of the world, it seemed, I was perfectly prepared to offer an opinion on the iPad without having ever seen one. Like most of the pre-launch “analysis” I’m not sure I added much of value to the discussion around it, other than to caution that we will have to wait and see what its real impact would be.

Apple’s newest product became a kind of proxy war for all sorts of other interests: DRM, death/survival of publishing, Mac v PC (yawn) etc etc. Cory Doctorow’s discussion of why we should not buy iPads was both typical of this slew of writing and stand out brilliant. It got me thinking, it made me hesitate for a moment about buying one…

Now? Reader, I bought one. And all the hypotheticals fell away, and it became about being a user – and that’s a whole different matter…

So, here are some thoughts and notes on the first 48 hours or so of living with an iPad…

Buying an iPad: I was in America briefly this week, which enabled me to pick an iPad up from the Apple Store in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Best Buy stores nearer to my hotel had sold out, but the Apple Store seemed to have a good supply of all models. I had to wait to see a “specialist” in the store and I picked up a 32GB Wifi model, with a Belkin sleeve and a docking station (which lets you use it with a Bluetooth keyboard apparently – superior to the dedicated keyboard accessory, the specialist told me). Back in the cab it took moments to activate the iPad by connecting to iTunes and transfer a bunch of apps (syncing *seems* very fast indeed with the iPad, as does extracting files/images to my Mac). I was pleased to find that there was a full battery charge on the device already.

Flying with an iPad: It could almost have been made for long haul flights. Videos were great to watch (screen is amazing) and some iPhone games (Fifa 10, Command and Conquer, Tiger Woods Golf) actually looked and played better on the iPad than the iPhone, I thought, despite being at a lower resolution (as does the brilliant Blue Sky mind mapping application). I must have been using it for 5 – 6 hours and yet I still had 85% battery when I got to London. for me this is perfect – no need for extra batteries or worrying about whether I could get a seat with a power socket.

Everyone loves the iPad: The octogenerian lady in the seat behind me and the flight staff on the plane were fascinated and all said they were thinking of getting one. This thing has *broad* appeal. When I got home my three-year-old daughter liked playing witht he Draw application, my fiver-year-old son loved the games and my wife said the web browsing experience made her want to use one instead of her laptop. In the iCrossing UK office the next day everyone wanted to try it and everyone seemed enamoured with it. Even grumbling Mac-haters stopped grumbling and refused to let go of it once they started playing a game…

My daughter shows that the iPad *is* a content creation device...

Dedicated magazine apps not as compelling as you might think: Publishers are going to find ways to win with this device, but it is a long way from the panacea they think it is. I tried out apps like Time magazines, WSJ and the New York Times. They were nice, interesting, but actually felt a little like novelties. Especially when I compared them with, er, websites…

Websites are better than newspaper apps: Websites like the Economist, Guardian and Telegraph are things that I generally visit via links from Twitter or my Google Reader. On the iPad they look so amazing that I actually feel like sitting down and browsing them. And it is as pleasing as reading a newspaper in some ways, with no keyboard it is easier to settle down in a comfortable chair and have a good read. in fact, the newspaper apps make the criticisms of the iPad as a consumption-only, locked down device ring true – for instance, you can’t copy and paste text in the Time magazine application. That makes it a lot less useful than a website when you want to bookmark an article or quote a passage for instance…

WSJ iPad app - cute, but not as useful as websites...

A lovely personal organiser: The calendar and notetaking applications are beautifully laid out and make full use of the larger screen. It feels like having a luxuriously sized fil-o-fax/Moleskine.

I reserve judgement on Keynote and Pages: One hope I have for the iPad is that for my frequent trips to London for meetings and to give presentations, the iPad means I will be able to leave my MacBook Pro at home. Both of these apps look great, but I need to spend more time with them. One immediate niggle is that the fonts from my MacBook aren’t all on the iPad, so the presentations look different to the way I designed them. Hopefully I can find some way to solve this.

Pages on the iPad - lovely design...
Before: My presentation as I designed it...
After: How the iPad renders my presentation...

eBooks: Both?the iBooks and the Amazon Kindle apps are great. I actually slightly prefer the latter at the moment. Some other apps, like Disney’s trial Toy Story book are conceptually great, but a little clunky from a usability point of view. The Marvel comics application works very well and the colours are the fastest way to demonstrate the great screen to people.

Amazon Kindle application on the iPadf
The gorgeous Marvel comics application

Outside use: Today’s a bright sunny day. My iPhone is fine to use outside as it has anti-glare film. Without this, the iPad’s shiny screen has too many distracting reflections and glare for comfortable use.

Overall, I’d say this device is a winner for me. It’s not a general purpose computer, it’s not a work computer, but for reading, games, email and web browsing it is just a joy.