Fanboi's lament – falling out of love with the iPad
Newtonian affair grows cold
My fading relationship with my iPad reminds me of a long-ago college fling with a young lovely. High anticipation, fervent consummation, growing familiarization, decreasing fascination, and the inevitable: "No, hon, it's not you. It's me."
Which is the line you use even when you're pretty damn sure that it is indeed her.
Full disclosure: I write this as a fervent fanboi who has used Macs since literally the first day that the original Macintosh 128k became available in 1984. I've partnered with and enjoyed PowerBooks, Quadras, Performas, iMacs, Power Macs, MacBooks, Mac Pros, and iPhones — even a Newton.
But of all of those Apple products, it's my whirlwind affair with the Newton that most reminds me of my first 56 days with my iPad.
With the Newton, as with the iPad, I eagerly anticipated its release, and bagged one as soon as I could. I took it on business trips for note-taking and email, had no problems with its much-maligned handwriting recognition, and even played the occasional game on it.
But after the first blush of novelty wore off, the Newton's flaws asserted themselves: small display, unpocketable bulk, non-standard file system, and so on. I found myself spending less and less time with it, and soon returned to my previous partner, my trusty PowerBook 170.
So it has been with the iPad. I've taken it on business trips for note-taking and email, have had no problems with its much-maligned keyboard, and even play the occasional game. But I'm spending less and less time with it. As a fanboi, I'd like to say that the jury is still out, but I'm afraid that the most important evidence — that I'm less frequently using the li'l guy for either business or pleasure — is in. My iPad is clearly moving into Newtonian territory.
Not that the iPad is a steaming turd, as many rabid Apple-bashers like to fulminate. Nor is it a useless toy. For example, it's been a helpful business partner in meetings and interviews due to its abilities as an unobtrusive, silent note-taker with no display to get between me and my interview subject. What's more, Apple's well-engineered $39 iPad Case holds the iPad at the perfect typing angle.
The iPad's instant-on capability makes it more of an impulse-satisfier than a laptop could ever be. I can, for example, quickly check MLB.com's At Bat 2010 for iPad at any time to find out how badly the San Francisco Giants are losing.
Apple may have left out a good deal of functionality in iPad 1.0, but there are apps available to provide some of its missing capabilities. Air Sharing HD ($9.99), for example, provides a usable file system and enables printing by way of wireless printer-sharing (Mac OS X or Linux only).
The iPad's battery life is truly impressive, although charging it is a bit of a pain. Since it requires more power than an iPhone or iPod, not all Macs, PCs, and USB hubs can charge it when it's awake. However, nearly all can charge it — slowly — when it's asleep. When it's hooked up to a low-power port you'll see a Not Charging notification when it's awake, but you obviously can't see any notification when it's asleep — a mild annoyance that Macworld refers to as the modern-day equivalent of "Does the refrigerator light stay on when I close the door?"
Then there's the matter of web access, supposedly way up the list in the iPad's raisons d'être. Surfing with your iPad while comfortably ensconced on your couch is all well and good, but the lack of tabs in the iPad's Safari browser makes doing so a less-useful experience than it could be. And although the iPad's 9.7-inch display is a vast improvement over the iPhone's minuscule window on the web, browsing on a full-fledged Mac or PC display is still a better experience.
Maybe I'm just spoiled — I have a 20-inch display hooked up to both of my Macs, one at home, one at work. Or maybe computer-based browsing is simply better.
Flash may suck — but I miss it anyway
Also, say what you will about Flash being a battery hog and all, but using Flash-based navigation on the iPad is clunky, and surfing to, say, Hulu, only to be told that you're a second-class netizen, is dispiriting.
But Flash aside, the couch scenario is hailed as one of the iPad's selling points. Browsing, watching videos, fiddling about with photos, playing games — the iPad is designed to allow you to consume and enjoy while kicking back. Too bad it's uncomfortable to do so.
If only the iPad's edges were more rounded to make it more comfortable to hold. If only its glossy display didn't so distractingly reflect overhead lights, windows, and the like. If only it weighed less. Yes, 1.5 pounds (0.68 kg) may not sound like much, but — and you simply have to take my word for this, or you stud-muffins may simply disagree — holding the iPad for any amount of time gets uncomfortable.
And don't try to prop it up on your thigh, since its back surface is too slippery — another argument for that nifty Apple iPad Case.
Then there's reading — the activity for which I've used my iPad more than anything else. Personally, I prefer using Amazon's Kindle app on my iPad because it's less distractingly tricked-out than Apple's own pseudo book-like iBooks app (but do download the handy 280-page iPad User Guide from the iBook Store).
Due to the iPad's less-than-comfortable couch usage, I've used it mostly to read during my daily commute, as has Michael Miller over at PC Mag, who found the iPad to be a great commuting partner. Miller, however, apparently gets to sit down during his trip to his New York office, while I'm jammed in a San Francisco subway, jostling for space with other vertical wage slaves.
Those of you who commute by Ryanair, well, knock yourselves out.
After a few weeks of using my iPad as an e-reader on crowded trains, I went back to using my iPhone, which is lighter, smaller, and far easier to use with one hand — and it fits in my pocket. Although some of my acquaintances think I'm crazy to use an iPhone as an e-reader, it's wonderfully convenient and perfectly legible.
So much so that I read all of War and Peace on my iPhone during my daily commute. Seriously. No joke.
Games? I'm not the guy to ask. I've dabbled with Fieldrunners for iPad, Labyrinth 2 HD, and Real Racing HD, and, yes, more pixels do make for a more-involving gaming experience than with equivalent games on the iPhone or iPod touch. Duh. Personally, though, I prefer to waste my time and brain cells reading some pointless Stieg Larsson silliness or another magnum Russian opus, thankyouverymuch.
Finally, digital morality enters the evaluative picture: the entire convoluted matter of how the iPad/Pod/Phone's application ecosystem is a walled garden and whether we, as consumers, should acquiesce to it or rebel against it.
Seasoned Reg readers will know that I've weighed in on this matter ad nauseam, and that I'm of the belief that Apple's control-freakiness is good for neither the company, its developers, nor its users. That said, no one is forcing you, dear Reg reader, to buy an iPad/Pod/Phone — you know what you're getting into when you ship your dinero a Cupertino.
You pays your money and you makes your choice. The red pill or the blue pill — you're a grown-up. It's your call.
It's not the draconian App Store police who are causing me to use my iPad less and less since the day I bought it. It's not Steve Jobs' arrogance that keeps me from leisurely surfin' and readin' and watchin' from the comfort of my couch. It's not the unfairness of Apple's developers agreement that has stopped me from taking my iPad with me on my daily commute.
The reason that I rarely pick up my iPad after that first blush of fanboi fascination is that I have little use for it.
The iPad is a replacement for neither a netbook nor a notebook. It's a different category of device entirely. However, in its current incarnation — although I do get some utility and entertainment out of it in specific usage scenarios — it's in a category that is yet of little value to me. Perhaps not to you, either.
To turn that collegiate break-up line on its head, "No, iPad, it's not me. It's you." ®