3 April 2010: 「iPad Day」

Raccoon that I am, I put my money down for the newest shiny object from Apple, and then sat around all day Saturday waiting for UPS to arrive. All day. UPS never came. Ever.

Until something like 4:00 pm. Point is, for-ev-er.

iPad impressions are now a dime a dozen, but since other people’s money isn’t good here (…), here’s my take:

Pretty much everything you’ve already read about the iPad is true. The screen is beautiful, the battery life is outstanding, it collects fingerprints like a stamp collector collects stamps. You can create content on it if you want to (the virtual keyboard in landscape mode is more usable than you would expect), but you probably don’t want to. If you just want to consume content, though, it’s amazing.

I’m typing this on my MacBook as I abuse my massage chair pad—the physical keyboard matters. The other thing that matters, though, is that this laptop weighs a friggin’ ton. I thought the iPad was surprisingly heavy; turns out that my (post-iPad) laptop is surprisingly heavier.

What’s really going to make or break the iPad, though, are the apps that it can run. Most of them aren’t quite there yet, which means the true potential of the iPad is still to be seen:

GoodReader: the best PDF reader I’ve found; I’ve been reading some programming books I’ve (legally!) acquired in it, and the setup shows the potential the iPad has for non-e-book books. The app is marred by all kinds of touch wonkiness, though: to go to the next page you tap in the lower left corner (?), and to go back a page you tap in the upper right (!?). Sometimes the thing zooms in when all you wanted to do was advance a page.

Comic Zeal: the first passable comic (…manga…) reader I’ve found, but another app that suffers from touch behavior that isn’t “iPad-like”—while you can swipe your finger to move between pages, the swipe feels off in a way I can’t quite pin down; while you can tap in the lower left and right corners to change pages, the region you can tap in is rather small.

CloudReaders (another comic app), in contrast, nails the touch experience… but it’s not satisfied with just showing you the current image—it also displays a bit of the next page, as well, and that drives me crazy. (CloudReaders has potential to be a good PDF reader, too, but is a bit slower to render pages and seemed to have trouble with larger PDFs.) I have high hopes for this one, as the developer seems to care… and the next version is supposed to change the page presentation.

NetNewsWire: I love the Mac version of this RSS client, but I don’t love the iPhone or iPad versions. Bizarre, basic omissions in function—no “mark as unread” feature (really?), and oddly non-updating unread article counts—as well as the fact that it only syncs read articles back to Google when you tell it to (rather than automatically, as each one is read) makes the entire experience clunky and somewhat unpleasant. On my iPod touch I’ve switched to Reeder 2, which has quickly become my favorite iPhone app… I’m counting the days until an iPad version is released.

Atomic Web Browser: implements tabs and a host of other features that Mobile Safari lacks, at a cost of a bit of Mobile Safari’s elegance. The tradeoff is worth it, though; “open in background tab” is one of the sweetest commands I’ve seen on the iPad.

The one notable exception to this trend of apps that show potential but are marred by rough edges (not unreasonably, mind you, given how long developers have had to whip up iPad programs) is Instapaper. Saving web articles and then reading them later has never been more of a pleasure than on the iPad; I don’t think there’s a better app in the app store. The only shame is that Instapaper will probably never get its moment at the top of the “popular iPad apps” list, because the developer generously gave everyone who bought the iPhone version a free update to the iPad one.

All in all, I don’t regret buying the iPad. It’s all the portable computer I need, combined with a very nice book (PDF) viewer and comic reader… and, beyond that, it still has all sorts of potential.

Plus it’s shiny!


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