Five things iLove about the iPad (and five iDon’t)

It’s nearly 48 hours since I took delivery of my iPad, at which point I fell instantly, giddifyingly, head-over-heels in love with it,  recording my first impressions of the device in glowing terms. But now the first flush of young love is beginning to wear off, and I’ve played around with it enough to get a good feel for what it does well – and not so well. So here are my thoughts on the iPad the morning after the night after the night before.

iPad

iLove

Five things I love most about the iPad:

  1. It’s gorgeous, both to look at and to use. Yes, I know it looks like a giant iPod Touch, but that’s no bad thing. Everyone I know who’s seen one has cooed over how it looks. And the proven design of the touch-screen interface, finely honed in previous iPhone and iPod models, works even better on a larger device. After a couple of hours of pressing and sweeping my fingers over the screen, reverting to a keyboard and mouse feels like going back to a blackboard and chalk.
  2. The screen. Whether you’re showing off your holiday photos (which, if you’re a Photoshop user, you can sync automatically via iTunes), watching streaming video from BBC iPlayer, or just surfing the web, the clarity, detail, brightness and smoothness of images on the iPad’s 1024 x 768 pixel display makes you feel like you’re watching a screen much larger than the actual 9.7 inches. (Okay, it’s not great in bright light outdoors, but my iPad will spend 99.9% of its life indoors, so that’s not a big deal to me.)
  3. It will change the way we consume media forever. No more piles of newspapers, print-covered fingers or twiddling my thumbs waiting for the papers to be delivered. The Times subscription app (£9.99 for 28 days) is beautifully formatted and a joy to browse through. But the iPad is also brilliant for books (it supports Amazon‘s Kindle and other e-readers as well as its own iBooks software), particularly children’s books. Even if you don’t have kids, download the Toy Story or Alice In Wonderland book apps for a taster of the interactive possibilities the iPad opens up. And it’s also perfect for comic books – check out the Marvel app.
  4. The keyboard, which is so much less of a compromise than I feared after reading early reviews. Fair enough, it’s not so good if you’re a touch-typist, but if you’re a moderately speedy four-fingers-and thumbs kinda guy like me – 35 words per minute, and proud of it – it’s very useable for knocking out emails and even blog posts. No one ever said the iPad keyboard was ideal for typing up your dissertation, but then you wouldn’t expect to do that on a machine with such a small screen either. But for 300-400 words here and there when you don’t have ready access to a normal keyboard, it’s just fine.
  5. Speed, size, always-on-ability and general practicality. Thanks to a new processor, app and web pages are noticeably faster to load than the take-a-deep-breath pause required by my iPhone 3G. It’s always on, which means you don’t have to wait two minutes for it to boot up every morning. (And if you do switch it off completely, you can power it back up in around ten seconds.) And the claimed ten-hour battery life is more than a figment of an Apple marketer’s imagination – I spent three hours yesterday surfing the web, typing notes and watching video clips, and used up less than 30% of the battery. Compared to the two-hour life of a typical laptop battery, that is incredible.

iDon’t

It’s not all lovey-dovey, though. Even the greatest of fantasy gadgets has its flaws, and the iPad is no exception. So here are five things I wish were better:

  1. Wi-fi reception/glitching. It was noticed by some people after launch that wi-fi reception isn’t always great, partly due to the fact that all the technology in the iPad is so densely packed. On one occasion when using the iPad upstairs, the signal has faltered and the Safari browser got stuck trying to load a web page. Irksome, but it was nothing that a quick reset didn’t solve. Apple have promised software fixes to help alleviate the problem. We’ll see whether they work, but for me it’s still just a niggle rather than a genuine annoyance.
  2. Application multitasking. With the exception of a couple of basic apps, it is currently not possible to have multiple applications open simultaneously, meaning you can’t toggle between, say, Facebook and the latest football scores without first closing one down and then opening the other. However, the impending arrival of the new operating system, iOS 4, should solve this problem for both the iPad and latter generation iPhones and iPods – so this gripe should be a short-lived one.
  3. Flash animation. None of Apple’s mobile devices are compatible with Adobe Flash, and with something like 70% of the top 100 websites using Flash to run video and animations on their sites, this means that significant chunks of the web aren’t viewable on the iPad. Apple cites reliability, security and performance issues with Flash – as well as a lack of support for touch-screen devices – as key reasons for not permitting it on its mobile products. Instead, they have chosen to hitch their wagon to open, non-proprietary standards such as HTML5 and H.264, which is used in all Blu-Ray players. I’ve previously found the lack of Flash occasionally annoying on my iPhone and will no doubt continue to do so with the iPad, although the blow is softened somewhat by the fact that YouTube also uses H.264 and therefore functions perfectly well – in fact, extremely well.
  4. Pixellated iPhone apps. This is categorically not Apple’s fault – and will no doubt improve with time as developers produce/update their apps with the iPad’s larger screen in mind. For now, though, many apps open in a slightly silly-looking iPhone-sized window, or can be blown up to twice the size at the expense of pixellation. For some apps, the resultant blockiness doesn’t matter a great deal; for others, it looks a tad, well, dot-matrix. It’s a criminal waste to under-use the iPad’s brilliant screen in this way, so hopefully the likes of Facebook et al will rejig their apps sooner rather than later.
  5. Weight. At 680 grams, the iPad has a reassuring heft to it – solid, but not excessively so. The one exception is when trying to use it as a reader for extended periods. I was dipping into an e-book last night, and after ten minutes my left arm felt like it was going to drop off. Amazon’s Kindle may have a smaller, less whizzy screen, but at 290 grams it is also considerably lighter. But then it is designed specifically as an e-reader, whereas the iPad is more general-purpose than that. In the greater scheme of things it’s not a huge quibble, as I will probably only use the iPad as a book-reader occasionally. For skimming my downloaded newspapers it’s absolutely fine.

There’s nothing in the above that hasn’t already been stated – and contradicted, re-stated and refuted again with the threat of nuclear conflict if the original reviewer doesn’t back down immediately – in the many thousands of reviews that have been written elsewhere online and in the print media, but anyhow that’s my personal experience of the iPad after two days of ownership. My initial reaction after a handful of hours was to describe the iPad as “quite possibly the best, most useful and most beautiful gadget I have ever owned”, and an extra couple of days to discover its faults hasn’t changed that view one iota. It is a device I use because I want to use it, rather than because I need to use it. It draws you in and seduces you and keeps you coming back for more: it is everything great technology should be.

I have no regrets whatsoever; in fact, whatever the opposite of ‘buyer’s remorse’ is, that’s exactly what I have.

In closing, I can think of no better words to describe how I feel about my new favourite plaything than those used by Stephen Fry in his review for Time magazine after the media pre-launch event three months ago:

I had been prepared for a smooth feel, for a bright screen and the ‘immersive’ experience everyone had promised. I was not prepared, though, for how instant the relationship I formed with the device would be. I left Cupertino without an iPad, but I have since gotten my own, and it goes with me everywhere. It is possible that the public will not fall on the iPad, as I did, like lions on an antelope. Perhaps they will find the apps and the iBooks too expensive. Maybe they will wait for more fully featured later models. But for me, my iPad is like a gun lobbyist’s rifle: the only way you will take it from me is to prise it from my cold, dead hands.