The iPad in our lives
Yes, I know that’s a Gizmodo-branded shot as the cover, but it was the shot I was exactly looking for on flickr, and it came to me, so I’m not going to say no.
"And the question has arisen, lately. Is there room for a third category of device, in the middle? Something that’s between a laptop and a smartphone. […] The bar’s pretty high. In order to create really a new category of devices, those devices are going to have to be far better, at doing some key tasks. They’re going to have to be far better, at doing some really important things. Better than the laptop, better than the smartphone." - Steve Jobs
Those are the words Steve used to prepare the audience for the iPad’s introduction on January 27th, 2010. The day computing changed forever: the day touch became unanimous, the day the traditional desktop/laptop PC, became a symbol of the past.
But of course, it’s not yet the past. It’s still very well the present of computing. I, for one, wouldn’t be able to do the things I do on my MacBook Pro with my iPad, like writing this post (I technically could, but I can’t; not yet). But there are other things I’d definitely do on my iPad first, without a single thought. Browsing, for example.
Browsing with your own bare hands, using them to “touch the web” as Steve would put it, remains magical, an experience time won’t be able to change, because as soon as you spend a couple of days away from your iPad, get used to the daily routine of using Firefox or Chrome, and get back to your couch with your iPad, you smile immediately remembering how great it feels to have the web at your fingertips. It’s that good, and you have to live with an iPad to fully understand it. And it’s not enough to just keep it right next to your couch: you have to spend time with it, develop a feeling for it, build a relationship with it, and then, when it’s gone for a day, you’ll understand what it’s capable of doing.
More stuff: photos. It seems silly, but having a 9.7-inch sheet of glass capable of showing a ton of photos can help spawn some truly remarkable moments, and I know it relegates the iPad to a simple “digital portrait”, but it’s not, it’s a lot more, and what’s important is that if you need it to be a digital portrait, it can be one. And when you need it to put some slideshows, it’ll do that as well. What I never expected though, is for the iPad to be great at watching video.
I mean, we all saw Steve playing a clip from Star Trek at the first iPad’s introduction event, but I always thought it wasn’t a real life situation because the iPad’s screen ratio is 4:3, not widescreen like all recent films are. Watching a film in the iPad means you either loose the sides or see about half of the screen covered in black, which isn’t fun for me. However, in my experience with the iPad, I’ve come to enjoy watching stuff on it, and the reason’s very simple: the screen is so close to you, and you can put it in almost any position you need: on your knees, next to the sofa, next to your bed, on your stomach while you lie down… Moreover, having that screen come alive under your fingertips, and seeing it play a video is quite impressive. You can use the iPad for a fairly long amount of time and still gasp for a second when you see all those pixels start moving on their own in a way that feels very close and personal.
But as good as all the stuff I love to do with my iPad is, there are also things I wouldn’t use it as my primary choice today, and that I’d rather do much more efficiently on a notebook. Actually, I’d say it’s only one thing: email. I don’t know why, but the iPad was sold as a “pure email machine”, and somehow I don’t get it. I get it that my “small” iPhone 4S can’t do all of the things I need it to do with GMail and in the way I’d like it to do them, but on the iPad it’s a totally different story. Compared to the iPhone the iPad is actually “big”, and you want to see it do more stuff than its younger brother, and yet it doesn’t. It’s true that Mail for iPad uses the available space a lot better than in the iPhone (to be fair, the latter also has very little space in comparison), but at the same time it feels so left behind. It’s terribly frustrating not to have “pull to refresh”, and somehow it feels dated to me, even though the Mail app is also “iPad Developer 101” in the sense that it positioned the classic “sidebar + item view” layout we see in most apps. Only because of this it deserves a spot in the shrine of honor, but something tells me Mail for iPad should be a lot better than what it is now two years later, and it isn’t.
Then there are a couple of things I wouldn’t know exactly where to put, and I’m guessing there’s a fairly large amount of people who’re going to eat me alive for this. I don’t really know how I feel about listening to music with my iPad. To begin with, my favorite iOS music app, Spotify, doesn’t have a native iPad app (but Rdio does, grrr), so I feel a bit left behind when I start it on my iPad. Nevertheless, I’ve never pictured myself like the kind of person who’d go carrying around his iPad with some headphones plugged in for listening to music; that’s a task I’ll always do with my smartphone or iPod, so I’ll never be able to see my iPad as “for music”. What I will gladly admit though, is that I listen to a lot of music when I’m using it, because it’s simply natural in me to need music whilst reading tweets or browsing the web, but the iPad doesn’t mean “music” to me. As for the last multimedia segment, videogames, I don’t know where they fall, because frankly, I can’t get myself to play a game enough time! I mean, I played GTA III for a few days, but stopped for a day and never found my way back again, and something similar has happened to me with World of Warcraft, although that’s a story for another day.
Last… but not least. Reading in an iPad. It would be very easy to say that the iPad has captured the tablet market and that it’s the only one offering a true digital experience because “blah, blah, blah”. That’s up for discussion, anyways, with people preferring E-Ink displays (I don’t expect them to last long with the new iPad’s Retina Display, though) and the battle for the perfect eBook format, but my point is from my experience, it goes a long way for us college students. No more printing hundreds of slides on paper, no more printing books at home, no more photocopying others’ notes. That can all be done with an iPad, and it can hold everything you need, and a lot more, in a very small amount of space. That’s a lot of back aches we’re being saved from. Seriously.
Besides all of this, I’m basically out of words at this point. I’m sure that if you allow me I’ll write a lot more about the iPad, but for today, it’s enough.
Photo by mac_filko@flickr.