Apr 6 2010

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The iPad, the morning after.

It has been an interesting experience so far, with some growing pains.

Please don’t view the following paragraphs as an absolute tear against the iPad. I know they are growing pains because of  limitations in the current iPad OS – actually I should say iPhone OS used on the iPad – but I think they are reasonable and common enough problems, that you may like to read about them.

The main questions about the iPad are of the “do I need an ipad?” and “can/will this replace my laptop?” kind.

My short answer is: you probably don’t need an iPad and it won’t replace your laptop. Certainly not in and by itself. Plus, you probably want to wait for the operating system to be fleshed out a little if you would like your iPad to work more a little bit more like a computer, rather than an iPod Touch.

I see the iPad mostly as a coffee table machine, where you can tap your way to some information (pull up some local information about a location in a travel show), show pictures to other people, without having to pull out a notebook; or – if you don’t have an iPhone – as something for light browsing and reading on the road and some quick messaging.

If you are an avid reader, Apple certainly wants to sell you the iPad as an ebook reader capable of a whole lot more.
Or, if you have specific apps for your profession or education, like reference material, then the iPad does give you the ability to have a go anywhere portable library of books with a good size color screen and lots of storage.

Copying data to the iPad

The biggest hurdle I have experienced so far is getting data into into the iPad and accessing network data using the iPad.

Take for instance PDFs. I spent a large part of my Sunday afternoon trying to figure out how I could put some instructional and educational PDFs onto the 60+ GB of space (we have the 64GB iPad) There is no card slot or USB port, so it is either WiFi or syncing. Via WiFi I can browse to PDFs I host on the network in Safari, but one can’t save anything in iPad Safari.

Syncing then? I can hook the iPad up to the notebook and sync with iTunes, but I can’t transfer anything. Not a PDF, not a txt note, nothing other than iTunes & iPod compatible music & video. Via online third party instructions it turns out that data transfer is document type dependent and only enabled when you have a compatible application on the iPad. Since there is none by default, you have to purchase one.  While it makes sense that you don’t want customers to copy a plethora of data files over that they will never be able to view on the iPad … what about simple text documents, notes, html files, etc.? The stuff we all view in Preview or Safari?

So, despite the fact that the iPad shows PDFs, you will need to buy a third party PDF compatible with data transfer ability; before you can get PDF files onto your iPad. Welcome to hunting for apps and trying to determine which is going to be best value to do what you want. Something that easily could have been included via a small iPad Preview app.

And why the cludge of a) iTunes syncing and b) per app? Why isn’t data transfer part of the OS? Why is it via USB cable and not WiFi? Why is there no Disk sharing ability on the iPad, where the iPad storage shows up on your desktop and you can drag & drop stuff over? Why is there no small iPad Finder capable of browsing the local network and copying some files over. Let the iPad be a wireless family member. Allow access to public shares, on the fly. Not this, oh wait, I have to go plug my iPad into my desktop and sync a file over iTunes crap.

Shared libraries
I have two systems on the network that share data files, music, etc. Through Safari I can browse to individual files on the NAS (network attached storage) and play them in Safari, but I can’t view shared stuff on our macs or PCs. To my disappointment (but not that it really surprises me in the end) I can’t play music from shared iTunes music libraries.

The question is: Why not?  With multiple GBs of music online on the network, and being at home, it is silly to require that you copy stuff over from the NAS to a Mac, then copy it via iTunes onto the iPad, when it is all there in the home cloud. And, so far I have not found an app that will enable this functionality.

The whole lack of File Management, lack of sharing and network access is so … first generation iPod, but then anno 2010 on a device Apple has been developping for, eh 5 years?

Safari
As good and fast as the browser runs on the iPad, I miss tabbed browsing as well as Firefox and AdBlock Plus. I know quite a number of sites that browse a lot faster when ads are blocked, alas there is no ad blocking in iPad Safari. Having been addicted to tabbed browsing ever since it was first introduced, it is a bit of step backwards that you need to tap a button to switch to an all pages view and then jump over. Ditto to close the page you are on.

I know they did this to give the full screen experience, but I think it would not be a problem, from the user standpoint, to have an auto-hiding tab bar on top.

Also, the all windows view causes delays, because when you switch to all pages view, they load as blank pages and then start to refresh their content. Or at least that’s what it looks like. And then when you open a page, it reloads again. Maybe they’ll implement a cached thumbnail and some browser cache to avoid this.

Printing
It is not that I print that much, but it is a frequent occurrence that I want to print something. You either receive something in email, order something online, research this or that, stumble on something, etc. and either want to print a receipt for an order, print some complicated instruction on paper or as I do to stay green: print to PDF. I am aware of a 3rd party app solution to print from the iPhone (“there’s an app for that”) but in my opinion Apple should have provided a conduit to print a local computer. Of course Apple will probably just go green – while saving some green by not developing printing for the iPad – and let the iPad save paper ;)

Keyboard
I can type quite well on the virtual keyboard, either with one finger or two index fingers, but entering passwords and punctuation would greatly benefit from having a virtual notebook keyboard instead of the limited iPhone keyboard. Switching between keyboard modes shouldn’t be required on a screen this big. By virtual notebook keyboard I mean: having the number row, 4 cursor keys and possibly the modifier keys CTRL, OPT & CMD (for copy/paste like behavior etc).

Business apps
It is reported in various websites, including MacWorld, that when you export your office files through iTunes into the iPad with Keynote, Pages and/or numbers installed, that some data gets stripped out, and of course remains lost when you edit the file on the iPad and want to transfer it back to your computer. What the heck?!

Final thoughts
Again, I know many of these things are growing pains, if they are not deliberate limitations imposed by Apple (which some may be). But, I hope they will make some serious improvements soon – because with the iPad positioned as a multi-fuction computer that they also tout as business capable???

In some areas it does feel like its wings are clipped and I don’t think it is a complete enough of an experience to be revolutionary.  The device is evolutionary, but the current limitations rub me the wrong way. High time for some OS updates.

Speaking of updates. I’m curious whether Apple will separate the iPhone OS from the iPhone OS with regards to features and updates. iPhone 4 OS will be previewed next week and likely released this summer (with the new iPhone). Does that mean the iPad OS will update as well? Or will the iPad OS update independently 6 months or a year from its release date?

PS: A few extra details:
+ I can’t read the iPad in the sun wearing polaroid sunglasses on. The screen just appears black.
+ Forgot to mention it is single user and no multitasking, other than background audio.
+ No tethering to your iPhone Unlimited data package.