Let me start by saying that this is intended to be a quick overview of my initial impressions of the iPad as a device. If you’re looking for hyperbole about how the iPad will Change Everything in the world of educational technology, this isn’t going to be the post you’re looking for.
First off, I am writing this overview using the Notes application on my iPad. Ordinarily, I’d have used Simplenote and Markdown, but since it’s not yet available for iPad, I’ll write this up in Notes and email it to my Simplenote address for final tweaking.
For those who know me, there would never have been any doubt that I would have an iPad. I was convinced that there was an iPad-shaped hole in my life. This really all started pre-iPad back in December while I was on my winter break and spending a lot of time at home with the family. There were times when my wife was reading one of her books, the kids were happily playing together, and I wanted to catch up on some RSS reading or other reading I’d bookmarked for later.
I wanted to read some content, but I didn’t feel like dragging out my 15” MacBook Pro to do it, so I spent a lot of time reading on my iPhone. It was OK, but I found that for longer sessions, it was awkward to hold and tiny to read. Still, it was much handier than dragging out my laptop just to do some reading.
With some downtime to do some reading for my own enjoyment, I also re-discovered my first generation Kindle. I downloaded a couple books to read over the holidays and found the Kindle to be the perfect size. Bigger than my iPhone, easier to read, but not as cumbersome as my laptop. I spent some time looking for ways to get my RSS feeds onto my Kindle as I imagined doing sustained reading on the Kindle would be preferable to the iPhone or the laptop.
Turns out there are a variety of ways to make this happen, but not without paying for emails to the Kindle or having to manually hook it up to USB any time I wanted to move content. I know, I know… The ultimate “first world” problem.
My experience left me wanting something that I could use like my iPhone, but would be as easy to read as my laptop. There had long been rumors of an impending Apple tablet, so I held out hope that such a device would come along.
In the meantime, I found myself making a mental note of all the times that my iPhone wasn’t quite enough, but my laptop was way too much. Taking observation notes in teachers’ classrooms, sitting in meetings, hanging out at Loveland Coffee… The device that had yet to be invented seemed to me to be the perfect device. A ‘tweener. Something that could fill the gap between a laptop and an iPhone.
To further complicate things, my trusty MacBook Pro was nearing middle-age. I knew that within the next 18-24 months I’d possibly need to replace it and I’d need to start saving for that, too.
When Steve unveiled the iPad on January 27, I was ready. The rumors had been swirling for so long that I had begun an “Apple Tablet Fund” for myself. I was ready for a device that – based on rumors in the weeks before the event – would sell for about $1,000 US.
Some of us at my school watched the keynote coverage live and when Steve said that the would be 16, 32, and 64GB models available, I looked at a colleague and said, “$799, $899, and $999, I bet.” I was beyond thrilled when the 16GB model was announced at $499.
I started planning. My circa 2007 MacBook Pro is still plenty fast for me. I primarily use it for Aperture, recording and editing Practical Principals, maintaining my websites, and writing papers, including – eventually – my dissertation. Other than running Aperture (which it still handles acceptably well), these are not high-horsepower tasks. I reasoned that since I had maxed out the memory to 4GB when I bought it, upgrading the hard drive from 160 to 500GB would be $75 that would keep me in business for another couple years.
So having allocated $800 to my iPad + accessories + MacBook Pro refresh fund, I was down to deciding which iPad to get. Which size? To 3G or not 3G? The size wasn’t too hard to decide on. I didn’t plan on using it for music or video more than occasionally, and my 16GB iPhone 3GS is never more than 1/3 full even with over 600 images in my camera roll, a couple playlists, and a video or two. I settled on the 16GB model.
The 3G decision was really not much harder for me. I imagined this as a laying on the couch, sitting in the conference room, hanging out at the coffee shop machine. I could not imagine more than one or two times in a year when I would need or want to access something on my iPad in a non-WiFi place, and even fewer occasions when I couldn’t make due with my iPhone’s 3G access for a short period of time. Plus, the extra $130 could be better spent on apps and accessories.
So on the day they were available for pre-order, I went online at 6:30 AM and made a reservation for a 16GB iPad at the Boulder Apple Store. Why not have it delivered to my door on April 3rd? Let’s just say I didn’t want to leave my iPad in the hands of UPS or FedEx.
On Saturday morning, I left my house at about 8:30 and arrived at the Boulder store at 9:09 – a little later than I’d planned, but it was not a problem. I’d say there were 60 or so people in the line as I walked up. When I got closer, I was directed to a much shorter line for people who had reserved an iPad. I would say there were maybe a dozen people ahead of me. They were letting folks into the store in groups of 8-10 as others were leaving. Some left the store with their iPads held high over their heads as they walked past those in line as if they were expecting some kind of applause. Unfortunately for them, while the line folks were cordial and chatty, it was too dang cold and windy for people to take their hands out of their pockets to clap.
In typical Boulder fashion, the store clientele was an eclectic mix. There was not an “iPad type” as I had initially suspected. There were grandmas and grandpas, athletic-types who looked like they’d stopped training for their half-marathons only long enough to dash into the store and sprint out with an iPad, dudes with neck beards who’d slathered themselves in pachouli oil, and yuppies with valet parked X5s waiting in the underground parking area. Most were only removing their hands from pockets or gloves only long enough to snap a picture with their iPhones and Tweet it.
In the store, I was shadowed by a friendly-enough sales person who escorted me around as if I might grab a Mac Pro and bolt at any moment. He let me play for a bit with one of the display models, but given the insanity and the crowd, I asked for my reserved iPad and a couple of accessories so I could pay and leave.
I wanted the dock (sans keyboard) but it was not in stock. I declined the VGA connector figuring I’d get it another time, then spent a few minutes deliberating between an Incase neoprene sleeve and the Apple iPad folio-style case. I decided on the neoprene sleeve which, in retrospect, I regret a little bit. I have used Incase sleeves for my laptops forever, but this has the distinct feel of a case that was designed and manufactured based on published specs for a device that no one on the design team had ever actually touched (go figure). The case is a little loose rather than being snug. The upshot of all of this is that it will protect the iPad in my messenger bag. The downside is that it is not the ideal “walking around campus” case. I know I’ll be ordering the Apple case online.
I grabbed my iPad and case and the salesperson swiped my card and made me sign his iPod Touch POS device using my index finger. He said a receipt would be delivered to my email. Nice. I headed out the door figuring I’d find a spot at Starbucks or Barnes & Noble and try the iPad out. What I should have remembered, though, is that as with an iPod or iPhone, the iPad is useless until you first connect it to iTunes for an initial sync. I turned it on in the car, marveled for a minute at the gorgeous screen as it displayed the iTunes logo with the little picture of a USB cable, powered it down, and headed for home.
Being the über-geek that I am, I had downloaded several apps on Friday night when iTunes store was fully populated with the first wave of iPad apps. The initial sync was the usual affair – pretty quick because I didn’t include much media.
I configured my MobileMe account and fired up the calendar. For me, this is where the iPad shines. On the iPhone, month-view is not terribly useful because the only way to see that something is happening on a day is to look for a little dot and then tap the day to drill down. The month-view on iPad is beautiful. It looks just like iCal and all events are visible without tapping in to get a closer look.
Next up, Things. Having dabbled with nearly every to-do manager over the last year or two, I always seem to come back to Things. It has everything that I need and nothing I don’t. The folks at Cultured Code nailed the iPad version of Things. It syncs quickly with the desktop version and is actually fun to use.
I opened Mail. Email looks great. I like how turning the iPad on its side brings up a split-pane view while holding it vertically focuses on a single message. I’d been skeptical of the on-screen keyboard, but it find that it is a pleasure to type on in landscape mode (not so much in portrait mode). In fact, I’m well into typing this piece and I’m still using the iPad’s keyboard.
I watched an episode of FlashForward and caught the last 5 minutes of this week’s LOST that my DISH network DVR had cut off… Video looks amazing via the ABC player which allows you to stream for free your favorite ABC shows a day or so after they air.
And the web. Wow. The marketing propaganda suggests that using the iPad to surf the web is like holding the Internet in your hands. Cheesy? Sure. But let me tell you that there is something about interacting with web pages by touching them rather than by pointing and clicking a mouse that is difficult to describe. After years of sitting 3 feet away in a desk chair, I’ve discovered in the last 36 hours that this is not the ideal way browse the web. Nor is laying back with a heavy laptop on your lap. Touching links and images is an entirely new, entirely wonderful experience.
Mind the Gap
For me, this device neatly fills the iPad-shaped hole in my daily workflow. It might surprise you that I’m not a big fan of laptops in meetings or during classroom visits. There’s something about the visual barrier it puts up between people that has always bothered me a little bit, even when I’m the one with the laptop. I’m more inclined to bring a Moleskine for notes and my iPhone for calendaring and to-do list stuff. Now, I intend to bring my iPad instead.
For classroom walkthroughs and summative observations it’s a natural fit. I can create forms in Numbers or, possibly, FileMaker that I can use for data collection.
At home I use the iPad for reading RSS, cruising news sites, and surfing the web. It’s just better. And I look forward to eventually using it as a travel device, especially with the addition of the iPad Camera Connection kit which means I can slurp in a day’s worth of photos from my camera’s memory cards.
What It Isn’t
On the other side of the coin, my MacBook Pro is still the best for doing any significant writing. I also can’t use my iPad to record or edit Practical Principals. And despite the camera kit being a good option for pulling in backup copies of images from a memory card, it’s not a fully-capable image-editing platform.
If you’re planning to make iChat video or Skype calls, you won’t find the iPad to be a suitable replacement for a notebook or desktop computer. But if you’re like me and often find yourself thinking, “I wish I had my laptop with me,” I think you’ll find the iPad to be a great device.
It’s not a “netbook killer” (not that the netbook market needs any help from Apple on that front) or a “laptop killer,” but it wasn’t designed to be. The few netbooks I’ve used don’t do for me the things that my iPad excels at. As Steve Jobs mentioned at the iPad’s introduction in January, “Netbooks aren’t better at anything.” Netbooks strive to do everything a full-blown computer can do in a much smaller package. In doing so, they’re rife with compromises.
Rather than attempting to be a miniature version of a computer and try to do everything, the iPad was designed to do a subset of things better than your computer can do them. If I can’t do it on my iPad (edit video, write my dissertation, Skype video call…), it’s probably something better done on an actual computer.
While light content creation is possible on the ipad, it is not ideal for making things. It excels, however, at consuming things.
I plan to continue exploring the iPad’s use as a presentation device when I get the VGA connector. I also plan to download a book or two to determine whether it is a realistic eBook reader. There are also a couple tips and tricks I want to explore, including how to get my own content into the iBooks app.
My Twitter friends (and my mom) have continued to ask me if they should get an iPad. What’s so great about it?
It’s sort of like when I got my original iPhone. It’s hard to explain to anyone exactly why the iPhone is awesome. It just is. My stepmom spent 15 minutes using my iPad before cruising to the Apple store online and buying herself one. Is it “magical?” I don’t know. If you don’t think you have a need for one, then don’t get it.
However, if you’ve got an iPad-shaped hole in your digital life, I can’t imagine you’d regret picking one up if it’s within your budget.
- iWork (Keynote, Pages, and Numbers)
- Words with Friends HD
- ABC Player
- National Geographic World Atlas HD
Still Waiting For
*Miscellany: While I typed this post on my iPad, final editing (including adding URLs was done in TextMate).