The Apple iPad

The iPad is now about two months old. I had actually started writing this post the first week we had it, but never got around to finishing it. Luckily, my view has stayed pretty consistent over time. By now, you probably have read tons of reviews (both positive and negative), many of them saying the same thing. I am not saying that I will say anything new or different – I just want to record and share my thoughts on the device as well.

Sorry if some of the thoughts below are random and mixed together. While I want to say a little about each of these, none of them warrant their own section. Most of this is a list I have been building over the last month. Also, this is a rather long post. I couldn’t decide on a good way to split everything up between multiple posts.

  • Why we got it – I can’t say I have always wanted a tablet-like device, but ever since owning an iPhone, I really wanted something larger as well. But more recently – I have really wanted an extra low-end machine to keep in the living room so I could browse the web while our laptop may be in use (its my wife’s primary machine). I do this on my iPhone already, but that gets tedious after a while – and wanted something only slightly larger – not having to be more powerful. After the announcement – I still wasn’t sure about purchasing this versus a netbook. Right before the launch though, we also started talking about replacing my primary machine (our almost 3-year-old 24″ iMac) – with either a new MacBook Pro or another iMac. I went with the iPad vs Netbook since I didn’t want another ‘machine’. If I had the netbook, that’s another profile to manage, documents to keep, etc. For something just for web browsing and other random things – it’s a lot of overhead for a full-blown OS.
  • I didn’t preorder – I really wanted to feel the device in my hands before preordering. I wanted to feel the weight, see it hands on, and use one before I dropped the cash on mine. Luckily, almost everyone I know through our local Cocoaheads ordered one – and one of the guys had a cookout on the release date. My wife and I got to use some of theirs – and then decided that if there were some in stock – we would buy one. Luckily that afternoon – all 3 sizes were still in stock – so we purchased one (as well as the Apple case for it).
  • Don’t buy the Apple case – We bought the Apple case on day one. I then sold it a week or two later. While it worked great and fit the iPad perfectly – it has major flaws for me. It feels rather cheap (for its cost). It also collects WAY too much dust and fingerprints. Finally, it’s a pain to get on and off the device. While I am at home, I didn’t want to use it in the case much – and it was a pain to keep taking the case on and off. Instead, I purchased a Belkin netbook case, which keeps the unit safe. It doesn’t hold the device snugly, but I am also not throwing the device around the house.
  • The San Francisco trip – Shortly after purchasing the iPad, we went on vacation to San Francisco. Instead of bringing our MacBook or my work Dell, we decided to just use the iPad for the whole week, as well as our iPhones. This worked PERFECTLY. Our hotel had wi-fi, and we had no issues connecting to it (on the other hand, it was a very slow network). We used many different apps, including Maps, Mail, Yelp, GoodReader, and Safari. We were able to keep in touch with everyone, as well as plan a kitchen remodel across the country, on the iPad. Our contractor would send email and PDF’s, and we could share the iPad to check things out and respond. We also used Game Table and solitaire to play a few games on the flight, and I also started reading The Lost Symbol through Amazon’s Kindle app. We had no issues with this device out there, and it honestly was more enjoyable (and lighter) than having a laptop to carry around. The camera connection kit was not available while we were out there – but we were hoping it was. I was getting close to running out of space on some of my SD cards from our T1i, and it would have been great to copy them over to the iPad.
  • My next machine – The device has really made me start questioning what I would like for my next machine. I was planning on getting a MacBook Pro, so I could be a bit more mobile with the device. But when it came down to it – other than development and photography – the iPad let me do all of this. Therefore I could get more machine for my money by going with another iMac (plus a lot more screen real estate).
  • User Interface and Experience Decisions – One thing I found interesting is that most of the Apple apps have a very rich UI, and very tied into real-life materials. For example, the notepad app has a UI that shows stitching in leather. While very clean and nice looking – I wonder why they went into such detail to make it so ‘real’ looking. Another observation is the paper-turn animation in iBooks. While very cool and pretty – its honestly a little distracting at times. Plus – I know I am not reading a dead-tree version of the book – so why imitate all this? The one reason I think they did all this is to help bridge a bunch of mental gaps. They want you to feel comfortable using these – and it helps. Also, many 3rd Party developers realize there are more “power users”, and develop their apps to look very clean and pretty – but remove a lot of the bells and whistles of the UI. The most interesting UI choice for me was this – the keyboard has dimples on the F and J keys. On a normal keyboard this lets you find the keys without looking, and then prepare your hands accordingly. But on a virtual keyboard?
  • iBooks (and Kindle) – I don’t read much, but have been wanting too. I did download a few books with iBooks, and I do like it, but the library just isn’t there yet. But thankfully with the Kindle app for iPad, there are plenty of books to choose from. I plan on mostly using the Kindle app for now – but downloaded a lot of the free classics in iBooks. Reading on this device has been great, and not as distracting as I once thought it would be. Though, over time and depending on how you are sitting/laying, the device does start to get heavy.
  • Is 16GB enough? – When I got the wife’s approval to get the iPad – we decided on the 16GB one. When getting ready to checkout – she failed to mention I could have picked up the 32GB instead! But I am not worried about it – the 16GB has been enough for me. That may be due to my usage of the device:
    • I currently stream my videos (Netflix or podcasts or YouTube – and may use StreamToMe later)
    • I don’t carry music on the device. I hope Apple does release this rumored ‘iTunes in the Cloud’ at some point, but not holding my breath yet. I can stream some music if I really want to, as well as usually always have my iPod with me.

    Since these are two things that take up the most space on the device – you can see I am not using all of that. So I have plenty of room for Apps and other things. I still even only have less than 2 pages of apps. I feel that 16GB is plenty for someone who isn’t carrying all the other stuff around.

  • Insane battery life – its true. I easily can go a week or two of using this a few hours every night to check feeds a few times, check twitter and Facebook, and read some. I am easily getting 10-12 hours a charge.
  • What’s missing?
    • Flash – Steve Jobs said it perfectly in his D8 talk – while everyone didn’t like that Flash wasn’t on the iPhone – it really went to another level when we found out the iPad didn’t have it either. This is nearly the number one thing people complain about. For me – I don’t care. You need flash for 2 main things – games and videos. I personally don’t play any flash games at all – and actually many of them (or their concepts) are available in the app store as full games. You will see even more of this over time. And the games that are on the iOS devices are much better than most flash games I have seen. As far as videos – I don’t feel like I am missing much. And over time – this will change too. You only need flash for the ‘container’ or player – not the video. As more sites embed using HTML5 and the like, it will be even better. This is not to say I wish we didn’t have it – but I am glad I am not hindered by it when it’s not working well on a mobile device (plus, every crash I have on my Mac in Safari is related to Flash).
    • Multitasking – Now using the iPhone for 2 years, I can’t say that I was in dire need for this. But this point is now moot – Multitasking will be in iOS 4. I can say I do welcome the feature, and look forward to using it – but never felt this hindered what I used the iPad or iPhone for.
    • A Camera – a rear camera would have been nearly useless on this device. Could you imaging how you would have to hold the thing to take a picture? But I do think a front-facing camera would have been nice – especially with iPhone 4’s new FaceTime feature. I am sure the next iPad will have a front-facing camera, and will be able to use this feature as well.
    • Multiple Users – one thing that I would love on this device is the ability to have multiple users. My wife and I share the device – and so we always have to login/logout of various web sites or use various different apps (for example, she reads here feeds in the Google Reader webapp, while I use NewsReader). This works great for us but it would be great if some apps (especially Safari) would let us have separate profiles or something. I guess the other solution is to eventually just buy another iPad (which I know quite a few people that did this).
  • My iPhone feels so slow/second class now – I have a 3G, so I haven’t yet had the experience of using a 3GS (or now 4) as a day-in, day-out phone. But when I picked up the iPad, used it, then picked up my iPhone, what a world of difference. Since then, my iPhone feels so slow. But this changes in just a few weeks – as we are picking up the new iPhone 4.
  • iOS 4 – You may have seen me mention this already – but iOS 4 is what Apple renamed their iPhone OS too – since its now on more devices than just the iPhone. You can read on Apple’s site all of the features coming to these devices soon. But while on the topic of the iOS, I do have two things to mention
    • Apple has already thought of everything you are thinking of – this is pretty general (and not iPad specific), but many people complain about iOS not having certain features, and think Apple just doesn’t care or doesn’t think things through. Let me tell you – that is not the case. I am sure, without a doubt, they have thought of everything people complain about, and tried it at one point or another. There is usually a good reason why a particular feature is not available.
    • iPad will be getting iOS 4 late – Many people are complaining about getting this fancy new device, but the phone getting the features months ahead of the others. There is a reason for this as well, I am sure. iPad was a very secretive product, and I am sure many people on the OS/Phone teams did not know what was going on. I feel that at some point, they branched the OS 3.x codebase – and went their own way. The results of this were shown off in January, at the devices announcement. At that point – the two teams could merge back together – and basically had to unify everything again. Secondly, with the huge changes in iOS 4, not only did OS 3.2 have to merge back into the 3.x branch, they also had to get all the updates to 4. This is going to take time, and that’s why the iPad will get 4 later than the phones or iPod Touch.
  • Development for it – I am finally getting around to getting my iPhone Dev Connection stuff setup, and finally able to develop for all the different types of iOS products. With the now 3 key screen resolutions (iPhone 1-3, iPhone 4, and iPad), the tools are in place to really make some cool apps for all the devices. I have some plans for these, and will write more about it when the time comes.
  • It is still an appliance/tool. It does not change you as a person. I find it funny just how many people think that because you own any Apple product – you are a consumer whore, zombie, or fanboy. Look – it’s just a tool. You pick the right tool for the job. I chose Apple a long time ago, and I feel like I have the best tools. Other tools may do the job better – but for what I do, I am very happy with my choice of tools. Many people don’t understand this concept – and feel that a computer is more than a tool.
  • Smugness of non-users – above and beyond what I just wrote above, I have noticed a very odd backlash of non-users against those that purchase one of these. Even though I have been using Apple things for a LONG time, and used to the usual ‘Oh you have a Mac, get a real computer’ – the iPad really seems to really increase the volume of the non users, using the same old argument. I really just don’t understand it. Not a big deal, but just an observation.
  • The mom test (multi-touch, still took getting used to, still needs a purpose) – A few days after I got it, I showed it off to my mom, stepdad, brother, and his fiance. Watching my moms use the device was the most interesting. When I showed her multi-touch – she wanted it everywhere. Every place she got a chance to use multi-touch – she wanted to, and thought it was nice. It made sense, and she picked it up quickly, for not being a computer person (she seriously asked me when learning on our first Mac what exactly a double-click was). She was a bit overwhelmed by what it could do – and I think this relates to the ‘Sales Pitch’ below. Finally – she said she just didn’t have a use for it. She couldn’t play Farmville (which is actually changing – as its coming out the end of this month), she liked her big computer, etc. Though I do think when she (if ever) wants a mobile – this would be the device for her rather than a laptop.
  • It’s a big iPod Touch, but is that a bad thing? – I swear I hear this all the time. And when I first started hearing it – I came back with just as silly jokes. For example – isn’t your BMW just an expensive car? But then I realized – it’s not the question – it’s the way people ask. This question seems to always have a negative connotation (why would I want one if I can just get a cheaper iPod Touch). So I decided the best route was to answer this question as ‘Yes, it is, basically’, but then dive in deeper with what makes it better having a big iPod Touch. The screen is the HUGE factor here, and lets you do a lot of things you couldn’t do on the smaller devices.
  • The Sales Pitch – I have found this device, more than anything, the hardest to demo to friends/family. Many people seem to have already made up their minds – because the media/bloggers told them what to think. To top this off – it’s very hard to ‘show’ the product off, what do you really demo? I found it best to let those people play with it, or recommend they check it out at the store. They need to sell themselves. Explaining how I use it has helped a lot too. People either get it, or they don’t. You don’t really need to waste your time selling it to them.
  • A first gen product? – This is actually the first “first generation” Apple product I had ever purchased – though it doesn’t feel like a first-gen product. I say this for two reasons: 1) This device has been in development for years, possibly before the iPhone, and refined like crazy and 2) Already owning an iPhone and using almost every iteration since – it just feels like a continuation of that line, to an extent.
  • Do I regret purchasing it? – I ask myself this question at times, but no – I don’t. I don’t think anyone has a need for this product – it’s just something cool to have and use. I happen to be lucky and have some disposable income to put toward this product – and generally very happy with my purchase. Sure I could have saved that money or bought something else, but I don’t regret purchasing this one. I also at one point worried that iPhone 4 would make me never use the iPad again, but I don’t think that will happen. The extra screen space makes a big difference.
  • Won’t the next one have _______ and be so much better – Of course it will, and then the one after that too, and so on. And hopefully I am lucky enough (and the feature set is worth it) to upgrade to the next one (or purchase a second one – one for me, one for the wife – as I mentioned above). We will have to wait and see.

If you really read this far – thanks! I hope to look back at this post one day to see if I feel the same way. But as you can see, I am very happy with my purchase, and really recommend it to everyone.

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Open Systems, Closed Systems, and Tinkering

Tinkering is one  of the many things that spark innovation. Take something apart, learn about it, make it better, and then repeat. It doesn’t even matter what your background is, be it a mechanic, geek, or even doctor. And the more you tinker, the more you learn. The more you teach what you have learned – the even more chances you have to learn.

This post is mostly in reference to the geeks – those of us who grew up opening up our computers, learning about the different components, upgrading them, finding their flaws, etc. I, like many geeks my age, grew up in a home that usually had at least one computer. My first computer was a Mac, the oh-so-wonderfull(ly crappy) Apple Performa 6200 (don’t get me wrong – I loved this computer, and loved that it was a Mac. But looking at the specs now – man was that a parts bin reject).

This computer was kept in my bedroom, and so I spent countless hours messing around with it. But (it being a Mac, and parts being rather expensive, for PC’s as well) – I really tinkered with the OS and the Mac experience – not with the machine itself. I had many friends in high school that built their own machines, and they shared this knowledge with me…but it was never anything I taught myself. As I learned more about programing (C++ to start with), I learned more and more about other systems, which actually started with *nix systems before Windows.

When I went off to college, Macs were a bit too expensive at the time for us to get a new one – so I got a Dell. After a month of Windows ME, I switched to Mandrake Linux (now Mandriva) through the rest of GMU, and then back to Windows at VCU. My years of previous tinkering around with machines helped me learn a lot about Linux myself – messing around with drivers, configs, and more.

But I remember – back in the day ( I say that like I am old and really want to remember the old days) – this wasn’t always fun. Most of the time – I did it out of necessity (finding what I could on audio/graphics drivers for my Dell, etc). I so wanted to stay on the cutting edge of Linux, but I would always have to wait (or suffer) for hardware support. It was a learning experience, and fun, but not something I would want to do all the time.

Many people I know have very similar experiences – and that’s what made them the geeks they are today. And this is good. Very good.

Now let me get to what this post is really about – smartphones and their OS’s – and those that you can’t tinker with.

You know which one I am talking about – I have talked about it numerous times before, and own 3 devices running this OS (my wife and I have iPhones, and we also have the 16GB iPad).

Since we have known about the iPad (and by that I mean the official product, not the chatter about it before), through its release, and then the announcement of iPhone OS 4.0 – many people complain about Apple continuing to be such a ‘closed platform’. And in many true cases – it is. Unless you ‘jailbreak’ it, unless you pay to be a part of the Developer connection, you can’t run your own apps for it, can’t do things many other phones may do, and can’t customize it all that much.

There has been this uprising of geeks complaining about these devices being so closed. That they are ‘the training wheels of smartphones’. That they are for rich people who have too much money. That you have to be an Apple fanboy to own these things. That they grew up tinkering with machines, and this you can’t do anything with (By the way, the post I just linked to is a good read, but very one-sided. Gizmodo’s follow-up was very good as well).

And the best comment – that Apple has redesigned the last 30 years of GUI interfaces, and this is the future of computing.

And that all of this means it is the end of tinkering.

Being a major geek, and the desire to mess with things like this – do I care? Not really. Should you – no.

Why? – Because I don’t think you tinker as much as you think you did. And if you really think you did (which you could have – remember, I didn’t mess with much hardware as a kid), it’s not like PC’s are going away any time soon – nor the ability to build your own (though, in today’s economy, it’s not as cost-effective to build your own as it used to be). These things will be around for plenty of time to come.

If you still think you are a true geek because you are still trying to increase the power of your parents 486 running Windows 95 or your custom build of Linux to prove your geekdom – you need to go outside, get a job, and get a life.

Why does all this matter? Because while I use these ‘closed’ devices – I don’t feel like I am missing much. Yes, it would be cool to have many of these features that other devices have, or be able to customize it to my heart’s content. I am not kidding – I would love to have the ability to do some of these things. But it comes down to two things. 1) I don’t have time anymore, and 2) It’s not worth it to me as much anymore. The payoff just isn’t there.

Many of us really tinkered out of need. Something didn’t work the way we wanted, and we wanted to fix that. But for me, these devices just work – and I don’t have to think about it, because someone REALLY thought this through for me. Yes – that may sound like I am submitting to the man – but that all just depends on your perspective. So, in this instance – I don’t have that need anymore. And if I do – I can easily write an app for this device to do what I want to do.

And that is where my ‘tinkering’ comes into play today. These devices provide me a platform to tinker, if you will. I don’t have to worry about the hardware or how it all works. I can just come up with an idea, code it, and have it do what I want to.

It somewhat surprises me with this ‘uprising’ of those wanting to tinker…and complaining about these systems. This goes back to what I said before – I really don’t think you did this as much as you think you did – but you would like too. If you really did – which I am sure many people did – then you probably aren’t wasting your time complaining about this.

What I am saying – the people complaining are the people who have this grand vision that they tinkered with stuff before, that’s what made them the geek they are today – have really stopped learning if you will. If they wanted to continue to tinker, they would be doing it elsewhere still.

Those that want control get Andriod phones. Those who want something useful, well though out, and rock solid, get iPhones. But remember – geeks are usually the smallest market these companies are focusing on. I have plenty of family members and non-geek friends buying every type of smart phone, just to be connected. In the end – they don’t care about the OS. They just want a phone they can make calls on, check the web, and play games.

The take away from this – just because you use a closed system never means you have to stop tinkering and stop learning. You just need to change your perspective.

‘I’m just not cool enough to be a Mac person’

Oh my. Microsoft is at it again trying to do a ‘hip’ ad. They started with paying Jerry Seinfeld tons of money to do confusing and pointless ads with Bill Gates. This quickly ended and we then started seeing the ‘Im a PC’ ads. Next up is the little kids playing with digital cameras on their laptops. Now, Microsoft is putting out what seems to be a ‘reality’ type ad, looking for the best computer deals, and pointing out that Macs are overpriced.

My favorite line – ‘I’m just not cool enough to be a Mac person’. Yes, because the type of computer (or phone) you use is what makes you cool. I love my Macs, but come on people – a computer (and its OS) is a tool. Choose the tool you need to get your job done.

Personally, if Microsoft would use this as a real ad – I would totally buy another PC.