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Gadget Patrol: iPad

I've been a bit slack on gadget patrol entries this year. It's partly a side-effect of my new year's resolution to cut down on the superfluous technology; with a few notable exceptions, I'm trying to reduce my production of WEEE — and the best way to do that is simply not to buy as much.

However, I know my limits. And I knew the Apple tablet was coming back in December, so I allowed myself an iPad-shaped loophole (and an option to upgrade my mobile phone when it came out of contract — that'd be two months ago and counting, so maybe the resolution's working).

Anyway. My iPad arrived yesterday: a 64Gb Wifi plus 3G model, with assorted extras. (Keyboard dock, camera connection kit, spare power brick, case, and an O2 micro-SIM.)

What follows are some early impressions, hopefully avoiding the stuff you'll find in the regular reviews.

In a normal review of a piece of computing hardware, the reviewer discusses the origin of the device, drools over the unboxing, plays with it for a few minutes, then regurgitates the press release describing its characteristics.

If you want that kind of thing, go here, or here, or hie thee off to an Apple Store to worship the Shiny in person. For now, I'm going to assume you know what I'm talking about.

First impressions: this isn't a PC or Macintosh or UNIX experience, this is something New.

Yes, there's a Mach microkernel and BSD subsystem under the hood, but it's entirely hands-off, and unless you jailbreak your iPad you won't notice it. (I tried to jailbreak mine, but Spirit hung, requiring a firmware reload. As the current Spirit release predates the 3G version, which presumably has somewhat different internals to the Wifi-only iPad, I'm not too surprised.) The actual user-experience is something else: it looks as if it ought to just be a giant iPod Touch, but appearances can be deceptive.

The normal user experience of a full-sized PC or Mac these days has multiple concurrent applications running in windows. In contrast, the iPad throws the whole screen at each app, doing away with a bunch of cruft we've come to expect — there are (usually) no window decorations, frames, maximize/minimize buttons, or scroll bars. Even with OS 4 on the near horizon, with its grudging concessions in the direction of user-accessible multi-tasking, the iPhone OS makes a fetish of decluttering the desktop.

This shouldn't come as a surprise. Steve Jobs is clearly obsessed with design, and the GUIs we've become accustomed to using to interact with computers have their roots in 1973's Xerox Alto. With more than a third of a century of development, GUIs have become hairballs of user interface crud; the Windows 7 desktop, Mac OS X, and your choice of GNOME or KDE all provide multiple different ways of interacting with the system and can be an intensely frustrating experience to a user who's not experienced in their particular interface shortcuts.

The iPad makes up for the austerity of its interface by making use of gestures. A mouse is a single pointer, with separate buttons to signal what kind of interaction to apply to the interface element the pointer's currently tracking. A multitouch system like the iPad doesn't have a continuous moving pointer, but can cope with multiple moving contact points and discontinuous contact (tapping the screen). Someone's been paying close attention to Fitt's Law in designing this UI; interface elements are mostly finger-sized or zoomable, making them easy to grab, and the width of the screen falls within the little-finger-to-thumb stretch of an adult's hand.

A lot of attention has also gone into making the user interface responsive. We've become used to computers that take their own sweet time in accepting input; a typical basic-spec netbook (a 1.33GHz Atom 270 with 1Gb of RAM and a slow hard disk) running Windows 7 or Ubuntu can take 1-2 minutes to boot up and present a desktop you can interact with, and firing up applications takes even longer. The iPad, in contrast, is almost instantaneously responsive. Of course it's doing rather less — Windows, Linux or Mac OS X all fire up scads of background services at startup, and present more complex interfaces — but it's still impressive. Also, muddying the waters, is the iPad's intrinsic performance. a 1GHz ARM Cortex A8 chip with 256Mb of RAM is feeble when compared to a modern netbook, never mind a high-end laptop, but it's quite beefy compared to a state-of-the-art laptop circa 2000, and throwing out all the cruft has enabled Apple's developers to deploy the power where it counts — in providing a really responsive user interface.

So how does it shape up?

I bought my iPad with the idea of using it for a variety of tasks. It's a convergence device, for one thing: I want to use it as an ebook reader. I want to use it for the obvious cloud-computing tasks — email and web browsing, running an RSS reader, and so on. Some light gaming would be nice. Music and video I will take as read. And I want a reasonably powerful portable word processor.

I'm going to go through the list one by one, but first a word or two about the standard peripherals.

The keyboard dock is a curate's egg. I'm typing this blog entry on it right now. As a keyboard, it's excellent — same finger-feel as my desktop Mac. However, I have a couple of reservations. It has a weighted base; this adds up to a hefty 600 grams, according to my kitchen scale. That's more than the iPad itself, and compares with about 220 grams for my old Think Outside folding bluetooth keyboard (which works fine with the iPad, subject to the slight lag that's common with wireless keyboards: the keyboard dock, in contrast, is instantly responsive and doesn't require batteries). It's very solid, and unlike the bluetooth keyboard it's not verboten to use it aboard an airliner in flight, but the weight is a bit of a worry. Also, the stand for the iPad is fixed. It sticks out, raising the profile of the keyboard dock, and it fits so tightly that the iPad won't slide into place if it's wearing a protective case. I'm a bit disappointed; the keyboard dock is the only physically coupled non-wireless keyboard for the iPad, but it's less than ideal for travel.

The Apple book-style case is cheap, fits well, and is nicely designed. I can only find two flaws in it. Firstly, there's the aforementioned failure to fit with the keyboard dock. (I'm very tempted to take a razor to my case, to make a flap for the dock. Second, the front flap doesn't clip shut against the display of the iPad; in principle it's possible for something to slide between the flap and the screen if you dump it into a bag, leading to the potential for screen damage.

(I haven't tried the camera kit yet.)

Now for the use cases.

Ebooks: I've been reading ebooks since around 1998, starting on a Psion 3C and going forward, most recently to a Sony PRS-505 and then a Sony PRS-300 pocket reader. When I got my iPhone I discovered a number of very nice ebook reading programs for it, including Stanza and Amazon's Kindle. If I didn't have forty-something eyes with presbyopia, I'd be sold on the iPhone or iPod Touch as a killer ebook reader. As it is, it's the iPad that does it for me.

E-ink devices (such as the Kindle Reader and the Sony PRS series) have two claimed advantages over LCD display based readers such as the iPad; battery life, and use in sunlight. E-ink displays only draw power during screen refresh, so in principle they're very abstemious; Sony claim 7000 page-turns on their readers. However, I'm skeptical. Experience suggests that a more realistic figure is around 3000 page turns, corresponding to 50 hours between charges (at one page per minute). Moreover, if you use an e-ink device for anything other than reading, the battery drains as fast as any other device; reportedly, the Kindle only runs for a few hours when browsing the web via whispernet. The iPad delivers a solid 10-11 hour battery life, and I can see very few use cases where I might need more than 10 hours and be unable to find a mains socket for at least some of the time. So I tend to discount the battery life argument.

The other issue, readability under sunlight, is a matter of personal taste. E-ink displays are reflective, and are more readable in brighter lighting conditions. The iPad has a glossy LCD screen, and (I haven't taken it outdoors yet) should therefore be less useful in sunlight. However, I don't spend much of my time reading outdoors — I generally read under a roof. This may drive you up the wall, but I'm happy with the iPad screen — and it's a whole lot faster and more responsive than an e-ink device (which tends to flash for half a second at each screen refresh).

As to the software ...

There's Kindle. It gives you a Kindle, with a big fat LCD screen instead of e-ink. There's Apple's iBook store, but this has virtually no content as yet in the UK — other than the staples from Project Gutenberg — that will change with time. In the meantime, you can read any ePub format files you have lying around using iBook; you have to get these onto the iPad by syncing with iTunes, and there's no obvious hierarchical file management facility.

Stanza, alas, runs on the iPad — but not in native resolution; development appears to have ceased since Amazon bought Lexcycle. So I'm stuck using Calibre as an ebook manager, without a decent wireless-sync-aware epub reader on the iPad.

There are other ebook reading options. GoodReader deserves a mention, as an extremely nice PDF reader (with features such as zoom and bookmarking) that has a metric ton of tools for getting content onto the iPad; DropBox synchronisation, WebDAV, FTP, or even a WebDAV server of its own. It doesn't support annotation, but as a reader it's great (and there are other PDF tools if you need to annotate or mark up files). This is going to revolutionise my ability to check page proofs on the move — I would have killed for something like this last month when, in a hotel in Japan, one of my publishers emailed me the page proofs to "The Fuller Memorandum" as a honking great PDF file, expecting a rapid turnaround. As my publishers are moving to all-electronic workflow — which means reviewing PDFs — this alone is going to make the iPad an indispensable tool of my trade.

Email, Web browsing, RSS: This is not the review you were looking for. Suffice to say, I'm writing this piece on the iPad, have got it sorted out as a tool for managing my blog, and move on swiftly.

Gaming: It's as powerful as a circa-2000 laptop. I've got X-Plane on it, and aside from the unfamiliar UI (using the tilt sensor to control the stick and rudder of a plane? No, really?) it seems fine. There's a port of "Battle for Wesnoth" which will fill my RPG jones, and "Civilization: Revolutions". This gizmo is clearly going to be a major gaming platform, and Nintendo know it; they recently named the iPhone/iPod/iPad ecosystem as the biggest threat to the DS. But I'm not (despite "Halting State") much of a gamer, so let's move on again.

Word Processing: Now this is currently a bad situation.

Apple are pushing their own iWork suite: Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. My experience of Pages is that although it looks nice (and is plenty responsive), it's a toy: not fit for purpose. Let's leave aside the lack of core functionality (who would try to sell a word processor in this day and age that doesn't even have a word counter?); the real killer is synchronisation.

There are three use cases for a device like the iPad: (a) as a stand-alone computer, (b) as a PDA-like companion machine, sharing data with a primary computer, and (c) as a thin client, sharing data with servers over the internet ("in the cloud"). While case (a) probably lies in the platform's future at some point, it's not there yet. Apple's vision appears to be case (b), and the pipe through which the iPad communicates with its desktop-bound mothership is iTunes.

Let's not flog the dead horse that is iTunes here — let's just say that it has bloated over time, so that now it's a collection of different utilities flying in loose formation, bound together by a not very consistent interface. The problem with synching between the iPad and the desktop is that it's utterly half-assed. You have to start by dragging documents (be they desktop Pages files or Word .doc files) to a pane in iTunes. Then you sync. Then you have to remember at the next sync (after you've edited the files on your iPad and saved them) to get them out of iTunes and back into your desktop machine's filesystem. Nor is there any facility for a hierarchical storage abstraction in Pages.

Me, I like to keep a lot of work files on hand. About 2000 of them, totalling over 1Gb. Auto-converting them to .doc isn't hard (Apple's textkit on the Mac is your friend), but I like to keep them in a project-oriented folder hierarchy three or four levels deep. There is no sane way to get this into Pages, period.

Hope is at hand, but not from Apple. I'm a fan of Dataviz's Documents-to-Go suite. DTG has been around for donkey's years on PDAs, and arrived on the iPhone last year. It gives you a cut-down but surprisingly functional Word/Excel/Powerpoint file editing suite. More importantly, the last release of DTG Premium includes DropBox support, making it effectively a thin client for Microsoft Office files. Dropbox is one of those really neat cloud computing ideas that deserve to succeed; storage hosted in Amazon's S3 cloud that shows up on your desktop (Mac, Windows, or Linux) as a folder hierarchy. Only changes you make to files (not the entire changed file, but just the changed data blocks) get uploaded to DropBox — and if you have DropBox installed on multiple computers, the changes are propagated to them. (Oh, and it caches data while you're offline and synchronises with the cloud when your network connectivity is restored.) DTG supports DropBox properly, showing you a traversable folder hierarchy on the iPhone and letting you edit your docs, storing them locally if for some reason you can't connect to the net, and uploading the changes whenever possible.

Dataviz have announced that the next release of DTG Premium will support the iPad native screen resolution, and they're probably working on it hard because of the iPhone 4G lurking in the wings. Edit: according to their support fora, a new release with iPad screen support was submitted to the App Store reviewers five days ago, on the 24th. This means it should show up in the store any day now.

(I'd recommend avoiding Office2 HD if you want an office suite. I encountered formatting errors when opening a Microsoft Word .doc file created using MS Word 11 (part of MS Office 2008 for Mac). Also, it doesn't play nice with external keyboards — there's no support for cursor movement keys. It's giving Pages a run for its money in the not-fit-for-purpose stakes ... although, as always, future releases may improve the situation.)


Usage case ... oh, what's the point? If you can't figure out why I might want to work on a buttload of Word documents using an ultra lightweight tablet that nevertheless gives me cloud-based backup, I'm obviously talking to an alien.

Now. What's wrong with the iPad?

In a nutshell, the whole walled garden experience. I understand why they're doing it. But it keeps me from certain specific tasks I want to do, which is why the first thing I tried after I registered my iPad was a jailbreak. (Are you listening, Apple?)

I hate internet advertising with a livid fiery passion that I don't expect you to share but nevertheless expect you to accept as one of my foibles. I am very happy to have a Flash-free experience. (Flash: Fucking Lame Advertising SHite. Do I make myself clear?) However, I am not happy about not being able to configure my iPad to block ads. I'd like to be able to use a hosts file to redirect folks like Doubleclick to 127.0.0.1. Or to install Privoxy or some other junk filter. Or AdBlock. I can do these things on a jail broken iPad. I can't do them on a non-jailbroken pad — that is, I can use a proxy gateway while I'm at home, but not when I'm out and about. Hence the primary motive behind my desire for a jailbreak.

Secondary motive: I want to stay current. I have a bunch of O'Reilly nutshell books on Python. I would like to be able to open a terminal and run a python interpreter while I work through the tutorials. Ditto ruby, smalltalk, or whatever else I want to play with. The "no interpreters" rule in the app store gets right up my nose.

Finally, I'm not your bitch. I bought an iPad because I intend to use it for my own purposes. Limiting me to stuff that comes from a single source — the app store — irritates the hell out of me.

I'll put up with the walled garden for a while. I know why it's there; it's to force the development of a mature computing ecosystem. And I suspect it'll crumble under either an anti-trust probe (now that Apple's market cap exceeds Microsoft they're in the firing line) or external competition from the likes of Google. But I really want my machine for use cases (a) or (c); use case (b) is a PDA, and we saw how well that worked a decade ago. (Hint: the next company to make desktop sync work properly will be the first.) If Apple want those markets they'll have to open the iPad platform up eventually.

Finally, a closing thought.

The iPad doesn't feel like a computer. It feels like a magic book — like the ancestor of the Young Lady's Primer in Neil Stephenson's The Diamond Age. It's a book with hypertext everywhere, moving pictures and music and an infinity of content visible through its single morphing page. The sum is much weirder than the aggregate of its parts. Criticizing the iPad for not doing Netbook-or laptop-like things is like criticising an early Benz automobile for not having reins and a bale of hay for the horses: it's a category error. While we've had experimental multitouch devices for some years, the iPad is the first true representative of the breed to hit the mass market, just as the original Macintosh 128K was the first computer with a modern graphical user interface to ditto. (If you want to be pedantic you can cite the Xerox Star and the Apple Lisa ... then I shall mock you.) The Mac 128K had numerous flaws, but it's still the direct ancestor of the Macbook Air sitting behind me. It'll be interesting to see what the iPad gives rise to, 26 years from now ...

129 Comments

1:

Gratz on having found another cool gadget to play and work with :)

Any hope for a semi-interactive Stross 'book' for the iPad? Like interactive fantasy with cutscenes and maybe mini puzzles?

2:

There's a lot of red highlighted in there, did you mean to do that or is there an unclosed tag?

3:

And the second flaw with the case is?

4:

I've always had trouble with the "it's just a big iPhone/iPod Touch" argument. I imagine the critics of busses saying "it's just a big car" or of jumbo jets as being merely big DC-3s.

iTunes remains a pig. It would make sense for Apple to really update it when iPhone OS 4 comes out (iTunes X?). From behavior alone, it betrays code from the previous century, and why isn't it running a real database under the hood? Who owns FileMaker?

However, I suspect that it would be harder to unbundle all the bits that have accreted onto iTunes. Not only would it be a branding/user education issue, but Apple would probably also need to address subscription services, integrating a streaming-only service, and do something about integrating local and cloud storage. One on the last item alone, tying the current versions of iTunes and MobileMe together is pretty much half-monkey/half-pony all the way down, so I'm not sanguine about the prospects of iTunes getting better/useable soon.

Charlie, thanks for posting this.

5:

In the 'interesting, but perhaps not personally relevant' category -- the iPad seems to be driving a demand for e-comic-books. I have no idea what this will do for/to that industry -- but it's something to keep an eye on.

7:

guthrie: I fail to see what you're seeing. Care to give me a couple of words cut'n'pasted from right before the red, so I can play hunt-the-unclosed-href?

8:

I'm very happy with my iPad.

I've heard a lot of talk that it's just a big iPhone or that it's a media consumption device, not a media creation device. I disagree with both views and to prove my point I released a show today about artists who create music with their iPads and iPhones at http://solipsisticnation.com/?p=465

For a device that's only been around for two months the iPad is pretty amazing. I'm looking forward to seeing what apps are developed in the next year.

9:

You made a quote a couple of years ago, about how the growth rates on new items has progressed, from Trains to Telegraphs to Mobile phones, there was going to be something ubiquitous that wasn't even out when you wrote the article. And that you were going to have to plan for it in your book.

Just curious if you thought the iPhone would be such a device. Yes, it's actual penetration rate world-wide is low, but at every function I'm at where I see people with phones, at least half are iPhones (of course, how much of that is because I'm looking, and how much is because people are using them for more than just phone purposes).

10:

Pages does have a wordcount option, though it's hidden about two clicks deep, which annoys me to no end. One of the reasons I gave up on Pages, except when required to convert something into .doc format, was because of that absurd limitation.

11:

It was Bruce Sterling a year or so ago who observed that the iPhone isn't a phone -- it's an electronic Swiss Army knife, and it swallows other gadgets with gusto. It's a phone, it's a music player, it's a video player, it's a camcorder, it's a PDA, it's an ebook reader, it's a dessert topping and a floor wax ...

Convergence devices change the rules.

12:

Where's the word count hidden?

13:

The iPad is just a Super iPod touch. Everything works better because of the screen size, including soft keyboard input.

The only downside for me: Not pocketable. Since I have an iPhone, this is quite survivable.

Keep in mind: 3G + unlimited data is clearly the best way to use it. That makes the 3G model $500 more expensive (at least in the US at $30/month + $130 for the cellular modem) over a year. This is probably what I will get in a year, but right now I'm keeping my $500.

Note that low-power USB keyboards work with the camera kit's USB adapter, although they're not officially supported. http://db.tidbits.com/article/11219

Glare is quite noticeable, but only bothers me watching video as I walk along the street (okay, sidewalk). Not an issue for reading at all.

I use iBookshelf, which is not free and thus has never been nearly as popular as Stanza. It's iPad native with network support. http://www.iphonebookshelf.com/

Note that you can use MOSX Server as a VPN server, and could block ads that way. It would be excellent if one of the VPN service outfits would offer ad blocking as a feature.

14:

The dropped anchor tag relates to the link to Fitt's Law, up in the UI paragraph. (Phrase, "in designing this UI;".) Currently I see the link extending all the way down to the link to Stanza.

-- Steve

15:

A detail on the periphery of Charlie's review: According to many sources Ubuntu Lucid Lynx boots very quickly. For example, http://www.dedoimedo.com/computers/ubuntu-lucid.html reports a boot time of 27 seconds for a T42 notebook with 1.8GHz and 1.5GB RAM.

16:

Fixed it. (Weirdly, it wasn't showing up in Firefox on this box.)

17:

I'll vouch for the Kindle being way ahead on reading outside. I read out by the pool a lot in the summer (the family loves to swim, I hate it). I took the iPad out the other day and was back in for the Kindle within minutes. The Kindle is also a lot lighter and I even have the larger DX.

18:

I'm probably going to wait for the 2nd or 3rd generation. Apple products tend to get much better a year or two after initial release, as well as dropping in price.

19:

I really like the idea of the iPad (though I suspect I'll like its android-powered copycats more as a matter of choice) but the price is still hard to swallow. Possibly because I've already got (several) computers and a moderately competent cell phone. It needs it's price to come down to about a third of what it currently is before it comes into my "May buy" range.

20:

First impressions: this isn't a PC or Macintosh or UNIX experience, this is something New.

Yes, there's a Mach microkernel and BSD subsystem under the hood, but it's entirely hands-off, and unless you jailbreak your iPad you won't notice it.

Disappointing that you wrote this; the UI should be independent of the OS (*sigh* Microsoft). See the many variations of GUI running under X. See the Sharp Zaurus SL5500 running QT all those years back. Heck, all those embedded Linux machines (TiVo, DVD players, BluRay players, other set-top DVRs... even my TV) demonstrate that the underlying OS is close to irrelevant to the user experience on appliances. I've no idea what OS runs my parent's Sky HD DVR. Don't know; don't care. It's not relevant.

It's only people who want a general purpose computing device that care about it, and the iPad is not that device. It could be, but the Apple restrictions prevent it from being so.

21:

Disappointing that you wrote this

It's an observation I felt worth making, in light of my own desire to jailbreak it and get a bit more hands-on. There's a big difference between wanting to run a python interpreter on something with a POSIX-compatible layer and on, oh, say an IBM mainframe OS.

22:

"What it will look like" even ten years from now is what I keep coming back to. Remember what the first iPod looked like? The original iMac? Apple's way of slowly erasing the past as its product designs mature is sometimes noted in passing, but when you look at that history head-on, it's really pretty remarkable, IMO. But we shall see..

23:

One of the reasons I chose not to get the keyboard dock was because I knew it pretty much had to be heavy and weirdly shaped. Either that or the internet would be filled with complains about iPads falling over whenever anyone tapped the screen. Apple is capable of lots of wonders, but violating the laws of physics isn't one of them. Fortunately, I don't notice the delay with a bluetooth keyboard, and I really like the landscape virtual keyboard. Of course, I type more quickly on a physical keyboard, but I'm fast enough on the virtual that it doesn't feel like a compromise.

Synchronization seems to be iPhone OS's Achilles heel in general, exacerbated by the walled garden. I would have thought they'd have learned from the Newton. One of it's problems was that it was very hard to get data on or off the thing. But apparently not.

Apple seems determined not to expose a hierarchical filesystem. I'm sympathetic. I don't do particularly well with them. Search ends up being faster for me than navigation. (That OS X and Windows both now have robust search features suggest I'm not alone.) However, Apple hasn't exposed to the user any substitute to hierarchical file systems much less a viable one. (The Newton actually had an alternative. Everything was an object in a database. It had no files per se.)

As you said, this makes synchronization difficult at best. The other thing this makes difficult is sharing data between applications. Developers of audio apps actually banded together to establish a (SKD license agreement compliant) standard for putting audio data onto a persistent pasteboard so that you can copy audio from one app then paste it into another. Unfortunately, there are two such standards although they're slowly unifying. In any case, we're dependent on developers to support it. Whenever I see an audio app, I have to check if it supports copying and pasting audio and if so, which standard it uses.

iPhone OS 3.2 has allows apps to register what file types they support. Then a given app can send a file to an app that supports that file type. Again, apps have to explicitly support this feature, and it's easy to get files stuck in a given app. e.g., you can send files into Pages, but not out of Pages.

(BTW, I'm curious where word count is too in Pages. Right now, the best I can do is copy my text into PasteBot. My main reason for using Pages is because it seems to be the only iPhone OS app that supports page level formatting. I don't know how to generate a file in Standard Document Format using solely DTG or QuickOffice. Neither seems to be able to set margins or change headers. The last I checked anyway.)

The "no interpreters" rule bugs me too. The iPad otherwise can be a perfect environment to play around with various computer languages. That the interpreter necessarily must be in its own sandbox may even be a feature rather than a bug. (i.e., if you're learning Python as opposed to deploying a tool written in Python, not being able to delete anything outside the app may be a good thing.)

I do wonder about a potential corner case though. The rule, strictly speaking, isn't "no interpreters." It's "no interpreted code unless it's interpreted by our Javascript interpreter." Is an app that exposes the built-in Javascript interpreter within the SDK license? (i.e., something you could use to walk through a Javascript tutorial.)

(I scanned the SDK briefly and sadly, the only hook I could find into the Javascript interpreter will kill whatever script you're running after 10 seconds. I guess that's one solution to the halting problem. I don't know if there are other hooks, but if it's just this one, it may make a Javascript development environment on the iPad itself less attractive.)

For all its issues, I actually like my iPad a lot. Like you though, I'm looking ahead to what future generations will be like with interest.

24:

SimpleNote. SimpleNote for word processing on the iPad.

That is all...

25:

It's a walled garden primarily becuase it's meant for consumption, not production. It's a content delivery device for infotainment, and if this is Kay's Dynabook made real it's more than a little disappointing. Aside from using it as a 'swiss army knife' for looking at stuff other people have made, I can't see any breakthrough application.

Even with something like video telephony, we can already do what this does in much the same way.

26:
Where's the word count hidden?

Open the Inspector for the current document and pick the Info tab.

It took me about a minute to find this in the help; I was hoping for a menu item, because then I could have exhorted you to set up a keystroke to invoke it directly...

27:

Word count stats: Um, that's on a Mac. I don't know how it plays out on the iPad.

28:

's a walled garden primarily becuase it's meant for consumption, not production

Uh, speak for yourself.

29:

Hi, was GoodReads the right name for the PDF reader you're using ?

When I search for that, the only app that comes up is for the goodreads.com website (social networking stuff, not an ebook reader)

30:

It's a walled garden primarily because it's meant for consumption, not production.

People keep saying that it's meant for consumption, not production. Honestly, I just don't get it. On the hardware front, it has a 10" screen, a virtual keyboard no smaller than a netbook keyboard, plus an optional full sized physical keyboard. On the software front, there are multiple text editors, photo editors, spreadsheets, databases, painting programs, and enough audio software that it's possible to produce a radio story solely on your iPad (or iPhone). Some of this productivity software is even from Apple.

Is it The Bestest Productivity Device Evar? No, of course not. But that's different from saying what it is or isn't meant for. And iPad, like it or not, is a far cry from iPod classic (arguably a consumption device by any reasonable definition).

Heather@29: I think he was referring to GoodReader.

31:

I think Charlie might be referring to GoodReader. It's got a lot of features, and it's cheap (59p/$0.99) but I found it a bit buggy and the interface rather clatty.

Dropbox, by the way, is fantastic. Having a "magic folder" on your desktop that syncs to your other computers, your phone, and the iPad (and all quite elegantly, too) is just plain nice. They've got an iPhone OS-native API (I recently wangled my way onto the developer programme) so expect more apps to be supporting this. In fact, if Apple don't do something startling with mobile.me (like give an entry-level account away for free and integrate an API for it into the OS), Dropbox could become the defacto standard for syncing documents with iPhone & iPad. The official "sync via iTunes + USB" method is just too awkward (go look up some reviews of iWork-for-iPad for the gory details).

So, er, yes. My iPad arrived on Thursday afternoon (I preordered. Apart from the fact that I develop for iPhone-OS devices, for years, I've been wanting to just rip the screen off my laptop and carry it around with me as a device of its own, and now I sort-of can :P). I spent the rest of the day playing with it, and then I spent Friday afternoon writing a basic software synthesiser for it and getting that up and running on the device.

Here's a funny thing: I write games for the iPhone, but *whispers* I don't actually play too many on it, because the screen is so small and, while I don't have the eyesight issues Charlie does, still, I'm not as young as I was, and I when I was young, I had eye surgery. So, I'm really enjoying the iPad for gaming. It sits in a sweet spot, for me, where I can hold it further away from my face (more comfortable focal length), yet it fills more of my field of view than my TV does. Big-screen gaming I can carry about with me in a bag. It's very interesting, as both consumer and developer.

Talking of which, I think it's interesting that a lot of people view it as a media consumption device, not a media creation device. Certainly, that's true for many people, because honestly, most people are media consumers, not media creators. But I think the perception also has something to do with the fact that most people writing about the iPad usually are, funnily-enough, professional writers. And so far, the keyboard solutions are not ideal. But as Joe suggests, for a number of types of media, the iPad may actually be a far more convenient input device than mouse and keyboard.

32:

One potential flaw of the iPad's illuminated display that has struck me recently is its usefulness for late-night reading. I've read a few articles about illuminated screens keeping you awake late at night because bright light can affect your body clock, making your body think it's not late at night and preventing you from getting a good night's sleep. Now, I don't know about you, but I do a lot of my reading just before going to sleep and it sounds like it could be a bad idea to do that using the iPad.

33:

I see the iPad as a development of the idea that originally started Alan Kay down the path that led to the graphic user interface: the Dynabook. Kay was trying to figure out what a really personal computer would be like, one you could carry around with you, for all the work you do, whether you're a writer, an artist, a musician, an engineer, or a scientist (Kay is both a computer scientist and a musician). The graphic user interface has gone through a lot of changes since Kay's work on the Alto and on Smalltalk, many of them have resulted in vestigial organs and assorted cruft hanging off it that don't help the user in the Dynabook use cases. Whether or not Steve Jobs intended it that way, I think the iPad is the first of a new class of devices that will grow to fill out that niche.

The current lack of some sort of structured storage mechanism (I'm not sold on hierarchical folders as the only possible solution here) is a problem, but I will bet that Apple is planning to add something to the iPad to do this within the next year (there are rumors ...). Yes, the model of use Apple is presenting right now is that of a consumer machine, but I believe that's because they're expecting creators to want more power than the iPad can provide them (sure the iPad can display 3D images, but try running Maya on it so you can create them). As the iPad gets more powerful processors, especially when it goes to multi-core, I think we'll see the APIs expanded for more use by creation software.

Re Pages wordcount (on the Mac, at any rate, my budget doesn't stretch to an iPad yet): you can leave the Inspector window open and the wordcount will change as you modify the text in the document so you can get the value at any time without having to do any clicking or hot key strokes after you've brought up the Inspector. I leave the Inspector up all the time when I'm writing anyway; it's fairly narrow, so it doesn't take up too much screen real estate. I wouldn't be surprised if the Inspector is missing from the iPad since the interface model is not multi-window, though it should be simple enough to put up a pane on the side of the document for the Inspector.

34:

Calibre, for ebooks, is one of those amazing open source projects that is tremendously useful, very well done, and has the user interface of a lawn mower designed by a blind cake decorator. I wish I had the time to offer to redo the UI for the author...

I really don't understand why iTunes has persisted in the current form for so long. Sync/backup shouldn't bring up the iTunes UI - it should Just Happen when plugged in. Music/media management should obviously be decoupled from all of that, and for dog's sake, why does it still need to be plugged in to sync? /rant.

Re: the python interpreter, you're giving me a product idea... need to make more time.

Aside from all that (and the walled garden, on which I agree with you and have nothing to say that hasn't been said), my main complaints:

Fingerprints. Inevitable, but damn, I don't _feel_ like I'm that greasy.

Perhaps I'm more ADD than I thought, but I find myself jumping between apps enough for it to start being annoying. I frequently (even when reading fiction) take notes. I really wish I could use an Expose-style task switcher more easily - two finger swipe, or something, to switch. The two alternative approaches I've tried are not satifying - (1) going back to my paper note pad. I'd mostly weaned myself off of it when I got the iPhone. I still use one at my desk for work, but when running around, I've made a concious effort to carry less crap, and it has mostly worked. the iPad has somehow put more pressure on me to take notes. (2) Read on the iPad, take notes on my phone. This makes me feel like an incredible fanboy dork when I do it in private. Doing it in public would be worse, not to mention seem like placing a blinking "mug me please" sign on my forehead (my neighborhood isn't that bad, but still, NYC is NYC, and the dork factor might even be worse for it.) So I'd like that sorted; maybe v.4 will do the trick.

Just a future-shock note: I think Android is going to place a lot of pressure for more ad-hoc networking between devices that Apple will have to catch up on. Wait 6 months - people will be bitching that they can't just fling spreadsheets from phone to pad to phone in meetings, that controlling Keynote/Powerpoint requires a particular app, etc. The proliferation of daemons on the Mac for various things (using the phone/pad as a remote, media controllers, etc.) is already putting pressure for better ad hoc device communication on the platforms Apple already owns, before you get to interop.

Anyway, my thoughts spawned from your rant. Thanks for writing it.

35:

The iPad is aimed at consumers, not "producers". It has a virtual keyboard which cramps text entry rates even compared to the restricted-layout keyboard of a netbook. Plugging it into the keyboard dock means you've turned it into a laptop-equivalent except you can't change the angle of view of the screen as you can on a desktop or laptop (the Mk II will probably have a pivoting dock) and it now outweighs most netbooks despite having less-capable hardware and software. As for the idea of a tool for producing code, graphics or text being stuck with single-tasking, well...

One thing I do expect is that iPads will suffer a lot of drops and falls much as mobile phones do as people try to hold them one-handed while fingering the screen to control them -- the case doesn't seem to have been designed to be particularly "grippy". I've already seen silicone rubber bumper jackets being sold for iPads to try and prevent them from breaking when they are dropped and also to give the users a better grip on the casing.

36:

Not being a gamer and not seeing a use for Flash would be related, I fear. Some of the most exciting things happening in indie game development, especially indie online game development, is happening in Flash. Sure, there's supposed to be alternatives coming down the pipe (Unity and perhaps HTML5 might someday be useful for games, if they get little details like being able to play sounds.) But, as a game developer who isn't really all that fussed with dragging out a low-level language to create an application when a high-level interpreter works just fine, it's frustrating to me.

We'll see how things go, but I'm not all that fussed about it. Then again, I still don't have an iPhone, so I'm not in the receptive audience for this, I guess.

37:

Thank you very very much for this review. I'm off to play with and almost certainly order one now. Having also just installed dropbox. Have you considered maintaining a 'Charlie's current software/hardware list'. Suspect many readers would find keeping their IT kit approximately synced with yours would be a low workload way of keeping up with best practice.

38:

Charlie, Bookshelf is available as an iPad-native app, and it can handle many of the same file formats as Stanza.

39:

Thanks for this review, which is the most useful one I've yet read.

If I buy one it won't be to use as a work tool - as a translator I switch constantly between Google and the source document, and not being able to have both open simultaneously would be incapacitating. But what does tempt me is its potential for keeping kids amused on long-haul flights. A single device that combines movies, games, and books, with a ten-hour battery life, comes pretty close to the Platonic ideal for enabling a stress-free flight with elementary school kids. Though they'd need one each to prevent endless bickering :-(

40:

Robert, have you tried the iPad virtual keyboard? I touch type about as fast with it in landscape mode as I do with a netbook keyboard, possibly faster because of auto correction. If we take think time into account --that is, not straight transcription-- I'm not significantly slower on the iPad than I am with a full sized physical keyboard. No amount of insistence by anyone you can't type satisfactorily on an iPad will change my own personal experience. Likewise, I wouldn't insist that anyone else will have as good a typing experience as I do.

Keyboards are a personal thing. The virtual keyboard works really well for me. I have no problems writing text with it. So you can see why a blanket statement about how it's only a consumption device puzzles me. That is not my experience of the iPad at all, but I wouldn't insist that others must have the same experience of the device I do.

Also, why are we so fixed on the notion that the only way to create is with a keyboard? Quite a bit of audio and graphics production doesn't require a keyboard at all. Am I supposed to believe that because it doesn't come with a physical keyboard, you can't draw with it or record audio? Don't they count as creative acts?

As for multitasking, does it suddenly turn into a productivity device with iPhone OS 4.0 even though it's running the same software? (For me, I only need fast task switching for production so what it does right now is fine. Ironically, I want multitasking in order to use it as a consumption device. It'd be nice to have Public Radio Player steaming audio in the background.)

I'm not saying at you specifically can use it as a productivity device too. I'm just saying the blanket statement that it is not meant for productive work runs counter to my personal experience. (And if you're not supposed to be productive with it, then why are there all of these productivity apps for it?)

41:

Apple's market cap finally surpassed Microsoft's market cap this past week. I view this as a "good thing", considering imho Microsoft has crippled the computer industry since the introduction of DOS. So congrats to Apple on hammering a nail into the coffin of Microsoft's eventual demise.

Now if only I could make a phone call from the ipad I might actually buy one. Unfortunately it's not the Jobsian way. Selling you two devices (or more) is always more profitable than selling you just one.

Note to those who follow in Apple's footstep...(most likely HP with their recent acquistion of Palm), I want to be able to make a phone call from it, along with everything else. Like a universal remote, make me a universal "ipad".

On a side note, May 26, 2010 ... Support personnel are telling customers that a server crash brought down U-Verse Voice in AT&T's entire 22-state local-phone service area. Still can't figure out why Apple went with them for the i-phone. When was the last time AT&T came out with a true technological advancement anyway?

42:

I think when people on the Internet talk about the iPad being a consumption, not a production, device, and about how the keyboard options suck, what they really mean is that it's not a device for the production of software, for which a good physical keyboard is still almost universally necessary. (Can you touch-type Objective C code on your iPad's software keyboard? I bet you can't. I sure can't.) Apple's inane "no interpreters" restriction only adds insult to this injury. I can't possibly be the only person darkly amused by the presence of "Conway's Game of Life" and "Turing Machine Simulator" so-called-games in the App Store.

43:

And somehow the only value of 'production' that counts is 'production of software'?

44:

(Sorry if that last was too snarky, but it annoyed me to see 'production of software' tied to 'people on the Internet' as if software production were the only thing that mattered.)

Also, Charlie? Have you tried WriteRoom yet for text editing? The basic idea for WriteRoom (lock away all other apps) isn't really my thing, but it does offer online syncing a la Dropbox, has gotten some good reviews, and I really do like their other product TaskPaper.

45:

After reading the review I went to the Apple store and looked at the prices
£429 for the basic model with 16gb of storage and WiFi
£529 for a model with 3G functionality
+£25 to be able to get my camera photos onto it with the adaptor kit.
I could barely justify those prices for a decent laptop but hey Apple has always added a couple of hundred onto the equivalent spec PC price

The only "killer app" for my purposes is the 10 hour battery life.
What makes me not get an Ipad boils down to:
Tiny storage space- 16 or 64 GB is only adequate for local storage if you aren't working with video and images.
No USB or SD Port- More cables and adaptors to carry around to get files onto my machine
No Multi tasking- does this mean I cant listen to music or stream audio or even have a film running in the background while I use another program

For the features an Ipad offers I would only consider buying one if the price was halved

46:

Got bookshelf yesterday, didn't include it in this essay because I hadn't got round to using it properly. It works with Calibre, so there's my preferred ebook solution.

47:

I didn't mention Skype, did I? But it's there, and Apple permit VoIP from ipads over 3G.

As for AT&T ... They don't exist where I live. What did they do wrong last week?

48:

"Finally, I'm not your bitch."

Sorry Charlie, but you are. Well, not mine, but Steve's. You KNEW it was a walled garden and you bought it. Too bad if you can't jailbreak it. You cannot convincingly bitch about this after purchasing and accepting their license.

I very much agree with your general sentiment about Flash. However, video on the web currently requires it. Jobs cannot claim this is a web oriented media consumption device with any credibility.
My take on Steve, the walled garden and no flash:

porn was escaping,
steve caged me with iPads
and now I am free

49:

Also wanted to say that despite my above comment I hope you do jailbreak this thing. Anything to help you be more productive and comfortable is awesome IMHO.

50:

One potential flaw of the iPad's illuminated display that has struck me recently is its usefulness for late-night reading.

They thought of that. Unlike a laptop, the iPad's screen can be dimmed to an extremely low brightness--what seems absurdly low in normal light--without turning off. There's a dimmer control right inside iBooks.

51:

In the original post: "Limiting me to stuff that comes from a single source — the app store — irritates the hell out of me."

In computing, now, maybe correct, but .....
If you buy a Ford car, you can usually only get Ford, or Ford-approved spares and extras.
There IS an exception, of course - Land-Rover - but, even there it applies only to "real" L-R's, the big, square jobs that don't need roads.

I note that everybody, including Charlies says "walled garden" - yet he immediately then tries a "jailbreak".
Precisely.
Which is why, although I am no lover of Microshaft, I refuse, point-blank to use Apple products. They, and Jobs are just more of the same old, same old.

52:

I think the walled garden issue is about a lot more than just creating an ecosystem. The buzz phrase du jour for the family of tradeoffs is curated computing, and it is not at all clear to me that the market will prefer an open device, especially when developers on the closed device are free to take inspiration from any existing open platforms. If a new killer app arises elsewhere (and is in Steve's eyes, legit - not a minor caveat), Apple will provide a plot somewhere in their walled garden. Unlike back in the Mac vs. Windows days of the 80s, Apple has the economic leverage here to keep their model going.

Apple has been a master at this - leashing the open software written by "The Community" Bazaar that provides fantastically functional infrastructure in exchange for a horrific user experience, to their own Cathredal-derived top-notch user experience. Hell, it is has been their mission statement for decades - "computing for the rest of us.". Mac OS X does an amazing job of making *Unix*, of all things, actually user friendly despite the layers of sendmail-like (they stopped defaulting to sendmail years ago) configuration hell.

So I do not think that there is an innate creativity gap that will work against curation. What other advantages does an open platform bring, beyond the innate problem of not allowing you to do things that Steve does not think you should be doing (like Flash, which I agree with him about and is only problematic in transition between ecosystems, and porn and its ilk, which I think could be a real Achilles heel)? I would love to develop software on this thing (or just have an SSH client that can see my keyboard's ctrl key!) too, but I really do not have any illusions about this being a sizable market segment.

It might very well be that the advantages of a curated platform will outweigh the advantages of an open platform. How many people will want to trade being virus-free for the ability to run a python interpreter? Against having their registry corrupted by poorly written software? The security issues alone on an open platform can be nightmarish, especially if you are a CIO. The TCO issues around an unsecured general computing platform are huge.

The App Store is a nightmare to navigate right now, but imagine the end-to-end user experience should they make (for example) a more Amazon-like experience available to finding apps. Or even better, a group lens as smart as OKCupid's matching algorithms.

My hope is that we will end up with at least two ecosystems - open user controlled, and curated. But I do think that curated platforms might really have enough economic advantage to them that they will end up being the dominant paradigm in certain computing niches.

As a final note, there is one other niche that I wonder whether will develop. You see, you *can* run a python interpreter (or any other software not suitable for the App Store) on an Apple-approved iPad. All you have to do is pay $99 to join Apple's developer program and compile the code yourself (or have a developer friend who paid $99 and distributes the compiled code to up to 100 of her closest friends' devices). I do wonder whether this current technicality will catch on and lead to a wider option, a geek-friendlier iPad.

53:
With more than a century of development, GUIs have become hairballs of user interface crud

This caught my eye. Is it just hyperbole or do you mean cumulative? I would think most GUI development has overlapped, if anything.

54:

Hm. Link for curated computing in previous post does not seem to work. It was http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2010/05/curated-computing-whats-next-for-devices-in-a-post-ipad-world.ars

55:

I haven't tried touch typing Objective C on the virtual keyboard. However, there's at least one code editor app for iPad,"for i". It puts all the symbols that you need to type Objective C as an extra row of keys on top of the alphabet version of the virtual keyboard. Not having to go to an alternate keyboard to type symbols ought to make touch typing Objective C easier. I don't have the app, so I can't tell you how well it works in practice.

In any case, if what people are passionately angry about is that iPad is not a self-hosting environment, wouldn't it be clearer just to say that? Blanket statements about productivity are misleading.

The "no interpreters" rule also isn't really enforceable in practice, at least not when the rule is stated so simply. In addition to the examples you mentioned, Frotz has been in the App Store since the beginning. Its whole point is to interpret Z-code. Scientific calculators like SpaceTime and PocketCAS allow you to define your own functions. FMTouch supports some subset of the FileMaker scripting language.

I'm not up on every app available. There may be other examples of interpreters in action. Whatever the rule actually is, it's not as simple as merely "no interpreters".

56:

Nestor: missing words re-inserted.

57:

As far as outsiders can tell, the app store approval process involves two testers each spending about an hour on an app before they sign off on it or reject it. The guidelines aren't published, and the quality of testers is clearly variable.

58:

Todd, I'd be happy enough if they'd just open up the signing scheme enough to allow folks to install-from-source on their own iPad without having to cough for $99 a year. That'd permit something similar to Darwin Ports or Fink to evolve, on a strictly unsupported basis.

59:

You're out of line, Greg: the Mac is no more a closed system than Windows (arguably somewhat less of one). You can wander into shops and buy packaged commercial software for it from folks other than Apple, or you can install open source to your own content. If you own a Mac, you've got root.

The company-town model in contrast applies to the iDevices.

60:

Relatedly, I've just acquired an Android device (a Samsung Galaxy), and I'm seriously disappointed. It's a real pain to work with; I've said before that I hate all touchscreens, and this is a case in point. Whatever you do, it's a risk.

It is surprisingly hard to change basic configuration things like the ringing tones; in general, the UI is hidy. There is no way to explicitly terminate an app, unless you count firing up a terminal emulator and doing ps -e|grep someapp|killall - and doing command line things on a device without hard keys is a daft proposition. So I have the impression that it tends to accumulate zombies until it crashes.

The Web browser doesn't do anything intelligent with RSS. There are of course third party apps for this, but Nokia had native RSS support four years ago.

The Google Mail app, although pretty, refuses to open some filetypes as attachments (like vCard - wtf?) and there is no obvious way of changing this. The native e-mail client won't talk to the work POP3 server, or perhaps our lame mailserver won't talk to it.

Of course, it's obsessed with "syncing" all your data with Google, but then I expected that.

I had to turn USB debugging on to get it to do anything intelligent, like mounting as a mass storage device, when connected to a PC.

The home screen contains four oddly assorted icons (operator cruft), with eight more on two other screens accessible by sideways scrolling. This means that 90% of the screen real estate is empty.

If you connect headphones to it, it routes all audio to them, but it locks out the microphone, so if you have to answer an incoming call, you have to faff with headphones while the caller waits on the line.

The hardware is placky, breaky, powerhoggy, and ugly. Although they did - let's all clap - decide to have a proper standard 3.5mm audio jack and a mini-USB power and data socket, they also decided to have a tiny plastic cover over it that has to both pivot and bend to open, and will assuredly break within weeks.

Samsung can congratulate themselves on a cheap and nasty product.

Two plus points:

1) The audio jack is a standard 3.5mm one
2) The contacts application, even when its pleas to report to Google have been squelched, works well. I've loaded my complete KAddressBook contacts file - 1,007 names - as well as the SIM data, and it is a reasonable, sensible searchable experience, which integrates with XMPP presence/availability, and which has the sense to do contacts import intelligently and not to create duplicates.

61:

I don`t quite get it. I recently bought ASUS Eee 1005. It`s substantially cheaper than iPad, weight less than iPad+Keyboard, and the battery is as good (I don`t know how they did it, but Eee battery is insane). I installed (OK, my linuxoid friend installed) Ubuntu Netbook remix, and it boots in less than a minite. I don`t get the appeal of touch screen, with my sweaty hands it will get dirty in no time, and I hate dirty screens.

So, what`s iPad advantage compared to a netbook?

62:

So, what`s iPad advantage compared to a netbook?

It's not a netbook. It's something else.

You're trying to compare a hovercraft with a half-track.

63:

OK, it`s something else, but what? I don`t see anything iPad does that a netbook doesn`t, so there must be something that iPad simply does better. What is it?

Also, which one is a half-track?

64:

"The iPad doesn't feel like a computer. It feels like a magic book"

Told you.

I think the closed platform has more to do with Steve Jobs's transplant than anything else that matters. By the same token, I see little hope that anyone is going to do a comparable UI for an open device. The FOSS community is still overwhelmingly developing for itself, not for general users, after decades. Maybe the XO3. Maybe Canonical. Maybe....

But probably not. It's less fun and more like real work to deal with the constraints of doing design for someone else.

65:

I'm not sure that you're correct, but I can certainly agree that there's more to production that writing code. The trouble is, a keyboard has wider uses. Charlie os a pro writer, and I'm an amateur, but we both depend on some sort of keyboard input for what we create. Is journalism, rather than programming, the common link between the critics?


66:

Maybe a hovercraft to a DUKW: there's a big overlap in what they can do.

And, just as with the hovercraft, I suspect the iPad will have temporary success in some areas. Fuel costs seem to be killing off all sorts of high-speed ferry, not just the use of hovercraft, but hovercraft technology has other advantages than mere speed.

67:

iPads are the best justification for Man-Bags that I've ever seen. But I'm such a klutz its just a matter of time until I would crack the screen so I'll probably pass. And the kids borrowing it and getting into fights about who's turn it is... not worth it.

But at least it's too big for me to put it in the laundry by mistake (like my iTouch).

My ultimate iTem will be something that can be embedded in my skull (so I can't lose it and the kids can't borrow it) that sends output directly to the optic nerve (so I can't crack the screen and if I did its because I cracked my skull).

68:

And thus Steeve Jobs will take over the world, using an army of cyborg iZombies...

69:

OK, it`s something else, but what? I don`t see anything iPad does that a netbook doesn`t, so there must be something that iPad simply does better. What is it?

When the GUI was introduced to the world at large by the original Macintosh in 1984 there were people who asked "what can I do with this that I can't do with a command line?"

It's not the what it's the how. A touch UI makes things different. Some things are harder to do others are much the same and other are much easier.

70:

Dramatically different technology (and interfaces) also enable things to be done that many wouldn't have thought about doing before. Whenever I buy a new gadget I'm always asked what I plan to do with it; while of course I have some tasks in mind (otherwise why get it), I also leave myself open to what and how it does things changing what and how I do things. And it always does.

Charlie's review certainly makes the iPad sound much more favourable to many of the sort of things I would want to do (leaving out programming of course), and intrigues me about the new things that I might find I want to do with it once I have one. I'm still going to wait for a future version, though.

71:

"And I want a reasonably powerful portable word processor." - Whilst I defer to your experience, wouldn't a text editor do? If it needs to be a bit more respectable squirting it through markdown or pandoc will make it look nicer at low cost to you, with headings and paragraphs etc etc. I thought I read a while ago that all the design stuff was done by someone else, so doesn't formatting waste your time and get in their way? Haven't read your books, but if you need footnotes and things isn't docbook easier than word processing? Having wasted hours fiddle faddling with formatting using various word processors I decided it was a job for a dumb machine..

If I want formatted text (for a letter, say; I don't write books) I use MikTex. If I'm writing help for an app I use DocBook via an xml editor which gives me html I can style with css and as a bonus .chm for windows. Am I missing something here?

72:

Regarding consumers, not producers, the Ipad looks to me like the best platform yet for designing your own musical instrument. Assuming the touch resolution is up to it.

73:

I have been able to spend time with the iPad, courtesy of early-adopter friends. My own conclusion is I want a 'Pad, just not this one. I want to be able to load any application I want on it and customise it to my own needs. Guess I'll have to wait for the marketplace to catch up...

74:

"Whenever I buy a new gadget I'm always asked what I plan to do with it; while of course I have some tasks in mind (otherwise why get it), I also leave myself open to what and how it does things changing what and how I do things. And it always does.

Precisely!

When I got the Kindle, I thought the killer feature was the "free" wireless, to let me purchase reading material when I'm trapped and bored in waiting rooms and such.

I do value that potential, but in practice I don't use it much. Instead, what the Kindle gives back to me is the ability to read in bed, which I used to treasure before the internet age tied me to a screen for most of my reading. I had this huge backlog of stuff from the internet I wanted to read, but did not want to read while sitting at my computer for the nth hour of the day. And, with Calibre, the Kindle turns out to be a handy long-battery-life e-reader with effectively infinite storage space. Amazon who?

That, I did not see coming.

75:

Whilst I defer to your experience, wouldn't a text editor do?

Nope.

Reason: I can write with a text editor, but my publishers idea of electronic workflow involves Word documents and PDF. And the lack of a command line on the iPad means that I can't run the Pythondoc tools on it that I'd need in order to build RTF or .doc files from ReStructured Text, or the Perl POD tools for POD files, or, or ...

It's one of my bizarre quirks that I want a complete writing toolchain on whatever device I'm writing on. So a word processor it is (pending some serious jailbreak action).

76:

It's a shame Megacorp doesn't get it. They must be giving themselves oodles of work getting from pdf / Word to a typeset book, no? Or is it just easier for them to impose a uniform word processed workflow on non-techie authors?

77:

The latter. (Most fiction authors are non-techies. Note that average age at first novel sale is around 36; so median age in the profession is around 50-60.)

78:

Charlie, you're absolutely right that having iTunes be at the heart of all the syncing is completely terrible. I think Macintosh users tend to find it the worst of all.

There's unfortunately a very good reason for it.

Windows users.

Back before the iPod supported Windows at all, you could still sync photos and contacts and calendars and stuff to the iPod. But you didn't do it through iTunes. On the mac, you used this sync framework that's the one still in use for syncing to arbitrary feature phones, "iSync".

When they started to support Windows users, they had a choice. They could get users to install multiple pieces of Apple software (sync frameworks, iTunes, photo sync plugins, address book plugins, et cetera), or they could fold all of the sync functionality into the one piece of software they *were* prepared to force everyone to install (iTunes, bringing access to the iTunes Music Store along with it). Once they put all that cruft in for the Windows users, they had the choice of making MacOS and Windows behave fundamentally differently, or making them behave the same. They went with the "lower development and support costs" choice. The result is a truly terrible user experience.

There's hope, at least some hope. Some of this stuff is starting to sync with the cloud (MobileMe, Yahoo, *and* Google, with differing levels of support).

And where it's possible for them to implement this via standard formats and open protocols... they may be taking their time about doing it, but they *are* doing it. You can have the calendar on your iPad sync with an arbitrary CalDAV data store for all its calendaring info, even if it's an open-source one you run in your house. Today you can have the address book pull data from an LDAP server you run at home, and there have been whispers of CardDAV making that even better eventually.

So, there's hope. More of the bits of data have to sync flawlessly with a cloud first. Their *own* cloud has to offer a very good experience for non-MacOS users second (eg. syncing "Windows Contacts" to the MobileMe address book). Once all of that is really really working well, and is the way most users are keeping things in sync, I bet we start to see them fix the horrendous bloat in iTunes.

But probably not before that. Alas.

79:

So Charlie, on the subject of an author's toolchain for the iPad...

I got an iPad intending to replace my laptop with it. Now, "out of the box" it's certainly not a complete replacement, but I'm a programmer by trade, who's been programming in Objective-C (the language the iPhone uses) since back around 1989 or so (when I learned it on a NeXT machine at my university).

My *intent* has been to fill in the gaps by writing programs that *I* actually need, just for myself because I need them, and then releasing them for free in the app store. I'm just getting started, and some of the things I have in mind are turning out to be tricky. (Example: a language-sensitive programmer's editor that mirrors its display output to the video-out port if you have an adapter connected, so that we can do a code review in a conference room, and that can sync its local files with the sorts of document repositories that *programmers* use: CVS, svn, git, et cetera. That's not proving to be an overnight project...)

Anyhow. I'd *love* to hear an actual detailed specification of the workflow you as an author would *like* on the iPad. I'm not talking about specific tools, I'm talking about tasks. Like, I can imagine writing an app that took in documents from an off-the-shelf word processor, and let you interactively participate in converting them to EPUB format. But I have *no* idea if a for-real grown-up author would find that the least bit useful.

Anyhow, I'm just one guy (and one that at least for hobbyist work, often starts things he doesn't finish, I have to admit). But you've got an awful lot of fans that are software engineers, as I'm pretty sure you're aware (I count at least five at my own office, at least judging by how long it's taking for me to get my copy of "The Atrocity Archives" back...).

If all you did was write up the workflow you'd *like* to experience, end to end, I think there's a pretty decent chance that some fan or another would write it for the iPad... and Android... and webOS... and Windows Phone 7 if that ends up in a slate some day... you get the idea. You *do* have an army of nerds. Consider harnessing us.

80:

I for one salute our new Strossian overlords.

Sorry about the run on url thing, I didn't know you couldn't see it and didn't check back until after it was fixed.

I find reading my netbook in sunlight nearly impossible, how would an ipad cope with being used as a map or set of directions when you are in a strange new place, rather like I've seen people using their iphones as GPS?
Speaking as a late adopter but neverthless interested in stuff like this, its going to be fun over the next few years as various things are done with user interfaces. It'll be most fun for those of us with good eyesight and hand eye coordination, but hopefully those who have less good vision etc won't be left behind.

Would it be possible to stick wee rings or suchlike on your fingers and use them with some sort of location sensor to play the ipad like a theremin?
That would be so cool. Sorry, did someone say magic book?

81:

Would it be possible to stick wee rings or suchlike on your fingers and use them with some sort of location sensor to play the ipad like a theremin?

We haz a theremin, so no such trickery required here!

82:

I bought a Wifi only the day it came out. But only now, sitting in the Cairo airport after having done a Mediterranean whirlwind tour, did I truly come to love it. I ran music and books all the way from Houston to Rome without getting to 50% battery. I restocked ebooks on a crappy Athenian Internet connection, and my photos look fantastic. Also, AT&T won't be screwing me to the tune of $500 for this experience. This thing is worth the money, but like a motorcycle, should not be your only form of computer.

83:

Hey, c'mon, I'm pushing 55; middle aged geeks of the world unite!

re 78: I use windows because I'm a cheapskate, iTunes et al doesn't get anywhere near my machine owing to the carpet bombing type thing, where all of a sudden Apple is installing everything they've ever made and I've miraculously agreed to their Ts&Cs. Not sure how this affects your argument but don't blame this windows user.

re 79: At the risk of butting in, would a possible workflow be text a la markdown (or whatever) | render to html | publishing house who open the html with Word?

We assume the existence a text editor on the iPad :-)

The task would then be reduced to implementing the markdown-or-whatever to html filter in iPadese. I'm not volunteering mind... Nor am I volunteering to teach the publishing house how to open html files with Word. This, I suspect, is the fatal flaw in my Grand Scheme.

Hey, tell you what, just give the html file a .doc extension! Word will quite possibly (don't know, what with me not using word processors) just open it without batting an eyelid: MSFT are pretty hot on ease of use.

84:

*Basic* text editor on the iPad is a solved problem. There's a 99¢ app named GoodReader, and from within it you can create a brand new TXT file, or edit an existing one. Once you've done that you can use FTP or WebDAV (haven't tried other mechanisms, they might be in there) to push files elsewhere (it comes with preconfigured settings to push files to MobileMe or Google Docs). You can download a plain text file, edit it, and re-upload it.

In fact... I've been using it to do self-hosted programming on the iPad. Not much, but a wee bit.

You create a file ending in ".txt", and edit it, typing in HTML with JavaScript embedded in it (even JavaScript that invokes SQL; the iPad's JavaScript interpreter comes with hooks into SQLite). Then you rename the file to end in ".html", and when you tap on it, instead of coming up in the text editor, it comes up in the WebKit-based web page renderer. And the JavaScript works fine. Remember, interpreters and dynamically-delivered code and self-hosted code authoring aren't actually forbidden -- it's just that you have to use one of *Apple's* interpreters, and they include JavaScript and SQL (by extension of its being embedded in their JavaScript implementation). So sure, Ruby and Python and Perl and almost everything everyone actually wants to do is forbidden... but if you can work in JavaScript and SQL, you have options.

Anyhow. I'm *pretty* sure this tool would suck for real book authoring. No real ability to jump around within the document. No ability to view what you're writing as a "content outline" and rearrange stuff. I'm not sure what functions real authors want in an editing program, but I'm pretty sure that something *less* featurefull than "Notepad" would drive most people batty.

Today, I use Pages. Even for the simple document authoring *I* do, I expect to mostly stop using Pages the moment OmniOutliner for the iPad comes out. I have gotten addicted to using outline processors for authoring and applying styles later (that's been my habit for writing since about 1985 -- did you know MS-Word 2.0 for MS-DOS was actually really good at that?), and I'm very much looking forward to being able to do that on the iPad. And OmniOutliner's file format is XML-based, and for the desktop (MacOS only) version there's basically an XSLT transform that turns it into a Word document. So I bet the export will work there. If that's what people want, and if people think this'll be a decent tool for actually *writing* in.

(I'll probably still use Pages for collaboration, since I'm sure the moment I send a structured outlined document to a peer for them to make edits, I'll get it back all broken and WYSIWYGified, in which case, back into Pages it will go.)

85:

Wife wanted an iPad, so we got one (using serendipitous bonus from her work). I figured it would at least be useful as an ebook reader, having several hundred Webscription books which I've put where I can get them via the web... Only Safari cr*ps out on the HTML frame set somehow. But I can always spend more money on something locked into one platform?

86:

Websription? Actually, you can download the EPUB files to your desktop and drag 'em into iTunes, and they'll sync to iBooks just fine.

Just FYI. I have a bajillion Webscription books installed on mine.

87:

"My hope is that we will end up with at least two ecosystems - open user controlled, and curated."

And we shall call them the Morlocks and Eloi

88:

At my last-gig-but-one, we ran a Perl interpreter on an HP Nonstop mainframe, nee Tandem -- think IBM mainframe, only high-availability (more expensive) and even less POSIX-like.

89:

The jailbreaking difficulty makes me wonder if there's an aftermarket opportunity for an embedded Privoxy hardware device. Point your iPad or other WiFi gizmo at this thing, and it talks to the outside world for you transparently; configure it through a Web interface.

90:

[Alex bought a Samsung Galaxy, an Android phone]

The Galaxy is a Cupcake (Android 1.5) device. Most of your problems are solved in 2.0 or 2.1; 2.2 just came out for the Nexus One and is expected to be widely available soon.

There is no way to explicitly terminate an app

Settings, Applications, Manage Applications, [pick one], Force Stop. Or download a task manager app.

The Web browser doesn't do anything intelligent with RSS. There are of course third party apps for this, but Nokia had native RSS support four years ago.

Google wants you to use Google Reader, which works exceedingly nicely on Android.

The Google Mail app, although pretty, refuses to open some filetypes as attachments (like vCard - wtf?) and there is no obvious way of changing this.

Each app you install registers the ability to handle various MIME types. Get one that reads vCard and suddenly email and browser links will work.

The native e-mail client won't talk to the work POP3 server, or perhaps our lame mailserver won't talk to it.

I strongly recommend K9mail, a fork from the basic email client which now does just about everything better than the native client.

The home screen contains four oddly assorted icons (operator cruft), with eight more on two other screens accessible by sideways scrolling. This means that 90% of the screen real estate is empty.

90% of the screen real estate is available for you to put your own apps, widgets and folders on. Long-tap an empty bit of screen; a menu will appear.


If you connect headphones to it, it routes all audio to them, but it locks out the microphone, so if you have to answer an incoming call, you have to faff with headphones while the caller waits on the line.

Inserting headphones switches the microphone input to the headset microphone. If your headphones don't have a mike, you can add one via a connector cord.

The hardware is placky, breaky, powerhoggy, and ugly.

I can't help with that, sorry.

91:

For your information, the About: function reports that it's running Android 2.1-update1.

90% of the screen real estate is available for you to put your own apps, widgets and folders on. Long-tap an empty bit of screen; a menu will appear.

I know, but I'm not allowed to move the existing ones if it involves scrolling. Like I said, cheap and nasty.

Settings, Applications, Manage Applications, [pick one], Force Stop. Or download a task manager app.

...as opposed to press the "exit" softkey in Symbian S60. it is to laugh.

Each app you install registers the ability to handle various MIME types. Get one that reads vCard and suddenly email and browser links will work.

Contacts already does read .vcf files - I know 'cos I loaded a .vcf with 1,007 contacts into it!

Google wants you to use Google Reader, which works exceedingly nicely on Android.

I am indifferent to Google's desires.

If your headphones don't have a mike, you can add one via a connector cord.

Extra-cost hardware fix for a fairly stupid software problem - in fact, something that should be a trivial configuration option.

(Oh, and I'd quite like to point the ringing tone at an MP3 file of my choosing, something which other GSM devices have been able to do since about 2002.)


92:

Blocking adds: get the iCab browser! best $1.99 I've spent so far in the App Store. In the settings there is an add blocker that works beautifully, and without any mucking about.

It also has tabbed browsing, which I love. It makes the browser actually usable for a long web session. It can even be customized to open all links in background tabs, and loads those tabs while you're still reading the main page.

It supports downloading too.

Can't remember all the other features, but if you don't like it, hell I'll send you the $1.99 (dunno what that comes to in UK play money ). and no, I've nothing to do with the app just a very satisfied customer.

Only problem I have with it is it crashes on me about once an hour. But I can live with that for now considering how useful it is.

93:

Two thumbs up for iCab -- it's a whole lot more useful on the iPad than on my iPhone (thanks to the non-hackable dock on the phone). While the filters aren't as useful as an AdBlock Plus subscription, they're good for now, and the tabs are a welcome relief.

94:

If you get a chance to let us know more about the pdf-ing, that would be very helpful. One of the things I'd love to see on the iPad is something like Apple's Preview. I have to read and review scientific papers, so I need the pdf reader (and it has to be a real pdf reader, not something that tries to shoehorn Latex mathmode into epub), but it's a lot less useful without annotation. With annotation, a pdf reader would be the iPad's killer app.

Thanks for the idiosyncratic review --- I'd much rather an idiosyncratic review than the pro forma stuff that most everyone else has!

95:

I think the next iPad (with cameras) will truly be the first step to The Diamond Age primer...hold the book over anything (a plant or bug, a price tag/bar code, etc..) and get all the information you need. Can't wait!

96:

Can't remember all the other features, but if you don't like it, hell I'll send you the $1.99 (dunno what that comes to in UK play money ).

About two-thirds what it comes to in Bush Pesos - the current exchange rate is $1 = £0.69.

97:

I was so convinced that I wouldn't like reading books on the iPhone that I hadn't tried it until very recently, when I couldn't find a book that I wanted to re-read, so I downloaded it from Webscriptions. To my great surprise, I love reading on the iPhone, and having my current book in my pocket, a click away, right where I left off, and readable even in dim light, is a major advantage--I'm zipping through books because it's so convenient. It's even affected my reading habits--I just ordered a bunch of books from Webscriptions that weren't on the top of my reading list, until I discovered that I could get them on my iPhone. I still can't bring myself to buy Kindle books, though; the DRM puts me off.

I find that books on the iPhone are perfectly readable in direct sunlight (oddly, better than in bright shade), but like you I generally don't read outside. I was thinking I'd buy the iPad as an ebook reader, but now I think I've got all the ebook reader I need (I have presbyopia too, but I've turned up the font size in Stanza, and set the page turn to be very fast). I think maybe I can hold out 'til the 2nd generation iPad.

98:

For your information, the About: function reports that it's running Android 2.1-update1.

Then you don't have a Galaxy, you have a Galaxy S.

I know, but I'm not allowed to move the existing ones if it involves scrolling. Like I said, cheap and nasty.

That's not an Android thing, that's your phone carrier demanding it.

...as opposed to press the "exit" softkey in Symbian S60. it is to laugh.

Killing an app should basically never need to be done manually. The only times I've seen it as needed have been trying out very badly written apps (bye-bye).

(Oh, and I'd quite like to point the ringing tone at an MP3 file of my choosing, something which other GSM devices have been able to do since about 2002.)

When playing a song, choose Menu, Use as Ringtone. If you want to differentiate ringtones based on caller ID info, go to Contacts, pick someone, Menu, Options, Ringtone. You can select a music track, or if you have them installed, use Sound Recorder or Tone Picker.

I'm sorry you don't like your phone. I'm sorry your service provider is nasty and shortsighted.

99:

There are no shortage of PDF readers in the App Store. I think most of them rely on the PDF rendering engine built into the OS.

GoodReader has its own engine and claims to be able to handle extremely large PDFs. My only experience with a really large PDF is 24 page file that weighed in at 106MB. GoodReader dealt with it fine. (However, iAnnotate also dealt with it, if not quite as fluently. I don't know how any of the others do.)

iAnnotate PDF allows you to add Preview-style annotations to the PDF along with highlights, strikethroughs etc. I own this too but haven't really used it for annotation yet. I've used a lot and like the iPhone version of the app though. However, I'd be happier if it supported text boxes. (It turns out that I don't really want annotations. Rather, I want marginal comments.)

100:

Oops, just checked with the GoodReader website. They say they have their own PDF viewing engine, not rendering engine. They use the rendering engine built into the OS. However, they claim to handle PDFs up to 1GB in size. I think they only keep one page around at a time.

101:

I think I've now got it into a condition where using it is not actively unpleasant. It's had a week's configuration - that's more time than I'd expect to spend spinning up a new desktop Linux install. As far as consumer Linux experiences go, it doesn't compare well to KDE4/OpenSUSE - which implies it probably compares worse to Ubuntu...

102:

Give stanza another go but first install the jailbreak app 'full force'.
This gives a full screen stanza with perfectly clear text, and allows all the sync with calibre and other various book locations.

I have found it to be the best reader on the iPad.

103:

Ironically, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer could not be installed on an iPad unless it was first cracked. Magic book under a geas.

104:

Was going to make a comment, until I remembered, an iPad isn't for me, I don't want/need a hovercraft, I want a BDRM.
I don't understand the comments about open source stuff having bad interfaces though, for me a window with 100 buttons on, is far more usable than one with only 5.

tl/dr
Each to their own.

105:

Yes, it's a brilliant strategy, isn't it? He gets us to pay him to take over our minds. Kind of like RCA in the 50s and 60s.

Cut to Mr. Burns drywashing his hands: "Excellent, it's all falling into place..."

106:

"It's a shame Megacorp doesn't get it. They must be giving themselves oodles of work getting from pdf / Word to a typeset book, no? Or is it just easier for them to impose a uniform word processed workflow on non-techie authors?"

Non-techie authors are probably the last complicated part of the game (except for the politics where important authors will not change what they do) but really don't want to be regularly pushing square pegs into the round holes of an industrial production line. Production problems cost publishers real money.)

I've been out of the game for a little while, but the editorial/pre-press production process is/was:

Authour supplies word.doc to editor.

Editor prints doc and corrects/rewrites the text with proofreader's marks in pencil/biro. (And you would not believe the amount of rewriting some *major* authors get from their editors).

Large bundle of marked up paper sent to production department.

Novel is retyped, taking in editor's corrections.

Print corrected text, send to production supervisor for checking against editor's markup. Repeat until correct.

Corrected text supplied to DTP, along with designer's spec.

DTP prints laid out files, back to production supervisor for checking (hypenation, widows/orphans, comformity to design spec etc). Repeat until correct.

PDF of laid out and corrected text sent back to editor.

Editor returns printout with corrections etc.

eventually approved text is run out to a pdf, possibly imposed into press signatures and supplied to print house (or, if you're old school, you run it out to film for the printers, but those days are pretty much over)

d

107:

Touch is ok on a phone screen, but on a 9 inch iPad screen, it's cumbersome, especially with just one hand. The iPad's too big to conveniently stick in the pocket, too limited to do useful tasks. The iPad's not magical at all- you're still using your hands and fingers to interact with it, to type on it. I'd rather have a physical keyboard and a mouse. Networked wearable devices, on the other hand, are magical. For instance, I'd like to interact with virtual symbols floating in front of me, with my eyeballs or by gestures.

108:

What's more, the COMPETITION is catching up on Apple.

109:

Charlie, had you considered an Android tablet instead? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages of those compared to the iPad?

110:

Nope. (1) They're still vapourware, (2) I expect them to compete on price, not design quality, (3) 'all your data are belong to Google' is not necessarily an improvement over 'all your apps are belong to Apple', and (4) they run Flash, which means the web experience is going to be animated-ad-happy.

111:

"Secondary motive: I want to stay current. I have a bunch of O'Reilly nutshell books on Python. I would like to be able to open a terminal and run a python interpreter while I work through the tutorials. Ditto ruby, smalltalk, or whatever else I want to play with. The "no interpreters" rule in the app store gets right up my nose."

iSSH or similar would allow for this, but might be cumbersome with the quitting and launching cycle.
read code section
quit reader
launch iSSH
login / wait for key based login
launch python
forget code section etc

A local python IDE / shell would be very welcome

112:

*Rolls eyes*

Greg, tablets running windows have been around for years. (There's one sitting in the corner of my office, gathering dust; a Viliv S5. I know whereof I speak.)

Windows is a desktop OS; even leaving aside matters of personal preference, and freely admitting that Win7 is a big improvement over its predecessors, it's not designed from the ground up for multi-touch use: it's designed for a model of interaction based around a mouse, and a pointer.

This is "catching up" for values of "cheaper stagecoach can go further, faster than new-fangled Benz automobile if you add another pair of horses!"

113:

(1) While they're not widespread yet, you can buy an android tablet here, for example. (2) No doubt. If you go for the "Apple experience," you'll probably want to stick with Apple devices. (3) I wasn't aware that if you use an Android device, you're required to use Google services. Is this truly the case? (4) Even if you're forced, at this point, to enable all Flash in the browser, I can't believe that that's going to last. I'd rather have the option of Flash available than not.

Personally, I live and die by ssh, git and (when I'm using a keyboard) vim; something that doesn't offer me these isn't going to work well for me.

114:

Curt, did you read the specs on that gizmo?

128Mb RAM (vs. 256Mb on the iPad), 600MHz processor (vs. 1GHz), 480x800 pixel TFT display (vs. 768x1024 LED-backlit IPS display), 802.11b/g (no 802.11n), 2Gb/4Gb FLASH plus an SD slot that maxes out at 32Gb, (vs. 16/32/64Gb). No 3G or GPS. No word on the battery life. Oh, and it runs Cupcake (Android 1.5) -- which is already out of date.

But hey! Webcam!

As I've said before, if I want to drive a ten year old Ford pick-up truck I'll buy a ten year old Ford pick-up truck. But don't try to convince me it's as good as a high-end BMW.

115:

Charlie @ 112
Oops, sorry.
(Except I really don't like Jobs' attitude)

116:

Greg, that's fine: nobody says you have to like his attitude or buy his products.

What I am interested by is the fact that it's possible to advance a new paradigm for personal computing at all in an industry that most of us have, with some justification, considered to be entering a mature phase (i.e. one typified by slow incremental improvements and overall stasis -- think of airliners, for example).

Whether Apple ends up retaining its initial lead in the new class of computing devices they've launched is anybody's guess, but I wouldn't bet against them -- Jobs has been here before twice (Apple II and then Macintosh) and "third time right" is a fairly solid rule.

(Both previous times Apple came out with a strong initial lead, only to see it eroded. Now they've had a third of a century to learn those lessons.)

117:

I'm pretty sure that GoodReader is a non-starter for my purposes. It has the scary word "reflow" in its description, which to me usually means "won't work."

The problem is that the papers I need to read and review are typically (for outdated paper reasons) typeset in two columns and contain a lot of formulas (typically typeset by Latex).

My impression is that "reflow + formulas + two-column = train wreck."

Apple's Preview actually handles these documents brilliantly but that's a Mac program and not, AFAICT, available on the iPad.

118:

Yes, I did look at the specs. It's certainly less tricked out than the iPad, but you didn't mention that you had a need for a lot of CPU and so on, nor did you list any "heavy" applications, so I reckoned it probably wasn't that big a deal. And hey, it is a third of the price, too.

I don't think the "ten year old Ford pickup truck" comparision is really all that valid; after all, next year your iPad will look to contemporary devices as that particular Android device looks to your iPad.

Anyway, if having a 1 GHz instead of a 600 MHz processor is more important to you than having a Python interpreter, fair enough. I'm not trying to convince you that you made the wrong choice. I was just curious as to why you decided to go with such a closed system, since I had the impression you weren't so willing to put up with such things.

119:

One note on Stanza -- development hasn't entirely ceased since the Amazon purchase. A new version of the App for my iPod is allowing me to do some things like more easily cut and paste text which is making it easier for me to take notes for my clients and tell them what line the note is about. I'm not sure if there's something new on the Stanza Desktop front, where it would be really nice to have better .docx support, but at least at the App end there is some stuff going on.

120:

I am guessing that Stanza development *will* stop in the next week or two. We've been told that iPhone 4.0 will get iBooks, and that iBooks will start to sync with other instances of itself (so for example you can read up to 40% of the way through a book on the iPad, and then when you open that book on the iPhone, you'll start at 40% of the way through, just like the Kindle ecosystem).

If we take for granted that iBooks will appear across the whole family of devices, and we guess that the problems of ease of import of epub files into iBooks will be solved (for example by making iBooks a "handler" for epub file types, so that both email attachments and plain web downloads from within Safari work), then I'm not sure to what degree further work on Stanza is justifiable.

(But I have no particularly special inside knowledge. It's just an educated guess.)

Once you've got a ubiquitous and adequate iBooks app that can open DRM-free EPUB files, the only *major* reasons I can see for other ebook readers is to enable participation in other closed ebook ecosystems or the use of dramatically different data formats, which is why I expect that the Kindle and B&N (Nook) apps will be kept up to date (as well as PDF readers like "GoodReader" and "guided visual view magazine apps" like the excellent comiXology "Comics" reader).

The main thing *I* want on that front is a reader that supports *Adobe's* DRM, since that's what my local public library uses for e-lending. If they add that to Stanza, cool, but if not... I'm not sure why we should keep using it.

121:

I'm surprised you didn't mention the builtin iBook reader? With the builtin dictionary, bookmark or search on selecting a phrase, with search having options for Google and Wikipedia (admittedly lame without multitasking), this seemed like a true book hyperreader. I have loaded ~50 free books from iTunes, mostly Guttenberg. The only thing I don't like is that you can't tell easily which are illustrated and which are not. The (free) illustrated versions of Pooh, Wind in the Willows, and some of the Oz books are wonderful.

I think, re your wanting to run a ruby interpreter, etc, that a jailbeak is going to be the only option for years to come. This device is much more for your mother-in-law than for you. How many consumers want access to a ruby interpreter? Totally a niche app.

I have been trying to use the non-3G iPad I received 4/3 as a common resource: a electronic magazine and browser that lives in the family room, for public use. I mostly loaded it up with children's books and movies. No music, pandora and pocket tunes only. My (33 YO) software developer and gamer son and his tech writer and gamer wife visited and liked to play with it. They loaded several new games on it (and I find playing Zombieville on it much better than the iPhone -- where I started playing computer games again after pretty much a 25 year hiatus.) Ditto my (31 YO) graphic designer daughter.

But, my wife, who has hated every computer she has ever used but LOVES her iPhone, does not use it as much as I expected. I think she wants her own, not the public concept. But for that, I think we'll wait a generation or two.

Still, a way cool device. And yes, magic.

Chris

123:

Chris, I'm skeptical about iBooks because it has the same sync problem as Pages or Apple's other apps -- they're all funnelled through the bloated monstrosity that is iTunes.

(Also, I use Calibre as an ebook manager, and iBooks doesn't want to know -- even though there's pretty much an existing standard for network sync between ebook clients and bookshelf software. The other non-proprietary iPad/iPhone ebook readers can cope; the ones that can't are iBooks, Kindle, and possibly the B&N Nook reader -- I can't test the latter as it's not available in the UK.)

124:

Stanza for iPad is indeed out, and a huge improvement over the non-screen optimized version. With the additional fonts on the iPad it's glorious -- much more flexible and customizable than iBooks.

125:

Oh wow, yeah, the new Stanza is amazing. The thing that impresses me is, remember two of the features I was guessing could keep an alternative to iBooks healthy even in the face of a ubiquitous and improved iBooks? PDF support (like "GoodReader") and enhanced visually-oriented magazine support (like "Comics", their "Comic Book Archive" format). They both made it in, plus something called "DjVu" besides (which is apparently a format optimized for scanned documents).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comic_Book_Archive_file

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DjVu

It's *nice* for PDFs. I haven't tried it with the other formats (besides PDF and EPUB) yet. But, excellent, they've taken steps to ensure that there's a point to the app even *if* iBooks gets superior syncing and integration. It's already a "handler" for epub format files, so I've been able to go to webscriptions.net and gutenberg and so on and just tap on epub files to have them open in Stanza. Awesome.

(Of course, this puts me in the awkward situation that I've got "Accelerando" loaded up in Stanza and "The Atrocity Archives" (with DRM) loaded up in iBooks...)

126:

iBooks doesn't have the same problem as Pages et al. (Stanza does, however.)

You have to import the books into iTunes; that's easy, far easier than adding files to an application. After that, it takes care of syncing automatically, just as it does for music and video. Since it doesn't let you make changes to the books, you don't have to worry about copying them back off. (For better or worse.) It won't automatically pick up changes or new versions, however, since it appears to copy the books to the iTunes location; perhaps that's what you meant?

127:

Hmmm. Speaking as your average dumbass consumer, I don't have much trouble with "the bloated monstrosity that is iTunes" -- occasionally it's a bit slow downloading movies on the Apple TV. But the books are so small, less than a meg, no problem there. But, iBooks does need folders.
I quit buying music on iTunes years ago, f### a buncha DRM mp4 files. I switched to Amazon, then to Lala -- oops, acquired by Apple. I think I'm switching to Grooveshark.
What was the article yesterday, 28% of all music purchased is via iTunes??? Unbelievable.

Wish I had somewhere else to buy movies ...

Chris

128:

The ten year old pick-up truck is not at all valid. Ten year old pick-up trucks are very useful. The electronics that you buy from stores such as chinagrabber are worse than Yugos. They'll waste your time and frustrate you and end up in the junkyard.

You can take a trip through electronics markets in China and see all sorts of electronic devices which have similar specs to ipods and iphones and copy the outward appearance and cost an order of magnitude less. Ten dollar ipodishes! Fifty-buck-iphonealikes! huzzah! There's a good reason why more people buy the good stuff.

Specs are cheap. Quality is expensive.
Operating systems are cheap. Integration is expensive.
Generic is cheap. Design is expensive.

129:

Chris, just in case you didn't know, iTunes songs haven't had DRM for a while now. Now they're just standard AAC files with no DRM. I routinely play mine on my Wii and my DSi and on all sorts of other devices.

The movies do still have DRM, yeah, and it's a pain. Music videos too, I think, and audiobooks.

Interestingly, if you buy a free public domain EPUB via iBooks, like the ones from Gutenberg... those do *not* have DRM. I've been able to load them into other readers. Now, *some* of the free stuff like the iPad manual still has DRM on it. But the Gutenberg stuff does not!

I *think* they forbid you from opting out of DRM on books you sell through them for actual money. It'd be nice if it were otherwise, so authors/publishers who want to permit DRM-free book sales could do so. I pay for DRM-free EPUB files all the time (just bought "The Mall of Cthulhu" from Baen that way).

(I've been investigating how to get stuff into the iBooks store because I'm thinking of trying to put the manuals for any software I write in there. Still pondering options.)

Specials

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on May 28, 2010 6:35 PM.

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