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Two Days With The iPad

While Apple won’t be blessing Canada with the iPad until later this month, that hasn’t stopped some of us from crossing the border and heading directly to the nearest Apple Store. I didn’t take the road trip myself, however I was the beneficiary of one and over the past 2 days, I’ve been using my iPad quite frequently (in fact, most of this post was written using the WordPress App).

Since its announcement and subsequent release, the general consensus appears to be a) the battery life / speed & industrial design is unparalleled, and b) the software is somewhat limiting. I’ll definitely echo these observations, however I’ve noticed much of the criticism has been focused on issues which will undoubtable be addressed in future OS updates. Everyone is busy looking at their feet, complaining about the immediate and obvious shortcomings, when they should be focused on where Apple is going with the iPad. Make no mistake about it, the iPad really is Apple’s reconception of personal computing, however they’ve only taken the first of many steps in that direction.

“It’s just a big iPod Touch”

When Apple first announced the iPad, an audible groan echoed across the Internet. It’s just a big iPod Touch appears to be the most common reaction upon seeing the iPad for the first time, and while there is definitely some validity to that observation, it’s not exactly true. Yes, the iPad looks and feels very similar to an iPod Touch, and yes they share the same operating system (which really makes them fraternal twins). However, the iPad currently sits uncomfortably between the iPod Touch and the MacBook; Born from a smartphone and wanting to be laptop replacement, but unable to reach its full stride. It wants to run—and starts to pickup pace— but then trips over it’s own feet.

Coming from an iPod Touch or iPhone, you’ll feel right at home. Sure, the screen is roughly 4x the size, but it looks and functions more or less the same. You’ve got the singular home button on the face, the same dock along the bottom, and the same lock screen (now with 4x the unused space) . However, once you start using iPad-optimized Apps, it becomes clear that this is a different ballgame. The larger screen affords a completely unique experience, and the developer community is taking full advantage of this. It’s actually quite amazing how quickly the operating system disappears once you launch an App. The App fills the entire screen and you immediately feel like you’re holding an entirely different device. But then you try to delete something and a tiny blue dialog window appears, drowning in a sea of pixels. It feels odd and out of place, like a relic from a different era. There are all sorts of little details like this that reflect the iPads smaller-screen lineage.

You get the same feeling when you turn the iPad on for the first time, and you’re forced to tether with your computer and authorize via iTunes. Arguably, you shouldn’t have to do this with an iPhone/iPod either, but it feels even worse with the iPad. This isn’t a device that should require a separate computer. You should be able to give it your Apple ID and have everything automatically sync. Apps, email contacts, calendars… files. And this is where the iPad begins to move towards the MacBook and then stumbles. I want to save & edit files on the go, but there’s no meaningful way of managing them. While I believe Dropbox is vastly superior, Apple’s iDisk should really be the “exposed” filesystem on the iPad. It shouldn’t be an App like it is on the iPod, but a home directory that’s accessible by all Apps and sync’d across all your devices. But what happens if you’re sharing the iPad with other family members?

“The First Real Family Computer”

I’ve seen a number of people describe the iPad as the first real family computer, and I would agree that this is an apt description. My iPad will live in the kitchen and will be shared by my wife and I. However, when I started setting up my email and calendars and contacts, I realized that this wasn’t really going to work. We may want to share the device itself, however we don’t want to share applications. The iPad really needs unique user accounts, complete with independent setups. Of course, this adds a magnitude of complexity and I’m unsure if the platform can really support it. Fundamentally, the iPhone and iPod Touch were designed as single-user devices, but the iPad clearly has multi-user intentions. Being that the share the same OS underpinnings, I can see how the iPad could be weighed down by it’s resolution-deprived siblings.

I’m incredibly excited about how much potential the iPad has. I’m sure Apple will address the multitasking issues that plague it and the iPhone. I’m sure they’ll correct the odd interface holdovers its smaller siblings. And I’m hopeful they’ll introduce some sort of cloud-based solution for the file management issues. The only question is if Apple will allow for multiple users per iPad, or if they’re expecting 1 iPad per person. I have a feeling it’s the latter.

Jeremy Bell More posts by Jeremy Bell