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How I’m Using the iPad

Now that we’ve had a few weeks to put the iPad through its paces, it’s moved from being a novel new gadget to something that I use every day. The number one question I get when people find out I have an iPad is – what do you actually use it for?

It’s difficult to describe to people why I’d choose an iPad over my MacBook Pro while around the house. The MacBook is easier to type on, it’s more powerful, and it comes with all the latest plug-ins/extensions to make for a pretty good experience, but it also weighs almost 10 pounds and the battery now lasts a measly couple hours on a good day.

After a few days, I found myself bringing the iPad all over the house. It’s so trivial just to pick it up and throw it on the couch, have it in front of you while you’re eating a meal, or watching a TV show or movie in bed.

So what am I actually using it for?

Reading

It’s been a few months since I started using Marco Arment’s Instapaper for iPhone. Since then, I’ve moved all my medium to long-form reading from my desktop to a mobile device. Simply put, reading while sitting at your desk sucks. I can never get comfortable, and it doesn’t lend itself well enough to a comfortable reading position.

Instapaper works by providing you with a simple ‘Read Later’ link you place in your browser’s bookmark bar. Whenever you come across something you’d rather not read, or a site so riddled with ads the content is hard to process, just click the link and off it goes to Instapaper. The next time you launch the app on your phone, you’re greeted with a highly readable, stripped back version of the articles you’ve saved.

It’s a glorious reading experience, not having to be distracted by navigation, advertisements, or other distractions, and the iPad makes it even better. The latest version received a spectacular visual refresh and now includes three of the new system fonts that are included on the iPhone: Hoefler, Baskerville and Palatino. I don’t have to say much more to those of you who are typography nerds, but to the rest of you: it looks damn good and I don’t think I’ll read any blog posts on my Mac again.

Gaming

Gaming on the iPad is still an evolving landscape. While Apple likes to heavily feature the driving games where you have to tilt the device to steer, what you’ll quickly realize is that this is a lousy way to control a game, and you’ll probably just end up with sore arms. Too many iPhone OS games seem to needlessly employ the accelerometer hoping that it will elevate the level of immersion a gamer experiences while playing, but more often than not it just acts as a frustrating barrier to being able to properly play the game.

The types of games that shine on the iPad are generally pretty casual, making use of clever gestural input with little-to-no instructions required. So far, the best of the bunch seem to be those that take advantage of the larger screen on the iPad to give the player a larger area to interact with, like Scrabble or Pinball.

Godfinger is one such game that really shines on the iPad. The mechanics of the game are nearly identical to Farmville, the Facebook-based farming game with a massive user-base. In Godfinger, you’re the All Powerful One, and you’re given a world to preside over with several followers. You can build up cash by having your followers farm for gold, but need to maintain their levels of happiness in doing so.

The graphics are beautiful, and it takes advantage of a few very simple gestures to interact with the world. The game will continue to run even after you’ve quit, and will send you push notifications if anything needs your attention. You can add other friends that are playing in-game and visit each others’ worlds to help out. You can also run it on the iPhone, playing with the same world you created on your iPad.

If it wasn’t already clear, I’ll warn you outright: this game is addictive. I’ve got countless friends and a some folks at T+L hooked on it, but it’s a great example of a simple game done right on this device.

Utilities

The iPad’s screen size gives designers the opportunity to develop some pretty information-dense applications. At over four times the pixel count as an iPhone, there’s a temptation to cram a lot more on the screen at a given time. However, just like the Web, the best experiences on the iPad seem to be from the apps that show restraint and care in their information design.

I get a lot of flack around the office for my purchase of the $0.99 Weather HD, the highly (and perhaps overly) visualized weather app, but it has become one of my most frequently used apps. Why? I could easily one of the many weather apps that provide the time for sunset, sundown, the atmospheric pressure, precipitation pattern and weather radar, but who really needs any of those things?

When I’m walking out the door in the morning, all I really care about is the day’s forecast, the temperature and maybe how windy it is. The designers of this app recognized that, and deliver this information in a beautiful, visually compelling way. It’s not for everyone, but I’d sooner buy an app that does something simple really well than one that tries to do everything and ends up delivering a mediocre experience.

What’s Next?

There’s still a lot of gaps in the iPad experience and a lack of high-quality, functional apps, but developers are surely working away as we speak on many of them. Most notably, Facebook is way late to the game in delivering an iPad-friendly application (usually being first to the plate on new devices). It’s going to be an exciting year for the iPad owners as many of these apps come to fruition, and just like the iPhone’s app ecosystem, it’s surely going to take some time to flourish.

Adam Schwabe More posts by Adam Schwabe