Thoughts on the iPad

Yes, like thousands of others yesterday I decided to plunk down a little cash for a spanking new iPad. Like thousands of others, I figured I’d give a couple of quick thoughts on my experience with it so far.

I’m looking at the iPad in a couple of ways: As a writer, as a journalist, as a geek and sometimes system administrator, and as an open source advocate.

Naturally, the iPad is unsatisfying for open source folks. It’s a device. It’s not really meant to be tinkered with by the end user — and I’d agree it’s not really well-designed to encourage people to create software. Some folks have argued that the device isn’t designed for creators at all, and I have to disagree with that.

Which brings me to looking at the device as a writer. I have several devices in the house that are suitable for writing. They’re also suitable for doing all sorts of things, all at the same time. Browsing the Web, posting to Twitter, SSH’ing into my server, etc. I don’t know that the multifunction computer is the best thing in the world for writers. It’s a necessity if I’m writing about tech for work, but not so good if I just want to write (like I’m doing right now). This is why applications like WriteRoom have popped up over the past few years.

When I was in college, I had a Word Processor made by Brother. Not a computer with a word processing application, an actual Word Processor — basically, a glorified typewriter with a monochrome CRT attached to it. I could save to a floppy disc and print via the typewriter when I was done. I think it was a better machine for writing than my computer in many ways because it was just me and the machine and zero distractions.

Hello, iPad. I could see easily sitting down and just writing with the iPad. Not using the ridiculous on-screen keyboard, but using an external keyboard. I just happen to have an Apple Bluetooth keyboard at home that works just fine with the iPad and actually am finding it to be pretty suitable. I do wonder whether the iPad is going to support 3rd party keyboards. (And despite the lovely touchscreen a mouse would be nice…)

Yes, you could get the same effect with a laptop and just dropping to a console and writing in Vim. So I’m not by any stretch saying “run out and buy an iPad to write with!” I’m just saying, this seems like a suitable platform as well.

As a journalist, I think that the iPad would make for a moderately good platform. With Evernote I can take voice notes, which means that I should be able to do an interview if I’m in decent sound conditions. Lack of a camera kind of sucks, though if you buy one of the add ons you can suck photos into the iPad from another camera.

What I’m particularly liking about the iPad is the combination of Things and Evernote. Which means that I can start doing some of the “getting organized” things away from the actual computer. I can take the iPad to the couch or to the coffee shop and spend some time getting organized and going through notes away from an actual computer. Again, yes, you could do this with a laptop, but not nearly as conveniently. One hopes that the crop of Android/Linux tablets will have some rich applications for this kind of work.

The Marvel iPad app is brilliant, but the comics are far overpriced. Marvel offers an online subscription that allows users to pay something like $60 a year to read comics via a Flash reader, and has put out entire collections of 25+ years of comics in PDF form for less than $50 each. Charging $2 per comic is ridiculous. You can get the paper versions of the comics and share them with friends for about the same price. One hopes that Marvel will get the hint on that one. If not, I’ll either eschew new titles or stick to paper comics.

The eBooks are quite nice. Apple’s iBook is very nice, though the print is a bit larger than I would like even at the lowest setting. Good job on Apple’s part populating the bookstore with a lot of free books from Project Gutenburg.

The Kindle app is likewise nice. And I can sync books I already “own” to the iPad so now I have a lot of options for reading my eBooks — Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or desktop readers. (Sadly, still no Linux reader, though.)

Having Netflix on the iPad is what sealed the deal for me. I have a Netflix subscription, so I can watch on demand content on the iPad anytime I like. Tried it a bit yesterday and it seems to work quite well. Only shame is that you can’t cache movies to the iPad for long flights. (I have my doubts about being able to stream movies over in-flight Wi-Fi.)

As to the argument that the iPad isn’t for creators… well that really depends on what kind of creator you’re talking to. The iPad has a couple of really fine drawing applications that I can see using heavily. It has applications for creating music out of loops, and a number of other creative applications.

But it doesn’t support programming for the device in the way that one would hope. The choice we seem to have right now is between a relatively closed platform that’s quite well designed and easy to use, but limited, and more open platforms that are not as well designed or easy to use and without the same breadth of applications.

Which seems to be the same choice Linux users tend to be faced with on the desktop, though I’m seeing that changing slowly with some of the desktop releases that are coming out this year. Ubuntu, in particular, seems to be focusing on creating applications and what end users want, so I’m hoping that they have some success there.

This is a bit stream of consciousness, because I’m still making up my mind about the iPad. In a sense, of course, I made up my mind when I handed over my debit card and plunked down the cash for the iPad. But I think the jury is still out on what the effect of the iPad will be. There’s not much doubt in my mind that the device is going to be a success. But I wonder whether the actual form-factor is going to catch on well beyond Apple and if any of the free software / open source tablets are going to match Apple’s slickness and “just get shit done” factor.

This entire post, by the way, was written in the free WordPress iPad app.

(This post was resurrected from an older iteration of this blog via Bless those folks.)


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