BitDepth 727 - April 20

After fondling the iPad, some thoughts on the Apple device.
The iPad experience

Dev Teelucksingh of the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society browses the web on his iPad. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Such is the power of the Apple tablet mythos that within a week, two offers rolled into my in-box to fondle newly acquired iPads.
I took TTCS chief convener Devanand Teelucksingh up on his offer at least partly because he was willing to visit my office with the device, but mostly because he was willing to nuke his setup so that I could see how it worked when connected to a computer.

The iPad works exactly like an iPhone or iPod Touch media player. Superficially, it looks like an iPhone that’s been rolled pretty aggressively with a bilna, but it feels almost exactly like the school slate I used at my grandfather’s primary school. It’s roughly the same size, shape and weight I remember, with a neat black frame around the active area, but instead of a small scraper pen, you gesture with your fingers on a screen that’s surprisingly and pleasantly responsive.

The first surprise is just how fast the device is. For a piece of technology that’s the size of a magazine with an inch cut off the top and side that weighs as much as a similarly sized China plate and is as thick as a particularly hefty copybook, every touch activates a response that’s either stunningly fast or fluidly smooth.
Applications simply open. Movies play without a glitch and the book software for the device is an epic poem to graphics gratuitousness.
Unlike the hardnosed utility of Amazon’s Kindle, on which pages change with utilitarian lethargy, flipping through a book on the iPad is as close to reading a real book as it may be possible to simulate on a computer screen.

Turn a page slowly and a graphic of the page curling follows your finger, displaying the text under it reversed and faded as the virtual page flips slowly over.
This isn’t a standard graphic either, the actual text of the page you’re turning is there, ghostly and in reverse.
My wife, who is absolutely devoted to the idea of a printed book in her hands, grinned with the look of someone tempted by the devil as she slowly turned the page of the sample book, Winnie the Pooh.

Like the iPhone and iPod Touch, the synchronisation procedure for the iPad is identity based. The device uses Apple’s iTunes software as a conduit for moving media, books, contact information and other personal data. Plug the device into another computer and you’ll have to obliterate your setup to synchronise data. 

Users can also purchase books and software directly for the device through Apple’s iTunes Music Store over the device’s WiFi connection. Software and books will require an account with the iTunes store, which in turn requires a credit card drawn on a US bank, effectively locking out local users. If you manage to set up an iTunes account, it’s possible to use gift cards for purchases.
As a way to look at movies or TV episodes, to read books or access the Internet, the iPad is a remarkable device, but that isn’t the only way that the terminally geeky will be hoping to use it.

Like my old wood framed slate, I’d been hoping to be work on the iPad, specifically as a replacement for a laptop on short trips abroad. To do that, I’d be need to be able to access the web (yes), transfer and edit RAW photos (iffy, needs adapter even to transfer JPEGs) and write.
Since Teelucksingh bought the version of Apple’s iWork suite for iPad (US$30), a product that runs in parallel to Microsoft Office, I was able to press the version of the Pages word processor created for the device into service.

With the iPad lying horizontally, the onscreen keypad is large enough that I could touch type a sentence or two and get a feel for what that would be like.
With absolutely no tactile feedback, typing with the software keyboard demands that you constantly look at what you’re doing with your fingers and something as simple as an apostrophe demands that you stop, switch virtual keyboards and switch back to continue. It’s possible to buy a keyboard-dock for the device, but that’s one more (relatively hefty) thing to pack.

There’s a fairly thorough assistive package included with the device, but it’s hard to say who it’s for because the absence of any touch clues on the iPad rules it out for anyone who’s visually impaired.
As a device for consuming media, the iPad excels out of the box. It works, as they say, just as it says on the tin. More ambitious users will have to wait on the inventive community of developers to create more solutions that will address the issues that will make Apple’s tablet a better tool for production.
blog comments powered by Disqus