Paul McAleer

One Month with the iPad

Paul McAleer

So here we are, approaching the one month mark of my iPad-enriched life. As was the case at the one week mark, I wanted to share my thoughts and impressions, and provide perspective on how this device has impacted my use of technology. Spoiler: a lot.

Keyboard

I admit that I am not 100% in love with the on-screen keyboard. It is good, but it is not great. The majority of my problems arise from autocorrection and errant finger presses. My typing skills are largely self-taught. I kind of hover over the home row and type in letter patterns. This leads to a somewhat higher number of typos just because my muscle memory is expecting one thing to happen when my brain says, nuh-uh.

One way this poses a problem on the iPad is via the fact that I must look at the keyboard to type. This is the opposite of physical keyboards, of course, because I can just find the marked home keys and go to town. This slows down my typing to a degree because my brain is trying to relearn the distances between keys without physical assistance. What a weird problem to have.

My tap strength is not consistent, either, so sometimes letters are missed. Combined with the autocorrection this means that entirely different, incorrect words can appear in text. The autocorrection is pretty good, but gets bothersome at times. The action required to cancel an autocorrection is too laborious: one must click the “X” next to the suggested word in word to dismiss it. This may not be bad on an iPhone but the iPad’s screen size means that little target may be far away from the keyboard. There needs to be a way to cancel an autocorrection from the keyboard.

The placement of the keyboard switch key (“.?123”, etc.) is problematic. I often hit it instead of shift and then I’ve got gibberish instead of words. The shift key, too, causes problems: it’s sticky. If I insert a capital letter by using shift, and then delete that letter, the iPad assumes the letter I want to type in its place is also a capital. In effect, the shift key is somewhere between shift and Caps Lock. I do wish the apostrophe didn’t require an upstroke on the comma key in order to access it.

All that said, I find that the iPad works well for short text entry and is acceptable for long text entry (such as this piece.)

Buy, Buy, Buy

The iPad is perhaps one of the best arguments for buying stuff from iTunes. I hadn’t bought but a TV show or two from iTunes in the past, and yet I found myself buying an entire season of Doctor Who pretty easily. The iPad video experience is nearly perfect… except for the glare of the screen, which can be a problem. On the train I deal with a number of interesting lighting conditions and the iPad does well, but there’ll be one or two times where getting a good angle is a total pain in the ass.

When a coworker saw my iPad he said, “You don’t have any apps!” It’s mostly true, but then the stuff I currently have on the iPad covers a lot of my use cases so it’s all right. Still, buying things from iTunes is dead simple on this device; it’s far superior to the desktop.

Battery

Battery life is quite good. I do get around the promised 10 hour mark, dipping down to 8 hours on some days. I do a mix of browsing, writing, reading, and movie watching.

MacBook

As noted in my one week update, my MacBook usage is extremely low. It’s strictly for work I can’t yet do on the iPad, and that list is becoming very small. I would guess that less than 5% of the time I devote to casual computing is happening on the MacBook.

Interactions

I had lunch with a friend who had recently seen Edward Tufte speak. Apparently he is hailing touch interfaces as the next big wave of computer interactions, and I agree. This way of working with a computer is superior to the keyboard/mouse abstraction. It makes more logical sense.

The iPad ups the ante by not simply grafting a touch interface on an old OS, but by also throwing out many computer conventions we’ve lived with for the past 30+ years. There is no file system, no hierarchy, no inherit organization for applications, no windowing system, no system trash can, and no command line. Viruses, spyware, and all that crap feels like a distant memory - or a nightmare. The iPad deemphasizes the maintenance of a computer to its extreme by eliminating it.

This naturally frees up the user to concentrate on actual work, or actual fun, or what have you. Content and apps take center stage when you don’t have incessant dialog boxes popping up, window chrome getting in the way, a system tray, or other stuff. The iPad’s operating system encourages you to work on one task at any one time (even with the forthcoming so-called multitasking of iOS 4.2) and I appreciate that in many ways.

Its limitations, in other words, are its strengths. This in a nutshell differentiates the iPad from other tablets. Upcoming tablets will undoubtedly have longer feature lists, and technical specifications designed to pad bragging rights of their owners (arguably in lieu of providing real value.) In the meantime, the iPad will get annual upgrades, become more refined, and lead the change in the way we interact with machines. Not a bad place to be, for sure, and I am pleased to be along for the ride.