Paul McAleer

Three Months with the iPad

Paul McAleer

After three months with the iPad, I find that many of the device’s strengths and weaknesses have been sussed out. I’d like to revisit some old topics first.

Typing

I’ve devoted a lot of my prior reviews to the keyboard and how it works for me. Within the past month my typing speed has improved noticeably. I still make more typos on this keyboard than I do with an physical one, but I am starting to really get into a groove with it.

I’m ready to say, then, that the learning curve for typing on the iPad - for me at least - is about three months.

Speed

I hammered on about the speed issue in previous updates but, to be honest with you, I’ve noticed it most in two instances: while using Mint (which relies on JavaScript quite a bit) and while watching YouTube videos. In both cases the iPad remains usable but is just pokey. Other than that, I haven’t encountered any speed concerns which are so grave that they make me question my purchase.

On Capacity

I purchased the 16GB wifi model (to be known going forward as the TJMaxx Special) knowing that I wouldn’t be storing my 28GB music library on it. Over the past weekend, though, I started to reconsider and may stuff at least one playlist on the device. A lot of the apps I use are silent or just rely on small sound effects, so having music in the background would be just fine. But it’s worth noting that I still have a good 12GB or so free on my iPad. That’s a lot of space.

I also purchased no apps in the past month.

Scaling the Flatland

One of the things I cherish about the iPad is the lack of a traditional file system. I’m all for doing away with folders and that underlying structure and, in the case of iOS, it makes a lot of sense. I have run into one limitation with this setup, however. I use Pages for all of my writing and text editing on the iPad and have a good several dozen documents stored up.

One accesses documents in Pages through a simple swipe-driven carousel, presented at the app’s opening. The carousel includes large thumbnails of the documents which are perfectly legible. Documents are sorted by last date of modification and this sort order can’t be changed. When a document is modified, it jumps to the start of the list. This kills muscle memory: if you start to recognize where a document lives and your brain starts to expect it in a particular spot, you may be in for a surprise. At one point I considered making simple one-page documents with large text to serve as dividers within the carousel but since the order can change, this is a non-starter.

A few days ago I needed to search for text I knew was in a Pages document, so I went to the iPad’s main search screen to type in my query. Nothing showed up. I knew that the word I searched for existed in a document I’d written - I was sure of it. So I tried a simple word which should have brought up every Pages document I have - “the.” No Pages results. Nonsensical. Ultimately I had to hop back into Pages and swipe through the documents until I found what I needed.

The document carousel works fine with a small number of documents but has scaling issues. iPad’s search should absolutely search documents stored within applications. Scalability is a common problem with non-hierarchical data, and it’s too bad Apple hasn’t quite solved this yet. (The solution is right there! Search!)

The Computer Requirement

One thing which didn’t get resolved with iOS 4.2.1, but might with the next iPad, is the iPad’s reliance on a computer to act as a hub.

For example, I have a slew of updated podcasts on my MacBook which never get transferred to my iPad because I rarely plug the thing in. There’s not much incentive for me to do so; the device is so close to being computer-independent that I wish Apple would just take the next step and make the computer optional. It’s kind of ridiculous to think that this wifi-enabled device can’t regularly and natively update podcasts and subscriptions without being tied to a Mac. It’s a total step backwards.

Ideally, the Mac and iPad should share a cloud-based subscription list, and each device can download new episodes as needed. I suspect podcast management is low on Apple’s priority list but this concept could be applied to other things, like music and movies.  I would hope it’s just a short matter of time until that happens.

iOS 4.2.1

The latest iOS was released hours after I wrote this entry, so I haven’t had a chance to truly analyze it. But here are my initial thoughts in bullet form:

  • Some animations, such as heading back to the home screen from an app, seem much less smooth. A little jerky.
  • The iPad now has two mute switches: the old rotation lock switch and holding the volume down button both shut it up. Silly, just silly. The new software rotation lock is not anywhere near as convenient. I think the consistency argument for this change is weak sauce and doesn’t respect the differences between the iPad and iPod/iPhone.
  • Background processes and multitasking work very well.
  • I haven’t noticed any significant speed changes in Safari, YouTube videos, or the like. I have noticed that Safari seems to be a little better with caching pages - but just slightly so.
  • Haven’t tried AirPrint nor AirPlay yet.

Dig these updates? Don’t miss my thoughts at one week, one month, and two months with the iPad.