The iPad – Help Me Decide?61
I don’t know what to do.
The iPad came out last week and, well, I want one. But that’s a standard side-effect of a Steve Jobs keynote; you always end up wanting one.
There’s been a lot of talk about shortcomings of the device, and a lot of the points have merit. Enough merit to stop me from getting it though?
In this article, I’ll be working through all of the pros and all of the cons I can see so far. Hopefully by the end, I’ll know what to do.
(PS – Just for the record; I’m a Windows 7 user on a HP desktop. I also have a Toshiba laptop that will be getting Ubuntu 9.10 installed on it as soon as I can get round to it. The only Apple device I own is the iPhone. Should be a fairly unbiased review… I hope)
Why Would a Web Worker Want an iPad?
The one thing Steve Jobs said again and again was that it felt great to have the internet in the palm of your hands. Okay, so he’s definitely biased, but let’s assume for a minute that there’s something more to it than that.
Checking emails, replying to blog comments, reading RSS feeds, researching for new articles, communicating with clients.
Aside from an optional mail client or the odd simple app to help with these things, all I need for these tasks is the internet. And when you think about it, that’s a fair chunk of a web worker’s daily tasks. If the iPad really did make those easier (or even just more pleasant to do), that’s a major positive.
Another reason for liking the iPad is that it makes for a decent eBook reader. I don’t own a Kindle or any other eBook reader (though the E Ink of the Kindle would put this to shame), but I do end up buying or downloading quite a few PDF eBooks to my desktop.
Reading on the desktop, or even a laptop, just isn’t comfortable though. I have the whole of The Unlimited Freelancer printed out on a shelf next to me, simply because I’d never get around to reading it online (And the rainforests will probably never forgive me for that…)
The iPad is a far, far nicer alternative. I’m still a fan of regular, old physical books for fictional reading, but when it comes to factual books, eBooks are cheaper and benefit more from the possibility of web links in the text. It would also be a fairly nice boost to anyone interested in self-publishing, if Apple open up the iBook store to anyone.
The last thing to mention in regards to work is the potential for a graphics tablet. At the minute, it looks like there’s nothing you can do in this area, but I’m sure it won’t take some clever app developer long to fix that.
Even something simple like drag and drop wireframing would be pretty cool to do by touch!
What about when you Aren’t Working?
Laptops and desktops are emphatically one-man shows. You can have two people sitting around a monitor, but only one person is holding the mouse.
That means only one person is in control. Think how many times you’ve said “oh wait, wait. Scroll back up a bit! Yep, just there!”
With an iPad, you just reach out and touch the screen. No-one has to be in control.
And given the light weight and size of it, it will be much more comfortable to hold between two people.
My girlfriend and I are always loading up the laptop and looking at countries we’d love to visit. The iPad just seems a far nicer way to do it.
And what about when it’s just you there? The biggest plus side then is that it’s not your laptop or your PC. As web workers, we live on our computers. We have to, it’s how we do our work.
But what about when you want to switch off the work mode and have a break? It’s hard to do that at your work computer; you always end up reading emails or going on Twitter or doing something else related to your blog. The iPad is so much simpler and so different to your work machine, there’s the small chance you might actually end up taking a break!
And you never know, the limitations in what you can do on it (No Photoshop, no code editors etc.) may actually come in as an advantage at this point.
Of course, if you do end up doing as much work on it as I suggested earlier, that scuppers that plan.
So what are the Downsides?
There is one looming giant of a shadow on this thing at the minute; is it comfortable to hold?
The demo videos really didn’t make this look appealing. You basically need to either lie down with your knees up (I’m not a sloth, I do like to get out of bed during the day!), or have a humongous hand span (I think my fingers will simply fall off I hold them like that all day…).
Whatever accessory solves that problem is going to make a fortune.
Of course, that’s not the only downside. Apple have been extremely limited in what they’ve added to this device (In short, they added screen space). For the most part, that would be okay, except for a few major downsides.
- Sharing files – How do I sync files between my iPad, laptop and desktop? The laptop and desktop are perfectly taken care of by Dropbox. With the iPad I’d need to either sync it via iTunes (Horrible to do, iTunes is a beast on Windows), or email everything.
It looks like I’ll be sticking to webapps for now, no matter how nice the touch screen Keynote app looked (Especially to someone stuck with PowerPoint…).
- No USB – This is heavily related to the above point, but it’s a real shame that we can’t link the iPad to anything but iTunes. Steve never stopped going on about photo viewing on it, so why can’t we hook our cameras up to it directly? (Can’t really picture myself saying “Let me show you these pics! I just need to upload them to my computer, pull them into iTunes and then download them back to the iPad!” It’s not worth the effort.)
- No multitasking – This has been a long running argument in the iPhone, and Apple’s defence there has always been “battery life.” That’s fine. Truth be told, I’d probably rather have my phone last a full day with no problems than have it able to multitask.
The iPad has 10 hours of battery life though! And I’m expecting to do a lot more work on it than I do on a phone. My laptop (only a few months old) averages around 3 – 4 hours of battery life, so even if multitasking cut the iPad battery life in two, it would still beat the laptop.
The most annoying part of the multitasking lack for me is that it really impairs the research capabilities. If you find some great info on a webpage, you clip it into a text editor, or Evernote, or some other application. Shame that won’t be so easy on the iPad.
- No webcam – I’m not the world’s biggest user of a webcam, but they’re handy to have. I suppose the benefits of a webcam on your iPad would be lacking though because you’d need a table to prop it up on anyway so you may as well use the webcam you already have.
- No Flash support – Given the huge iPhone popularity, a lot of major Flash content providers have set up alternative viewing methods for iPhone users (Like Vimeo videos playing in a standard video format). That covers all I need Flash for, but for people who love their Flash games, this is still a major flaw.
To those that it annoys though, you may want to read an article over on Usability Post; Flash Is Never Coming to the iPhone.
So What Should I Do?
Clearly there are a lot of upsides and downsides to this.
A good rule of thumb with Apple products seems to be to wait for version 2, and I definitely want to play around with it in an Apple shop to see what it feels like to use first. But all in all, it still looks pretty damn cool.
What do you think? As bloggers and freelancers, is the iPad a worthwhile investment? Or is it just a new toy?
I suppose the best thing Steve Jobs did for that decision is give me 60 days to get over the post-keynote “I want!”
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