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  • The iPad Report: A Master at Consumption

    May 6th, 2010

    So I’ve been busy mastering the ins and outs of the review sample of a Wi-Fi iPad for the past couple of weeks, and I’ve come to some conclusions, most of which were not unexpected. However, it’s crystal clear why sales of netbooks have been flattened by the promise and the reality of the iPad.

    I suppose there’s a resemblance between the two product categories in some respects. A netbook is not meant to be your primary computer, but something that will perform such basic chores as managing email, accessing the Internet and perhaps using a few simple productivity apps. In order to pay as little as $300 for one of those things, you are saddled with a small screen, a tiny keyboard with squished together keys and limited system resources. Basically, the PC makers took a standard note-book and made it smaller and cheaper to keep the price down. There’s not an ounce of innovation in those things.

    However, the iPad is clearly far more than an occasional note-book replacement. As the result of its smaller form factor, it’s more easily transported. Take it from me, it definitely excels at e-book reading. Over the years, I have had difficulty getting myself accustomed to entering the e-book universe. I started with the legendary (or infamous if you will) Rocket e-book device a number of years ago. I always managed to force myself to read a few pages of a book, before I simply set the device aside and returned to the print version.

    With the iPad, I can get away with actually reading real books for a prolonged period without feeling too uncomfortable. Sure, it’s not a 100% replacement, and I expect those of you who grew up consuming lots of printed material will appreciate the fact that growing accustomed to a new way of doing things isn’t always easy or possible. But since iPad owners have downloaded millions of books so far, it appears that Apple’s strategies might be paying off.

    There are also lots of new iPad apps for  magazines and newspapers. Depending on the publisher, you might have to pay for each app — or issue — or just use a single app to get free and paid content. How well these work depends on the publisher. USA Today remains awkward to handle, and I often return to Safari to just check out the regular online version. The Wall Street Journal, which requires a paid subscription to read more than a few blurbs of published stories, is somewhat better developed, but all of this remains a work in progress.

    So far, Apple hasn’t announced alliances with textbook publishers, even though the iPad seems tailor-made for educational use. Anytime you see a child struggling to stand straight while burdened with a heavy backpack, you can appreciate the potential, if it’s realized. Of course, one of the problems is that a textbook has to have fixed page content — it can’t reflow depending on your choice of font or size. When your teacher says, “turn to page 364,” it must remain page 364 whether you’re reading the electronic or print version of that book, which probably means using some sort of fixed PDF-based structure for the e-book app. But it’ll come.

    Where the iPad falls down, as most of you know, is with content creation. I do think graphic artists will do well, using fingers or perhaps a stylus to draw on the screen. There are already illustration apps available, and wouldn’t it be fascinating to see an iPad version of Adobe Illustrator? That is, if Adobe stops crying to the Feds about Apple’s dominance of its own platform, and finds a way to exploit the iPad as a way to sell new and innovative apps.

    When it comes to writing, number one is the regular keyboard on my desktop computer. I can manage my MacBook Pro, but I’ve never been enamored with note-book keyboards, even though the ones on Apple’s machines feel much the same as the desktop versions.

    I have become accustomed to using a single finger to awkwardly type short messages on the iPhone. Extending this ability to the iPad took a few days, after which I devised a clunky two-finger scheme. I realize regular touch typing can be accomplished, particularly when the unit is in landscape mode, but that’s still a stretch for me. Yes, I could check out an accessory keyboard, but that is strictly a makeshift arrangement. A standard note-book computer becomes a more reasonable solution when your creative instincts arise.

    However, when you consider the needs of the average home computer user, probably three quarters would find that the iPad fulfills their requirements perfectly. The ability to interact with the operating system so seamlessly by touch is something that even small children can readily master. You are freed of the reliance on a mouse or trackpad, and you can experience the utter joy of a direct connection with the software you’re using.

    Maybe some day, most people will become comfortable typing on virtual keyboards for extended sessions, but that’s not a skill I expect to master for quite a while — if ever. Meantime, I am still wondering whether, once I have to return this iPad, I should buy one for myself.

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