Apple's iPad is like Basic Cable

I’ll snag most any interesting gadget under $500, so I forked over some more cash to Apple to check it out. I love the large touch screen and the form factor of the device. I’ve bought and downloaded a bunch of apps and tried very hard to find a justification for buying this shiny toy, but it just doesn’t cut it.

Before I get into it, realize that I would be considered an Apple fan by any casual observer. Over the years I’ve purchased: two MacBook Pro laptops, two MacBook laptops, two Mac Mini desktops, five or six Apple keyboards, a few Apple mice, three iPhones (including one 3Gs), two iPads (one as a gift), six iPod models and an iPod Touch for good measure. When the iPhone came out, I was the only idiot I knew who paid $800 for a phone, and spent almost a full year trying to “sell” the potential with pretty much anyone I ran into. In short, I have a hell of a collection of “free Apple window decals” you get with most purchases.

The Good

  • Korg iElectribe is a drum machine app which actually makes useful sounds, uses the multitouch interface and is a hell of a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I can’t work this sweet app into my music tool-chain because Korg proved no export functionality. None at all. But for $10, I get a great beat “sketch pad” I can use to spark some creativity and try and recreate with Ableton on my laptop.
  • Twitterific, my favorite iPhone Twitter client, made a solid transition to the iPad and is clean, elegant and a pleasure to use in every way. I upgraded to remove the ads, which was made possible by Apple’s in-app purchases (something my friends at Palm need to add to their App Catalog immediately, if not sooner). Update: tried ShinyTweet ($3.99) just now and it’s a multi-account, multi-column Twitter client masterpiece, so adding it to the “good” list.
  • Netflix has a great free app which does pretty much what you’d expect it to, but it’s really clear when they “downshift” into a web experience. There are lots of visual glitches they need to sort out, but the thing plays my movies and lets me fiddle with my lists.
  • AIM for the iPad is... stunning. A multi-column display in landscape mode, status updates, a stylish and simple UI with customizable background images? From AOL? This app almost makes me want to use AIM more, if only they supported offline messages.
  • Google Maps is... Google Maps, only with a large touch screen. It is a genuine pleasure to use on this device, and almost makes me wish I had the 3G version of the iPad (almost).
  • Pocket Legends is a light free-to-play MMOG for iPhone, iPod Touch and now the iPad. It’s targeted at casual gamers, nothing like World of Warcraft (for better or worse), and uses a solid in-game purchase model for upgrades (all relatively inexpensive). Because it plays nicely with the smaller iP* devices, I was able to get the whole family playing around with it. Nicely done.
  • Safari almost made the “bad” list because Apple has done nothing to improve the experience over iPhone or iPod Touch, but the larger screen really does make surfing usable and for most things I don’t need to whip out a laptop.

The Bad

  • Adobe Ideas, AutoDesk Sketchbook Pro, Omnigraffle, InstaViz and pretty much any drawing app is almost a complete fail on the iPad. Why? Well, there’s a reason most of us move on from finger-painting. There is no high-resolution stylus option available for the device, and the $15 I plunked down on a “high end” pointing device was wasted. Basically, all the “stylus-like” gadgets available just make the finger you use to paint with a bit smaller. That and almost every one of these apps made their UI difficult to use; the worst being InstaViz which requires you to shake the 10″ device to perform an “undo” operation. Just think about how many times you dropped your “Etch-A-Sketch” as a kid and how mad your parents would be if that hunk of plastic set them back $500. Also, none of these drawing apps have a way to ignore the rest of your hand. So even if you were adept at finger-painting, you can never rest your hand anywhere on the screen to try to do any delicate work. Deeply frustrating.
  • NPR, BBC News, Bloomburg and SkyGrid are among the news apps I try to use, and every single one of them crashes. Frequently. NPR and BBC News have lovely interfaces, but the app instability is a serious blocker. SkyGrid seems to have a huge Apple bias in their news filter which I find hard to ignore.
  • iBooks & Kindle are both terribly un-customizable, and I have yet to find a setting from what they do have which is pleasing to read. iBooks makes this experience even worse by almost never having a book I’m looking for (I assume Apple will improve this, but for now, I’m not buying from them).
  • Photos is Apple’s photo viewer and if the device actually took pictures I might use it. As it stands, I’m not up for syncing to my laptop every time I want to add photos.

The Ugly

  • Keynote, Numbers and Pages really should have the word “lite” in their app titles. Apple gave the impression that these apps would work seamlessly with iWork 09, but they really don’t. No printing, difficult to share files with your laptop (come on, no Bonjour support at all), and the files don’t open well going either way. Something always seems to get lost, and some things just flat won’t open. Very bad move here, and I can’t believe these apps have as many positive reviews as they do. Apple employees must feel a vested interest and a need to pump up their reviews, but those of us outside Jobs’ reality distortion field should steer clear.
  • Contacts and Calendar are useless to me. Oh, I’m sure if I’d bought into MobileMe or cared to use iCal or the Mail app on my Apple computers I might use these apps. As they stand, they pale in comparison to Palm’s webOS equivalents. Palm’s “Synergy” feature seamlessly pulls all my calendars together (Exchange, gmail, Yahoo!), and does the same with my contacts (even grabs Facebook entries) making the apps there actually useful. Here on the iPad, they look pretty but are wasted space.
  • The App Store itself is an exercise in agony and frustration. Good luck browsing for apps that aren’t on the “Featured” or “Hot Sellers” lists. If you don’t know an app’s name ahead of time, you probably won’t find it. Searching works, but when you have to use it to fully explore available games, let’s say, you’re going to have to be very patient. Each page in the search results takes (no lie) 5-10 seconds to pull up. When they show 12 items per page, you can imagine the tedious experience this becomes. This is a serious disservice to smaller developers who may have seriously good apps, not to mention us users who are supposed to only be consuming Apple’s picks. What a way to marginalize an already impressive list of apps.
  • Task switching on the device is incredibly tiresome now that I’ve had a taste of webOS (hell, even Android, which I’m no fan of, manages to handle task switching better). Seriously, Apple sold themselves short by not sorting this out prior to launching the iPad. Given the processing power of this little beast, there is no conceivable reason they couldn’t have implemented real multi-tasking, and their OS 4.0 doesn’t look much better.

How is it like basic cable?

  • Hundreds of channels (apps), but nothing good is on
  • You can only watch one lousy show (app) at a time
  • You wonder later why you spend so much for so little amusement

If it weren’t for the fact that I need one of these devices for development, I wouldn’t even own one. When HP/Palm come out with a webOS tablet, my iPad will become a place to set my old iPhone 3Gs and iPod Touch. In the corner of a shelf. Collecting dust.

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