How to benefit from this paradigm shifting device
(It’s a long one!)
Like many, I had been waiting for a tablet form factor productivity device all my life. When the iPad was first announced, I was disappointed. It lacked so many of the features that had been rumoured and dreamed of, not to mention that huge bezel!
However, to quote, “There is method in my madness”, Apple knew precisely what they were doing, and hands on use case scenarios during the design stage have lead to a very well conceived product. Newton asside, (that was a long time ago!), what Apple have done with the iPad is ensure that it does (almost) everything well, something you only appreciate after a few months of heavy use. In fact, it gets so much right, I would call the iPad the most revolutionary and paradigm shifting ‘invention’ since the introduction of the mouse by Xerox. What flaws it does possess are fixable in software upgrades and new display technology.
Note that whilst the iPhone was and still is a technological marvel, it is a very personal device that simply improved the quality of life for the user, whilst the iPad opens up iOS to the (face to face) social and is a practical productivity device too – all thanks to the larger 9.7″ display.
Triggering another right brain revolution
By its nature, iPad encourages use of the portion of your brain associated with creative thought. Hold it in your left* hand and poke or multitouch away with the right fingers and you will find your mind becomes a lot more fluid over prior input devices. Why? Your free hand no longer constrains the mind.
This will finally bring about another renaissance in human creativity that is almost impossible with current computers – even if it is devices from other manufacturers that actually bring that about due to the lack of suitable touch screen technology on the (current) iPad. Many of us were looking forward to the stylus and finger operated Microsoft Courier, a device that appeared to offer creative thinkers the ultimate tool for their potential, but sadly, it was – for now anyway – just a simulation.
*Reverse setup for lefties.
The invisible machine
How many gadgets and devices, from your PC/Mac to your set top box, do you get angry with on an almost daily basis? Probably quite a lot. The iPad is the first product I have ever owned that does not frustrate. Really!
- The battery lasts longer than I do on any given day
- The screen is superb, ideal for productivity and presentations
- iOS is fluid, stable and intuitive (Have you ever peaked at a user guide for an iOS device? Me neither!)
- The wide bezel prevents your hands from accidentally touching hotspots on the display. Notice how all the tablets that appeared subsequent to the iPad now feature wide bezels? Apple shows the way.
- The build quality is outstanding. Our iPad has fallen on the floor countless times, and I once trod on it – my foot went right on the screen – and no harm was done. You can chuck it in your bag in a casual manner few other notebooks would take too – except the very original 100% solid state ASUS EE PC. (That I owned and loved until it’s limited capacity rendered it useless.)
- Most importantly, thanks to the tablet form factor, operating the iPad is never tiresome** allowing you to focus on the task at hand, such as slowly pecking out a prose or designing a website using iMockups or TouchDraw. Best of all, you can operate the iPad when standing up, such as at a railway station or on the tube. I have typed out lengthy emails and updated software specifications whilst standing. Not by choice, but by circumstance.
**Unless holding it in bed, which is not necessary anyway – you can rest it against the wall, bedside side table or sleeping partner… 😉
Of course, no device is perfect. However, one of the problems with the iPad is a barrier to it being an efficient personal and business productivity machine within a group or organisation:
- First off is the lack for a forward delete and navigation arrow keys on the touch screen keyboard. Having to poke around with your finger to position the cursor and then delete or move through some text is, no matter how long you have owned an iPad, a very tiresome and inefficient way to function. Far better that Apple add just 5 extra keys, to speed up text entry and editing considerably. How do I know this? There are some 3rd party text editors that add some extra cursor movement keys and they make a big difference. The problem is, they are non standard layouts. Apple need to introduce this across iOS to maintain consistency within all apps. (When I have a lot of writing to do, I use the Apple Bluetooth keyboard, which works very well.)
- File management is a joke. And this is the biggest hindrance and threat to iOS. No matter which amazing text editor or office app you use, knowing where your stuff is is a nightmare. So you think you’re saving to your DropBox account? No Sir!, your app may well be saving locally on your iPad, and then you have to share it with DropBox (or other preferred cloud storage provider) or have it sync automatically when you next perform some action you will probably forget to do – such as quitting the app. This single issue could derail iOS if Android/Chrome and/or Microsoft with Windows Phone 7 (next release) offer a better solution. Yes, people will buy iPads and be wowed, but once they decide they need a device for serious productivity, not just consuming media, they will switch platforms.
*** PEOPLE BUY SOLUTIONS! ***
Apple, please get your cloud strategy right! (Or ask me for some suggestions. I have been thinking about this for a LONG long time.)
- Lack of high resolution stylus input. Anyone who has used a stylus to operate their device (such as a Sony Ericsson P8XX/9XX series or Nokia smart phone), will appreciate how natural and precise it feels. Not only can you operate it with gloves (winter happens!), but pecking away on small on screen controls and creating sketches is easy, something our fingers do not do well.
WiFi or WiFi + 3G?
This all depends on whether you travel a lot. I work on the road and at the office, so can benefit from WiFi to unload heavy bandwidth tasks, such as upgrading apps and watching YouTubes of lolcats acting human. I use a 64GB 3G iPad and currently (Nov 2010) have a pay as you go sim on 3 and have found 1G a month enough. If I don’t top up at the end of the month, the connection dies, which is fine – I can travel abroad and not worry about paying for something I won’t use. And having discovered that whilst 3 are quiet fast where they have a signal (they are 100% 3G), it will be easy to switch to a different airtime provider in the future. Vodafone offer the largest coverage area from my experience.
As yet, there is no killer ‘office’ app. Whilst Office HD and DocsToGo are ok for importing files to read when on the go, the second you start cross saving and importing files between apps, things fall apart. I have several corrupted spreadsheet and text files as a result of trying to save from one app, and then import into another because it had better features. So, for now, I have resorted to using Google docs spreadsheet for the spreadsheet (it can be edited from the iPad). I have had no luck with the Google docs document editor, whether it be through a desktop OS browser or via iOS. It is full of bugs (that few seem to be admitting to due to their almost Apple fanboi like obsession with Google) that I have documented in video footage for my employer’s business plan. 😉
The Google docs spreadsheet is the only robust trustworthy cloud app I would recommend. Apple’s Numbers, Pages and Keynote are a delight to use, but with no seamless practical file storage and sharing solution, they are nothing but examples of Apple’s outstanding user interface design. Keynote for iPad doesn’t even feature master slides, so is very time consuming to use. To be honest, Numbers and Pages are relics of the printer age, and I am surprised Apple didn’t invest their resources in a cloud based publishing and spreadsheet solution.
Printers deserve to die. They are expensive to operate and bad for the environment. OLED and eInk displays are the future of shared content. Period. Has the current iPad not already proven that, with it’s outstanding IPS display?
There is only one app I can recommend, TouchDraw! Bare in mind I have designed (and part coded) several drawing apps (the first being Artsystematic in 1985) and have much understanding of the issues involved, from human factors to file formats. TouchDraw is an example of outstanding usability, versatility and practicality. It even allows various typefaces to be used, not bad for an iOS app.
Image retouching and painting
I am not an artist, so cannot comment, but until the iPad can accept high resolution stylus input, I will never recommend it to artists. Yes, some have created great work, but I warrant they could do a lot better with less hassle with a high resolution pointing device! Both AutoDesk and Adobe have introduced some nice apps, with AutoDesk being surprised at the sales of their SketchBookX app – proving that good interface design can be a key value proposition.
Games – introducing the face to face social gaming device
Other than the audio visual capablities of iOS, what sets the iPad apart is that the larger screen makes it possible to place the device on a table or bar and quickly play a multi-player game with friends, relatives or random people in the vicinity, something I do for fun once in a while! Examples of games suitable for this are:
- Air hockey
- Conquist (A Risk clone)
There are probably many others too.
It is this one category that could be what guarantees the iPad it’s place in history. Although tactile knobs and switches are always going to be appreciated, the fact an expensive rack of gear can now be emulated using a multi-touch display means that musicians and performers can cram their whole studio into a 10mm thin device – great for on the road production and creativity. DJay looks like a superb DJing app, although as I type this (Nov 2010) it is not yet available for download.
iPad is slippery. And that can make a difference between you finding it difficult to hold and getting to grips (!) with it right away. The very first extra you should purchase is a case, and ideally the Apple one or another that offers these key attributes:
- Protects the screen
- Adjustable rear stand, so you can angle it correctly on the desk or when using an external (Bluetooth etc) keyboard.
- Get a grippy case with a way to adjust the angle of the iPad on a desk
- If you have multiple mobile gadgets, get a MiFi to share the WiFi
- The office apps are not yet ready for prime time – Google spreadsheet is the only way to (i)go
- Apps are inexpensive in comparison to desktop apps, so budget say £50-£75 ($80=$100?) and try each one until you fine those you like