The iPad comes to our house

Yesterday was going to be one of those cherished days when we didn’t have to get in the car for anything. Or maybe just drive somewhere nearby to go for a walk on a forest service road. We had been expecting Dan’s iPad to be delivered, but an email had informed us a couple of days earlier that UPS doesn’t make Saturday deliveries out where we live. Sigh. Wait until Monday. Then UPS phoned: “We can’t bring it today, but we are open until 1 pm if you want to come and pick it up.” Silly question! Suddenly we wanted nothing more than to make that 25 mile trip to town.

The web is already full of accounts and reviews of the iPad, even though the official release date was only yesterday, so there’s no need for a full description of the device here. And we haven’t had it long enough for an actual review. But we’ve had it long enough to know how we like it, and that is: very very much.

The sleek design is matched by perhaps excessively minimalist instructional materials. It came with one postcard-sized piece of paper showing the external controls: Home, On/Off, etc. That was about it. And something about using iTunes to configure it. Maybe Apple expected all the early adopters to be iPhone or iPod Touch users, who would find a lot of familiar features. That’s not us (no cellphone service at our house, no need for an iPod), but we figured it out. You start out with the iPad by connecting it to your computer and opening iTunes, which detects the iPad and takes you through registration, setting up email account settings, and syncing music. An excellent user guide is on the web, readable in Safari on the iPad, but we didn’t find that out right away. An upfront referral to the user guide would have saved us some struggling, mostly with the touchscreen “gestures”. We also spent at least an hour trying to figure out how to play the music that had been synced to the iPad, until the user guide led us to an icon we hadn’t touched yet because it said “iPod”. Turns out that opens up your music library. Hunh, imagine that.

That’s all minor stuff. The iPad itself is a marvel: how easy it is to hold and use, the bright sharp screen, long battery life, intuitive operation. There it all is: your photos, the web, email, music—and Dan hasn’t even downloaded anything from the app store yet except a dictionary/thesaurus, a news reader, and the free iBooks app. This last comes with a free book, Winnie the Pooh, which seems an odd choice except that the typography and color illustrations show off the marvelous visual rendering strengths of the iPad. Some say the bright LCD screen will cause eye fatigue for readers. I can’t say yet, and the brightness is adjustable; I do think it is a great advantage to be able to read in the dark, not possible with some other e-reading devices. I’ve still got an old Palm that I keep by the bed so I can read when sleep eludes me, because it too is backlit, and I really expect the iPad will be kinder on the eyes than the small low-contrast screen of the Palm on which I have read for hours at a time.

The ability of the iPad to go from landscape to portrait mode whenever you turn it is just amazing, and makes it easy to try in an instant whether you want to read this book with one larger page shown vertically, or two smaller pages side by side. Depends on the book and how you feel at the moment, and having the choice offered and made so effortless is very nice.

In fact I’d say that’s one of the generalities I’d make about this device: it’s not just thoughtfully designed for ease of use, but for ease of use by people with different requirements. Adjustable, customizable. And that’s just out of the box. I’m sure the coming months will see lots of changes and third-party add-ons offering even more flexibility in different areas.

The QWERTY keypad that appears on the screen, whenever you need to type, is big enough and each key-press makes an unobtrusive but adequate sound so you know you’ve pressed it. What does that mean, “whenever you need to type”? When you touch the Search box in Safari and need to fill in a term, it appears; when you touch the “paper” of the Notepad application, it appears, and so on. This is intelligent anticipation of the user’s needs and it feels right.

The sound quality is surprisingly good, far better than that of my MacBookPro, and seems to have more volume too. We played around with the iPad well into the evening, maybe 6 hours of using the browser, looking at photos, playing music, and still had 55% of the battery power left.

Dan’s keen to get some specific apps designed for the iPhone that we have been yearning for: one is iBird Explorer Backyard: “This interactive field guide lets you search North American birds by color, shape, habitat, location, and more.” And there’s one for butterflies too. Imagine having this in your coat pocket or daypack, a field guide that can show you “birds with red markings” if that’s what you’re looking at, and play bird calls! There’s a hand-held star-guide we saw demo’ed on Rachel Maddow’s show, which gives you a labelled view of the part of the sky you are looking at—move it and the section of sky moves too. Not sure if that one is going to work for us or if it requires the iPad with 3GS, but we’ll look into it.

Okay, looking back at what I’ve written I can see people saying critically “You say it is ‘thoughtfully designed for ease of use ‘ but you couldn’t figure out how to get at your music? You must be a shill for Apple.”

I confess, I got a Mac SE in 1987 or ‘88 and it did change my life. It enabled me to do things, such as edit and lay out a magazine, producing camera-ready copy, that I would never have been able to do otherwise. The iPad gives me that same feeling as the SE, or the first laptop I got, a blue clamshell iBook: the feeling of possibilities and of a pleasure of use. After all, the Mac made computers fun to use. You could enjoy the way the machine worked, as well as enjoying what you were able to do with it. And the iPad is one more landmark on that same path.

I found myself wondering last night what computing would have developed into without Apple, if Bill Gates and Microsoft had been not just the monolith of computing but (effectively) a monopoly, the only game in town. Who can say, but I’m confident it wouldn’t have been as much fun, or unleashed the personal possibilities that the Mac has. For those too young to remember, it was the Mac that made possible the use of fonts, WYSIWYG, page-layout with Aldus Pagemaker, paint and draw programs, photos on a computer, the graphic web, and on…We went from this

iPad MSDOS.jpg

to this

iPad HelloMac.jpg

and now this

iPadWinnie.jpg

this

iPadNotes.jpg

and this (none of these hurried photos does justice to the iPad; it’s brighter, sharper, and of course not skewed or moiré-patterned)

iPadPhotos.jpg

Coming soon to our iPad:

iPadBirds.jpg

and who knows what else? It’s exciting.

2 thoughts on “The iPad comes to our house

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