April 05, 2010

The iPad Is Not Really a Computer, But I Wish It Were

On Saturday many of my friends and peers stood in line for hours to be among the first to get Apple's newest digital device - the iPad. Some even stayed overnight in the rain. I didn't. I waited all the way until the afternoon to pick up not just one - but two - iPads, one for me, and one ostensibly for my wife and the twins to share. The entire process took about 20 minutes and I didn't have to pull an all-nighter on the sidewalk.

While I know you don't want to read the thousandth iPad review, I will be dribbling out some initial thoughts about the device over the next few weeks as I get to using it more and finding what I like and dislike about Apple's latest device.

As a MacBook Air owner and an iPhone 3G owner, the overlap for when I would use one device or another seemed high. Did the iPad even have a place for me between those two devices? Could the iPad do anything that the others couldn't, or enable me to be more productive? After battling those questions in my head, I knew the right thing to do was answer them outright by getting an iPad of my own. And the major thing I am thinking about in the first 48 hours of iPad ownership is that maybe I was looking for just a little bit more computer and a little bit less of a mobile device.

What do I mean by that?

Having used the iPhone for some time (and the iPod Touch before it), I am very familiar with the app-based ecosystem. I have gotten used to single-tasking and not multitasking, even if it is an annoyance. And yes, I have even gotten used to visiting Web sites that are optimized for the iPhone.

So getting the iPad and seeing the familiar app icons, with many of the same limitations, was not a surprise. It was comforting, but still limiting. But when I fired up Safari and ran into Web site after Web site interpreting that the iPad was a mobile device and showing me the iPhone version and not the "normal" version, it became clearer to me that this was not what I wanted.

A device the size of the iPad, with a screen as clear as the iPad, deserves fully capable Web sites. Even if I am using the iPad for content consumption and casual computing, I want to get a fair shake and the fully-functional site, not a dumbed down one for limited computers. For starters, the Twitter Web site defaulted to the mobile interface, and Google Reader did the same. Viewing Google Reader in the full display was practically unusable, sending me to reach for the MacBook Air to power through.

Meanwhile, we have the issue of apps you would expect on a computer, but don't expect on a mobile phone. Bloomberg stated that Microsoft would not be making Office for the iPad. This made me think two things - first, that this would limit functionality and force me away from the iPad more, and second, that this could open an opportunity for a competitor to get it right. Whether Apple's iWork suite is the answer or whether Google's cloud-based office is a strong enough alternative is to be decided. And yes, of course there's no equivalent for Adobe Photoshop in a world that moves beyond the desktop.

There are things the iPad does very well, and we'll get to those soon. It's fast. It plays all my iPhone apps quickly and in a much better display. Its battery life is the best I have ever seen. But I don't think I got it to act like a super big iPhone. Maybe I was looking for a MacBook Air Lite.

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