I’m reasonably sure that at some point, maybe even on the day that the iPad was officially announced, I stated that it looked like a really impressive piece of kit, but that I didn’t need one and I probably wouldn’t be getting one. At least, not on launch day.
It’s now the week after the UK launch and I’m sitting on the sofa, typing this on my iPad. The first thing to point out is that it’s astonishingly pleasant to type on. A touch screen interface shouldn’t be this good as a typing surface. I’m not the world’s fastest typist; I get by at a reasonable speed with something similar to, but which isn’t, touch typing. I’d never pass any secretarial exams but I can get words into a word processor at a rate that doesn’t leave my brain hanging around waiting for my fingers to catch up and losing my train of thought. And so far I’m finding that I can hammer the words out at a similar speed on the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. I reckon that, keyboard oddities notwithstanding (like having to shift to different virtual keyboards for numbers and symbols), I can type on this about as fast as I can type on my laptop keyboard. My laptop keyboard’s a bit rubbish, though.
Getting ahead of myself, though. So, yeah, despite what I told myself, I bought an iPad on launch day. There are mitigating circumstances. Firstly, I sit next to MacFormat magazine and they’ve had them in since a few days after they went on sale in the States. So I’ve had ample opportunity to play with one over the past few weeks. My initial reaction was basically yes, very nice, maybe a little on the heavy side, I’ll probably wait until OS4 comes out and see how it goes then.
You see, the thing is that I’d want it to be a laptop replacement, and for an iPad to be that it’d have to be capable of at least a bit of multi-tasking. Old-skool as I am, I’d want it running Colloquy in the background and not disconnecting when I then want to look at something else for a bit.
Not a laptop replacement yet, then. Still, it is a very nice piece of kit, and ever since the US launch it’s been impossible to avoid the cascade of breathless opinion pieces on just how lovely the iPad is. It all adds up, especially when there’s one sitting on the desk behind you, looking lovely. But I held out. I made a point of not pre-ordering one. I chuckled quietly at the spectacle of chums ordering them from the States at ludicrous mark-ups. I noted the arrival of the first person in the queue outside the Apple Store on Regent Street on Thursday night with another quiet chuckle. Woke up on Friday morning with a day off booked, saw another chum’s tweeting from the queue outside the Bath branch and was very pleased not to be there.
I had to go into town that day, though; family get-together the next day and I needed to get an extra birthday present for my nephew and niece. And I made myself a deal: once I got into town I’d swing by the Apple Store and, if they had any iPads left – which obviously they wouldn’t, given the delivery delays for people who’d pre-ordered too late – then I’d buy a 32GB wifi model. A pretty safe bet, I’m sure you’ll agree.
I didn’t go in early or anything; I don’t think I left the house until half past eleven, and even though I’d heard that the new branch of PC World opposite the Apple Store had a big sign outside shouting IPADS IN STOCK, I figured my money was safe. I strolled over from the car park, noted a lack of crowd outside the Apple Store – although the crowd barriers were still outside, left over from the queue earlier that morning – and walked in to be greeted by a member of staff in what I assume is traditional Apple Store fashion.
“Got any left?” I asked.
Hell and damnation.
And so, five minutes later – after as pleasant a shopping experience as it’s possible to have – I walked out with an iPad. Didn’t bother with any accessories; I figured that I’d leave it for the time being and see whether the need for any extras presented itself. So far I’m happy with the basic setup.
Setting the thing up was straightforward enough, once I’d pulled iTunes out of yet another flat spin. Twice last week it managed to have a panic and mess up its library; the second time when I got home and wanted to set the iPad up. So instead of getting straight down to business I had to wait around for ages while iTunes rebuilt its library. iTunes on the PC is a flaky piece of shit – a massive resource hog with a tendency to skip if I expect it to do anything so advanced as play music on my laptop – but I’m stuck with it. It did its best to set up the iPad from an iPhone backup but failed to carry across any contacts and only copied over some of the apps. On close inspection I discovered that at some point iTunes had stopped syncing my iPhone apps. Brilliant! And now I can’t resync it because it’ll delete everything that isn’t synced. Magic!
UPDATE – okay, sorted that out after a hunt through iTunes help and figured out how to transfer apps from my phone onto my laptop. Phew!
What it did manage to do was sync my entire iPhone playlist, which I didn’t actually want it to do as I can’t really see the iPad functioning as a music player. I’ve since created a separate iPad playlist, and now there’s plenty of room on it.
So. What’s it like? My opinion’s pretty much unchanged; it’s a lovely piece of kit with some really nice touches, such as the secret apostrophe on the keyboard that you access by sliding your finger up from the comma. The touchscreen’s incredibly responsive and, as I’ve mentioned, great for typing on. I reckon I’ve found the perfect environment for using the iPad: here on the sofa. I’ve never really been one for sitting with a laptop actually on my lap, but this feels, well, right.
Haven’t gone mad on apps. The best thing I’ve picked up so far is Pages, which is frankly a steal. It just works, without any Word bloat; just enough features for me, and probably a few that I’ll never use. The only thing that it’s lacking as far as I’m concerned is a word count.
Other useful apps have been Colloquy and Tweetdeck; still waiting on a Facebook app and a non-broken WordPress app, and really everything else I’ve picked up has been for mucking about with. Stuff like the Korg Electribe, Magic Piano, the Guardian’s Eyewitness app. None of it essential, all of it good for playing with. As time goes by I’m sure I’ll find more stuff I can’t live without.
So far, so good, then. What I think it all boils down to is that what it does, the iPad does brilliantly, and a few months down the line when there’ll be more apps and OS4 it’ll be even better. Am I kicking myself over my impulse purchase? Absolutely not. Could I live without it? At the moment, absolutely. Ask me again in a few weeks, though, and you’ll probably get a different answer.