Apple's iPad On The Road: The Prince Is Transforming Into A Toad
A month and a half ago, I first got my hands on the 3G cellular data-capable variant of Apple’s first-generation iPad. Several weeks later, I passed along my initial impressions after traveling with the device for a few days. And now, around seven weeks after my first access to the tablet, I’ve got a better sense of both its capabilities and limitations.
If I had to summarize my experience in a few words (ironically, my long-time Apple-fan neighbors had exactly the same thoughts after a weekend spent borrowin it, and without any proactive prompting on my part), I’d say that the iPad is a great device for media consumption, but lacking when it comes to media creation usage scenarios. Netflix video streaming, passive web browsing, perusing the stars overhead (astronomy programs remain the killer app), examining the ground from overhead (the just-released universal version of Google Earth is the other killer app)…they’re all quite compelling experiences on the multi-touch-capable iPad’s large, crisp LCD screen. But any time I need to reach for a keyboard or mouse…well…
I’m not a virtual keyboard fan, I’ve long and repeatedly admitted. The key-to-key spacing of the iPad’s implementation of the concept is much improved versus that on my iPhone or iPod touch, especially with the tablet in a landscape orientation, but the lack of tactile feedback remains an issue for me no matter how long I try to ‘train’ myself otherwise. Earlier, I showed you shots of my first-pass tablet stand and physical keyboard, respectively from Twelve South and ThinkOutside:
However, although the Twelve South stand looked good, in practice it held the tablet at a too-vertical orientation for my (and at least one other person’s) taste. And while I loved the ThinkOutside folding keyboard’s tote-ability, I was less enamored with the substantial several-function-on-single-key multiplexing, and the Windows-centric functions were also difficult to deal with.
As such, I sprung for a refurb’d Apple Wireless keyboard from the company online store, as ironically shown in the Twelve South press photo above. I ended up with the older three-battery model versus the newer two-battery variant, but I saved around $20 so I’m happy. And as for a stand, I visited a local Office Depot in search for the mythical $0.69 clear plastic business card holder, but was only able to find this more elaborate $2.29 relative:
As you can see, it ably holds the iPad in both portrait:
and landscape modes:
and I think its black paint job goes better with the tablet anyway. But back to the keyboard…some functions annoyingly don’t currently work with iOS v3.2, at least in some apps; perhaps iOS v4 due out next Monday will enable them. More generally, though, I keep finding myself reaching for a non-existent mouse, only to remember each time that I need to touch the screen instead…and I sometimes need to re-activate the physical keyboard afterward. This is an area which begs for more Apple attention.
With respect to apps, I’ve already mentioned Google Earth as a valued addition to the software stable I listed in my earlier writeup. I talked about Epson iPrint in a recent piece, too. I’ll also give a shout out to DataViz, who took their sweet time migrating Documents To Go beyond the iPhone but have delivered a killer end result. Since Documents To Go supports the creation and editing of not only text and presentation files but also spreadsheets, both natively stored on the tablet and ‘in the cloud’, it’s replaced Office2 HD as my primary Office-for-iPad suite. Air Display from Avatron Software (whose Air Sharing product I mentioned before) transforms the iPad into a secondary display for a computer. And WarChess is a decent (and let’s not forget, gratis) chess program.
And bad mistakes? I’ve felt a few, but only a few, pretty impressive for first-generation hardware and software (the latter admittedly already somewhat honed by several years’ worth of iPhone and iPod touch development). Notably, I’ve previously mentioned various issues that some folks have experienced with the tablet’s 802.11 subsystem. The only one I’ve personally encountered was the inability to connect to a wireless network at a Scripps medical facility, whereas my MacBook Air tethered to it just fine:
And I’ve also temporarily overheated the iPad a few times by attempting to use it in direct sunlight:
As wrap-up, I’ll revisit the earlier-mentioned topic of apps. Specifically, this time, jailbreak apps. Earlier this week I told you that I got my hands on a brand new second-generation iPod touch thanks to extended warranty protection. Well, after many repeated (and repeatedly unsuccessful) attempts to jailbreak it using PwnageTool, I finally gave up and upgraded it to the latest-and-greatest factory v3.1.3 firmware image, then tried the Spirit jailbreak instead. It worked, and was as easy as I’d been led to believe. And apparently I did it just in time, because just-released iTunes v9.2 closed the loophole.
Just in time…twice, actually, because I jailbroke the iPad shortly thereafter. Here’s a so-far screenshot:
As compared to my earlier list of homebrew apps, you won’t find anything camera-cognizant, since there’s no image capture subsystem in this iteration of the iPad design. Not all iPhone and iPod touch jailbreak apps have yet been ported to the iPad; specifically the WinterBoard UI tweaker and the Kirikae task-switcher supposedly don’t work yet, although Circuitous is an able alternative for the latter function. And although the iPad’s formidable battery pack would seemingly make it an excellent portable cellular-fed Wi-Fi hotspot (ably assisted by my unlimited-data plan), I can’t get MyWi to work on this piece of hardware, either. Nor can I even tether to the tablet’s cellular subsystem via USB or Bluetooth, since Apple and AT&T haven’t seen fit to include the necessary code bits. Sigh. On the other hand, FullForce is a pretty slick means of filling the screen for apps that haven’t yet evolved into iPad-cognizent versions, and without the blurriness present with Apple’s own ‘2x’ pixel doubling mode.
Happy weekend, all.