Monday, December 6, 2010

Pad People

originally published 4 April 2010

So ... Mr. UPS showed up with the iPad at 11am on Saturday. I'd pre-ordered the 32GB Wifi version for my wife's birthday.

By 1pm I'm on the phone to the local Apple store: "So, if I came down there and wanted to buy an iPad, would you have one to sell me?" The person on the other end was somewhat amused: "there's a line, but probably so."

Long story short, I got a couple of the 16GB units for my kids and a 32GB unit for me. This took a certain amount of dedication on my part, as they had a "2 units per person" policy, and so I had to stand in line twice.

By now you're thinking "he's gone insane"[1] and / or "this guy obviously has too much disposable income"[2]. But you'd be justified in asking why I would do such a thing. And don't be mistaken: I'm not an Apple Fanboi by any means. Not since that PoS Apple ][e+ I bought when I was 19.

I think the watershed moment for me was when my wife used the iBooks store to download the (free) Complete Works of Shakespeare. She flipped to "Hamlet" (act III, scene 1) and held her finger over the word "bodkin" and a popup window gave her the dictionary definition[3]. It's not 100% -- it failed on "hurleyburleys" (although it offered Google and Wikipedia lookups). Shakespeare really doesn't get easier than this.[4] The iPad has the potential to be an educational device like something out of a science fiction novel (see below). My daughter picked up Gray's Anatomy, in color, for $0.99.

Also, I knew there'd never be any peace in the household until everyone had their own unit.

Oh, it's not perfect:

It doesn't charge while it's plugged into my notebook computer's USB port. And (like the iPhone) you really need a case of some sort to make it easier to hold on to. I think it was the C|Net review that noted that it's about the size and weight of a book -- but when the book costs $700 and is made of glass, you treat it a lot differently than a traditional book. And I miss being able to mount the device as an external filesystem like I can with my iPhone and iPod. And of course everyone is waiting for v2.0 that will have a camera so we can all (theoretically) videoconference with it. Oh, and if there is a Razzie Award for bad software UI design, iTunes wins hands-down.

But it's still pretty darned good. Comparing the iPad to the Amazon Kindle or the B&N Nook reminds me of the early days of the web, when there were many hard-line HTML experts who held that "HTML is a formatting language for displaying text and images on an arbitrary viewer", who would dismiss anyone who wanted to actually attempt to control the look / layout of the page. The Kindle is great for displaying books, sure. But the iPad let's you redefine the cncept of "book" to be something different and better. For instance, take a look at The Elements for iPad (an app which has been getting a lot of PR).

"This is the version you check out from the Hogwarts library," creator Theo Gray told BoingBoing. "Everything in it is alive in some way." Or, if you're a Neal Stephenson fan, it's like the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer from The Diamond Age.
No, most iPad books aren't this elaborate. Yet. But I can see an entire new "magic books" industry forming, dedicated to writing and programming "books plus" for this platform.

I suppose time will tell, but so far, battery life has not been an issue.

I'm also excited by the musical possibilities of this device. Create Digital Music has a really wonderful overview of some of the available and upcoming music apps. And I've got my fingers crossed that the JazzMutant people will adopt iPad as a platform.

I could go on and on -- all of the free news and media apps. NetFlix streaming. Cisco has a (free, as yet untested by me) WebEx app for the iPad, too. You've heard it all before.

Late breaking news: Apple iPad Already Jailbroken

But having played with one for the past 24 hours, I feel I can safely say: this thing rocks.

[1] My family thinks I'm reasonably sane. YMMV.
[2] None of your business.
[3] A needle, more or less.
[4] It strikes me that Scientologists (who I'm told are big on knowing the exact definition of every word they read) are gonna love the iPad. I bet it won't be long before Dianetics and Battlefield Earth appear in the iBook store.

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