I’m sat on my sofa with my feet up typing on this fingerprint smudged A4 sized piece of plastic & glass that came out on Friday – finally living the vision of computing that Steve Jobs has been moving towards for years, and I first cottoned on to when I watched The Girl From Tomorrow in 1992 and thought a talking watch was the coolest thing I’d ever seen (you heard it here first – Apple’s next product launch will be the iTransducer). I’ve actually had mine since Thursday, when I spent a good deal of the day running out into the street to accost delivery men, who wouldn’t give up the goods because my name isn’t Jennifer. I thought I’d write down my early thoughts on the iPad before the iPad at the C.U.C. conference tomorrow evening, so click past the break.
If you get it delivered, the iPad comes inside a brown box with surprisingly little padding. Inside that is the main white iPad box, which, like the iPhone before it, is very minimalist and doesn’t really have any wording on it speak of.
On opening the iPad box, you literally get presented with a blank slate. The front screen of the iPad fills the width and height, and you have to lever it out, prompting all sorts of nightmare scenarios to go through your mind as you think you’re about to drop one of your most expensive ever single item purchases before you’ve even turned it on.
Hello World, Hello iTunes
Next up you turn it on, and apple fans will recognise the familiar symbol of a cable and the iTunes logo – as ever they want you to do some syncing. Mercifully they don’t enforce that, and pressing home will allow you to get straight to the goods.
But hold on a minute, where is everything?!?! It’s a sign of how far the App Store has come that almost nothing is installed on the iPad by default. If you want to unbox and start showing off right away, you’ll be disappointed, although Maps is beautifully done, and a sign of things to come.
The most logical next step is to sync with your PC or Mac’s iTunes repository. You don’t have to – you can log in to your account via the iPad – but you’d have to download all your stuff again, set up your mail accounts, and all that other rigmarole. The idea of doing that is only marginally more painful than reality though – iTunes takes a ridiculously log time to sync PC to iPad. Now I know my home PC is a bit long in the tooth and all (and USB 1), but my first sync took 45 minutes and it’s under half full! I don’t really understand why they don’t allow background syncing…but more on that later.
The stock Apps are very solid, once you’ve got some content, and they rather set the tone for the whole device. A new Videos app is now separate from iPod, and feels very robust. As a bonus, it also displays your video podcasts, which is an odd quirk as they’re also still in iPod. YouTube is pretty nice too. Watching video is the first time you truly feel that it’s a magical piece of kit, by the way, and your average Joe loves all that stuff if you demo it.
Maps has a lovely fade-through effect when changing zoom levels. Safari has a very clean interface, but has a lot more going on under the hood than you think. All that talk about Flash is a side issue – it’s a wonderful browsing experience. BBC iPlayer and TVCatchup also both work just fine.
Finally Portrait and Landscape modes, which are two important elements of the UI you’re going to become very familiar with very quickly, are perfectly introduced with the Mail application (which irritatingly still only allows 1 exchange mailbox). All in all, I couldn’t ask much more from Apple, their apps are brill.
It’s just a big iPhone
I’ve lost track of the number of people who said that to me before it was released. In fact, they have a point, but not for the reasons they think they do. Something you notice
immediately after you’ve finally synced all your precious data is that most of your iPhone apps look horrible on the iPad. I’d liken it to playing PSP minis on the PS3 with a 40 inch TV. You get the choice to either have a little iPhone screen in the middle or blow it up to twice the size (4 times the area) without re-rendering. Now even at this early stage is where we start to hit the issues related to Apple’s closed platform – iPad apps rarely have a free version. This means if you don’t buy – and iPad apps are often more expensive than their equivalent iPhone app – you’re often stuck looking at a blocky screen.
That said, the best iPad apps are already very good, and browsing the App Store, or better still reading through some top 10 lists on the web, will pay off quickly – you’ll actively want to start to move away from the low res iPhone style. Some are universal, meaning that they have one UI for the iPhone, and another higher res one for the iPad, but you only pay once (and it only shows up once in iTunes). Others have the aforementioned HD versions which are separate and designed to milk you dry, and others still are designed specifically for the iPad.
My Most Used iPad Apps so far
As you might have gathered by now the iPad would be a fairly average device without the App Store – I certainly wouldn’t have bought one. The App Store & iTunes interfaces are a evolutionary step up from their counterparts on the iPhone, and simultaneously not as important as they were, because you’ll find better ways to reach the areas you want to visit more quickly. Here are some I like:
- AppAdvice – from the team at AppAdvice.com, it’s universal and has different uses on iPhone and iPad. Does exactly what you’d expect.
- IM+ Lite – free IM client which covers all the bases, particularly Messenger, Facebook & Twitter, plus push notifications
- Wired Magazine – with controversy and debate surrounding online publication and the iPad at the moment, Wired just got on with it and produced something compelling at the right price – I didn’t think twice about spending £3 on this
- FeeddlerRSS – decent Google Reader client will do for now until Reeder come out with something
- Angry Birds HD – picked this up wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s pretty good fun, but hard & frustrating
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – This one’s an iPhone app but why would you miss the opportunity to play the greatest game of all time on a huge screen???
- Newsy – revolutionary approach to news reporting and consumption. They round up various different angles on a news story, and present them professionally themselves. Delivered to your iPad in a great UI.
- Epicurious – recipes, nomnom
- Rightmove – lovely interface. Can you tell I’m a pedant for detail?
- Guardian Eyewitness – professionally taken photo of the day, great way to show off the bright screen
Most needed updates
- Twitter (formerly Tweetie)
- The Weather Channel Max (can’t resolve location outside the US)
- Tweetdeck (way too hard on memory / processor)
- WordPress (they released with equivalent functionality to the iPhone, but it’s nowhere near good enough – I’ve had to polish this post on a PC)
Enough of the mundane. It’s pimpin’ time!
Always prepared to go the extra mile for the sake of scientific experiment, I’ve been playing with the jailbreak side of things. There’s no particular downside to jailbreaking the iPad, but it’s not the same experience as on the iPhone. Standard JB apps tend to be ok, and can produce all kinds of really cool functionality, for example this afternoon i set up wireless sync between iPhone/iPad and PC! Well ok I enjoyed it.
But check out some of these screenshots, and you’ll see I added in (via SBSettings, an essential JB app) lots of extra info to my status bar. By monitoring the available memory, I noticed that some iPad apps use a LOT, so there’s comparatively less to spare than there was on the iPhone. This is not such a problem on a vanilla iPad, as you have a set number of background processes and one open application, but factor in important JB daemons like SBSettings, MobileSubstrate & Activator and the memory pool available for runtime code does start to dip a little. In fact the limits on memory can get so constrained that it’s hard to run multitasking with backgrounder without experiencing a fairly high number of crashes, and Winterboard is pretty much a non starter. It’s also the reason why Safari can only hold 2 pages in tabs at once before having to reload them completely – not good if you’re mid way through filling a form in!
These considerations should serve to discourage the proles and those techies who fear the sky falling on their heads. I think as the JB community begins to code more towards these new limitations (and takes advantage of 4.0’s multitasking API) we’ll see a return to stability, but for now it’s fine as long as you don’t expect the earth. Certainly if you discover something that’s not working well, or pushing those memory limits too far, remove it and wait for an update. I’ve been successfully running:
- SBSettings – swipe to access common settings
- Activator – [gesture] to [action]
- Backgrounder – keep app in memory, can return later. Use with small apps only or they’ll bug out
- Infinidock – loadsa icons on the dock, slightly buggy, very useful
- ForceFull – forces iPhone apps to change their UI elements into iPad ones, maybe has a 40% success rate but can make many older apps perfectly viable again
- MyWi (on iPhone) – use your iPhone as a hotspot, connect with iPad, ????, profit
- iFile – file manager
- WiFi Sync – sync with iTunes without a USB cable. Bit buggy but great idea
Well that’s my roundup of the first few days worth of experience with an iPad. Obviously I’ve been enjoying it, no surprise there. I’m looking forward to the release of more productivity tools and apps, of which more another time as I’ve had some partial success already from a business perspective. Will also blog some thoughts on the CUC event at some point. Finally, in late Autumn we have a 4.0 release to look forward to which should open up a whole new level of abilities. We’re living in the future, people!