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Monday, 31 May 2010 11:55

Apple iPad leaves me iWanting

By

Like many others outside the United States I patiently lined up to buy my very own Apple iPad on Friday 28th May. It certainly is a beautiful device. Yet, it falls short of being an exemplary business device.

Fortunately for me I live in the Australian port city of Newcastle. Newcastle is the sixth-largest city in Australia but is diminutive compared to Sydney and Melbourne.

While media reports indicate the Apple faithful were lining up for 24 hours or more in those centres I turned up to my local Apple store - Mac1 on Beaumont St - at 8:15am and was fifth in queue. A little after 9am I walked out with a WiFi+3G 64Gb iPad.

Video footage of the Bondi Junction store opening - including friend and colleague Alex Zaharov-Reutt - shows much fanfare and hoopla. By contrast, my experience was a much more subdued event but with the store staff showing good humour. This photo is the queue from my vantage point. Click it for a larger view. There were no hyper-energetic Apple employees clapping us along, but at the same time, we didn't stand in line for 24 hours either.

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Despite the brevity of my queue, not everyone could be catered to. Upon opening the store we were told stocks were limited. I feared the 64Gb model would sell out quickly but surprisingly I was the first to request the top-end model. My fellow punters all opted for 16Gb and 32Gb models, some WiFi only, some 3G. One hopeful found himself forking out more money than he wanted when he was told the 16Gb models had run out already. He counted the cost in his head but then agreed to be upsold to a 32Gb option.

The fellow in green at the front of the queue, university student Ryan Sweeney, was interviewed by The Newcastle Herald newspaper although, in my opinion, the Luddite reporter's blonde locks furrowed as she grappled with just why anyone would want such a device and put forth a series of leading questions to the poor lad.

Still, she did have a point. Was the iPad feeding frenzy a result of Apple's well-oiled and carefully manufactured marketing machine? Or were there genuine needs?

I knew what I wanted the iPad for. Let me tell you - and then how well it measured up, or didn't, as the case actually was.

 

 


 

Before I begin, let me express I certainly don't have buyer's remorse. The iPad is absolutely lovely. I am confident more uses will emerge particularly as more iPad-specific apps appear.

Immediately upon synchronising with iTunes I was able to begin configuring my collections of apps, music, photos and videos to carry along with me.

Multimedia on the iPad is a magical experience. Navigating through my music library becomes almost like a scene from the movie Minority Report as I touch here, touch there, flick through albums, control the volume slider and more. Like an octopus my hands dance across the iPad's bright display.

The native iPad apps like e-mail, calendar, contacts and maps are wondrous to behold. The extra screen space has been well employed, making these essential programs both functional and aesthetic at once.

Some apps like the must-have Dropbox have been designed to operate appropriately whether on the iPhone (or iPod Touch) or iPad. I have the one executable program on both devices and in both cases it makes effective use of the available screen space, allowing me to view and send files with alacrity.

Other apps, mostly games, have new iPad-specific releases. Plants vs Zombies, for instance, the masterfully cute and entertaining tower defense game, has both the iPhone release and now a roomier (and substantially pricier) iPad version, dubbed 'Plants vs Zombies HD'.

The 'HD' tag is used throughout the app store, despite the iPad's screen resolution not being high-definition in the sense we know it, but serving as a moniker to distinguish iPad-optimised apps from their smaller kin.

Meanwhile, other apps do not cater for the iPad, whether built-in or as a new program. Surprisingly, there is no iPad release of the ever-popular Facebook or Skype apps. You may still sync these apps to your iPad but they will display as either a tiny iPhone-sized window in the middle of the screen or as a 2x double-sized pixel blown-up version.

 

 


 

The iPad's much-touted ability as an e-book reader has pleasantly shown itself to be true. While the app that makes this possible, iBooks, is not pre-installed, it is a free download through iTunes. Initially, I felt constrained to use the iTunes store to buy e-books but that turned out not be the case. Any document you have in ePub format can be dragged into your iTunes library.

Meanwhile, I also found the free app ARCreader to be superb for rendering PDF, CBZ and CBR documents (ok, when I say 'documents' I really mean 'comics').

As far as content consumption goes, the iPad is magnificent. Sit on the couch, lie in bed, travel on a train or plane, and enjoy your wealth of crisp, easily-read books, movies, games and e-mail.

Yet, when it comes to content creation the iPad just falls short for me. This is the most disappointing thing.

When Steve Jobs first announced the iPad I was overjoyed by the news of iWork. A word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package opened the floodgate to doing 'real stuff' on the iPad. These apps, to my mind, were essential for making the iPad a serious business device.

Yet, in practice I feel let down. Not so much by the apps themselves, which perform impressively and offer a rich amount of functionality.

No, what bugs me most is just how constrained I am when it comes to getting files on and off the iPad.

There are three ways to get files in and out of the iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote). You can e-mail files to yourself, you can bring files in and out of the beta site iwork.com or you can transfer via iTunes.

 

 


 

The problem with the iTunes transfer is you are restricted to one solitary computer. I use my home computer for iTunes, because I have all my music there and was already synchronising a couple of family iPods long before the iPhone came out. If I wish to synchronise the iPad with my work laptop I will lose all my existing content. It's just not a serious option. This means I cannot use iTunes to bring files in and out of my iPad unless I do so at home in the mornings or evenings.

iwork.com sounds like it has promise but the site is only beta at the moment. The terms of service are explicit that Apple provides no uptime guarantees or even that the service will continue. Additionally, I do not assume iwork.com will be free when it comes out of beta.

That leaves e-mailing files to yourself but creates a synchronisation headache with multiple versions piling up on the desktop, in e-mail, on the iPad.

What I would really have liked to see is some sort of 'shared filespace' on the iPad. A Windows Explorer or MacOS Spotlight style app could manage this workspace, and all apps could have access to it.

Imagine being able to send files in and out of your iPad via Bluetooth. Imagine being able to save your e-mail attachments here. Imagine being able to bring a dedicated folder under the control of DropBox?

With a shared filespace you could truly achieve collaboration between your many and varied iPad apps, opening them in a succession of apps as you tweak and edit, and copy them back and forth between your main workhorse and your iPad with a minimum of fuss.

This is obviously a problem with the iPhone too, but the iPad makes the problem much more noticeable.

Just like the iPad has a larger screen and embellishes all that is good about the iPhone, so too it magnifies the lock-in that Apple has enforced.

 


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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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