15 minutes with an iPad.

Birthday Girl

This is my niece, who just got an iPad for her birthday. She’s eleven.

She’s also absolutely over the moon with her new toy, and is reveling in the near-celebrity status that comes with being an iPad owner on the weekend of its Canadian release.

But what does her freedom-loving uncle think of it? As it turns out, not much.

Though there was no available Internet connection (long story) and the apps on this particular unit were mostly games transferred over from my niece’s iPod touch I was, at least, able to sample the hardware and the latest iteration of Apple’s fabled and seemingly unquantifiable “ease of use”.

And the big deal is…?

Start-up time for apps was surprisingly slow — more than 4 seconds in many cases. And most of them opened in a window much smaller than the 1024 x 768 pixel resolution of the iPad’s screen. You can tap on the active window to put any running app in full-screen mode, but the ones my niece had did not scale well at all.

If you love the idea of typing with one finger then the iPad’s virtual qwerty keypad won’t disappoint. There’s no haptic feedback on key presses by default, but instead a subtle clicking noise . Presumably you could place the iPad on a table in landscape mode and touch-type that way, but I can’t see how it would be anything close to the experience of using a laptop or netbook the same way. The iPad desperately needs an alternative input method for text — Swype would get my vote, but I can’t find any signs of its availability for the platform.

With no signs of a terminal I turned to the hardware. Buttons or points of entry into the iPad’s innards are few and far between. The proprietary micro SIM card (yup, my niece has the 3G model) fits behind a flush metal (plastic?) cover on the device’s left side and requires a similarly proprietary “SIM eject tool” to get at it. Hopefully it’s included in the box.

Build quality seems solid enough, but you’ll definitely want to stock up on the hand sanitizer if you’re passing this thing around amongst family, friends or strangers.

Which brings us to the purpose of Apple’s latest “game-changing” device — that is, a portable media player and  electronic clipboard.

As a music player it’s definitely overkill, but for other media it seems suitable. I’m still surprised that the screen dimensions of the iPad are 4×3 and not 16×9 widescreen for video. I understand that the former is a better fit for eBooks, but the screen sure isn’t — its pixels-per-inch count is lower than the Kindle’s and its backlight is sure to be taxing on your eyes after a while.

As a glorified clipboard I don’t really see how it’s better than the Tablet PCs that have been on the market since 2002. Yes, they require the use of a stylus (gasp!), but they also have handwriting recognition — something else the iPad sorely needs.

As a (very expensive) big-screen portable gaming machine I can at least see a reasonable use case for the iPad and a child, one that goes beyond looking cool at their local Starbucks. Nothing’s jumping out at me for adults, though…

9 comments:

  1. How’s the whole turning-the-page-by swiping-with-your-finger thing?

    I’m tempted to get one for my sheet music, and just throw the iPad up on the piano’s music stand instead of carrying a binder. But to turn pages with my finger, I can only take my hand off the piano for a half-second at most.

    Alternatively, there’s a thing called the MusicPad, which allows page turns with a foot pedal, and has an 8.5″ x 11″screen, but it costs twice as much.

  2. I fear that if I even test it out, my IQ will diminish significantly…so I think I’ll pass on this, regardless of how high my curiosity…

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