iPad: A Skeptic’s Review

I should preface this by saying that I always been a fan of Apple and their products. Though it seems to me that where I used to wish that more people would pay attention to what I felt was a better product, now I wish Apple would make the products that everyone is paying attention to better.

The announcement of an Apple tablet had been perennially rumored for announcement at MacWorld and WWDC events over the years, yet for the longest time, the announcement failed to happen. Until finally, at an Apple event last January, they finally pulled the curtain back on the iPad. Given what Apple has created over the years, my expectations for a tablet were very high. Too high, I suppose. I don’t know what I expected, but what Apple demonstrated was essentially an oversized iPhone. That doesn’t make calls. The usual suspects hailed it as a breakthrough. Revolutionary. Even magical.


I wasn’t seeing it. But then again, I’ve generally been a bit skeptical of Apple’s products at the time they are announced. I tried to keep an open mind, tried to imagine how an iPad would benefit me. When the iPad was released, I played with one. Read the glowing reviews. An yet, the magic wasn’t rubbing off on me. So, after a couple months passed by, naturally I bought one. Actually my wife got it for my for Father’s day. Now that I’ve had a little over a week to play with it, have I seen the light?!

First Impressions

It almost goes without saying that anything Apple makes is going to be beautiful. The iPad is no exception. It is a gorgeous piece of hardware. As a nook owner, I was a bit dismayed at the heft of the iPad, and the the slightly curved back makes it annoyed to try and use on a flat surface. I also haven’t found a comfortable way to carry it around. I really need a case, if only I knew of somewhere to get one… Apart from those minor complaints the design is fantastic. Then I started using it.

Setting up the iPad was easy enough. I plugged it into my computer synced my contact, calendar, music, and also the apps I had installed on my iPhone. You have to wonder why a physical cable is still required for this when the thing has WiFi built right in. One beautiful day we’ll be able to synchronize and update our iDevices wirelessly, but until that day arrives, I have yet another cable to keep track of.


Next, I spent a half hour or so poking around on the iPad. Then I got bored and a bit frustrated. As everyone knows by now, you can’t run more than one application at a time on any iOS device, unless that application was made by Apple. iOS 4.0 will remedy this somewhat, allowing limited multitasking, but it won’t go far enough. There’s no good way to browse the web and have a instant messaging, twitter, IRC client and RSS reader fired up as I normally do on my laptop. Granted, I’m a “power user” and many have suggested that the iPad is not targeted to power users. Fair enough, but I thought about how my daughter uses her netbook. Generally she is talking with her friends on AIM with a web browser open to YouTube or something Twilight related and discussing whatever it is that is interesting to 12 year old girls these days. She’s hardly what I would call a power user but the iPad would not be able to handle her computing needs. My wife and 10 year old son quite like the iPad. Typically when they are using it, it’s for a very specific task. Namely video games. I haven’t noticed either of them use it for anything else.


Okay, you can’t have multiple apps running at the same time, but apps can push notifications to the user when they have something interesting to tell you. This should lessen the need for true multitasking, and it would if they were done right. Unfortunately, notifications are broken on both the iPad and the iPhone. When you receive a notification, say a new message on AIM, whatever you’re doing at the moment is interrupted and you’re presented with a big blue modal dialog box that demands you respond to the notification right that minute. Or you can dismiss it and hope you remember it after you’ve finished whatever task was interrupted. It is fantastically annoying. Compare that to the notification system on Android: when notifications come it, they are queued up in a convenient drop down drawer at the top of the screen. Not only can I refer to them on my own time, I can also address them in any order I choose. If Apple would make this one change, 90% of my multitasking complaints would disappear.


When we got our iPad I was thinking that maybe we could use it as sort of a coffee table device that the whole family could share. The iPad could be great for that. Laying about as a reference for those times when you want to look something up on the web, or if you have a spare moment and you want to check your email, or if the kids had some time to kill and wanted to play a game. And of course everyone that sees one want to play with it. Unfortunately there is no concept of user accounts so all the email accounts are visible to everyone that uses it. All of your documents. All of your apps, including those with sensitive data such as mint, are all right there where everyone can look at them. I don’t want my wife and kinds reading my email and I’m sure they don’t want me reading theirs. So email isn’t even used on my iPad. All the music and pictures on it are synced to my computer, so if my wife or kids want to listen to their music, they’re out of luck. Each of us also have apps and logins that are different for Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail… and rather than deal with the hassle logging in for the correct person, it’s easier to go grab the laptop. As a coffee table device, the lack of multi-user supports cripples the iPad. Of course I’m sure Apple would rather me purchase 3 more devices, but I can barely justify the cost of one. And even if I did have another $1500 for 3 more iPads, I’d have the opposite complaint, because I do want to share some things between some users.

Web Browsing

A few evenings ago I sat down for what I expected to be my first attempt to use the iPad for something practical. I needed to buy some tickets to a baseball game and figured I’d relax on the couch, watch a little TV, and mull over my ticket choices. I navigated to StubHub to make my purchase and sure enough, StubHub requires Flash to work. Prior to the purchase of the iPad, I didn’t really care on way or the other about the whole Flash versus HTML 5 debate. I don’t really care who’s fault it is that Flash isn’t supported on the iPad, all I know is the iPad doesn’t work with a chunk of the internet right now. The transition to HTML 5 will help to be sure, but flash is going to be with us for a very long time. Some time ago, I went through a phase where I played flash based games (yes even Farmville) on Facebook. None of this will work on the iPad. Although, Farmville is coming (or maybe it’s available now) as a standalone app, if you’re like me, you played games on Facebook, because you could also interact with Facebook, through chat for example, while you were playing. Flash won’t work in Safari, and chat won’t work while playing the standalone version because of the multitasking limitations.

The Display

When the resolution of the iPad’s display was announced at 1024 by 768 (132 ppi) I was a little dismayed. After all, the Nexus One had a resolution of 800 x 480 (254 ppi)and that was a mobile phone. Of course the Nexus uses a PenTile display so it that’s cheating. Still, I was a little disappointed but figured I was picking nits. Five months later, Apple announces the iPhone 4 with a resolution almost equal to the iPad at 960 by 640 pixels. Three hundred and twenty-six pixels per inch. That deserved to be typed out. It’s just gorgeous. Suddenly the iPad’s display doesn’t seem nearly so good. I’m sure that it will be improved in the future. It does make me wonder, however. iOS developers have there different resolutions to target right now and there are certain to be more in the future. It’s already a little messy for developers to support each of these, and I’m wondering how much more so it will be as we move forward.

Good stuff

I was a bit initially a bit skeptical that I would enjoy typing on the iPad. And I certainly didn’t think I’d be able to type very fast. However, typing works surprisingly well on the iPad. The same predictive text is in place here as it is on the iPhone which helps, but it even without it, typing would be just fine. Also, the ability to get all of my Barnes and Noble eBooks on the iPad is great. It makes a very convenient means for my wife to read all the books on my nook since I’ve been unwilling to share my eReader.

Final Thoughts

I’ve written quite a lot and most of it is negative I suppose. I’ve even held back a bit. There are a lot of times the iPad seems to be working against me. But there is a lot to like too. And so much potential that’s not limited by the hardware. In my case, the iPad is little more than a toy. But I can see how it would work well for certain types of people, such as those that travel a lot, or those that are want a dead simple device for browsing the internet and checking email. I’m sure Apple will continue to refine iOS and eventually I’ll have nothing left to complain about (yeah right).