Friday, 9 April 2010

Game Changer - Revisited

No, I haven't shelled out my hard earned cash for this gadget, even if it has now been available for almost a week. I also don't think I will be saving up for it in the near future, either. Still I think I need to revisit my original musings on the gadget.

Now that a good few respectable tech journalists have had a chance to have a play, I spent some time reviewing their reviews. They ranged from raving to enthusiastic in a muted sort of way. Oh, and whatever anyone thinks of the iPad, Apple have managed to shift 300,000 in a single day. Talk about hype and religious user base!

So, why am I not thinking of getting one? 

When you read all the reviews carefully enough, both the raving and the more measured sort, it becomes obvious that, for me at least, iPad does not offer anything worth spending money on. 

How so?

I read a lot, and as you may have noticed now sport a Sony PRS-300 eBook reader. Would an iPad serve me better (the basic model is not so much more expensive considering other things it can do)? Of course, its LCD will turn the pages more swiftly - something I'd dearly like eInk to be able to do. But then, my PRS-300 battery lasts around 10 days (more like3-4 weeks in reality), and charges in 2 hours from my PCs USB port, while iPad battery lasts 10 hours, and then needs all night to charge if not plugged into the wall. I don't take PRS-300 charger on holiday, but I would have to think about taking one with an iPad. I also now know for a fact that a lot of my eye strain comes from reading LCD screens, and iPad as a book reader won't help there - on the contrary.

But iPad does loads more! you may say. Indeed it does, but not much of it as well as I would require a gadget of that size to do.

Yes, it does e-mail (even in the background - welcome to the 20th, er 21st century, Apple), but by all accounts doesn't really allow for too comfortable typing. I must say, for just reading an e-mail on the go I would much rather lug a much smaller device - like a mobile phone (not an iPhone - a proper phone). When I need to reply to an e-mail I want a decent keyboard to do it on, and a mechanical one if at all possible. I also use two hands when I type, again something possible on a phone held in both hands, but not on a large tablet which needs one hand to hold, or a surface to put on. So, e-mail is out then, or at least actually using it (rather than just perusing it, as it were).

Similar, if not worse, goes for editing any documents - something that has been advertised as a fairly big thing on an iPad. As you can see here, I don't really do short, so posting even the shortest article here would probably be a pain on the iPad. Editing a spreadsheet would probably be close enough to comfortable, but the spreadsheets are work, and should not be done on the go (if your company allows you to work on the go, they should seriously rethink their security policies - or get you a really good privacy screen, preferably totally opaque). It may be cool to view a presentation on an iPad, but that's hardly an excuse to spend £££ on a gadget that is scarcely useful otherwise. Or maybe not, if you're high up in your company to be able to get one for "work" purposes.

Music? On the move, the phone does that perfectly well, especially since the headset doubles up for calls, and I don't think iPad does that, yet.

Video? Could be good for some private viewing. Or could it? It's big enough that when other people are around you can't really stop them watching, too, and I don't think you'll organise film evenings for your friends on an iPad (OK, some of you may, but that's another problem altogether). And if you're on your own, why not watch a big screen? You'll either be at home, or in a hotel. My phone has gigs of memory and a handy cable to connect to a TV, and is much smaller (and does calls, on top of all the other stuff iPad does). Oh, and if you're in public transport, again you may not really want everyone to know you're (still) watching reruns of Friends!

What's left then? Ah yes, browsing. Now here I cannot really fault an iPad. It sure provides a great browsing experience (if your favourite web site does not use Flash, that is - but that's another theme all in its own right). If only you could pack your iPad into a smaller form factor when you don't use it to browse web!

To really put the final nail in iPad's coffin, here's how Apple totally screwed up the experience of using an external keyboard. As a concept, I actually thought it might be a saving grace, but no - it's been done just the way to make it worse than useless. While the keyboard does have all the requisite keys (i.e. cursors, etc) you can't actually use them for scrolling, at least not when browsing! Unbelievable. Type a URL, on the keyboard, wait for the page to load, then, to reach it's bottom you also have to reach and for your iPad's screen and touch. Ouch! Also, it seems that connecting an external keyboard disables the on-screen one. No quick tapping out a few words if your Bluetooth keyboard slips form your lap then!

Oh, and did I say Apple still doesn't allow (I don't buy the "it's better this way" argument) proper multitasking. Yes, a few things can run in the background, but only the ones Apple decides are good for you. And so on... Just read the reviews (even the raving ones) with a critical eye, and you may also see that this is still not a game changer.

But if not a game changer, what is it then? 

See, I can change my mind, albeit slightly, and not without great pain: the iPod is not a game changer, and never can be. Yes, most of the above can be fixed with software upgrades, and future iterations will get better. But, you're either a game changer at launch, or not at all. 

What I do think iPad is - and that can't really be taken away from it, and Apple - is a harbinger of change. It announces a shift towards computing in a different way, especially when it comes to user interaction. Now, we just have to wait for someone to do it properly - and I'm not saying it can't be Apple.