Why I bought an iPad and why I’m glad I did

My thoughts after using my first iPad for a weekend

Just to get it out of the way, I’m not what would be described as an Apple fan boy. I don’t own an iPhone, nor a Mac; I have a first-gen iPod touch which I rarely use. I’m used to Windows products and I’m not particularly big on trying to impress my personal tech preferences onto others. Usually.After queuing in a PC World for an hour on Friday, I came home with the iPad model I’d wanted (a 16gb 3G model). My reasons for wanting it (I could try to convince myself I needed it – but I didn’t think I did, it was pretty much impulsive) were mainly:

  • Portable TV
  • (iPlayer, ITV, Sky Sports)
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • Newspapers
  • Media Centre

I don’t have a TV in my bedroom or the kitchen, and I will soon be moving a long way away from home, so the fact it could be used as a TV added value for me. I use twitter quite a lot (most mornings when I wake up, I spend around an hour catching up on tweets, email and my RSS feeds) and I don’t use e-mail enough for communicating with other people. I’m finding less and less time to sit-down with a newspaper and read it in one sitting so the ability to do that was a bonus. I also download a couple of TV series, and have started digitising my movies. The ability to stick a couple of movies onto the iPad, and then connect it to a TV with the digital HDMI adapter appealed to me.

When I first got home to set it up, the first thing I opened was the smart cover I’d bought. The first thing that struck me about it was how exceptionally easy it was to use – something that applies to a lot of Apples design philosophy it would seem. When something works so well you almost forget it’s there and don’t think about using it, the designer is onto a winner. Connecting to my PC wasn’t an issue either, I had a slight panic when on first connect I couldn’t access the settings, but this was related to not having purchased a 3G sim yet. When I plugged it in again, it worked fine (something my iPod touch hadn’t been doing recently – although I think that’s a last.fm scrobbler issue. Anyway I digress…). The Wi-Fi was easy to set up. I’ve had problems with Wi-Fi in my house before to the point I think the walls are lead-lined. I’ve bought a new router which seems to have solved the problem, and the iPads connectivity with it hasn’t been an issue for me at all yet. It does sometimes drop, but I don’t think I’ve owned anything which doesn’t have that problem for me sometime. Given the amount of use the iPad has had since I’ve bought it, it’s had a very high connection uptime.

So, I moved onto the meat of the iPad – the App Store. I’ve found the App Store to be easy to use, quick, and functional. It distinguishes between iPad and iPhone apps well, which is good because to be frank, iPhone apps feel awful on it given the screen real estate available. The featured items and the top 10 charts are actually useful as well, and don’t seem to be filled with rubbish. Especially on a launch weekend, you can guarantee the popular apps are going to be filled with ones people know are going to be useful. I found the App Store to be pain free.

At this point I started thinking about the gestures and realised that the main thing was, that until then I hadn’t even thought about it. They really are that intuitive. There are no delays (either in detecting touches or in the OS itself) – a problem my (non-iOS) phone is plagued with. I have now enabled multi-touch gestures as well, which has made the experience even smoother. My one gripe at this point would be that while the ones you use all the time are obvious, there are some useful ones which I’ve discovered by accident, and slightly better documentation on this front would be helpful.

The twitter app is very similar to the website, and so far as I can tell, isn’t plagued by the “dickbar” – as the trend bar on the iPhone twitter app has been christened. It’s made reading articles people link very easy, and the functionality is spot on. A lot of the time I “wasted” catching up on tweets has been removed, as it’s now an easier experience. I’ve already started using email more, and I have a separate account now set up on my iPad which I’m hoping not to fill with spam and use solely for personal use. It’s easy to use and cuts out a lot of the clutter and extra features I’m used to in Outlook. Certain newspaper apps seem better than others, and I have to say The (UK) Times app is absolutely superb. It’s made me want to read the extra sections of a broadsheet paper I’d always ignore, just because it’s that pain free. Not every newspaper app is quite so good though, both the metro and the Independent’s iPad app, I, fall short, and are not quite so pleasant. The Times have reported a massive increase in digital subscribers in the past 6 months and I can see why. They’re losing a massive amount of money on it – a month’s digital subscription to every edition barely costs more than just buying 4 print editions of the Sunday Times only – so I’m sure this is going to be altered slightly, but in my mind it’s worth it. Just to point out I didn’t read The Times before now, but this has certainly made it worth it.

I had a couple of movies I’d bought with iTunes, and a few recent TV shows for testing and the HDMI adapter works better than I’d thought. I’d expected a lot of pixelation, but unless you’re sat within a few feet of the TV you wouldn’t notice. A 200mb 40-minute TV show, an iTunes-downloaded film, and iPlayer are all very watchable on a 32” Sony TV, and the potential here I think is yet to be realised. I think for people who have to do a lot of presentations, an iPad is going to become invaluable.

I’ve also found myself using the iPad for things I hadn’t anticipated. Games are better than I’d expected. I play several games on my PC and thought that I’d find the iPad a bit…boring. But I sat for a good 2 hours plus, playing a flick football game which cost me 59p. It’s so simple, but so utterly addictive. I haven’t even moved into Angry Birds or Plants vs. Zombies territory yet, and I think it might be best that I don’t or I will get addicted. eBooks are also very easy, and a lot of the PDFs I’d find myself unable to read on a computer screen are now pleasant enough on the iPad. It’s an absolute dream for web browsing – iOS-rendered text combined with native Safari look great. I’m now finding myself doing the majority of the web trawling I’d have done on my PC before on my iPad. It’s also handy for food and recipes, something I really didn’t see coming and something my mum is actually finding interesting. Just getting my mum interested in anything vaguely gadget-y on its own is an achievement! I’ve also got Skype running – although I’m somewhat disappointed they only have an iPhone app and not a specific iPad one. I’ve also found the Tesco groceries app could come in quite handy. It has a built in barcode scanner, so if I run out of say, a packet of biscuits and need to have some more in, before I throw it away I can scan the barcode on the app using the iPhone camera, and it will auto save it to the basket. Even if I don’t buy it from Tesco, I can now see a list of items I need to remind myself to buy. It has a user-input text list as well, so for anything that Tesco don’t stock, you can still make a note. I don’t think I’ll ever actually buy any of the items I want from Tesco, but they’ve provided me with a free app that lets me know what I need to buy. There’s also other barcode scanner apps which will connect to Google shopping and let you know what price you can buy something for online, which I’m sure will come in handy.

There’s other apps I’ve seen which I’ll need to invest time in that I’m sure will be good. 1Password is a password manager which will track all your passwords for you, and can sync with a PC. I’ll be able to keep track of the many, many accounts I have for various things, and use different, more complex passwords for each one. It will almost definitely make my life easier, and at the same time increase the security of my online accounts. I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it.

Having been asked to write this, I made notes of things to include. At this point I started thinking more of the benefits I’ve got out of my iPad, and decided that while there’s not much it can do I couldn’t do with products I already own – don’t get me wrong, there certainly ARE things it does which I couldn’t do before – what it does that I’ve been doing anyway, it enhances. Reading a newspaper is better, twitter is easier, email has become fun.

A Weekend of Fun With My iPad

Saturday – England were playing in the Cricket World Cup. I found myself watching it on TV, while having the BBC live text feed and some stats open on my iPad, and I was doing all this from the comfort of my bed rather than being tethered to my computer desk.

Sunday – I’d bought the F1 paid app (they also have a free one, not to be confused) for £20. I wasn’t really sure what it did, it was very impulsive. Bearing in mind Sunday morning the clocks had gone forward, and the race was in Australia so I was up at what was effectively 5am on a Sunday morning to my body clock. I was watching the F1 on one PC screen, talking to a few other hard-core fans who were awake on another screen, and my iPad had the F1 app up. The app has a driver tracker, showing you from the telemetry where the cars are on track at any time and also includes a timing screen. I can’t explain this to non-F1 fans without a separate blog, but basically, I spotted things that otherwise I would have missed. Things the commentators either didn’t pick up or didn’t have time to relay. I definitely felt it enhanced my experience, and I noticed things I wouldn’t have done without the iPad.

Monday I was watching an episode of a TV show I’d had to download as I’d missed it. Usually I’d be watching this in a small window on a computer monitor. This generally leads to me browsing websites or generally being distracted while watching. I was about to just plug my iPad into my TV and watch it from the comfort of my bedroom. I had no distractions and was able to enjoy it as visual entertainment. It was great.

Cons of my iPad

At this point, I realise I’ve not really pointed out any “cons” of the iPad. I don’t want to ignore these things and feel they should be mentioned. The inability for it to print without one of 11 super-expensive printers that can associate with it is very annoying. I’ve not found any apps that will work with my printer yet, and I have to mail to my desktop anything I want printing. The mailing itself is easy, but it’s an inconvenience. Despite my motherboard having USB3.0 ports which advertise themselves as being able to charge even when your computer is turned off, apparently none of my computers USB ports are providing enough power to charge my iPad, and I’m having to charge it off the mains. This isn’t really an issue as the battery life has been impressive, but when I’m using my iPad while away from home, I can see it being slightly annoying. For all the good things the smart cover does, it can’t be used in a portrait orientation. I’m probably going to get a dock at some point, but it would be nice not to have to. And finally, the size of iPhone apps on the screen, how it looks and how they scale is a bit pathetic. I’m not sure what Apple could do about this really, as developers are developing for the size of the iPhone screen, but it certainly gives a little to the argument for web programming over native programming.

All in all, I have to say that I feel the iPad is doing a job for me and doing it well. It is enhancing things I did before, and has stopped me being chained to a desk to do anything web related. I feel more free using it. I’d like to finish with a quick 30 seconds of experimenting I spent in a free app I’d never used before:



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