iPad Gripes

iPad screenshot

iPad editing gripes

Well, I’ve had the iPad now for almost two months and disaster has struck. Apple have finally started shipping in the UK, so now everyone will have one. To be fair, they remain in short supply, so maybe I can still feel a little smug for a while longer.

On the plus side, Apple are now allowing us foreigners to buy their iWork apps. I’ve no idea why they restricted sales until now to US registered iTunes accounts. It’s not like you can run out of download copies. Anyway, this means I am writing this using the iPad version of Pages, and jolly nice it is too.

But enough compliments, this post is about my complaints – my accumulated list of gripes as a two month veteran iPadder.  I’m not going to rant about the over-reflective screen, the greasy fingerprint challenge, the lack of flash or the convoluted workflow to get documents on or off the device. These have been much discussed elsewhere. No, it’s the little annoyances that I need to get off my chest. The iPad equivalents of the paper cuts and gnat bites that irritate and annoy out of all proportion to their seriousness.

Top of the list is the lack of cursor keys on the virtual keyboard. Positioning the cursor in a block of text by tapping with your finger works surprisingly well and the magnifying glass feature helps get to the precise spot. But when fat fingers have made you miss your mark by one character, having left and right cursor keys would be so much simpler and quicker. Likewise, when you need to go back and correct something you just typed, having a non-destructive alternative to the backspace key would be great. The OS obviously supports it, because it works when I connect my Apple Bluetooth keyboard. Maybe adding two more virtual keys would have been too expensive….

Next gripe is the auto capitalisation feature. Yes, I know you can turn it off. And I have. The problem is that it is actually very useful and I wish I could leave it on. But it is just slightly too stupid. Why exactly it thinks that capitalising the first letter of an email address when filling in a web form is the right thing to do is beyond me.

I’ve also been experiencing random application crashes, maybe once or twice a day. Playing video sometimes results in a complete system freeze, from which the only escape is a full restart. Whether this is the fault of the iPad or the app developer’s coding is hard to say. But it does somewhat dilute the device’s credentials as an easy to use alternative to a laptop for less sophisticated users.

Overall though, this is a remarkably impressive machine for version 1.0. The most telling verdict is that it has rarely left my side. Here’s hoping that the next OS upgrade will sort out the remaining annoyances and bugs.

iPad first impressions

Steve Jobs with iPad

Steve's latest invention

I was in the US last week, a few days after the release of Apple’s latest invention, the iPad. This was a happy, if expensive, coincidence since us Brits are not permitted to buy one until later this month. Although I now have my hands on the hardware, Apple will still not allow me to buy their iBooks or iWorks apps with my UK registered iTunes account, which is a little frustrating to say the least.

It has been quite hard to get to know the device properly in the four days since I handed over my Amex card to the overworked Apple Store employee in Santa Monica. One problem has been the constant interruptions from friends and passers-by. Whether it is the amazing buzz that Apple have created, or the wonderfully sexy design, but you cannot sit in a hotel lobby and simply use the device. You are in constant demonstration mode. I only wish that Apple paid a referral commission.

Another problem with getting to know the iPad is that, like its smaller predecessors, so much of the experience and functionality of the device is driven by the applications you install. Part of the fun of the last few days has been rediscovering favourite apps, reinvented for the new platform. One such is NetNewsWire, an RSS reader. The iPhone version is excellent, making browsing and reading news stories amazingly easy on such a small screened device. However, on the iPad, it makes it a wonderfully fluid and enjoyable experience. The dedicated media apps like the New York Times viewer are even better. The interesting thing is that I also have NetNewsWire for the Mac and the iPad version provides a superior experience. The combination of a touch interface and a decent sized screen that you can lay on your lap really works for media consumption.

It’s also great for watching video, looking at or showing off photos and reading books. I had a great opportunity to test this out on my eleven hour flight back from LA. The highly reflective screen can be problematic, but overall it is an almost ideal personal entertainment solution when travelling. I also have a Kindle and the backlit screen on iPad works much better on a flight. I will still be using my Kindle though; in bright sunshine or for handholding it wins out. The brilliant thing is that there is a Kindle app for the iPad, which means that I can mix and match, using each for what it is best at.

Ease of use is definitely a strong point. As Steve Jobs told us when announcing the device, anyone who owns an iPhone or iPod Touch already knows how to use it. But the familiarity is deceptive. The vastly larger screen real estate transforms the experience in a way which is both subtle and at the same time addictive. After using the iPad for a while, the previously wonderful iPhone user interface now feels horribly cramped and inelegant.

One advantage of the iPad that it is easy to underestimate at first is the social dimension. Sitting in a meeting or at home with a laptop in front of you is somehow a mildly anti-social thing to do. The screen in front of you acts as an barrier, sending subliminal but strong signals which distance you from others. It is the technological equivalent of reading the paper with it held up in front of your face. An iPad laid flat in front of you leaves you psychologically still part of the group.

It’s less good as a document creation tool. The on screen keyboard works really well and you can also attach a bluetooth keyboard, which helps when writing lots of text. I started writing this post on the iPad, using the WordPress app. I was managing fine, although the app seems to have a cut and paste bug at the moment, but I have to admit that I am now writing this on my laptop. Not only is it a better tool for the job, my iPad has been ‘borrowed’ by my son, who is now merrily killing Zombies on it. This is the iPad’s other great strong point, gaming. I also suspect that it will be the most profitable for Apple and the biggest drain on my own personal productivity!