The volcano that shut down the UK’s airspace wasn’t all bad as far as I was concerned, as it stranded an imaginary friend in New York for a few days, during which he very kindly offered to bring back an iPad. So a few days after flights resumed, I found myself the new owner of a shiny 64Gb iPad and a $25 iTunes gift card for those initial US store purchases.
After 48 hours with the thing, I thought it was worth jotting down a few first thoughts. This won’t be a review as such, because those have been done to death. It’s more of a random series of observations about my initial impressions.
For some reason, it’s a lot bigger than I anticipated. Certainly in terms of weight - you’re very aware when you pick it up that it’s constructed of solid glass sheet and aluminium. It would be quite tiring to carry one-handed for any length of time, and with the body being so smooth and rounded, it’s not easy to maintain a confident grip on the thing. I suspect a lot of iPads are going to meet crunchy ends after a fall from waist height.
It really needs to be propped on something, either on a table or on your lap. At the moment I’m sitting with my knees drawn up on a sofa, and it’s a little bit awkward - and placing it flat on a table doesn’t really work either. The angle of view is too acute, and it has a tendency to wobble because of the shaped back when you type on the screen.
Concerns about the keyboard are overblown - I wouldn’t want to type books on it, but it’s fine for blogposts etc. The main difference is confusion between a standard keyboard and the iPhone style - I’ve really found myself missing cursor keys, for example. RSI could be a problem, as well - I found myself thumping the screen with my fingertips, because I’m expecting a certain amount of “give” that isn’t there. Overall, though, I don’t think my typing is significantly slower or more error prone than it is on a standard keyboard.
The screen is very bright, but has a lot of reflections. And it gets incredibly messy with fingermarks. That’s unavoidable, but I have become very aware of how clean (or not) my hands are.
In terms of the built-in software such as the browser, it’s extremely fast and does an excellent job of rendering the pages faithfully. Having said that, Although you’re looking at a full web page, your interaction resolution is much worse than it is on a standard browser. If the page is designed with mouse clicks in mind, it’ll likely be too small to accurately navigate with a fingertip.
It’s also close enough to being a laptop to be slightly confusing - I’ve found myself really missing tabbed browsing, and feeling that I’d rather be using a mouse for certain interactions. That’s slightly counter-intuitive, because I’m sure it’s actually slower to move from the keyboard to the mouse than it is to move a finger from an onscreen keyboard to another part of the same screen.
I think the biggest challenge for application developers, though, is going to be making effective use of the screen real estate that’s available. The screen is vastly bigger than the iPhone, something that’s really emphasized by seeing unscaled iPhone apps running on the iPad. Just scaling up an existing iPhone ui won’t really work - what would be crowded on an iPhone screen would look ridiculously sparse on an iPad screen.
And at the same time, existing screen-based designs are going to be too fine-grained for effective control using fingers - a default pointer size being that of a fingertip is surprisingly crude and inaccurate compared to a mouse and cursor keys.
Overall, I’m left with a similar feeling to that which was engendered by the first version of the iPhone - it’s an amazing device, but it’s not quite completely finished yet. Not in the sense that there’s rough edges in the device itself, but more that the designers aren’t completely sure of how it’s going to be used, and have left themselves room for manoeuvre. This feels like the start of something, rather than the end result of a development process. And I’m also left feeling - as with the iPhone - that the more fascinating results are going to be created by the second order effects. In much the same way as the iPhone has disrupted data tariffs for the mobile phone networks, I think the ipad is going to have unintended consequences in unexpected areas.