Hate the Name, Want the iPad

Back on Christmas Eve, I blogged about the things I’d like my comics to do in the future.

Yesterday, Apple gave us the iPad, and I believe it’s only a matter of time before our comics will do all that. The examples in the keynote made it clear that the days of static pages are over. I don’t think there’s any reason to go fully animated for comics (that’s what cartoons are for), but creators will be able to take advantage of slick transitions and other effects that can really enhance the reading — or even the entire storytelling — experience. Guys like comiXology have their app zooming and panning around a comic, but that’s just scratching the surface.

I’m not convinced this will replace the Wife’s beloved Kindle, mostly because I’m not convinced the iPad will be as comfortable to read for long periods (the iPad is backlit, the Kindle is not) or as easy to read outdoors. The Kindle is also cheaper and, at least for the moment, has a much larger selection of books available. (The Kindle DX, however, is toast. The newspaper and magazine outlets wanted a bigger tablet, but they also wanted color, and the DX just doesn’t cut it.)

I wonder, too, what it will do for short prose fiction. If magazines and newspapers are going to go all out developing for this thing, why not anthology magazines or fiction websites? Grab something like the new Crimefactory zine and read it on the go, just like you might for the Kindle. With the iPad, editors could also post video interviews and other extras you may be able to post to the web but you just can’t do on a Kindle.

I don’t see the iPad replacing my laptop (or desktop, for that matter), but I can see it being a great supplement. I love my iPod touch, but I still can’t edit docs on it. With Pages available for the iPad, I can easily use it to edit files, or even create in a pinch while on the road. I’d have to play with the keyboard dock and/or a Bluetooth keyboard to give any real thought to long-form creation on it, such as writing an entire novel, but the real problem is I need the multitasking to be truly functional on it.

That said, the multitasking isn’t a deal killer. I don’t need multitasking on the road, or if I’m lugging it around at a convention. I can prop it up on a table and let it display artwork all day on a 10-hour battery, or hand it to an editor and let him flip through art or page samples. I can also hold and use it like a clipboard with little effort while walking around a con floor or waiting in line somewhere. These would be unwieldy at best with a laptop, even a netbook.

Kiss netbooks goodbye, for that matter. For $100 or so more, I’d much rather have an iPad. Netbooks are underpowered, for the most part, and you’re still wrestling with a laptop form factor only tinier. True multitasking would bog down the iPad, just as it does most netbooks. If I didn’t have a MacBook at work, I’d purchase an iPad for myself and use it as the supplement to my iMac rather than spending double or more on a full-size laptop. I’d much rather carry the iPad on a plane, too. Laptops are a tight fit on those trays, especially if you’re a larger person or if the guy in front of you leans his seat back.

As an educator, I’d much rather put an iPad in the hands of my students in a 1:1 environment. Why?

  1. The cost is less than half of a MacBook and they will be far easier to manage (based on existing iPod/iPhone deployment tools, anyway)
  2. With textbook deals coming, students will be able to carry and read all their books on it
  3. It’s set up for annotation and in-classroom note taking
  4. It will have all the current features of the iPod touch, such as classroom response, apps, iTunesU, and so on
  5. The lack of multitasking keeps students on task (in theory)
  6. Schools will still have labs for multimedia work and things like yearbook and business classes, so heavy-duty composition can be done there

Some say printing may be an issue, but I say no. Just ten years ago, Palm wanted every student to have a Palm device and beam their papers, etc., to the teacher via infrared. If the iPad will dump files to a server store for the teacher, that’s all they need, and is more efficient. This saves on paper (not to mention toner, which, believe me, is a huge expense for a school district), and is less junk for the teacher to haul home to grade.

Our coaches will kill for sports statistic apps on one of these. They carry it along the sidelines and tap a player’s name to tweak their stats. Little to no typing would be required if it’s handled right. Heck, with the right app and programming, they’d have quick access to plays, replays, and field/court diagrams.

As for some of the other criticisms, I think people are being a bit harsh.

Take the bezel, for example. Yeah, it’s pretty big, but given the size of the thing your thumbs will have to overlap the screen to hold it properly, and you’d have a lot of accidental input. Saying you won’t buy this thing because of the bezel is like saying you wouldn’t sleep with Shakira because she has small tits.

No camera? Yeah, kinda sucks. But Apple’s not stupid, so I think there’s a reason for this. I decided to test out a theory and set my MacBook Pro in my lap so the screen would approximate where I’d hold the iPad. I fired up the Photo Booth app, and the following is the first picture I took while holding the screen in a way I can read the display.

Talk about negative space...

Talk about negative space...

Tilt the display so I can see my whole face, and parts of the screen start looking dim. I wouldn’t be able to see the person talking to me very well.

That was taken holding the screen in landscape mode. I turned it on its side and tried again. This one’s a little better…

I can see my brain!

I can see my brain!

…but you can see right up my nose. It’s not exactly the most flattering angle in general. So why include a camera if the only way you can use it is to hold it straight out in front of you? Users would be bitching about their arms getting tired in no time. Yeah, it would work on a dock, but you know most people aren’t going to be buying docks.

A camera on the back wouldn’t be much better. Something that big would be unwieldy to aim, and probably introduce more shake than you’d want with what would amount to a cell phone camera. Again, it would be an opening to more gripes than compliments. You want a tiny, portable camera off your phone? Try a Flip or an iPod nano. Or a real camera like an Elph.

Then there’s the name. The jokes are already all over the Internet, but MadTV already covered this one for us:

“Vaginal firewall protection” indeed. Smooth, Mr Jobs. Tablet or Slate, with or without an i in front of them, would have been much better.

Next there’s the AT&T thing… Even Hitler’s not happy about that one. But can you blame him? We couldn’t get decent AT&T coverage where I live if our lives depended on it. You would think Apple learned their lesson with all the iPhone complaints. But hey, at least they found people a cheaper data plan. Dump a USB cellular modem and the iPad pays for itself in about a year and a half.

Another reason I think this thing is going to do well is the interface. I’ve played with an iPod touch for a while now, and it still amazes me how easy it is to use. I taught the Midget to use it in all of ten seconds, and he in turn taught the Squirt — who was four at the time — how to do the same thing. With no input from me, they were switching apps and playing games like pros. Even my three-year-old daughter effortlessly dumps pygmies off the island in Pocket God, then creates more so she can do it again.

The interface is what killed previous generations of tablets, whether we’re talking about the Newton or the round of tablets the PC industry tried to foist on us around 2000-2002. (They tried to foist them off on the education sector, anyway.) They were unwieldy, heavy, buggy, and in many cases you had to have a stylus, which itself was just an afterthought bolted on to Windows. Handwriting recognition may have been huge in its day, but you had to learn your way around its idiosyncrasies, especially when they revamped the input alphabet like Palm did. Handwriting recognition was just too inconsistent from user to user, but anyone can learn to swipe.

That said, I’m still intrigued by Microsoft’s Surface. It shows they’ve put a lot more thought into touch technology, and if they integrate the touch features into their new tablet devices, I may be willing to give it a second glance. It’s just tough to be positive after the horrible (IMHO) WinMo interface on most of their mobile devices. (5 minutes with a Sprint Mogul was enough to ensure I’d never go anywhere near one again, and I just needed to make a phone call.)

I know there’s probably going to be a better version out within six months of releasing this one. I know I’m paying into a closed system. But damn it, I want one of these.

Pass the Apple Kool-Aid.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

5 comments

  1. wolfnoma says:

    Mike, I have not been a big Apple fan in my life although I do know they have been on the cutting edge of computer technology. I am however always intrigued by new technology that comes to light in our lifetime and I will be keeping an eye on the iPad.

    Well done sir.

  2. It’s a step, but given what it is as opposed to what it could be, I’m not ready to take that step.

    I want to see a tablet that is a computer and not just an minor upgrade from a smart phone. Throw in better interaction and touch controls posited by Microsoft’s Surface would be even better.

    To me, I’d like to see a tablet be a tool that can link to other appliances in the house, link with other people and groups of people. Imagine a meeting or a classroom where documents are dispersed with a slide of a tablet, discussions are equally shared and contributed, and projects can be cooperative and not assembly line.

    Right now this is a single user internet appliance. It could be so much more, and really I expected it to be from Apple.

    • Mike says:

      Given the first key to the success of this thing is going to be the interface, I don’t yet trust Microsoft to bring that to the table. Yes, Surface looks good in a controlled environment, but I find it hard to get excited about it until they release it into the wild. When they first tried to bring tablet PCs to the masses, I just couldn’t see getting behind it, education setting (where I first experienced it) or otherwise. The iPhone and iPod touch, meanwhile, have already demonstrated that the interface for this thing is easy and can work.

      As for home controls, I think that’s what the apps are for. There are already several X10 devices and interfaces, and I don’t see why one couldn’t be developed to access a server managing X10 devices. If it can be done with smartphones (a former boss’s cell phone triggered his garage door and hallway lights as soon as he pulled into his driveway), it can be done with a tablet.

      For projects, there’s already ways to link games via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, so I see no reason there couldn’t be collaboration. It’s just going to take developers. Maybe now Google Apps can be properly supported, especially since many schools are turning to Google for their student apps and email.

      However, I’d just as soon stick to a laptop or desktop for real collaboration. I don’t think the iPad will ever replace laptops and notebooks, but netbooks were always a half measure IMHO and I think this better fits the needs of many people who were buying netbooks just to access email and the web while on the road.

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  4. […] (For a previous post with a longer rant on why tablet e-books are going to rock, click here.) […]