Great First Impressions of iPad2

I ordered my own iPad2 on Wednesday October 5. I only found out later in the day that Steve Jobs had just died.

We’ve all had a chance to review his life on TV newscasts, TV specials, online articles and analyses, and tributes. The number of tributes exceeded anything I hoped for or expected. Even at news sources I normally distrust, coverage was positive yet balanced and told a remarkable story that will be retold many more times in coming decades. I think iPad2 turned out to be a brilliantly fitting way to launch the post-Jobs era. It embodies all the design elegance, under-the-hood power and user-friendly simplicity he devoted his life to.

October 17 NEW YORKERToo few of us read and enjoy The New Yorker perhaps, but as one dedicated fan of that magazine, I can recommend their October 17, 2011 online article “How Steve Jobs Changed,” by James Surowiecki. Surowiecki is an accomplished writer and financial analyst who writes the magazine’s The Financial Page. Read Surowiecki article

But this post is about my first impressions of my iPad, even though its rationale is for me closely connected to reading my weekly The New Yorker on iPad and, eventually, all my other periodicals.

I was introduced to my first hands-on iPad experience by a friend whose eyesight issues may be worse than my own. He bought iPad to help rectify that. I find myself limiting reading sessions with print periodicals, either because of poor-quality newsprint, or lighting and glare issues with high-quality glossy magazine pages such as are mailed to me by The New Yorker and National Geographic. My friend says he can’t read a regular newspaper at all any more. I get all my in-depth news online, and for free, at sources such as BBC, Huffington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, PolitiFact and MarketWatch.

I’m fine with reading news on computer flat-screen panels. But I never cared for being chained to a computer chair to read books or magazines at length. I’ve already started downloading my The New Yorker issues to iPad, and find them eminently easier to read and navigate than those paper editions. This is a vast improvement over early industry efforts to find a suitable ebook format for periodicals.

I ordered the basic 16GB Wi-Fi model iPad. I don’t have 3G on my Verizon account and I’m unwilling to pay the monthly charges for it. 3G is great for iPhone, perhaps, and for people always on the go. Even if 3G was free, my lifestyle is such that I’d seldom be in a location where I’d have any need for it. Obviously, if you are “mobile” – move around a lot away from home and take your devices with you – the Wi-Fi + 3G model would be best for you.

Wireless Networking

A wireless discussion is old hat to younger generations. I’ll discuss connectivity briefly for the rest of us.

The difference between Wi-Fi and 3G: Wi-Fi is the wireless home network currently used in most homes around the network to connect to the internet and with other computers and devices on the home network. 11n is the current protocol, and it is much better than anything available a couple of years ago. Wi-Fi typically has a range of a few hundred feet at best. 3G extends the range of services available from cellular providers such as Verizon, AT&T or Sprint, making possible “on the road” internet connection, mobile TV, video on demand, and location-based services. In short, 3G can eliminate the need for any home network at all, though Americans still pay dearly for 3G.

iPad2The iPad isn’t a handheld computer and isn’t meant to be. It can’t do much without a Wi-Fi or 3G wireless connection. You need an internet connection to connect to and surf the internet on Safari, set up and send mail, download apps, download eBooks, or all the other things I’m discovering I can do with my iPad. Yes, even Facebook. I can run business apps on iPad, though I probably won’t. That’s more than I can do with my legacy Kindle, though I’m still a Kindle fan too and have purchased several books in Kindle format (and I’m writing one of my own, too.)

Public Wi-Fi “hotspots” are nearly ubiquitous in places frequented by travelers and coffee-shoppers. I first connected to public Wi-Fi in the Seattle Airport in 2008, with my horrible old Vista laptop, while waiting for a plane transfer.

Obviously we aren’t going to be roaming around the home or drive to a coffee house with an Ethernet cable attached to a smart device. And iPad doesn’t come with an Ethernet connection anyway.

When I bought my iPad I no longer had a home wireless set up anywhere. I own an Apple Airport, still in the box, but couldn’t see the point of setting it up. I’m still hard-wired for fast CAT5 Ethernet (the familiar blue and yellow cables) in both Phoenix and Castro Valley. It’s fast – much faster than Wi-Fi – but it’s “tethered.” Earlier experiments with wireless were frustrating, slow and unreliable. I had yanked all that out a couple of years ago.

A nephew guest had already set up a Belkin 11n wireless router in my Phoenix home and left it here for me. It’s plugged into my Ethernet router, so wireless devices can still share resources previously available only on devices’ shared folders on my existing wired CAT5 network. The Belkin 11n wireless router is utterly reliable – I have never had a drop-off – and it works all over the house and yard. It’s secure, and it’s plenty fast enough for downloading an app or even a 186MB magazine. In fact, I’m getting dependent on it. I’ll be setting up my Airport Wi-Fi in Castro Valley for the duration of my stay there. But I’m keeping fast CAT5 10/100 Ethernet too.

Using My iPad

This can’t be about how to use an iPad. Besides the fact there are plenty of ebooks on the topic, the whole point of the evolution of the Apple Desktop metaphor, in all of its reincarnations, is that you shouldn’t need a manual at all. The “manual” for an iMac was about ten 3×5 pages. The “manual” for an iPad is a single sheet of glossy 3×5 stock. You turn iPad on and just start using it. You learn by looking around and trying out the features. There is an operating system, under the hood, but you never see it unless you adjust your Settings.

You may be thinking, “Oh no, I always read the manual before using any device. It’s just the way I learn.” No, not this time. iPad makes it fun to break old learning habits (and it’s not a PC – you can’t break it.) But if you’re determined to dig in your heels, download iPad: The Missing Manual from O’Reilly, as an ebook – Print editions not available! 🙂

I used iPad Settings to connect to our local wireless network, which iPad found automatically – I just typed the router password to join the network. This level of ease is where manuals really start getting in the way of the real learning process. You’re supposed to be training your eyes and fingers, not your inductive reasoning skills. Just do it.

Books and Magazines: So far, I’ve downloaded the New Yorker app and the most recent three issues. I’ve installed the Kindle for iPad app and downloaded all my previously-purchased Kindle ebooks from Amazon onto my iPad. I compiled my book draft, the BIO project, in epub format (using a free online service) and loaded it into my iPad. The formatting of my book is just gorgeous — far more professional than the same source code compiled for my first or second-generation Kindle.

With all due respect to Amazon, I realized I was just using my early model Kindle to inspect and QC my draft autobiography. I’d purchased several Kindle ebooks, including my beloved Poirot and Sherlock Holmes mystery stories, but I’ll be damned if I was spending any time in the living room reading on my early gray-scale Kindle! Navigation was just, well, a pain in the ass. It was a good effort, but crude when compared to Apple iPad2 touchscreen “inertial scrolling” and finger-swipe technology that makes reading on iPad even easier than turning the pages of a hard-bound book. I’ve read about the color Kindle Fire, due November 15, which is going to be improved in more ways than color, and more fun to use. I actually pre-ordered one, too. But when I got to thinking about all the other ways I could use a very smart tablet, I canceled that Amazon order and bought my iPad2 at the online Apple Store.

Photos: I’ve loaded a ton of my photography images onto iPad. As with the magazine presentations, the clarity and richness of color photography is just stunning!

E-mail: I set up my gmail account on iPad and it works great. The visual graphic keyboard is the largest and best I’ve seen for a smart device, and I’m learning to use it with some proficiency. For more serious text entry one can also use a wireless keyboard via native iPad Bluetooth connectivity. I have an extra Apple wireless keyboard I can just leave on the coffee table when I want to write articles or longer e-mails.

Writing Notes: I’m a great jotter. I often get ideas or hear collectible quotes while watching TV and write them down on anything handy. In the past I’ve keep spiral notebooks and note pads everywhere. Sometimes I’ll dash into the computer room to write an article stub on the fly during a commercial. iPad (of course) has a great NotePad.

Music: My main music collection is in excess of 300GB of WAV files on iTunes (both Mac and PC). It plays through either PC speakers or a home entertainment system. iPad will never replace this. I have loaded a few songs onto iPad. Using the built-in “iPod” app, I monitored “The Belgian Detective” by Christopher Gunning, and Bach Cantata #208 played by Yo-Yo Ma. Playlists are presented in the friendly format familiar to anyone with iTunes. The sound is creditable for such a device. You’d not want to monitor Virgil Fox on the Royal Albert Hall pipe organ in London, playing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, without plugging ear buds, an amp or a headset into the 3.5-mm stereo headphone minijack. I easily connected to iTunes at the Apple Store to download my previously-purchased songs. Regarding Apple Store, I do tend to favor CD’s and the bulky uncompressed WAV files, but I also appreciate that I can cherry-pick individual songs when I’m not sure I’m interested in the whole album.

Facebook: if I want, my Facebook app lets me monitor my Wall or post seamlessly.

Internet: Safari’s built-in and works well. You can also download a Firefox app, and probably Chrome too. Large web-pages (like this one) are scaled to fit the iPad tablet. As web developer I was first concerned, then relieved and delighted. Thanks to iPad’s brilliant high resolution display, I’m easily able to read pages and posts, navigate with hyperlinks and the javascript nav bars, view the pictures and slide galleries, and enjoy the surfing experience everywhere just as I do in the computer chair. Commercial and news sites work equally well.

Apps: There are loads of built-in Apple iPad apps. Apple iCloud is also rolling out for online storage, similar in concept to DropBox freeware I use on my Macs and PC’s. I have some interest in free secure storage for a limited number of my non-sensitive personal files. Even though Apple and Amazon servers are secure, one should not upload sensitive data (financial and password files for instance) to Cloud storage without encrypting it.

Sync: you can easily synch your files with your desktop machine or other devices, across the network or even via USB.

There are also over 140,000 downloadable third-party apps at the Apple Store and many of these are free, since they enable third-party services including magazines, ebooks, and other content services.

It’s true. The iPad2 is slim, elegant, and invites hands-on exploration. There is undoubtedly some way to accomplish almost all tasks an average user could imagine.

Yes, there are still plenty of good reasons to keep that desktop or laptop Mac or PC. Multiple-core CPU’s, terabytes of storage and 24″ flat panel displays are a few of them. Off the shelf, you can’t compile C code on iPad, write and upload Perl scripts and HTML pages, run Photoshop or edit image files, run batch programs for UC Berkeley’s Project SETI, or many of the other off-the-wall projects I run on my desktop machines. But there’s probably an iPad app for many of those tasks too. I won’t run my personal finances on an iPad, though there’s an app for that too. I won’t write or compile that Great American Book on iPad, but I can write as many draft pages or chapters on iPad as I like.

iPad2 lets me take my tasks wherever I happen to be in the house. Sure, I own that laptop, which runs Vista and is slow, and I hate it. iPad2 is instant-on. On iPad, I can find or return to any app or task in a flash, and start using it. That’s the Steve Jobs concept of Simplicity in a nutshell.

“More than just a big iPhone”

I don’t own an iPhone and may never own a smart phone. My two issues there are monthly cost of operation and display size. Early iPad critics feared iPad was really just a big iPhone. In theory you could configure an iPhone or similar smart device to do anything one can do on an iPad (they run the same iOS.) For me, monthly cost and display size would always be the show-stoppers. If you are very mobile, and can easily read a handheld smart device display, must have instant connectivity everywhere, and can only afford one device, well, then, iPhone, Blackberry or DROID may be the way to go. I have an older-generation LG cell phone, and I hate it, so I’ll probably replace it with an even simpler phone. A JitterBug style simple-phone for senior citizens is all I want for mobile telecommunications.

So I’m not quite clear on what the iPad can do you absolutely can’t do on an iPhone. In my case that’s problematic anyway, since I’m unlikely to adopt any such small device for input and output, except to field a phone call on my Senior Citizen simple-phone.

Once you actually get your hands on someone’s iPad2 and try it out for a few minutes, you won’t want to give it back. I have a feeling I’m going to love my iPad2 all the more as I use it.

©2011 Alex Forbes


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1 thought on “Great First Impressions of iPad2

  1. I find Firefox is not available for iPad after all, only a browser sync for bookmarks and whatnot – though it’s unclear to me what it syncs to, perhaps the Mozilla server. I use Xmarks for desktop browser bookmark syncs. Xmarks is available for iPad “for premium customers” which I don’t believe I am.

    Still having a ball with iPad 2. Using iCloud to sync some light items like iCal and Contacts. — Alex

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