Why I tried – and rejected – the iPad

I’m a gadget freak.  i was [at least one of] the first on my block to have a DVD player, a Tivo, a smart phone (before they were called that), a mobile broadband device (Mi-Fi card), a bluetooth headset, a Drobo, and a Netgear Digital Media Receiver.  Every one of those devices has significantly changed the way I do things, although the first one (DVD player) was replaced by the last one (Netgear EVA 2000).  Non-ripped DVDs are SOOOO last year.

But the iPad let me wondering “Why?”  But after a while I decided to try one out.  What the heck, I figured.  I can always return it. 

Return it I did.  Want to know why?

Here are my somewhat disjointed thoughts about why my experience can be summed up with the following:

  • There’s nothing I can do with this (that’s important) that I can’t do with my laptop
  • I can’t use it as my laptop

So it’s an extra device that I have to carry that doesn’t add anything to my experience.

  • Holding it is weird
    • Viewing it completely flat is strange, so you have to prop it up to use it.  This means holding it up in your lap somehow, and I never found a comfortable way to do this that felt natural. It’s not like it’s an iPhone or Blackberry that I can hold in one hand and use, so the whole “hold in one hand/arm while using with the other arm” thing never worked for me — especially if I wanted to do two-handed typing, which I never mastered on that thing.
  • It’s too heavy as an e-book reader
    • At 1.5 lbs, it’s more than twice as heavy as the Kindle.  While holding 10.5 ounces in your hand for hours might seem OK, 24 ounces is a whole other story.
  • The touch screen will be continually smudged
    • I have a hard enough time keeping the screen on my laptop clean.  I can’t imagine how smudged and scratched and unreadable this thing would be over time.  Yuck.
  • The Wi-fi was slow
    • I connected it to the same Wi-Fi that all my other devices in the house use.  They use it fine, but it was slow on the iPad.  It took a ridiculously long time, for example, to cache a five minute youtube video.  Browsing other pages seemed slow as well. I’ve heard similar problems from other people.
  • The virtual keyboard isn’t laid out like a real keyboard
    • There is no row of numbers, arrow keys, and other important keys.  You have to flip back and forth between numbers mode and letters mode.  I could not use this keyboard on any regular basis. I’d have to add a real bluetooth keyboard.  Now I’ve got a bluetooth keyboard in my lap that I have to hold, plus this other screen that I have to prop up… What a pain!
  • You need a PC/Mac to use one
    • I think it’s hilarious that so many people herald this as a device that will replace the PC or Mac.  Hello!  The first thing you have to do is plug it into a PC or Mac to do anything.  And, as you will read later, it’s also the only way to back it up.
  • You can only back it up to a PC/Mac
    • The only way to back it up is to use the iTunes sync feature to sync the files on it to your PC/Mac/laptop.  This is different than a Macbook (which I have), where I only need to bring a tiny portable USB hard drive.  I plug it in, Time Machine comes on, and voila!  It’s backed up.  An iPad, on the other hand, would require me to bring my laptop with me if I wanted to get a regular back up.
  • What? No Farmville?
    • My wife took one look at it and said “No thanks.”  She’s a Farmville fan.  There are millions of other people that are addicted to Flash sites, and Apple’s insistence on not supporting Flash leaves them out in the cold.  It’s bad enough that Apple dictates what I can manage my iPod with (I must use iTunes; they sued others out of the job), and what browser I can use.  Telling me what applications I can and cannot run pushes things too far for me.  Sorry, Steve.  I’ll stick with just my Macbook for now, where I run what I want to run.
  • Browsers aren’t ready for HTML5
    • According to this blog post, Safari is not fully HTML5 compliant.  In fact, it shows that none of the browsers are fully HTML5 compliant, and Safari is the least compliant.  I’m actually all behind HTML5 vs Flash.  But how about waiting until your browser (or anyone’s browser) fully supports it — and how about you wait until most sites on the Internet support it as well — to shove a device on us that requires us to use it?
  • No Microsoft Office either
    • The only have iLife.  I may have converted from Windows to Mac, but I have not converted from MS Office.  Not being able to edit and display MS Office files on this device is another reason why I’d have to carry my laptop with me.
  • The hard drive is not big enough
    • Apple, you’ve got me addicted to my media.  I constantly carry about wel over 100 GB of Music and Video.  This means that I wouldn’t be able to just sync my laptop to it; I’d have to do a selective sync, which is another pain — and another reason why I’d have to bring my laptop with me. 

So it’s an extra device that would add another two pounds to my laptop bag (no thanks) that doesn’t do anything I can’t already do with my laptop.  Why do I need it again?

If only I had a device that came with a real keyboard and would automatically hold the screen up for me. It would also be nice if the screen was larger than the iPad, and had a bigger (and real) keyboard, and came with a touchpad so I didn’t have to touch and smudge up the screen to use it. It would probably be able to use a real hard drive that would be a whole lot bigger than 32 or 64 GB one in the iPad.  I could install all the applications that I wanted to install, including Flash and Microsoft Office (and anything else I can think of), and it could sit on top of my lap.  Maybe the can call it an iLap.  It would be nice if it cost close to $1000, which is just slightly more than a fully configured iPad.

Now that’s something I would buy.  Too bad I’m just dreaming.  Or maybe not.

BTW, the one I own also comes in with a built-in lap and foot heater for those warm nights. 😉

----- Signature and Disclaimer -----

Written by W. Curtis Preston (@wcpreston). For those of you unfamiliar with my work, I've specialized in backup & recovery since 1993. I've written the O'Reilly books on backup and have worked with a number of native and commercial tools. I am now Chief Technical Architect at Druva, the leading provider of cloud-based data protection and data management tools for endpoints, infrastructure, and cloud applications. These posts reflect my own opinion and are not necessarily the opinion of my employer.

11 thoughts on “Why I tried – and rejected – the iPad

  1. bradknowles says:

    Some clarifications here:

    1. There is a native iOS Farmville application. If that’s all you’re worried about, then we’re done.

    2. Any e-book reader being held in one hand for an extended period of time is not going to work well. It’s not like these things are paperbacks that weigh three ounces, and even that can get quite tiresome, very quickly.

    3. I’ve never had slow WiFi problems, but I’ll take you at your word. But with regards to wireless network speed, what have you seen in comparison with other hand-held devices?

    4. Most MS Office documents should be displayable and editable with the iLife applications for iPad just fine. Some won’t, and if you’re addicted to those features, then you’re right — iPad isn’t going to work well for you with those documents.

    [ … continued … ]

  2. bradknowles says:

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    5. One of the lesser-known features of the iPad Digital Camera Connection Kit is that it allows you to connect most any kind of USB storage medium just fine, you’re just limited to what applications know how to pull data off the connected devices. If you’ve already got that content in a form that the existing iPad applications know how to handle (e.g., pictures, video, audio, etc… for iTunes, and so on), and the only problem is the amount of storage space, then connect a 1TB Seagate FreeAgent disk via USB, and you should be done.

    6. Nope, there is no Adobe Flash. And anyone trying to use Adobe Flash on any other portable device is slowly starting to figure out why Apple is insistent about this — you try and put lipstick on a one ton enraged wild boar on steroids with a hangover, a migraine, and serious dental pain, and you’ll start to understand.

    [ … continued … ]

  3. bradknowles says:

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    7. HTML5 is one of the best things about the iPad and iPhone. We finally have an HTML format that most of the vendors are actually going to be mostly supporting, instead of having to build entirely different websites just for IE, another one for Firefox, a third one for Safari, and poor little Chrome just gets screwed — just like this site. No, not all websites are ready for HTML5. Hell, plenty of websites aren’t ready for IE2.0. If we’re going to hold back all progress on the planet for the slowest individuals to catch up, then people like you and me might as well start digging our graves now and get used to sleeping in them. Going for HTML5 with the portable devices, and then pushing out so many portable devices that use HTML5, is one of the single biggest motivating forces in the business. If you don’t want to take advantage of that, that’s your call.

    [ … continued … ]

  4. bradknowles says:

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    8. Backups? If you’re using your iPad or iPhone correctly, most of your data is already backed up to the cloud via MobileMe, and the only thing that you don’t have backed up via the cloud right now is your applications. Apple has enhanced the iDisk application to sync, share, and even stream(!) your own private media to wherever you are logged in via MobileMe. There are more enhancements coming with sync’ing to the cloud so that you won’t need a Mac or PC at all, but that’s not here yet. Nevertheless, what already is here is pretty amazing. More to come.

    [ … continued … ]

  5. bradknowles says:

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    9. Screen cleaning? Have you never heard of these things called “screen protectors”? There are glossy ones whose sole job is to protect the screen and nothing else, there are matte-finished ones whose job it is to protect the screen and provide an anti-glare (and fingerprint-proof) surface, and there are even screen protectors whose purpose is to make it difficult for people to “shoulder surf” you, and enhance your privacy. Seriously — before you buy a piece of electronic equipment, you really need to take a look at the available accessories. And before you diss a piece of electronic equipment, you really need to know what the available accessories are, what they do, how they work, what you really want/need, and why they won’t work for you.

    [ … continued … ]

  6. bradknowles says:

    [ … continued … ]

    10. On-screen keyboard? Frankly, this is just something that you have to get used to. On a mobile device, you really don’t need twelve rows of keys. On a mobile device, you really don’t WANT twelve rows of keys, because then they take over the entire screen and don’t leave you any room for what it is that you’re trying to type. That said, in the Jailbreak world, there are alternative keyboard arrangements that you can install, and they should be able to answer your short-term requirements. Long-term, I have to believe that Apple will finally be forced to allow some of the alternative keyboard arrangements into the official Apple Store.

    [ … continued … ]

  7. bradknowles says:

    [ … continued from before … ]

    But frankly, there are a boatload of people who say they want the keyboard with twelve rows of keys, but don’t truly understand why that doesn’t work in this new paradigm, and yet they stubbornly insist on getting their damn twelve rows of keys no matter what. There’s only a very small fraction of the market that really needs twelve rows of keys on the screen, and they can always write their own application for that issue — take a look at Wolfram Alpha with all the extra keys enabled.

  8. bradknowles says:

    So, after all that, by now you may have decided that I am an Apple “fanboi”. Not true. Yes, I do believe that they have the best solutions in a lot of spaces, but I also recognize that there are going to be some things where they just don’t have what you need — and I refuse to lie or try to make excuses for that. The truth is the truth, and regardless of the particular product that Apple makes, it won’t be for everyone.

    That said, I do hope to start work very soon as a Sr. Systems Engineer & Business Development Consultant at a local Apple VAR here in the Austin, TX area, and I’d be glad to sit down with you and have an extended conversation about what we might be able to do to help you make the best use out of an iPad in a business/prosumer environment.

  9. bradknowles says:

    Adobe Flash, Take Two

    Okay, so Steve Jobs and Apple are not the only ones saying that Flash on portable devices is really horrible — see http://www.electronista.com/articles/10/08/31/software.still.appears.to.be.problematic/

    The truth of the matter is that, even on a high-end “gamer laptop”, Flash can bring an otherwise decent website to a dead-dog crawl. There’s a reason why FlashBlock was one of the first web browser plugins that was developed. And that’s just the speed problem. Flash is also the source of more crashes than anything else I’ve ever seen (in fact, everything else put together and multiplied by orders of magnitude), and it is also the source of more security problems than anything else I have seen in recent history. There are many reasons why FlashBlock (or similar technology) remains one of the most popular browser plugins on any platform I’ve seen.

    Now, until the advent of Android 2.2 (which has been a very recent development), and the latest portable version of Flash, there really haven’t been any portable devices other than laptops and netbooks that have been capable of running Flash — and it’s taken them years to get to this point. But have you seen Flash running on a $200 netbook? The damn thing has barely enough CPU power to keep track of the mouse, much less all the other crap heaped on it by Flash. Sure, if you’ve got enough thrust, you can make anything fly — and completely disregard all laws of aerodynamics. But netbooks, tablets, smartphones, etc… just don’t have anywhere remotely close to enough “thrust” to turn that paradigm of shitty code into something that might be kinda-semi-sorta-slightly useful/interesting.

    In fact, the Flash on Android situation is so bad that it has crippled iPlayer on Android, because iPlayer requires Flash on all platforms — except iOS. See http://www.electronista.com/articles/10/08/27/bbc.use.of.flash.hurts.android.use.of.iplayer/

    Recently, the final nail in the coffin was put in. MPEG LA announced that it will never charge any royalties for Internet video encoded using the H.264 standard, as long as that video is free to end-users.

    See http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9182140/Royalty_free_H.264_may_clear_way_for_HTML5_standard?taxonomyId=61&pageNumber=1

    This pretty much kills any hope of Ogg Theora or VP8 as an alternative standard video CODEC, but at least it does give everyone a single HTML5 spec to work towards.

    Flash is dead. It may not know it yet, and it may not yet be completely shipped out the door for a few years, but that doesn’t change the fact that Flash is dead. Of course, HTML5 is nowhere near fully baked either, but on portable devices I don’t think there is any alternative but to move forward as quickly as possible, and the more portable the device, the faster it needs to move away from Flash and towards HTML5.

    Many sites that used to be Flash-only are now going dual-mode with Flash & HTML5, and that kind of dual effort cannot and will not be supported for long. The real death knell for Flash will be when sites that used to be exclusively Flash-only are converting over to be HTML5-only. That day is not very far away.

    You can either go with the flow, or get run over in the stampede. Because frankly, Flash may have served some purpose in the ancient history of the Internet, but its time has long since come and gone. This sucker should have been put out to pasture, sent to the Knacker’s Yard, turned into dog food, and had the inedible parts buried a long time ago.

  10. jon johnston says:

    I have to concur with the Brad above that pointed out how badly flash sucks on mobile devices. I realize it gives you guys who write articles something to complain about in a david-goliath way, but flash is easily the worst component of my macintosh life.

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