Thursday, 3 February 2011

Another (less new) toy

Though unmentioned here so far, another new toy that the joint we have recently acquired (a mutual Christmas present) is a shiny iPad. We've had it for more than two months now, so how's it bearing up?

The best thing about it from my perspective is that it makes checking e-mail and web surfing completely effortless. You pick it up, turn it on, and it's ready to go. The alternative is, or was, to fire up my laptop, which took an ungodly minute or two to become usable. And even then my laptop's relationship with wifi left something to be desired. But being able to practically immediately pick up a computer and do something with it is a major coup. Admittedly, this stems from the iPad never seeming to quite be "off", but it seems to consume very little battery power while "sleeping" (or, perhaps, "resting").

It practically goes without saying that the iPad is also a plain joy to use. Much as with the iPhone (and probably other smartphones for all I know), there's something immediately gratifying about how tactile its interface is. It's not simply being able to use touch, it's more that Apple have made the interface respond sensibly to the sorts of instinctive gestures you'd expect to be able to use. So while computer interfaces have historically been pretty obtuse at times, the iPad can be picked up and used successfully from the get-go. This is helped by the interface's "physics" which mean that items appear to have momentum and experience friction. Admittedly (again), the superiority of the interface to conventional computers stems in large part from the fact that the iPad is a simplified computer that can't do as much as a desktop - it's just been very selective in the tasks that it takes onboard.

As for problems, we've yet to experience anything significant. It mishandles attachments in e-mails, at one stage forcing us to delete an e-mail account then reinstate it, but since we've not used it for this sort of e-mailing, this isn't a biggie. It's also crashed on us once, and that flummoxed me at first, but I just used a trick I've been told about iPods (hold two buttons at once for 10+ seconds) and was able to bring it back to life. On this latter point, one thing I'm not sure about is how the iPad juggles multiple open apps. It seems to be able to do this fine, so switching to and from web and e-mail has no memory loss issues, but I presume if I kept opening an shutting apps it might have to stop remembering things after a while. I guess I've just not opened enough apps yet.

As for said apps, I don't think we've made the most of these yet (in spite of a giftcard to buy some for Christmas). We've installed a fair few free ones that do common tasks we'd like, but we've found quite a few of these to be pretty rubbish, and haven't investigated much further. For example, the Amazon one seems to be US-centred, the Rightmove one is considerably less functional than the website, and the ArsTechnica one seems to offer out of date material. More successful are the eBay, Pulse and Friendly apps, though even they aren't completely ideal and often have us back on websites the usual way. There are also gaps in the app market, with nothing useful for Blogger or Flickr - at least nothing free!

But, overall, it's a great little device. Given the price tag, it's still a difficult one to recommend, especially if you've already got a desktop or laptop. It doesn't do any more than they do, and comes at a fair chunk of the price of one of them. But what it does do is make it all more effortless, and makes picking up a computer for a minute to do something simple vastly more painless than a more conventional machine. So two thumbs up, but think about your wallet first.

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