On the usefulness of the iPad


So I’m typing this entry on my new Apple wireless keyboard, the first time I’ve tried to use it properly. For a start, I have to confess that this is the second time I’ve started this entry, because my WordPress app crashed after one paragraph and I lost everything I’d written so far. It was pithy.

This entry is about my experience as a fairly recent iPad owner and long-time user of Apple products. But I’ve never been an early adopter. I waited for the iPhone 4 before going down that route, and I waited for the third generation iPad before giving in to temptation. I want to write a completely honest assessment of my first couple of months of iPad ownership. I almost don’t know what I think about it, and this might help me decide.

The iPad itself is in front of me on this coffee table-cum-firepit. It’s in its Apple Smart Case, which you’re supposed to be able to use as a stand, except I don’t like either of its two angles, and it has a worrying tendency to fall over – hard – especially in its upright position. So it’s leaning back against two big books. I’m in what we laughingly call the conservatory – more of a cheap lean-to with a horrible plastic roof – and I can barely see the words appearing on the screen for the reflections in here.

That’s one thing, and it’s not a minor issue, is it? The screen, the reflections, how useable the iPad is in a variety of circumstances.

Let’s back up a bit though. I bought the 16GB WiFi+3G model, on a two-year contract on the Three network. Your mileage will obviously differ, but I’ve concluded (after talking to some of my students about their network coverage at our isolated rural school) that Three was the best bet for me, giving me the kind of network access at work (and at home) that I’ve just not got with Vodafone on my iPhone. I’m an idiot for choosing Vodafone, obviously, but they were and are the cheapest way to get an iPhone on contract.

For £25 a month and £159 up front I got this iPad. I’ve barely scratched the surface of my 16GB data allowance, for a variety of reasons. That’s been true of my pathetic 500MB allowance on the iPhone, too. This is mainly because I haven’t had anything other than the little circle for network coverage at work (in spite of the fact that we’ve got a phone mast in our playground) and of course I have WiFi at home. The only time I’ve used 3G has been in France, where it has cost me a small fortune. £2 a day last year for 25MB a day; this year, £3 a day to take my contract to France with me. So after three weeks in France, that was a £60+ addition to my normal bill. I don’t make calls and I barely use any of my text allowances. I’m a born Pay as You Go customer, but never have the upfront cash to go for it.

At work, the school network blocks anything useful (blogging, Twitter, YouTube), so I’m looking forward to being able to use such services for lesson planning and or lunchtime browsing. But I haven’t really been at work, yet, so haven’t started to use my data allowance. I was also hoping to use the iPad on 3G in France, but it turns out that as a non-voice customer I don’t get the option, other than to pay 70 pence per megabyte. Even restricted to 25MB per day, three weeks in France would have cost me nearly £370.

So the iPad came to France, but it wasn’t very useful for getting online. My in-laws don’t have internet at all, so I could only use WiFi at my brother-in-law’s house, which I called the Internet Café for the duration. When we went camping, the campsite WiFi was restricted to the office, and stupidly slow, so I barely used it. I relied on my iPhone therefore, and the iPad became nothing more than a games machine for the kids and an after-dark Kindle for me.

I hesitated about taking my original greyscale Kindle but I’m so glad I did, because I relied on it for all daylight hours reading, especially in the sunny Dordogne.

The iPad certainly kept the kids quiet in the back of the car on several long journeys. For that, it can’t be beat. They’ve had iPod Touch and Nintendo DS in the back before, but the iPad introduced a whole new level of peace and quiet.

Me, I used it a little bit for reading, and a little bit for photo editing (but not much, because I couldn’t really get photos from Photostream on the various slow WiFi networks I used, and I haven’t got a Camera Connection Kit). My daughter made a short horror movie on it, when we were exploring the house in Auxelles. My wife read some issues of French Elle magazine.

Since getting home, I’ve barely used it during the day. There’s this problem with not really being able to see the screen in sunlight or in a bright room. And the problem of the kids being on it all the time.

I haven’t yet discovered a killer app for the iPad. Filming and editing video on it (when you need to do a quick and dirty project) is certainly useful. But I’ll likely do that kind of thing once or twice a year. I’ve typed a couple of things on it, but it wasn’t all that easy compared to using a laptop. This, now, is hunched and uncomfortable, and I’m only here because I want to sit in this bright room and enjoy a sunny morning. Reading on it is okay, but it’s too heavy compared to a normal book or a Kindle, so I only do it at night, when reading on the Kindle becomes difficult because it lacks a backlight. I haven’t used it for music. The kids have used it for art, and for games, and for emailing their friends.

For them, it’s wonderful. But it’s yet to find a place in my heart, which surprises me. The main reason I bought it, if I’m honest, was because I wanted to be able to preview the iBook I’ve been working on. But that project is a bit stalled due to laziness and other things happening, so it’s not really serving its purpose. This keyboard is great, but the iPad itself is only scoring half marks for me so far.

I’ll follow this up when I’m back at work, to see if it becomes more useful then.

One response to “On the usefulness of the iPad”

  1. I quite like the grisaille WordPress layout you are currently using although it’s a shame it hides the illustrations away.

    I’ve a similar dilemma to yours with the iPad. I think it’s about the difference between consumers and creators. I do use the iPad and it’s become a part of the work toolkit when I’m out and about. I originally tried the mac keyboard but nowadays use a rather nifty logitech if I need some serious typing time. For ‘work work’ I have a Thinkpad in any case so the iPad is a bit of an accessory – but one that is creeping into corporate mainstream, so I need to be in touch with what it’s good for.

    But, in truth, I prefer to use my only slightly larger Mac Air when I’m on my own time.

    There’s certainly a whole bunch of extra things that the iPad can do and its good for touchy work but when it is emailing outwards or blogging or photo editing, then the cursor control by finger or pen isn’t quite as good as a mouse and pointer.

    So for some things it can be quicker and more convenient, but for others the Air seems to be more useful – assuming a wifi zone is available.

    The areas where the iPad excels for me include using it to drive the Hi-Fi and for mirroring video to the telly and for some quick browsing of email or similar, but they are consume more than create type activities.


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