Hands On: Six Months of iPad.

Accompany me, if you will, on a strange and wonderful journey as we follow the iPad around the Peretic household observing its uses and abuses. Our tour will cover each family member plus household visitors, then conclude with a brief recap of what we’ve learned. Let’s begin.

Abigail. Age: 27 months.

A wunderkind if I do say so myself, Abby is under the false impression that the family iPad is, in fact, her iPad. She scoffs at the notion the iPad battery should last more than a day of standard usage. Hobbies include:

Most endearingly, she giggles at scores of videos automatically synchronized from my iPhone of slightly-younger-Abby crawling, walking, running, jumping, and generally cavorting about.1

Least endearingly, she routinely drops, bumps, and generally slimes the iPad’s glorious glass and metal exterior. I am, however, happy to report it is none the worse for the rather significant wear.

Lest you find my first-hand account exagerrative, I present video evidence:

Abby messes around with Trainyard.

The tour-de-force, a practically infantile 20-month-old Abby demos her entire iPad repertoire.

Susan. Age: 24 years.

Bearing our second child for most of the last year, Susan had ample opportunity to appreciate the benefits of a light-weight, touchscreen computer2, so when Abby wasn’t monopolizing the iPad, Susan snatched it up.

Anecdotally, I think we’re talking 30-60 minutes per day roughly split among general purpose reading, socializing, gaming, and utilities — to be more specific, browsing Facebook, taking her turn at Words with Friends, researching recipes, killing time with Angry Birds or Trainyard or the latest game of choice.

For Susan the iPad doesn’t so much carve out new functionality as make existing tasks easier, more convenient, or more fun.

Me. Age: 25 years.

The iPad allegedly being a gift for my birthday in May and my much asserted love of the form factor, the concept, and the execution notwithstanding, I actually get by far the least time with it.3 I console myself by reaching for the ever present iPhone for reading and gaming or the MacBook Pro for anything else. That said, when it is my turn, I don’t fool around.

The iPad is a champion reading device. I love leaning back and cracking open Reeder, Instapaper, Flipboard, Twitter, or Safari aided by the invaluable Readability. I could devote entire posts to the genius of Reeder and Instapaper in particular, but their success speaks for itself.

Most of my iOS gaming happens on the iPhone, but the additional screen real estate makes gaming on the iPad feel luxurious when I do get my turn. A shockingly high number of game creators seem to be unable to grasp the incongruity of using joystick based games on a touchscreen device. Those that emphasize instead the tap / gesture / draw / tilt dynamic are thoroughly fun and, not surprisingly, dominate the app store.

A younger me, or a me in a different situation, would no doubt take greater advantage of Netflix, iTunes, Pandora, and a dozen other applications that simply make sense to offload to a personal computer that isn’t a laptop and doesn’t come with the concomitant baggage. We all have our burdens to bear.

The Rabble.

Despite a fiercely cultivated life-long misanthropy, I do sometimes play host to friends, usually during NFL RedZone, or find reason to leave the house and lug the iPad along. On these occasions, depending on the exact nature of the family / friend relationship, the iPad user will fire up photos and videos, try his or her hand at a game, take in the latest viral video on YouTube, or, frequently, check fantasy stats. All in all, about what I anticipated.

When not in use, the iPad rests invitingly on the coffee table patiently awaiting its next pilot who, inevitably, finds delight in its friendly, intuitive, rich charms.

What Does it All Mean?

So. After six months of — and I kid you not — nearly constant use, what conclusions can we draw about the iPad?

Conclusion #1.

I’m going to put this in bold so you don’t miss it: the iPad is the single greatest form of child entertainment ever invented. It’s intoxicating. Movies and television on demand (thanks, Netflix!). Games, games, games, and — wait for it — more games. Apps that exercise every motor skill from eye-hand coordination to color and sound identification to problem solving skills. Educational material ranging from newborn to … well, we’re only up to 27 months, so, I’ll let you know. Bottom line, this thing is comfortable for a kid to hold, practically indestructible even sans case, tantalizingly tactile, incredibly fast, responsive, and intuitive, and infinitely expandable. Look, I know I’m gushing, but for $499 the budget iPad occupies more of Abby’s time than the rest of her toys combined. Case closed.

Conclusion #2.

As a family room computer replacement, the iPad isn’t there. Lack of individual accounts is, while perhaps not an oversight, a seriously limiting factor, as Jeff noted upon its release. If you compare it to a desktop computer, you’ll inevitably be disappointed by the workarounds necessary to get photos on it, to print things, to compose long strings of text, to do, basically, more than one thing at a time. These are all legitimate concerns and unfortunate sacrifices. Yet this is at best a forced comparison and at worst a dramatic misunderstanding of the future of computing. Tablet computers are a) a new and exciting medium that should not take their cues from a fundamentally different medium, one in which you have a different posture, use different inputs, and naturally have different expectations and b) still in their literal and figurative infancy. Grunting about the iPad’s inability to (currently) program new applications, display windows side-by-side, and rescue kittens is shortsighted.

Putting my prognosticating pants on for a minute, I see a future where a handful of tablets (and phones) litter the house doing admirable touch-based work by day and docking snugly to a big screen, keyboard, and mouse by night.4 One shared computer just isn’t enough. Now that the technology is cheap enough to make this dream a reality, I see no reason it won’t be one soon.

Conclusion #3.

The iPad isn’t a replacement for dedicated gaming consoles and handheld devices, Apple commercials to the contrary. It is a fantastic gaming platform, but it excels in precisely the opposite vectors as traditional, controller driven systems: direct manipulation, asynchronous play, interstitial time filling. The iPad has some wonderful games, and I’m looking forward to playing many more in the years to come. Games like the ones mentioned previously. As long as quick-twitch, button-mashing games remain fun to play, however, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will continue to rake it in. If you’ve ever attempted to “mash” the glass while playing a shooting or sports game, you know what I mean. If you’ve ever attempted to use a “joystick” on a touch screen, you know what I mean.

Conclusion #4.

Handing the iPad from person to person is indeed every bit as easy and enjoyable as I speculated it would be. There is almost5 no digital precedent for this type of shared computing experience and no conceivable limit to the opportunity it presents. Why buy Taboo when you can download it and never lose the pieces? Why struggle in vain to master a poorly conceived controller with scores of tiny hardware buttons when you can just tap a video on the iPad and watch it on your AppleTV? Why deny yourself the simple pleasure of handing your spouse / child / friend the iPad and saying, “look at this”? If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

Let’s Put a Bow on This Thing.

I’d say the iPad leaves me speechless, but it clearly doesn’t. I can (and have) gone on for thousands of words discussing its substantial pros, its few but frustrating flaws, and its impact on computing both now and in the future. If you’re not convinced it is worth $499 today, you will be someday, and, hopefully, you’ll look back at this post and smile knowingly at the truths contained herein.

  1. Naturally, she is also immensely entertained by videos of Abby watching videos of Abby. []
  2. Can you say “contraction timer”? []
  3. Have you heard the one about first world problems? []
  4. If we want to get really crazy, maybe each will be biometrically identified and connected to files and preferences stored online. []
  5. If you laughed at Surface simply because it was from Microsoft, you missed the point badly. The iPad, the iPod Touch, Surface, the Wii, Kinect, et al are mere harbingers of the revolutionary intersection of ever cheapening electronic components and decades of user interface research. Don’t even get me started on ubiquitous Internet connections and video transmission. The technology Rubicon is being crossed. []

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