The Truth About The iPad, Day 100

Dan Frommer iPad review

Photo: Michael Seto

It has now been 100 days since my iPad 3G arrived. (And exactly four months since I first used an iPad in early April, and posted my thoughts about it.)During that time, I’ve used the iPad every day, most days for several hours each.

How is it?

After 100 days, the iPad is my favourite computer.

That’s not to say it’s my most powerful computer. Or the one I get the most work done with. Or the most portable or convenient.

But it’s the one I enjoy using the most. And I wouldn’t want to be without it.

It's my favourite device for reading the web

It's simple: Just one, relatively lightweight device to carry from place to place or room to room. No cords, no peripherals to bring with. No plastic keyboard taking up 30% of the screen. A bright, blank slate.

It sounds corny, but browsing the web via touchscreen is really a more personal, intimate experience. It strangely feels more human and less machine-like, even though the iPad is obviously a machine.

I find myself reading and comprehending more and not just skimming -- maybe because it doesn't have as many distractions as my other computers. Again, this sounds corny, but it actually feels different to use than sitting at a desk, zooming around a computer screen with a mouse.

(There are some times this is annoying, because most of the web wasn't designed to be navigated via touch. But most of the time, it's nice.)

Content apps are really useful on the iPhone because the screen is so small that reading and navigating the web is a challenge.

It's much less of a challenge on the iPad, and I have not found myself using any of the 'media' apps for any serious lengths of time, choosing to read news and stories on the web instead.

Flipboard, the Wired app, Pulse reader -- they all sound interesting, but I haven't been compelled to use them for very long.

I don't even use Instapaper -- one of my all-time favourite iPhone apps -- very much on the iPad. I thought it would be one of the apps I'd use the most, and it hasn't been.

Sometimes, I'm looking at the future of TV

At home or on the go, I've been using the iPad for watching video a lot more than I thought I would.

I've watched live Major League Baseball games on the excellent MLB At Bat app, which over 100,000 people have installed. (Of its 40,000 average daily users, 25% of them watch live video on it, the league tells us.)

I just watched a bunch of the Tour de France on it over the past month, live and on-demand, via Versus's excellent HTML5 video stream.

I've watched TV shows via the Netflix and Hulu apps, and via DVDs that I ripped into an iPad-compatible format on my Mac, using the handy free app, Handbrake.

I've been bringing the iPad to the gym with me a few days a week since it arrived. For the most part, it has replaced the TV built into the machines, and it's one reason I got the iPad 3G and have continued to pay for AT&T's now-extinct $30/month unlimited-access plan.

The limiting factor, which I wrote about in a column for CNN a few weeks ago, is that AT&T's 3G network is not always capable of delivering a reliable video stream. It's a real hassle when I want to stream a Cubs baseball game, or an episode of 'No Reservations' over the Netflix app, and AT&T's network keeps freezing the video stream up. Someday, this won't be a problem. But today, it is.

There's a nice essay on the iPad as a video player by Adam Lisagor, aka Lonelysandwich, a guy I profiled a few months ago for his web video work. He writes about the iPad, 'They've stopped short of showing it on a chest in bed, but that's where mine gets its most use. My chest is where I first noticed that the iPad would make the most impact on me as a Video device.' That's another big one for me, too.

Here I am at our Startup 2010 Conference this past June, showing off the MLB At Bat app, while interviewing MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman about the future of TV, among other topics. Unfortunately, the cool MLB iPad app doesn't make the Cubs any better. Here's a video of our chat. Photo by Michael Seto.

The iPad is the right equation of size, weight, speed, and battery life

This is the closest I come to caring about the specs of the device.

The iPad lasts long enough on a charge that I don't need to worry about charging it. It's fast enough that I don't have to worry about it choking on apps, video, or web pages.

It's big enough that the screen is useful for reading, but it's light enough to take everywhere in my bag without getting annoyed (unlike my MacBook, which almost never leaves the house).

It starts up immediately and doesn't get red-hot on my lap. There's no noise of spinning hard drives or fans.

It's not perfect, but the trade-offs are right.

I'm still waiting for a great iPad game

As my colleague Jay Yarow wrote last week, the iPad as a killer gaming device is still more of a theory than reality.

Yes, there are puzzle games, and card games, and word games, and board games, and music games, and some cool multiplayer games, like the Scrabble game that lets you use the iPad as the game board and your iPhone for your individual tiles. But for the most part, iPad games are just scaled-up versions of iPhone games.

For instance, I was really excited for the scaled-up 'HD' version of Flight Control, an iPhone game I used to be addicted to. But after about 10 minutes with the iPad edition, I was bored.

Recently, I've spent more hours than I'd like to admit playing a game for the iPad called 'Angry Birds.' But it's just a big iPhone game that I never played for the iPhone. That's not what I'm really after.

The iPad is still waiting for its breakthrough 'crazy-awesome' games. I think there will be several, but I haven't played one yet. (One game I'm excited about is 'The Incident,' a retro-style action game coming soon from Matt Comi and Neven Mrgan. But I don't know if it's going to be a big deal or not.)

I'm not yet comfortable using it on the Subway, and that's too bad

I'm used to seeing several Kindles a day on my Subway commute. (Here's comedian and TV host Baratunde Thurston, whose Kindle we wrote about a few years ago.) And every once in a while, someone's using a laptop. But only occasionally an iPad.

And for the most part, I've kept my iPad in my backpack on the train, and have continued to read my email and ebooks on my iPhone.

Why? I'd say, 33% nervous about someone running off with it, 33% embarrassed to be using an iPad on the Subway, and 33% because it's a little too heavy to hold up with one hand the whole trip. (It's easier to use when I can score a seat, which is rare.) So it stays in my bag, where I think I'll keep it, at least for the near future.

This is a little weird for me, because I was even the guy who used to proudly show off his old Nokia phone and MiniDisc player on the Chicago L in the late 90s. Perhaps as the iPad becomes more common, I won't be so bashful.

This may seem insignificant, but I spend about 8-10 hours per week on the subway, which is about 12-15% of the time each week that I'm not either at work or asleep. It would be nice to use the iPad there, if I felt comfortable.

The iPad is not a work machine, but it can be useful at the office

I've tried to get actual work done on the iPad, but it just can't. My line of work requires a bunch of apps at the same time, a bunch of tabs, a Firefox-based browser (CMS requirement), and the iPad just can't handle it.

That's fine. That's why my iMac exists, and why Apple is still selling a record number of Macs despite selling 3 million iPads last quarter.

But the iPad has proven to be a useful complement to my main computer at the office, so I bring it to work every day.

It's nice for taking notes in meetings (just not outdoors; too shiny), it's helpful for to-do lists and app research, and for hiding-in-a-quiet-room brainstorming sessions. (As long as there isn't much writing to do; typing is still a pain.)

It's also perfect for watching baseball games at the office. Because it's not company-owned, and not competing with the work-related stuff on my computer displays, I don't feel guilty having it on while I'm working. (Sorry!)

Apple and AT&T have both made remarks that the iPad is getting a lot of consideration as a business tool: AT&T said that it's 'surprising' how many business customers are approaching it about the iPad, and Apple said that 50% of the Fortune 100 companies are deploying or testing the iPad. We also see a lot of tweets and blog posts from VCs, saying things like, 'iPads are taking over the boardroom.'

While I don't think most of us will be doing our jobs on iPads any time soon -- nor replacing our desktop computers -- there's definitely room for the iPad at work. And I could only dream how cool it would be to have an iPad as a college student.

Apple's official case is both great and terrible

I've put this thing through the hoops over the last three months -- only removing it once, for a few minutes -- and it has mostly delivered. But I'm always on the lookout for something better.

I really like the fact that it can fold into a stand for watching video or typing like a keyboard. That was some very smart design. I like that it protects the iPad when it's in my bag or on my desk.

But I dislike pretty much everything else about it: The way it feels, how easily it gets dirty, the extra material on the edges. Most of all, I hate that it's always on when I'm holding the iPad. The industrial design of the iPad -- the smooth metal back, the edges, the shape -- is completely lost.

It doesn't feel like I'm holding the future in my hands, or anything particularly luxurious. It feels like I'm holding an expensive Trapper Keeper.

Functional, yes. Stylish, no.

I'm open to suggestions for replacements, which must be elegant and less bulky. Perhaps a case that is more easily removable that can also fold into a stand.

After a month with the new iPhone 4, I can't wait until the iPad can run Apple's iOS 4 software

Nothing has made my three-month-old iPad feel old more than using the new, month-old iPhone 4.

Part of this is the hardware -- the new 'retina' display, front-facing camera, and FaceTime video chat feature will be great when they're available on the iPad 2.

But in the meantime, I really can't wait for Apple to release iOS 4 for the iPad, including features like background audio streaming via quasi-multitasking, fast app switching, a unified email inbox, and home-screen folders.

There's still a bunch of stuff missing or done poorly

Seriously, no alarm clock?

Where's the Facebook app? Where's the great IM app? Or the great Twitter app?

Why does it say that 'There is no data plan' in my AT&T Cellular Data Account panel, when it is clearly using a data plan to get access to the mobile Internet, and I'm clearly paying $30 per month for it? (Some sort of bug with my account, perhaps?)

Why doesn't my current reading place in iBooks sync between my iPad and iPhone properly? Amazon's Kindle app does it fine.

Why is it such a pain in the butt to sync an iPad and iPhone to the same Mac? I've had to manually delete a bunch of iPhone apps that got synced to my iPad without my intent. I've heard stories of people's Safari bookmarks and photos vanishing during syncs. Apple needs to do better.

Why should I have to sync the iPad to a computer anyway?

These are clearly not deal-breakers. These are opportunities for Apple, its partners, and its developer community to make improvements on, either for this iPad or the next one. But they're things I wonder about.

A big yawn?

So, what about my post that said the iPad announcement in January was a 'big yawn' -- a post that a few regular readers like to bring up whenever I say something nice about the iPad?

I still think the iPad announcement and unveiling -- which that post was referring to -- was underwhelming.

I occasionally watch the video of Steve Jobs' original iPhone unveiling from Macworld 2007, and I'm still amazed and surprised when he shows off the iPhone for the first time. It truly was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. (And Steve was at his all-time finest as a showman. His jokes were funny, his confidence was unparalleled, etc.)

By comparison, the iPad event was a lot less exciting, and the unveiling a lot less impressive. The new gadget looked and acted like a big iPod touch. Steve wasn't as sharp. I had really high expectations and they weren't exceeded by the event.

I was way wrong when I predicted that the iPad would only sell 'in the range of a few million units this year' -- that's clear. But a lot of people were way wrong about that, and even Apple had no idea it would sell this many iPads, or it wouldn't have such a hard time making them fast enough.

In summary, Holy Cow, the iPad is a huge home run

Having spent the last 100 days using the iPad every day, I can say that at least for myself, the device has indeed changed the way I use computers.

It's the first thing I use every morning after I wake up -- many days, before I even put my glasses or contacts on -- and it's the last gadget I use every night before I go to bed. It's an amazing travel companion and a part of my daily routine, at home and often at work. It's finally a sort-of-big-screen computer I can take everywhere.

The jury's still out if the iPad is going to become the next computing revolution, or whether it will remain a toy for the wealthy and gadget-obsessed. I'm still not sure what it's doing to replace, what it's going to cannibalise, and what kind of market penetration it's going to achieve.

But it's definitely a very good product, I can say that confidently.

And with more than 3 million iPads sold in the first three months of sales, for more than $2 billion of revenue, it's -- a bit surprisingly -- on track to be Apple's next growth generator.

So, iPad owners, what do you think?

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