I've been traveling a lot on planes with the kids lately.  Being able to entertain them for a couple of hours with content that I control (rather than the plane's content which I generally find not so appropriate) is a goal.

We've got an iPod with this monstrous video screen (well, the screen is 7", but the battery pack weighs about 4 lbs which is non-trivial to schlep around) which worked okay for a while.

This week I decided to get an iPod Touch so the kids could watch videos... a friend suggested that I buy an iPad instead.

I've been generally avoiding the iPad until there's an Android tablet (I bought an early iPhone, disliked it intensely, but have loved the 3 Android phones I've had since).  I also figured that Apple would be introducing a new iPad this year... but... well... I decided to buy an iPad.

After a few days with the iPad, I've got the following observations.  First, the pros:

  • As a video watching device the iPad is excellent.  It's got a great screen with an excellent viewing angle.
  • It's a nice weight (much heavier than my Kindle DX, but much lighter than iPod video screens)
  • It's got a nice battery life
Before I get into the cons, let me talk about my history.  I still have my original Apple ][ that I got in 1977.  I have had a pile of Macintosh machines.  I own a couple of Next machines and "made my bones" writing software for NextStep.  My first email client was Mail.app on NextStep... and I loved Mail.app in comparison to the other 90s mail clients.  I own a Mac cube and half a dozen other OS X capable machines.  I have also owned a dozen+ iPods and love the iPod UI.

I also intensely dislike OS X.  I loved the NextStep UI, but something was lost in translation to OS X.  Basically, the attempt to blend the OS 9 and NextStep user interfaces turned out to be the worst of all possible worlds in my opinion.  I'm am an anti-fan-boy of recent Apple UI technology, but it's based on a 33 tradition of Steve Jobs-based user experiences.

And the cons:

  • iTunes and the associated "sync" style of doing things is weak.  The iPad has wifi... why do I have to sync to my Mac?  Plus, iTunes on the Mac is weak.  I get the beach ball all the time.  Downloading purchases from Apple seems to be at about 100K/second (I've got a 20M/second Internet connection and am able to use that bandwidth with every other bandwidth hogging app I've got).
  • I dislike the user interface.  It's cute and swoopy (lots of fancy transitions), but figuring out how to actually do things feels like learning Morse code.  A short tap, wait, a long tap here and the swipe and long tap there, etc.  I really like the Android's "Home", "Menu", and "Back" buttons.  They simplify things.
  • The charging situation is less than optimal.  Basically, if you're not hooked up to the iPad charger, you can't charge.  Nope, the USB on the iMac won't charge the iPad.  Nope, the 3rd party USB charger won't work.  So, I'm forced to travel with yet another "thing" so I can charge this device rather than using the charging solution I have for my phone, kindle, and other peripheral devices.
  • The separation between iTunes, Video and iPod "applications" is confusing and unnecessary.  My iPod plays videos and music in a single "app" why can't the iPad have a single app that plays my media and allows me to acquire the media?
  • The iTunes application doesn't work really well.  I bought some media and it didn't finish downloading.  I've got no indication about what the status of the purchase is.  Was I charged?  Will the media that didn't download come onto the device at some point in the future?  Will the purchase be sent to my home machine running iTunes?
  • The home screen on the iPad seems to be locked to Apple applications.  This is just like the junk that Microsoft did for years.  It's my machine... let me configure it the way I want to and don't give me the "user experience" line.
  • The iPad is bad for reading books/media.  The screen isn't high enough resolution and it seems to flicker compared to my Kindle.  Sure, pages turn with beautiful transitions, but I care about spending my time reading, not basking in a user interface.
  • There's no way to separately control access to communications on the device (email, browser, Twitter, Skype) while allowing access to media.  I want my kids to be able to use the media features of the iPad without a password, but I care about accessing my communications.
  • Mail.app is a joke.  It was great in 1996, but it's a piece of junk these days.  Thunderbird is much nicer in terms of a mail reader.  Mail.app lacks push support, "archiving", and general Gmail friendliness.
  • The lack of a native push GMail client on the device is inexcusable and an indication that Apple is freezing out 3rd parties from providing truly competitive applications.  To Google's credit, they've done a great job with the iPad Safari version of GMail.
  • Safari isn't really great... without tabbed browsing, it is not really useful for me.
  • The iPad seems to not support multitasking.  The iTunes downloads stop when the movie player is going.  The only apparent multi-tasked application is iPod.  The device is running iOS 4.2, but it seems to still be single tasked.
  • The iPad pops up requests for my iTunes password almost randomly.  There's no explanation as to why it's asking for the password in the dialog asking for my password.  I'm playing Angry Birds and I get asked for my password a dozen times.  I'm downloading media and I'm asked for my password over and over.  What's up with that?
But the very worst thing about the iPad is that it seems to be mainly oriented toward getting me to buy more stuff.

I've got no problems with content delivery vehicles.  I love my Kindle DX... and it makes it easy for me to buy Amazon content.  That's great.  But I can use it with my own PDFs.  I can attach it to any computer (including a Linux machine) and upload any kind of content I want.  I can email content to a special email address and Amazon will, for a fee, transfer the content over the air to my Kindle.  And Amazon makes it easy for me to buy books from the Amazon store. It's a great balance that tells me that the Kindle is my device and it will support whatever content I want to put on it, but that DRMed content has to come from Amazon.

The iPad seems to be a conduit to paying more money to Apple.  I find this offensive.  Apple has excluded other competitive apps from the home screen and in some cases, like a GMail client, all together.  There's no way for me to put content on the device except via the iTunes conduit (at least that I could find.)  The iPad seems to be able Apple and delivering more sales to Apple rather than a device that I can use and enjoy with whatever content I want on it.

The iPad is pretty much useless for the 20 tab browsing that I do on my laptop.  It's totally useless for using GMail.  Typing on the screen keyboard is less than optimal (it's not much better than typing on my Android phone.)  And the screen resolution is weak, so text on the screen is either huge or blurry.

If you want to watch movies on long plane flights or want to control your own media when you're on the road, the iPad is a good choice.  As a laptop replacement for being out and about... it doesn't do the job for me.  And with the attitude of "we've got something else to sell you", it really makes the overall experience completely suboptimal.

Am I going to return the device?  No.  It does what I bought it to do: entertain the kids on a trip.  Will I be using it?  Nope.