March 21, 2011
The iPad and me
Although I use a Mac computer and much prefer its operating system to the Windows alternative, I am not really a fan in that I do not run out and buy the latest Mac gadget unless it has really useful functionality. I do not, for example, have an iPhone. I do have an iPod touch because it is functional. It fits in my pocket and enables to carry around my calendar and address book and sync the former with others in my office. If I am in a Wi-Fi hotspot I can check the internet, though I find the small screen wearying to look at for any length of time.
So when the iPad came out, it was not clear to me what additional functionality it provided. It seemed like a big iPod touch and why would I need that when I had a laptop? It is true that it is smaller than a laptop and so would be easier to carry around to meetings, but it was not clear to me that that was a sufficient advantage to invest in one. As far as I was concerned, it seemed like a solution to a non-existent problem.
But my university's technology department had a few iPads that they were passing around for people to check out to see if they had any ideas about how to use it at work and in teaching so I had one to play with for a few weeks.
My experience with the iPad has been interesting. Initially it was frustrating because I expected it to do everything a laptop did. In particular, I use my computer to write a lot even while reading. For example, I frequently want to jot down notes and ideas that occur to me while reading and the laptop enables me to go back and forth between reading and writing easily. The iPad? Not so much. You had to close one application to open the other and although it was quick, it was still awkward. The touch screen keyboard is big and easy to use but the keyboard being at the same angle of view as the screen made it awkward for me.
I realized that I was asking the iPad to do what it was not primarily intended to do. The iPad is great for receiving information but not so good for input. Once I let go of that expectation and worked with its strengths, it was better. I began to use it primarily as a reading device, to surf the web and read documents and that improved my experience.
One of the things that I was curious about was whether I would enjoy reading books on an e-reader. I had tried it with one of the earlier versions of the Kindle and had not liked it. I decided to give it another shot with iPad. There were five books that came with the iPad that was loaned to me. I had read four before but the fifth (The Count of Monte Cristo) was one that I had wanted to read for a long time, so clearly the anonymous person who had loaded these books onto the iPad was a kindred soul. This book is very long, over a 1,000 pages, and I figured it would be a good test of my ability to enjoy using an e-reader.
It is in reading this book that I have come to like the features of the iPad. The book features are easy on the eye and intuitive. The ability to search the book for events and characters that occurred before (important in long epic novels with lots of characters and complicated plot twists) and the built in dictionary and search features that link to Google or Wikipedia (again useful for a book set in another time and place and originally in another language so that there are many unusual words) are all nice to have. The Count of Monte Cristo has a complicated plot with many characters who take on different names and identities over time and whose stories intertwine. Characters whom one had encountered early on suddenly pop up much later. The ability to search the book made it much easier to keep track of things. I wish I had had it when I read other epic novels like War and Peace or Anna Karenina.
The deficiencies in the iPad as a book reader are the same as I had with the Kindle. One is that while you can change the font size, the size of the illustrations cannot be changed, which makes that feature irrelevant for technical books with lots of intricate figures. The other is that to give citations to things in books, you need to have the page number of a specific print edition. The books on the iPad have page counters but they are internal and vary with the chosen font size. Maybe there are ways to overcome these features that I am not aware of.
One big advantage is that with the iPad, you have immediate and free access to a vast array of classical literature that is now out of copyright. So with the purchase of this device, you had immediate access to all the old books you ever wanted to read without having to track them down. For someone like me who, when it comes to fiction, prefers to read the classics more than contemporary authors, this is a huge benefit.
I also played with some of the games that were on the iPad, including Angry Birds which I had heard so much about. They were ok but I am not a big fan of games and so soon got bored.
I found that I ended up using the iPad most in the last couple of hours at night in bed, reading the book and surfing the web before sleeping. It is much easier to use in bed than a laptop and the big backlit screen makes it easy on the eyes.
So my verdict is that the iPad is primarily an entertainment device and secondarily a work device because of the limited input capability, while the laptop is primarily a work device and secondarily an entertainment device.
Will I get an iPad, especially now that the new iPad2 is out? I've not decided but am thinking about it. Have any readers of this blog used an iPad? I'd be curious to hear your reactions.