Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

Blog archive

iPad at One Week: A Great Device Made with a Heavy Hand

I have now had my iPad for a little over a week. In that time, Apple introduced the world to its iPhone OS 4 (and the SDK agreement's draconian new section 3.3.1). HP introduced Slate, and Microsoft got ready to launch Visual Studio 2010 and .NET 4.

And through it all I have used my iPad. I've used it for email, calendar, controlling my Sonos, and writing an essay. I've used it for getting on TripIt and Twitter, and surfing the Web. I've used it for online banking, and online ordering and delivery of food.

And the verdict? Honestly? I think it's a great device and I thoroughly enjoy using it. The screen is bright and vibrant. I am surprisingly fast and accurate when I type on it. The touch screen's responsiveness is nearly flawless. The software, including a number of third party applications, include pleasing animations and use of color that make it fun to get work done. And speaking of work, the Exchange integration is, dare I say it, robust. Not as full-featured as on a PC or Windows Mobile device, but still offering core functionality and, so far at least, without bugs.

The UI is intuitive, not just to me, but also to my 5 1/2 year old, and also to my nearly-3-year-old son. They picked it up and, with just a few pointers from me, they almost immediately knew what to do, whether they were looking at photos (and swiping/flicking along as they did so), using a drawing program, playing a game, or watching YouTube videos. The younger of the two of them even tried to get up on a chair and grab the thing today. He dropped it, from about 4 feet off the ground. And it's still fine. (Meanwhile, I'll be keeping it on a higher shelf.)

I cannot fully describe yet what makes this form factor and this product so appealing. Maybe it's that it's an always-on device. Maybe it's just being able to hold such a nice, relatively large display so close. Maybe it's the design sensibility that seems to pervade throughout the app ecosystem. Or maybe it's that one's fingers, and not pens or mice, are the software's preferred input device.

Whatever the attraction, it's strong. And no matter how much I tend to root for Microsoft and against Apple, Cupertino has, in my mind, scored big.

Can Microsoft compete? Yes, but not with the Windows 7 standard UI (nor with individual OEMs’ own UIs on top). I hope Microsoft builds a variant of the Windows Phone 7 specifically for tablet devices. And I hope they make it clear that all developers, and programming languages, are welcome to the platform. Once that’s established, the OEMs have to build great hardware with fast, responsive touch screens, under Microsoft's watchful eye. That may be the hardest part of getting this right.

No matter what, Microsoft's got a fight on its hands. I don't know if it can count on winning that fight, either. But Silverlight and Live Tiles could certainly help. And so can treating developers like adults. Apple seems intent on treating their devs like kids, and then giving the kids a curfew. For that, dev-friendly Microsoft may one day give thanks.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 04/12/2010

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