Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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Weekend With iPad

Saturday morning I got up, got dressed and took a seven-minute walk up to the Apple Store in New York's Meatpacking District to pick up my reserved iPad. This precinct, which borders Greenwich Village (where I live and grew up) was, when I was a kid, a very industrial and smelly neighborhood during the day and a rough neighborhood at night. So imagine the sense of irony as I walked up Hudson Street towards 14th Street, to go wait in line with a bunch of hipsters to buy an iPad on launch day.

Numerous blue T-shirt-clad Apple store workers were on hand to check people in to the line specifically for people who had reserved an iPad. Others workers passed out water and all of them, I kid you not, applauded people as they got their chance to go into the store and buy their devices. They also cheered people and yelled "congratulations" as they left. The event had all the charm of a mass wedding officiated by Reverend Sung Myung Moon.

Once inside, a nice dude named Trey, with lots of tattoos on his calves, helped me and I acquired my device in short order. Another guy helped me activate the device, which was comical, because that has to be done through iTunes, which I hadn't logged into in a while. Turns out my user id was my email address from the company I sold 5-1/2 years ago. Who knew? Regardless, I got the device working, packed up and left the store, shuddering as I was cheered and congratulated. By this time (about 10:30am) the line for reserved units and even walk-ins, was gone. The iPhone launch this was not.

As much as I detested the Apple Store experience, I must say the device is really nice. The screen is bright, the colors are bold, and the experience is ultra-smooth. I quickly tested Safari, YouTube, Google Maps, and then installed a few apps, including the New York Times Editors' Choice and a couple of Twitter clients.

Some initial raves: Google Maps and Street View on the iPad is just amazing. The screen is full-size like a PC or Mac, but it's right in front of you and responding to taps and flicks and pinches and it's really engulfing. Video and photos are really nice on this device, despite the fact that 16:9 and anamorphic aspect ratio content is letter boxed. It still looks amazing. And apps that are designed especially for the iPad, including The Weather Channel and Gilt and Kayak just look stunning.

The richness, the friendly layout, the finger-friendly UIs, and the satisfaction of not having a keyboard between you and the information you're managing, while you sit on a couch or an easy chair, is just really a beautiful thing. The mere experience of seeing these apps' splash screens causes a shiver and goosebumps. Truly. The iPad is not a desktop machine, and it's not pocket device. That doesn't mean it's useless, though. It's the perfect "couchtop" computer.

Now some downsides: the WiFi radio seems a bit flakey. More than a few times, I have had to toggle the WiFi off and back on to get it to connect properly. Worse yet, the iPad is totally bamboozled by the fact that I have four WiFi access points in my house, each with the same SSID. My laptops are smart enough to roam from one to the other, but the iPad seems to maintain an affinity for the downstairs access point, even if I'm turning it on two flights up. Telling the iPad to "forget" my WiFi network and then re-associate with it doesn't help.

More downers: as you might expect, there are far more applications developed for the iPhone than the iPad. And although iPhone apps run on the iPad, that provides about the same experience as watching standard def on a big HD flat panel, complete with the lousy choice of thick black borders or zooming the picture in to fill the screen.

And speaking of iPhone Apps, I can't get the Sonos one to work. Ideally, they'd have a dedicated iPad app and it would work on the first try. And the iPad is just as bad as any netbook when it comes to being a magnet for fingerprints. The lack of multi-tasking is quite painful too -- truly, I don't mind if only one app can be active at once, but the lack of ability to switch between apps, and the requirement to return to the home screen and re-launch a previous app to switch back, is already old and I've had the thing less than 48 hours.

These are just initial impressions. I'll have a fuller analysis soon, after I've had some more break-in time with my new toy. I'll be thinking not just about the iPad and iPhone but also about Android, the 2.1 update for which was pushed to my Droid today, and Windows Phone 7, whose "hub" concept I now understand. This has been a great year for alternative computing devices, and I see no net downside for Apple, Google or Microsoft. Exciting times.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 04/05/2010 at 1:15 PM

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