I now have an iPad. Sarah surprised me with one for our anniversary, and I’ve only had a bit over a full day to play with it, but I think it’s a pretty damn revolutionary device. I had my doubts when it came out, especially because I already had a very capable iPhone for pocket-oriented computing and a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro for my full-time yet portable workstation. So what the hell do I need a tablet for?

Okay, first, the hardware itself: technically, it’s pretty solid – very thin, very light, seamless usability, and flawless integration with the other Apple stuff I have. The display is amazingly clear and the perfect size. The iPhone in general has pretty decent speed, or at least the perception of speed. I think that’s an important difference; I’ve used Windows Mobile phones that were CPU giants, but still stuttered and clunked along because nothing was seamless, and you were mushing your way through endless layers of lipstick on a very well-hidden pig. The iPad is an order of magnitude faster than the original iPhone from a hardware perspective, although it’s not running a version of iOS that’s as optimized as it could be. (It also doesn’t multitask yet, like the latest iOS 4 machines.) But going from app to app is pretty damn snappy, and I never really hit any stutter or pause or other issues.

Web browsing on the iPad is pretty much perfect. It makes the ideal machine to use when sitting on the couch or in bed, and that’s pretty much the use case for this, as a sort of appliance computer, like those things in Star Trek that you just whip out when you need to look up technical information about dilithium crystals. It’s weird that the machine has no natural “up” direction, and it doesn’t care if you hold it landscape or upside-down landscape; it corrects itself just fine. And something I didn’t notice for almost a day: it has a lock button that locks the orientation, so when you’re sitting in bed on your side, it doesn’t flip orientation on you, which is one of my annoyances when I sometimes check my email on my phone before getting out of bed in the morning.

I think the weird thing about the iPad is just that it’s so polarizing of a machine, because it’s a niche machine in price and marketing, but it does so much from such a simple design. It’s not a specialized device like a phone, that makes calls and stores contacts, and then the solitaire game and calendar are an afterthought shoehorned into its form factor. It’s very much the 90% of what you’d do on a computer, sitting in front of you in this 680-gram viewport into a digital world. And the tech world is divided between people who get this, and people who don’t. It’s always been true of Apple products for a while, but the iPad is the clearest line in the sand.

The deal is, a lot of people judge technology quantitatively. It has to do the most; it has to have the most RAM; it has to have the highest benchmark; it has to have the most megapixels. It’s classic penis-waving at its best, and it’s a very right-wing sort of way to view the world, because you can have a one-megapixel camera that takes far better pictures than a crap 10-MP plastic-lens, cheap-chip camera built into a cell phone. (Don’t believe me? Take a look at any image from the Hubble space telescope. That thing has a camera smaller than one megapixel. Yeah, it’s sitting behind a few million dollars of optics, and its images are typically pieced together with expensive software from hundreds of exposures, but it’s a good example that the raw megapixel-to-megapixel comparison is flawed.) It’s a lot like shopping for a car and only using horsepower and torque as your only metric for performance. Which is a nicer car to drive, a used Dodge Ram pickup truck, or a Maserati Quattroporte? The Dodge has more horsepower and more torque, but it’s not quite the same overall experience. I feel the same way about people who go on and on about how their computer or their phone has more memory or more storage or whatever – that’s great, but when you’re running an OS that’s bloated and runs code to meet some legacy requirement set up in 1989, it’s not the same deal.

And when I google around various iPad news, I see a whole lot of “well it can’t do everything my desktop computer can.” Of course not. You can’t haul lumber or strap six kiddie seats in the back of your Ferrari 458 Italia. But does that mean you have to drive around an extended-bed truck every time you need to run to the store for milk, just because once every other month you need to pick up a pallet of drywall? I saw someone in a thread bemoaning the iPad because you couldn’t rip CDs on it, which is an absolutely asinine argument. It’s like arguing against the adoption of the car because it won’t give your horses exercise. You don’t need the horses if you have a car; you don’t need to rip CDs because you can just buy music from iTunes and zap it across the ether a million times faster than trying to actually find a store that still sells CDs that don’t suck.

It’s the same argument when someone says “there are 18,273 programs to burn DVDs on Windows but only a couple for the Mac”. But when I need to burn a DVD, I don’t want to have to spend a week shopping for authoring software and memorize what IRQs are in use on my system and read the entire history of laser-written media; I want to put in a blank disc and click a button and that’s it. I don’t care if the hardware is ten percent slower, if it saves me hours and hours of tech support insanity.

Anyway, that’s the story. I’m sitting on the couch and tapping away and in a second I’ll zap over to see how the game went. This thing is truly awesome.

  • It'll change the way you interact with the digital world. It's changing everything about how I use technology. I loving reading on it, browsing the web, everything. The only thing I haven't been able to do is track changes in a Word document, but someone will figure that out soon enough, I think.

    It's completely replaced my laptop, except for that one function. I probably save a couple of hours a week through the instant on – no waiting to boot up or to come out of sleep mode.