Monday, July 19, 2010

iPad and i, Part 1

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The iPad came to me in an irregularly-shaped purple cloth drawstring bag scented slightly of perfume. "My raincoat came in this—I didn't have a case," my boss said. I immediately took it out of the bag and began swiping my fingers along the screen. "Use it for a week, put some apps on it, try it out, see how it works. See what we would need in an app."

I tried to suppress a geekgasm and was not successful. I love Apple products—I don't particularly care what you use, but they work for me and I enjoy them. My MacBook Pro is the best computer I've had. I'm thinking of stitching my iPod Shuffle into my skin so I don't lose it. But there was an iPad-shaped hole in my life that could only be filled by hanging out at the nearest Apple Store and licking the display models. Someday Apple will recognize Spit Law and realize that I have claimed those and now own them.

To be honest, I don't need an iPad. I'd have to invent reasons to use it. I just want to play with one. Now I was finally getting my chance: an iPad of my very own for a week for research purposes.

I started to put it back in the cloth bag. I looked at both sides of the device, on the edges, on the glass. It looked like one smooth pane of glass and metal. I made a nondescriptive gesture. "How do I ... you know ... turn it off?"

She pressed a tiny button I hadn't noticed and the screen went dark. "Intuitive, right?"


The iPad is a 32GB 3G+WiFi model. So naturally one of the first things I did with the iPad was use it in a parking lot where there was no WiFi—not so much to test the 3G signal as just to get my jollies out of being on the Internet wirelessly over a phone network. I don't have a smartphone so these little things amuse me, as if I'm someone transported into the future from a time when being on the Internet without a wire or a modem is magic. I checked my mail and saw that, apart from a new bushel of spam, there was nothing. All this technology, the byproduct of some of the most brilliant minds the world has ever seen, delivered to me 151 unsolicited and potentially harmful packets of information advertising fake watches fake penis medication fake software and fake hardware. I was astounded.

I don't really know how to test the 3G speed because I have nothing to compare it to. Seemed fast enough for me. It's bringing you the Internet over a wireless phone network in a world where everyone is always on the Internet or on the phone—what do you want, miracles? Be happy with it, you jerks!


The iPad is a beautiful device—sleek, clean, made of soft but straight angles, unobtrusive buttons, aluminum that's almost skin-like, a certain satisfying heft, and a front pane of smooth, buttery glass, lending the whole package a quality of extreme delicacy. I can't put it down just anywhere. I have to prepare a surface for it, one that won't scratch or dent or leave any marks, not in direct sunlight or in a spot that's too hot or cold, nowhere the dogs can get at it and drool on it or chew it, someplace the cats won't sit on it, not in view of an open window, no liquids in mugs or glasses anywhere in spilling range, pens and forks and watchbands far away, nowhere I could potentially forget myself and put something else heavy on top of it, and then I have to lay it down gently and place a kiss on its forehead. When I use it, I have to lay it flat on a table or my lap and therefore watch a slightly distorted picture on the glossy screen underneath a much clearer reflection of whatever's being reflected on the glossy screen. Or I could hold it up. Or if I need both hands lean it precariously between heavier and taller objects like fruit bowls and ceramic coasters.

It's elegant and fragile looking and looks like it wants to be coddled. So why in God's name doesn't it come with a fucking case? Apple makes a case that protects the iPad's glass front and doubles as a kickstand so you can put it on a table and watch it. That case should come standard, the way legs come standard on chairs. Hell, just chuck the case in the box and add $30 to the price. The iPad seems far too delicate to carry in a purse or laptop bag without protection from all the pens and lipsticks and snack bars and keys jostling around in there, and watching things on it without a kickstand got tiresome for me after about 5 minutes.

Call me old-fashioned but when I watch TV I don't like to physically hold onto the television set the whole time. Maybe that's just me—I find it difficult to relax and watch a program whilst both hands are clutching consumer appliances in a kung fu grip. My hands are too busy cradling a beer, eating popcorn, petting a dog, massaging my wife's scalp, scratching my testicles—what have you.

As of this writing I haven't yet gotten a case for it. That's way up on my list of priorities with this thing.


The keyboard on the iPad is imaginary—it appears onscreen when you need it and disappears just as smoothly. But because it's on a touchscreen, the first time I tried typing it looked like this:


There are two kinds of typists: touchers and peckers. I'm a toucher. I rest my fingers on the home keys when I'm waiting for a thought to arrive. Oftentimes this can take several hours. Then I type by feel and finger-muscle memory without looking at the keyboard. The iPad is not kind to touchers—even though the iPad's F and J keys are marked with parodies of the little ridges you find on physical keyboards to orient a touch-typist's forefingers. To use the iPad keyboard you must be a pecker, one of those people whose fingers hover and poke like a hummingbird.

Touchers don't look down at the keyboard while they're typing—at least, touchers who are decent at it.  They look up at the words onscreen, because their fingers already know where to go. Peckers generally look down at the keyboard. Otherwise they'd be touch-typing. But on the iPad, touch-typing is so difficult to do because the keyboard is small and has no tactile response.  So I ended up mashing the screen with my clumsy flipper-sausages and hoping the iPad's auto-correcting feature saved me. How well did it work? I tried touch-typing that complete-alphabet sentence familiar to all touch-typing students:

Tje wuicm brine fo jumped over the lash slurping dog.

One more time:

The wuicm brown food mumps obet e laze slurping dog.

"Lash slurping"? "Mumps obet e laze"? And what in fuck's sake is a "wuicm"?

Many people today are peckers, so they won't care. Schools don't teach touch-typing anymore, do they? Or did that go out with Betamax and "cowabunga"? I never took typing lessons but I taught myself (on a manual typewriter, too, you young whippersnapper). That's why I'm a pretty fast typist on a regular keyboard. On the iPad, I have to slow way down. There goes productivity for you.


Also, there are no arrow keys on the iPad keyboard. Let me repeat to emphasize the horror: there are no arrow keys on the iPad keyboard. It's impossible to describe with words how frustrating I've found this so far. I would need to describe it with a shrill screaming noise that goes on and on for 13 minutes, gurgling a bit in the middle and ending with convulsive retching.

You may think having no arrow keys is not a big deal. Shit, the people at Apple don't think it's a big deal—that's why there are no goddam arrow keys. But when you're working on a device that has very small print and you're typing in frames where scrolling doesn't always work properly and the only way to indicate what you want is by poking a burly finger at the general area, you'd beg for arrow keys.

The only way to move the cursor character by character is to point and hold for a second or two until you get a nickel-sized magnifying glass window of about 2x or 3x strength that will show you, a little more closely, where the cursor is. Trust me: arrow keys would be easier.

How important are arrow keys, really? I found it a problem almost every time I tried to type anything. Maybe I use the arrow keys more than most normal people. Or dig this: I started typing this blog post exclusively on the iPad and wanted to do the whole thing from start to finish. I had to abandon that idea and go back to my MacBook Pro. After I'd saved an early draft in Blogger on the iPad, I went away, did something else, and came back. But when I returned I noticed I'd written more type than fit in the typing window. Because the iPad's version of Safari is limited, it didn't include a scroll bar along the side of the post. What is it with the iPad and not including things you need? "Here's your car, sir. What, you wanted doors that open? This model just has solid panels welded shut. Open doors would compromise the integrity of the design. There's a hatch underneath you can crawl into."

I tried swiping the screen with my finger, as if to scroll down, and just dragged the whole browser around. For fun, apparently. If I'd had arrow keys, I could tap the cursor wherever I please and press down until I reach the bottom of the document. But no. I tried highlighting multiple words and trying to highlight my way down to the bottom, a tedious and clumsy bit of business that made my eyes water with the sting of crushed dreams. Even if it did sort of eventually work, since when should reaching the bottom of a document be a feature available as a workaround?

It sounds like I hate the iPad so far, but to be fair I've only used it for a few things so far and haven't really scratched the surface yet. Which is one of the problems: I'm afraid to scratch the surface. I'll get a case for it.

To be continued, with apps and more.


Anonymous said...

First thing I noticed is you need a gmail account. Best spam filter I've ever seen.

I've only used my wife's iPad for about 5 minutes to look at my blog. I thought it was beautiful. She, on the other hand, can't seem to put it down. Yes, she has a case so she CAN put it down Also a pretty little dock to stand it up and a Bluetooth keyboard because she's a toucher too.

Last night, in the middle of the night, I awoke thinking it was daytime. It wasn't. My wife was still up, reading a book on her iPad with the lights on. It was 2AM.

I think she's in love.

Robin said...

Hey Mr Fonzie! Read your nice blog sitting here in my comfy bed on my iPad. This has become a terrible thing because since I've had my iPad, I haven't been to sleep before 1:30 am! I am usually an 11:30 person. I have the same issue with the keyboard. I too am a toucher, not a pecker. But pecking can be fun when you get going! I've picked up speed! I bought the iPad case because it was the only one they had. It's not great but it does the job. I am typing this using the case in "tent" style horizontally. It's great for reading in bed. No holding involved.The stand up feature sucks. I took notes in Biology today using the Bluetooth keyboard. It rocks. Fast typing. Takes a little practice changing Titles, Fonts, Colors etc, but worth it. Never touched a pen or piece of paper! I also got the Stand Up charger thing (can't think of the name) That holds it upright in class, and while I work at my desk. My classmates were green with envy. (I don't really care for that feeling) I figure they'll catch up. I hate there are no arrows, but the highlight, select, and dictionary features I love. I love love love reading books on it. Not much use for iTunes. When I am away from my iPad I jones for it. The more I use it, the more I love it. Can't wait to hear further reviews.
Only one other issue, I've developed a habit of swiping at my MacBook! ****

Dan said...

Glad you guys are liking it. I'm liking it more too as I use it to consume stuff. Tried reading some news apps and had a blast. The NPR app is fantastic.

If I had one myself to keep, I'd probably invest in the keyboard as well.

I could see using this thing in bed -- I got a case for it yesterday and was lying down with it for a while. Was really comfortable.

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