First Impressions of Apple iPad

I must admit when Apple introduced the iPad (Amazon Affiliate Link), I was quite skeptical about the uses for such a device. I’m an avid Apple fan and have many of the products they have come out with. I already have a Mac Pro, MacBook Pro and iPhone, so I was curious, where does this little iPad thing fit in amongst these other great devices?

As the weeks went by and the launch date got closer, I finally started thinking of potential uses for the iPad where my laptop was too much and my iPhone wasn’t enough. Most of them were minor, but as we were getting ready to head out for vacation I quickly realized how much the iPad could compliment us while traveling. You see, my 17″ MacBook Pro is just too large to use on a plane. There just isn’t enough room to use the keyboard and it is quite awkward to even find a place that you can use it to watch movies with. The iPad really excels in this field.

My wife and I just started watching Criminal Minds Criminal Minds - Criminal Minds, Season 1. We had been renting the discs from Netflix, but I decided to purchase the season from iTunes so that we could watch it on the iPad. With a headphone splitter in hand, we had no problems watching episodes the whole way out there. It didn’t matter if we were on a plane or sitting in the airport waiting. It was so convenient to watch anywhere at anytime. We even found ourselves using the built-in speaker to watch a few episodes at our rental house. The built in speaker is loud enough for two to use in a quiet enough environment, like a bedroom, but it isn’t enough to use sitting in a spa (too hard to overcome the noise from the jets).

The iPad was great for keeping up with my email on the trip. Before we left I switched out my USB evdo card to a MiFi with Verizon. I had been eyeing one of those units for a while, but never had a real reason to switch. The iPad’s WiFi only connection (at least in my model) made me make the switch. I wasn’t interested in waiting for the 3G, nor would I want to put any more trust in AT&T’s already way overloaded network using the built-in 3G on future models. The plans are cheaper per month, but you’re locked into using it only on the iPad. The MiFi lets me connect up to five devices at one time, any wifi enabled device that is.

Back to the email, I’ve never really been impressed with the email on the iPhone. It works, it gets the job done, but it hasn’t ever impressed me. Email is georgeous on the iPad. It’s easy enough to handle all of your accounts, file messages, reply and so forth. My only major complaint is that there doesn’t seem to be an option to put your signature below/after the quoted text. (I’m a big fan of doing threaded replies.) It would also be nice to have a combined inbox, but I understand that is coming in a few months with iPhone OS 4. If you aren’t a fan of the built in mail client, gmail does a great job inside of safari.

Google Maps is very nice on the big screen, but I didn’t find the built in GPS to be all that accurate. I understand this is because it tries to figure it out solely based on your WiFi connection. Being in a new city, it was nice to be able to search and plan out different routes to restaurants and other destinations. This feature is probably available on the iPhone, but I hadn’t noticed it until using maps on the iPad: If you search for something in directions mode you can simply click on each pin to see the route and estimated travel time to the destination.

I really like the new TweetDeck TweetDeck for iPhone, but I also started to become a fan of using the mobile twitter.com site to tweet. My main reason for liking the mobile site is the control over geotagging. TweetDeck will allow you to geotag your tweets, but you can’t choose how much info to share about where you are, which isn’t good when the GPS puts you a few miles away from your actual location, or when you want to only list your general area like city. Using the columns in TweetDeck is great and the way they laid out the screen is very nice. It is very nice to click and follow things on the top when in portrait mode. It doesn’t seem that the columns sync back to your other computers though and I have a bunch of issues removing columns. I also found issues when changing account names or passwords with Twitter. Tweetdeck makes all new columns, again.

As for the iPad itself, we found that it was nearly impossible to drain the battery. We could go all day watching videos and doing casual web activities. I don’t think I ever got the battery below 50% in a day. It seems you will get at least the 10 hours or so to make it through the day before you can easily recharge. I did find that it takes some time to recharge the battery, unlike the iPhone, which is certainly related to how long it lasts.

The Netflix app is great, but other than just using the app to test it, I haven’t tried any prolonged watching on it. It sounds like Netflix is really working on improving and adding more movies with streaming abilities. It sure would be nice to be able to rate movies inside of this app, but I’m sure that will be coming eventually, probably around the time people give up on flash.

Safari is greatly improved from the iPhone, or at least it fills that way with the larger screen. Other than the obvious flash limitations, I haven’t found any sites that didn’t work which is probably more than I could say about most desktop browsers. One limitation you may encouter, you can’t print, at least not natively. There is an app for that though.

I’ve recently become a big fan of Google Apps, especially Google Docs. While you can’t yet edit documents natively, you can selectively edit spreadsheets, just like on the iPhone. I’m sure Google will be coming up with a solution for this eventually. In the meantime, you can use Office2 Office², or upload a document from another application created offline later. Evernote may be worth checking out. I just downloaded it an am pondering how to give it a good workout.

I had been thinking about getting the keyboard/dock for the iPad since day one, but hadn’t brought myself to order one. Finally, someone gave me the idea online to pair a bluetooth keyboard. I’ve had an Apple Wireless Keyboard laying around for years, the one without the numpad, which I had ordered solely so I would have a numpad when working with my laptop. I quickly paired it up and have been using it all day. This is just the solution I have been looking for. I think it may work even better than the keyboard dock designed for the iPad in that it won’t restrict you as to how you’d like to use it. I did find (not through a scientific test) that the battery life seems to be going down quite a bit more since I’ve been using the keyboard, but that could just be incidental to me using it for longer periods at once today.

As for things that need improvement: Apple needs to get the keychain to sync from MobileMe. It is nice that Safari remembers passwords, but it sure would be nice to have everything already on the device from your desktop/etc. It would also be really nice to have an application to see the items in your keychain. A friend suggested using 1Password, which I am currently contemplating integrating into my digital life.

This post is a little old now, but check out Chris Brogan’s First Take on the iPad. Be sure to read through the comments there. Some of his followers left some great insights. Sorry this has taken so long to get from draft to post!