Thursday, August 19, 2010

I've touched the future

When I was in middle school, one of my favorite shows was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I mention this because very often in the show, you'd see people with these devices (they were called PADDs, if you must know). They used PADDs for a lot of stuff, including reading. They could get personal messages (like our modern email), read books both fiction and technical, complete with images and video. PADDs were a common item used routinely in daily life during the far future of the 2360s, when TNG was set.

I have touched the future, my friends. And it's got an Apple logo on the back.

You see, I bought an iPad. I did this after ridiculing the device as a large iPod touch, and I did this after ridiculing the device's price tag (for which you could buy a netbook with money left over for a Kindle). And after playing with it, I'm glad I did.

The iPad isn't my first experience with iOS. Curious about an iPhone I played with in an AT&T store, I bought an iPod touch, thinking that it'd be cool to have "an iPhone without the phone." And actually, I never used it. Sure, I'd occasionally play with an app. And I think the iOS version of Safari is the best mobile web browser I'd used. iOS struck me as flawed, but promising and intuitive. But since I don't often find myself in situations where I needed an mp3 player, let alone one as seemingly fragile as an iPod touch, I didn't have a lot of use for it. I wound up selling it, and haven't really regretted it.

I had, in the interim, thought that I might like a good ebook reader. I've actually been into ebooks a lot longer than even the first Kindle users. In fact, when the Kindle debuted, I'd already built quite the collection of ebooks in Microsoft's .lit format, and I used a Dell Axim X51 to read them. My first two smartphones, a Samsung Omnia and an HTC Touch Pro2, were chosen because they ran the oft-maligned Windows Mobile and could therefore display my ebooks. But since devices like the Kindle have started to hit the market, the .epub format has become more the standard. I've thought about getting a device with a slightly larger screen and converting my library to epub.

But I also like to read comic books, and I have a good collection of .cbz and.cbr files. I'd read them on my laptop sometimes, or more often on my desktop. I'd also download PDFs of magazines, but I found myself still subscribing to paper ones because it was nice to read them in bed or on the can without dragging out a 16" laptop that takes nearly a minute to boot.

That's pretty much the reason I bought an iPad. The free app Stanza plays back .epub and PDF files with ease. It's supposed to do comic book files too, but I've found that comic books larger than 15-20MB (which is a lot of them) won't load, but the also-free ComicBookLover handles them quite well. Indeed, the iPad's screen is just a bit smaller than an actual comic book, so it turns out to be an excellent display for them. Even the two magazines I've read on it were clear and easy to read without zooming in. The iPad doesn't stop there, though. A lot of the content I consume isn't just books, comics, and magazines, but webcomics, blogs, email, and Twitter feeds. And the iPad delivers all that through it's built-in Mail and Safari apps, plus the free app Twitterific.

Now it's true that my computer can do all that, and more. A laptop, or even a netbook could do all those things as well. But they come in bulkier packages, they're slower to start up, and for reading digital versions of physical material (comics, magazines, etc) the screen isn't usually oriented the same as the media you're reading. And that's where the iPad excels. I've even found that I prefer web browsing on the iPad with the screen in portrait mode.

The iPad's not perfect, though. Despite Steve Job's fondest fantasies, the iPad can only supplement a real computer, not replace it. I could never see myself typing anything lengthier than a paragraph (I went back to my desktop computer to type this blog post), and while it's got some fun little time-wasters I hardly think of it as a gaming device in the same way that I do my PC. That wouldn't be a big deal, and people wouldn't think about the iPad as a computer replacement, except for the price. If it wasn't for the fact that I sold a Macbook I wasn't using anymore to pay for the bulk of it, I wouldn't have bought an iPad. $500 really is too much for it. I like the iPad because it really excels at the things I wanted it for, but the iPad isn't going to have that market cornered forever. Kmart recently came out of obscurity to offer a tablet-style device running Google's Android OS for a mere $150. It turned out to be buggy almost to the point of being unusable, sure, but we didn't really have high expectations for it at that price. But that still leaves the door open for another manufacturer to release a higher-quality Android tablet and still undercut the iPad at $250 or $300. And even if you're anti-Android, if the competition gets fierce enough you can almost expect an iPad 2 at a more competitive price.

So there you have it. I think the iPad is an incredible device that excels at delivering certain media in a way that a smartphone, netbook, or laptop can't, but you should know that if you get one you're definitely paying to be an early adopter.

Final Score: B


Rush said...

This is in regards of Mike taking away the civil liberties of his readership. I have recently noticed that a comment addressing a review of his hat has been taken down. Censorship is Unamerican. Mike is just another liberal trying to take away the readership's god given rights. In this case, the right to free speech.

Mike said...

Yep, that comment was deleted as spam. And for the record, I'm not a liberal, I'm a fascist. Civil liberties mean nothing. Peace can only be assured through iron-fisted tyranny.

BTW, Rush, you may be the only one who reads this blog anymore. That would be sad, but having a troll kind of legitimizes this blog despite its total lack of updates.