If the idea of a Certified Apple Whore bitching about the new iPad disturbs you... please look at the cute kitten below and ignore the rest of this entry. Come back tomorrow when there will be monkeys and pie!
I have named the new iPad "Paddington" and like him a lot. He is about the sexiest piece of tech to come along in quite a while, and Apple deserves a lot of credit for creating such a revolutionary device in a field that's been riddled with a crushing lack of success (including Apple's own "Newton" device). For the most part, I think iPad is dreamy, and there are a bajillion websites out there with reviews waxing poetic about how frickin' sweet it is.
And yet it is far from perfect.
But before I get to the astounding number of inexplicable failures in both functionality and usability, there's a few things I won't be covering that everybody else seems to be complaining about...
The iPad is a multi-functional device that becomes different appliances when apps are run on it. It's not a computer, it's not meant to be a computer, and trying to force computer-related baggage onto it is like being upset because your toaster doesn't make margaritas. This is a new kind of device for a new kind of user, and anybody needing that kind of stuff should just go buy a computer. Whining because iPad doesn't support the bloated, battery-draining, resource-stealing, crash-prone pile of garbage known as "Flash" is the kind of backwards thinking that drives me insane. If you need Flash functionality and iPad/iPhone/iPod users are important to you, then either simulate it with HTML5 or build an app if that doesn't work. Trying to change Steve Job's mind about Flash is just pointless, so let's move on. The future awaits.
To read what I DO have to say about the iPad, I've put the whole whiny mess in an extended entry. Enjoy!
I find it very difficult to be critical of the iPad hardware. It's solid, feels good in the hand, and has that kind of painfully streamlined elegance that is Apple's hallmark. It also has crazy-awesome battery life, which covers a multitude of sins (including the weight that such a battery precludes). Sure I wish that Apple would have developed a display that doesn't feature a never-ending mess of smudgey fingerprints, but you really only notice them when the bold, bright, beautiful display is turned off, so I guess I can forgive that much. I've read about people bitching because they don't care for the placement of the headphone jack, but this is an entirely new level of stupid when you consider that the screen can be turned in any direction so you can have the jack wherever you like it. Not that you necessarily need headphones... the built-in speaker is surprisingly good, even though it's not in stereo.
The one area where I feel wholly justified in complaining is the lack of an iChat video conferencing camera. This makes
And here is where I kind of lose it, because the last place I expect Apple to fuck up is the user interface. And yet they do so again and again. It makes you wonder if anybody at Apple invited their target audience... e.g. SOMEBODY'S MOTHER... to use the device during development, or if they just blindly forged ahead thinking that random old-school GUI techniques used by the computer-savvy would translate? After inviting my own mother to play with iPad for a while, it's easy for me to see that a great many things went overlooked.
And here's the thing that really gets me. In every instance... every instance... I saw my mother fail when trying to figure out the device, the failure was 100% on Apple. They condition you to act a certain way in order to achieve something, then inexplicably change the rules at random. For somebody like me who uses a computer constantly and is used to seeing the wide variety of interface controls found on the entire internet and multitudes of software, it's not a big deal. But for Apple to have such glaring inconsistencies in a closed environment they developed internally? What the hell? Talk about starting a revolution and then taking a shit on it, the numerous lapses in iPad logic are almost too much to bear.
Here's a classic example.
At every turn, Apple is saying that to make something work, you touch it. Tap something to make it go.
Easy enough... so let's watch a music video. First you tap the "Video" icon to launch the video player...
After launch, you get a display of the video content on your iPad, so she taps Madonna's "Take a Bow" video...
Then she ends up with this hot mess of nonsense. My mother really doesn't give a crap about the release date, length, file size, or copyright of a frickin' music video, she just wants to watch Madonna... but whatever. So she taps the video expecting to finally be able to watch Madonna and...
She taps again and again, but nothing happens. So I ask her why she didn't hit the little "play" button above the video, and she says "well, the upper-left arrow goes back to the menu, so I thought the upper-right arrow would go to the next video... I don't want to watch the next video, I want to watch this one"...
Touché, mother. Touché.
And this pretty much sums up the idiocy that's rampant throughout Apple's iPad. They set the rules about how things work, then change them for no apparent reason. I mean, for heaven's sake... frickin' YouTube has this kind of stuff figured out, but Apple, who are fucking kung-fu masters of this kind of GUI shit, takes a massive brain-dump? Since you touch every other damn thing to get it to run, why not the video? My mother isn't the stupid one here. On the contrary, her logic and reasoning is the only sound thinking going on. Apple says tap something to make it go... then jerks the rug out from under you at the moment of truth. Wouldn't any rational design dictate that THIS is how you'd start a video on the iPad??
And that's just the beginning. Lets say you activate that video from within the "iPod" app. Well, first of all you'll note that there is absolutely NO indication that you'll be watching a video when you're in the "Artists" list. Videos are presented exactly like songs, and you won't know it's a video until you tap on it...
Once you DO tap on it, that's when the confusion begins. The iPad seamlessly quits "iPod" and launches the "Video" app with no feedback to the user. SURPRISE! It's a video! You'd at least expect that after watching the video, you'd end up back at your list of "iPod" music. WRONG! You're not even in the "iPod" app anymore, you're in the "Video" app now. So you have to quit "Video" and re-run "iPod." This lacks any kind of sense, but is oddly typical of iPad's behavior. Things like this confuse me, an expert computer user... what chance does a computer novice like my mother have when there is simply no logic to how iPad operates from one minute to the next?
I could go on and on about the wacky interface flaws I observed during the two hours my mother was goofing around with iPad, but you get the picture. Suffice to say that nobody at Apple seems to have bothered to test the iPad's workings with the exact people that will be most likely to buy it. This is a real shame because it absolutely doesn't have to be that way.
But even when Apple gets the interface right, I've run into areas where the functionality is hopelessly flawed. Take for example the "Photos" app. This is the one application that my mother is going to be using a lot. I've got decades of photos digitally stored on my computer, and giving her a way to easily look at thousands of images on a tiny iPad tablet is ground-breaking to say the least. Except... not always.
When you fire up the "Photos" app, you're presented with a hopeless mess of ALL your photos as the first menu choice...
Mom has the whole "pinch to zoom" and "double-tap to zoom" concept down, so she is able to easily pull up a picture from the endless sea of images available (Apple plays nice here, because you can also single-tap to activate a photo, which is exactly as it should be)...
So far so good. But let's go back to that first menu for a minute. In this screen capture, you only see the 35 images that will fit on the iPad's screen... but imagine that it scrolls on and on to display thousands of them...
Sure that's problematic... but that's not the worst part. The worst part is that all the painstaking organization I implemented using the "manual sort" option in iPhoto on her Mac is completely ignored by iPad. So the photos here are just a jumble (I'm assuming it's because the date-stamps on the files are being used for the sort, but since you can't change that in iPhoto, I guess I'm screwed). In any event, the PHOTOS sort in iPad is beyond useless if you have a lot of images, and there's no way to hide it to avoid confusion. What you really want is the ALBUM sort (which should be the default, as that's how THE REAL WORLD organizes their photos)...
The good news is that iPhoto will remember the last view you were using, and doesn't jump back to the PHOTOS default view each time. That would have been unbearable. But there's still questionable stuff to be found.
Because the only way to get rid of the "Last 12 Months" album and "Last Import Photo" album is to forgo auto-syncing with iTunes and manually sync all your albums. This is kind of stupid considering that those two folders are useless on the iPad (they are helpful for organizing within iPhoto, but since you can't do any organizing on iPad why would you sync them?). But whatever. I can see where this could be a personal opinion, so no biggie. Manual syncing is a pain in the ass, but at least there's a solution.
But here's where things come crashing down.
As my mother was looking through photos, I would occasionally notice her tapping all over the place as if she's expecting something to happen. Not knowing what that could be, I asked. Turns out she's looking for the INFO button (even though she doesn't know it). In iPhoto, each thumbnail has a little "i" button that appears when you hover over it. Click on the "i" and a box pops up showing the name of the photo, the date it was taken, any "star-rating" you might have given it, any location data you might have tagged it with (including a map!), plus... a description of the photo if you entered one. Except iPad doesn't import this information for some reason and, if it does, there doesn't seem to be a way to get at it. This leads to problems like "Who is that person?" and "What was the name of that restaurant? and "When was that picture taken?"
And there you have it. My mother discovers a huge functionality flaw within her first five minutes of playing with PHOTOS on iPad. She wants to be able to see a description of her picture (who wouldn't?) but no amount of tapping will let you do what a frickin' $2 paper photo album will let you do with a felt-tip pen.
That's not the end of it, of course... there were other instances where iPad functionality was tossed out the window for reasons unknown. A lot of it had to do with simple preferences settings that just weren't there. It's as if Apple decided that they know exactly how everybody is going to use the iPad so there's no point in allowing users to change anything. And while I am the first to admit that over-customization can be a detriment for a device like this, the sublime arrogance of offering practically nothing in the way Apple's iPad app customization is just plain wrong.
And yet... there are areas where the lack of rigidity is the problem.
Take for example third-party apps. My mother loves to read and keep up with the news, so I downloaded a bunch of internet news magazines for her to try, including "USA Today" and "Yahoo! Entertainment" and "New York Times Editor's Choice." Individually, all of the apps are beautifully designed and nicely implemented. Considering they're FREE, that's pretty amazing. However, there is no consistency between them. In one app you'll swipe side-to-side to move between articles, in another you'll be double tapping to get to an article menu. In some apps you swipe up-and-down to read multi-page articles, in others it will be side-to-side, and in still others there's a button you have to tap. Sure it's great that each provider is able to decide for themselves what the best way to read their content on iPad might be... but it sure makes it tough on the end-user. Contrast that with Apple's "iBooks" app, where most iPad users will be buying their books. It doesn't matter whether you're reading Tolstoy or Winnie the Pooh, they all work the exact same.
Now, admittedly, I'm torn here. Not all magazines have a similar intent. Visual magazines are going to want to focus more on layout. Story magazines are going to want to focus more on text. All magazines are going to want to try introducing multimedia elements into their publications to stay relevant. There is no one standard format that's going to service them all. Books can (kind of) get away with it, but magazines are so much more varied in function that it would be a real challenge to dictate a single layout.
But can't we at least get a navigation standard established?
The most intuitive navigation has a side-to-side swipe to switch between articles, up-and-down swipe to read within an article, and a pop-up/side-menu to show an article index. If everybody did that for basic functionality (then added whatever bells and whistles they wanted on top of that), I'd think that there would be some benefit there. Reading a physical magazine is a no-brainer that pretty much everybody can figure out... but it's an entirely different ballgame in the digital world. Establishing some basic commonality between publications would seem to be a priority for serving everyday people that are not entirely computer-savvy (i.e. the target market for iPad), but Apple is surprisingly silent. Chaos reigns, which is fun for people like me, but not so much for my mom.
I could go on, but I think my problems with iPad are pretty clear from the examples I've given. More real thought needs to go into how iPad will be used by everyday people to make the digital transition far less painful. The iPad itself is a very good step in the right direction, but it's not quite "there" yet in the areas that matter most... which are exactly the areas Apple has historically been so good at. To say I'm surprised is an understatement. My expectations were to fall in love with iPad immediately, and that much is easy (this is Apple, after all). But when you see the glaring mistakes that plague iPad for the non-tech-savvy, it's impossible not to temper that love with some painful reservations.
And so there you have it. My (partial) take on iPad version 1.0 whether you like it or not. Will Apple settle down for a minute and take a hard look at their users before unleashing the next iPad OS? For the sake of my mom and the millions of people out there just like her who are just waiting for something to take them to the digital age... I certainly hope so.