The Accidental iPad and How I Use It

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad a few months ago I didn't think "Wow, I gotta have me one of those...". Though I was intrigued by the form factor and slightly motivated by Steve Jobs' demonstration of the device, it didn't scream out at me as something I needed. I was actually more amused with all the criticism surrounding the choice of iPad as the name for the device.

I yawned and went on with my life.

Nearly a month ago I walked in to our local Apple store with my family. We weren't looking for anything in particular, just letting my kids fawn over the Mac hardware as we thought about buying a MacBook for my son before he heads off to college. I asked one of the Apple store employees if they had an iPad I could take a look at. He handed me an 8 x 6 inch card with a picture of one on it. The device was far thinner and lighter than I expected.

He then asked if I would like to reserve one.

Me: "No thanks"
Apple Employee: "There's no commitment. It just means that we'll have one here for you in case they sell out. That way you can come in on launch day and be assured you will have one."
Me: "Uh, nah, thanks"
Wife: "Well, maybe you should sign up in case you really want it."

My wife is usually the uber-frugal one when it comes to technology purchases. I'm the good cop, she's the bad cop. She is the voice of reason when the "I WANT IT" klaxon sounds off. When she flashes the green light—which she clearly was doing—I jump before she reconsiders.

Seconds later I had a 16GB iPad reserved for April 3, 2010. Besides, there was no obligation, right?

Launch Day
The morning of April 3, 2010 passed without incident. I didn't find myself in a line outside the Apple store, nor did I feel this overwhelming need to run out and buy an iPad. The impulse of signing up to reserve one didn't translate into the action required to go out and get one. I read my news feeds, saw people writing about it and was mildly interested.

I was driving by my local Apple store—really, just happened to be in the area—when I decided to pull in and actually see an iPad in person. I walked past the abandoned rope line and cart full of water and cookies the Apple staff had put out to cater to line standers.

Inside the place was mobbed. There were people queued up to see the demo iPads several layers deep. I looked over people's shoulders and watched them play with the iPad for a short while before I became impatient, went to the back of the store and asked that they sell me my reserved iPad. Within 10 minutes I was walking outside with my new iPad and an Apple case for it.

It all happened a lot faster than I expected. I blame my wife for not talking me out of getting one.

Using the iPad
There are hundreds—likely thousands—of reviews on the iPad already. I've found the vast majority of them very accurate and reasonably consistent on features and functionality. The bigger issue to me is, what role does the iPad really fill? Is it something you would find useful?

I'm on my computing devices all day. I have a large, dual monitor Mac Pro for software development. When I'm on the road I carry along a 15" MacBook Pro. I also carry a 3GS iPhone. Between these three devices I had pretty much every need covered.

All of three days into owning an iPad I've found a niche for it that works great for me: information consumption. Here is how I'm using the iPad:

In the morning I flip open the case on the iPad, set it up at a slightly elevated angle and fire up e-mail while I eat breakfast. I rarely respond first thing in the morning; I just delete the useless e-mail and file away the informational stuff, which the e-mail client on the iPad is perfect for. When I'm in the office is when I actually respond unless it's very trivial. I then fire up my iPad based Twitter client, currently Twitterrific. Since I follow lots of news oriented feeds I'm able to quickly scroll through items and catch up on the news. If I find a link to a story that I want to read I tap it and Twitterrific displays it in a windowed browser.

This is where the screen on the iPad comes in handy; it doesn't feel at all cramped. Though I always marveled at my iPhone's screen resolution, it suddenly feels highly constrained next to the iPad:

Could I use my MacBook Pro for this? Sure, I could. It just feels so bulky. Could I use my iPhone for this? Yep, sure can, though I trade in supreme portability for a tiny little screen.

The iPad has a super long battery life from what I can tell so far. I charged it to capacity on the initial sync and have been using it pretty heavily for the last 3 days, yet as of this moment it's sitting at 25% capacity. It means that I've been treating it more like a book, leaving it out to be grabbed as I need it, not constantly tethered to a power supply like my MacBook Pro is.

As a result, I kept the iPad handy throughout the day, grabbing it when I wanted to quickly scan sports updates or read through news feeds. This is the ultimate lazy Sunday, information appliance I've ever seen.

I even fired up the iBooks application and—after playing around with some of the ancient free books available—bought a new title (The Pacific by Hugh Ambrose). Using the iPad as an e-book reader is very nice; the text is far more readable than on a Kindle, though I have only tried using it in shaded areas. I don't see sitting on a sunny beach and reading on the iPad unless you have a large umbrella handy. Way too much glare.

Summing It Up
Whether an iPad is right for someone is obviously a very personal decision; will you use it enough to make it worth the investment from a cash and time perspective? On the want versus need scale an iPad falls far more into the want category. It is far easier to justify a laptop or smartphone than an iPad since they are accepted tools of modern information workers. Will the iPad become a tool of the modern information professional? Perhaps, though it's not likely to happen with this initial version.

My experience three days in is that I am really enjoying my iPad and see that it has added a quality to some parts of my daily routine that were missing. I'm looking forward in the coming months to exploring the various applications available for the iPad as well; the few that I have played with have been very useable and take full advantage of the iPad user experience.

I'm really glad my wife talked me into getting one.

Thinking of getting an iPad? Not sure if it will work for what you want to do? Got one and using it in a unique way? Please add a comment below!


Anonymous said…
I'm going to wait for either a price drop or an update before I consider it. I'll probably just end up getting an iPod touch.
David H. said…
Things a little topsy-turvy concerning the iPad in our house. Being the early adopter, I was ready to buy one when it was announced, but the lack of a camera and multi-tasking cooled off my credit card finger. My wife, flush with cash from tutoring, decided to make it her splurge item. She is the "normal" computer user, so her needs are different.

We were away this past weekend, so she didn't get her pre-order until today. Will share her viewpoint later. Unlikely she will let me get my hands on it.
Changwon said…
I thought same thing when Steve Jobs announced it.
I have my Macbook Air and iPhone 3GS. What cat it do for me?

But day by day, I really want it.
I don't live in US, so I'm going to have it through my friend who works in US and may come here next week.

Especially, it seems it can save my iPhone battery life.
This would be the biggest excuse to buy iPhone!
Unknown said…
"Wife: "Well, maybe you should sign up in case you really want it.""

Do you think I could borrow your wife... just for a day or so?
David Alison said…
@macforce: no way man! Not letting her out of my sight.
Charles said…
I'm really looking forward to them releasing it in Japan. I can't say I'm going to get one for sure, but it's likely. Even a 13" laptop gets too heavy carrying it around all day and I've been looking at netbooks for 2 years and still haven't gotten one. This I think will fill my need just about perfectly and better than a netbook since I can use it easily while standing. Just need 3G too.

Sell off my 15" Macbook pro and get an iMac and I'll be all set. :) If you'll find it useful or not really does depend on the user.
Buckley said…
Living in Canada, I will have to wait until the end of the month for the opportunity to purchase an iPad. I wasn't sure if I was going to make the purchase at first, as I don't see it as a net/notebook replacement for people that need mobile computing for work applications. However I think you hit it on the head David with your description of how it will change the way that people (those already immersed in a digital life) will do things. I already have a honking Mac Pro in my living room instead of my office because I like to do casual surfing and email reading as part of my morning wake up routine (and at night while watching TV or entertaining friends/family). I can see how the iPad could could make that routine much more enjoyable/relaxing/casual and less "work like" as it was in front of a regular machine/notebook.

I look forward to an update from you before the iPad is released en masse to the rest of the world (on April 24th it looks like). If you still find that it was good purchase and has changed your routine for the better then I will likely pull the trigger on a purchase.
P.S. Thanks for sharing your experience!
Jeff Douglas said…
Thanks for the story/review... I have been on the fence about the iPad. I, like you, didn't really see a need for it since I have a MBP and an iPhone, but I can see it being nice to have lying around the living room to pick up and use for this, that or the other on the spur of the moment. That being said, I also agree that it's a "want" not a "need".
David Alison said…
@Kermit: Ok, that is one seriously cool app! Thanks for the link!
r0x0r said…
been following your blog for a few times. you rock apple box, so good so far but apple is not fair.

apple is using intel based hardware, but don't let us install snow leo or leopard on intel based pc. i also would like to buy a license but it's sucks.

ipad sucks too, i prefer to have a netbook and a real keyboard.

Following page explains everthing.
Like David I didn't feel a huge need, and I was underwhelmed by Job's intro of the iPad. I didn't pre-order and didn't buy on Saturday. I waited until Monday. <;-)

By Monday night I was a devote and after a week I do think this is a life changer. Not for office work, where I need real tools, but for daily walking around tasks--email, Twitter, browsing, news consumption. For portable computing this is a revolutionary DEVICE, even if much of the functionality is already on the iPhone. Speed and size, plus ease of use are all better than iPhone (which I love but which I find painfully slow to move among apps, email, cal, browser). While not a pocket sized device, I can carry this everywhere, meetings, coffee shops, around the office.

At home, I love it for the couch and the screen porch. And I confess it goes to bed with me, along with the iPhone, a techno ménage a trois. My wife doesn't seem to mind. She bought her own iPad Monday afternoon.

One sweet detail: iPad pairs with my Bluetooth keyboard so I can use that full size keyboard if I were really serious about writing with it. I doubt I would ever travel without my Macbook Pro which has all my data and software. But I am sure I will wander around with just the iPad a LOT.

Trisha said…
There is one particular use case I am looking for. I want something that is light, small, and easy to carry around while traveling that I can back up my pictures on in case something happens to my memory cards. I know, not extremely likely, but I'm paranoid about once in a lifetime pictures and I travel a pretty good amount.

When at home they are backed up with Time Machine and most end up getting published on my Mobile Me gallery. But when I'm actually traveling... well then I need at least someway to have them stored on two devices in case of failure. And while 3 years ago I wouldn't imagine I'd ever say this, my MacBook (late summer 2006 black macbook) feels big, especially when carrying it all over the world.

So the question isn't will the iPad do this - there is an accessory to connect a digital camera and copy the photos in to the library. But is it worth $500 when a netbook is half that?

So, has anyone tried the camera connection accessory?
Unknown said…
David, here's another cool looking app. Alice for iPad.
David Alison said…
@Kermit: Wow, that is an amazing looking app! Great use of the technology.
Bry said…
I want one, but alas in Australia we've a bit longer to wait. Waiting to see what our telcos plans are likely to be for them as to whether it be 3G or just WiFi.
Following up Trisha's post, I thought there was an accessory to plug in USB devices. Is this familiar or can the "camera accessory" be used for other things.

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