Initial Thoughts About The iPad

Last weekend I finally bought an iPad (at least for me as I write this. 2 weekends ago as you’re reading) and thought I’d share some initial thoughts about using it so far as well as some thoughts about how I can see myself using it a few months down the line.

I’m purposely writing this post before I’ve really had a chance to set up the iPad for productivity. I’ll revisit the topic in a month or two when I see how well I can include the iPad in my blogging workflow and how well it helps me to design and develop sites more efficiently.

iPad

Initial Impressions

I’d played with the iPad in the Apple store a few times so it wasn’t a completely new experience to own one. I also have an iPhone 3gs so the interface and most everything else is familiar. As I’m writing this I’m mainly using the iPad as an oversized iPhone without the phone. Most of my apps are those I downloaded for the phone, though I’ve begun to replace many free ones with their iPad equivalents.

As you probably know the design of the iPad and the display are beautiful. It’s easy to jump in and start using, especially if you already own an iPhone. It’s much easier to carry around than I thought. When I picked one up for the first time in the Apple store it felt heavier than I expected, but it really isn’t anything that will tire you out carrying around. It’s like carrying around a small notebook or a trade paperback.

You’ll want to use it more in your lap or on a stand than holding it with one or two hands for any length of time though. Not heavy, but heavy enough.

Battery life is indeed better than advertised. I can use the iPad on and off all day without even thinking about having to charge it. I plug it in overnight and don’t think about it again till the next night.

The keyboard is better than I expected. Smart phone keyboards whether software or hardware are too small for my fingers and I rarely type on them. With the iPad I’d have no problems replying to an email, participating in social networks, typing URLs, etc. That said I won’t be writing anything long form. For that a wireless keyboard will be necessary.

There are some advantages to having a software keyboard that I had never considered until reading this post by Jesse James Garret of Adaptive Path. I’ve been noticing more and more how the keyboard on both the iPad and iPhone adapts to what you’re doing and I can see a lot of potential in this approach.

For the most part, if I want something that both the iPhone or the iPad have, I’m reaching for the iPad every time. The extra screen real estate makes a huge difference. Bigger is better in this case. What I’m seeing is both the phone and the laptop do things better than the iPad. However the iPad also does some things better than either phone or laptop. It is a device that finds a sweet spot between the two.

I don’t necessarily plan on carrying my iPad with me everywhere I go as I do with my iPhone, but it’ll find itself traveling with me a lot more than my laptop ever will. Carrying a laptop around feels more like lugging it around. Carrying an iPad around is hardly noticeable.

Early Edition feed reader app for the iPad

Thoughts on Future Productivity

The iPad definitely has a coolness factor, but I didn’t spend money on it so I could pretend I’m cool. I expect the iPad to becoming a functioning part of my daily workflow and I expect it to boost my productivity.

Again the first thing here is the increased screen size. I’ve never quite understood how people think they can work on a smart phone. Sure you can check and reply to email and tweet to your heart’s content. You can login to any number of sites and track and make small changes, but to honestly write a post or make anything but the most minor modification to a web page isn’t anything I think can be realistically done on a phone.

At least it isn’t realistic for me. You can do those things in a pinch on a phone, but can you really be productive in any way? The bigger screen size of the iPad makes so much more possible.

Next are the apps I’m seeing under development. I’ve been searching the App store a lot. One app I had read about is the reason I decided to buy the iPad now instead of waiting. The app, Air Display, allows you to use your iPad (or iPhone for that matter) as a second monitor. Maybe not the biggest monitor, but a second monitor nonetheless.

The iPad functions well as a media consumption device. I consume a lot of media and once I’ve chosen a feed reader I expect the iPad will be the main way I keep up with all the blogs I’m subscribed to. There’s really something to be said for holding it in your lap and touching the screen to navigate. Not quite the same as curling up with a good book, but not that far off. It’s easy to see the iPad being my go to device for consuming media.

When smart phones first came out I dreamed of being able to edit web pages on the go. Like I said this isn’t realistic for me due to the small screen size of a phone. I’ve noticed several code editors/FTP apps for the iPad. They don’t compare to what I have on my Macbook, but they already look like they’ll do the job and I expect they’ll get better over time.

A couple that look promising are Gusto and Markup, though there are several others worth trying.

The main things I do daily are write and code, followed by working with images and moving files around the web. Each look like they’ll be easy to do on an iPad as long as I add a wireless keyboard. Image work might still be better on the MacBook. It’ll be easy to see myself sitting in a coffee shop in a couple of months writing a blog post with fewer distractions than I have at home. I can also see myself responding to client requests for changes while I’m out.

One of the main reasons the iPad excited me was it’s use as a sketchpad. I like starting new designs with a few written thoughts and sketches. Easy enough with paper and pen, but a sketch drawn in pen and paper isn’t the easiest to change. A new idea usually means a new sketch. On the iPad I think it’ll be easier to experiment with different designs and then export those sketches directly into Photoshop on my Mac.

Similar is the iPad’s use for creating wireframes. Two such apps offering that ability are Omnigraffle and iMockups.

The touch interface (with fingers and/or stylus) in combination with a wireless keyboard means two productive ways to input and create on the iPad. I think many have underestimated its potential for creating media as opposed to only consuming it.

There are so many available apps for sketching and note taking that I’ve only scratched the surface in deciding which to try and use.

Resources

I’ve linked to a few apps throughout this post (Click some of the images) and embedded some video demonstrations. Here are a few posts with collections of iPad apps, mainly for designers and developers. Keep in mind not all are fully mature apps yet, but you can see where things are going.

Gusto code editing app for iPad

Potential Issues

I don’t want to paint the picture that all is perfect. The iPad is far from a perfect device. For one I understand getting files on and off isn’t the easiest thing. It should be a no-brainer to have it connect wirelessly to a laptop or desktop and appear as a new drive to make it easy to move files around.

Of course the iPad doesn’t really have a file system. I understand the reasoning behind that, but I kind of like having a file system. I already know there are workaround such as using Dropbox or similar to move files about. To me that isn’t an ideal solution, but it’ll probably be a workable one.

At the moment the iPad doesn’t have iOS4 installed so no multi-tasking, limited or otherwise. That’s coming though in a couple of months. Whether or not the limited multi-tasking becomes an issue is something I won’t really know without seeing it in practice. It’s a non-issue on my iPhone, but then again so was no multi-tasking at all. Being able to switch between programs quickly is important I think.

As I’ve said a few times a wireless keyboard is necessary to do any serious work. That creates the issue of the iPad not actually being in your hands. trying to type and use the touch interface at the same time probably won’t work as easily as you’d think. It’ll mean either leaning forward and back or picking up the iPad and putting it back down. How necessary this is will depend on how much can be controlled from the keyboard and this will depend mostly on the app developers.

The screen is bigger than the iPhone, yet it’s still smaller than the screen on my MacBook. If both are in front of me I assume I’ll reach first for the MacBook when working. The MacBook doesn’t travel as much so the iPad will serve as my main device when I’m away from home.

Speaking of the screen, I really wish it was anti-glare. It can be hard to read anything on it while outside in sunlight. You can turn it away from the sun to use it, but it works better when there’s no light source behind you. I’m particularly sensitive to glare so this probably bugs me more than most people, but still the reading experience isn’t best outside.

I’ve seen a few anti-glare covers on the market, but they all have mixed reviews.

One other thing I’ve noticed or at least read about is the difficulty moving files from one app to another. It’s typical for me to work on one file across several programs. Maybe Dropbox or similar is the answer here too. Maybe app developers will offer more options for exporting and importing. Maybe it’s actually easier than I think to move files about. It’s something that’s going to become important at some point.

Pricing on the iPad is another issue, albeit a minor one. For the most part the pricing seems more than fair. A few apps seem overpriced to me, but most fall into the $5 – $10 price range. Hardly expensive, yet when compared to 99 cents or $1.99 for many iPhone apps they seem expensive. It’s very easy to spend 99 cents for an app you’re not sure you really want or not. It’s another to spend $10.

Some apps do or will offer lite versions so you can try before buying. At the moment I’m not seeing a lot of that on the iPad. Hopefully developers will begin to offer more lite versions. Fair or not the iPhone set certain expectations about the price of an app and it’s less than most iPad apps are priced at.

Markup code editor app for the iPad

Summary

Those are some initial thoughts on the iPad in general, as well as how I think I’ll be able to use it as a productivity device in the future and some issues I may encounter. Again let me point out I haven’t set the iPad up yet in any way and for the last few days it’s still been mostly an expensive toy, a very cool one, but a toy nonetheless. While I’m enjoying using it, the iPad has hardly been anything I’d call an indispensable part of my life yet.

I expect that to change once I have to time to grab a wireless keyboard and as more and more apps find their way onto it. It’s very easy to see how I will be using it and how It’ll help me be more productive in time.

In a couple or three months I’ll revisit this topic and see if I’ve managed to take the iPad from toy to part of my workflow. I think I will, but won’t really know until I’ve had it around for awhile.

I’m pretty sure I won’t regret the purchase no matter how well I can or can’t integrate the iPad with my daily life. As a media consumption device it truly shines and I do consume a lot of media. I’ve always been one of those people that carries around a book with me wherever I go. Now I’ll be carrying around an iPad most of the time.

Have you bought an iPad or considering buying one? If you do have one what apps are you finding most helpful to when it comes to productivity? if there are specific questions you have feel free to ask and I’ll be happy to answer if I can.

I’ll leave you with a video demo of Mellotron. Not exactly an app specifically useful for designers and developers, but impressive nonetheless. It doesn’t always need to be about work.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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