iPad: Initial impressions

Just picked up an iPad today and am very impressed – not only by its potential for changing the world, but for its immediate utility. Here are just a few things that I notice after playing with it for 4 or 5 hours:

  1. When reading, scrolling down a page is quite hard on the eyes (you get kind of car sick doing that too much). I notice this particularly because of the extensive use of side “sweeping” in iPad applications. E.g. the Comic book apps allow you to read a comic one page at a time, and then just flip the page to see the next cells. This is very easy on the eyes. The Financial Times app also makes use of side scrolling to read its news paper – less scrolling down – more sweeping across. This makes for a much more pleasent reading experience. Look to see much more of this style in the future as more devices like the iPad hit the market.

  2. It looks like there’s nothing for sale yet in iBooks (probably a delay because we’re in Canada). However its extensive selection of free titles (generally classics that have passed their copyright expiration dates) makes for lots of choice still. I started to read “The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government” by Jefferson Davis (the president of the Southern Confederacy during the American Civil War) this afternoon to complement the a book I’m currently reading about Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet. The iBooks experience is almost as good as reading a real book. It makes it very easy to flip pages, change font size, and skip to any part of the book. I appreciate it’s little status message ever present at the bottom right corner indicating how many pages are left in the current chapter.

  3. The Kindle App is also quite good, and currently provides a much larger selection of books to purchase. (iBooks appeared to have zero books available for sale). The only problem is that they make it damn hard to purchase any books. The Kindle app has a button to “Shop for books from the store”. But this just takes you to the amazon web site which is not optimized in any way for mobile devices or the iPad. After logging in, entering credit card info, and finally finishing the purchase, it downloaded a book on iPad software development into Kindle. They really need to build the purchase mechanism into the iPad to make it competitive with iBooks (which allows you to simply click on a book and purchase it on the spot – and be reading it in seconds).

  4. Comics! The iPad is a savior for the fledgling comic industry. Reading comics on this thing feels very natural. I downloaded both the Marvel Comics app and the Transformers Comics app, which allow you to read comics in a rich, full-screen, environment. They offer some free comics and have others for sale. I purchased one issue of Transformers for $1.99 and it was as simple as one click and I’m reading it.

  5. News papers are now multi-media. I downloaded the free Financial Times app which is a UK news paper. Reading it was much like reading a news paper, giving you the same ability to read the articles in columns and scan to the right to see other stories. They have embedded videos associated with some articles, and tapping on the video displays the high quality video right inside the window (as expected, but still really cool). I think we’re just hitting the tip of the iceberg in our exploration of how different media can be melded together to enhance the user experience.

  6. HTML5 Support – After reading about iPad’s rich support for HTML 5 it occurs to me that Apple is doing the world a favour by taking a hard stand against browser extensions like Flash and Java (sad to say). The market share of the iPhone OS (estimated at over 318 million units between iphone, ipod, and ipad) is so big that Apple is able to single-handedly force us to endure a little pain for the greater good in the long run. HTML has been moving at a snails pace since it’s introduction and this has been a sort of chicken-and-egg problem, whereby developers don’t use any cutting edge features because of lack of browser support, and the standard hasn’t progressed very fast because there hasn’t been the demand for cutting-edge features from the development side. Apple is changing that with the powerful HTML 5 support in Safari for iPhone and iPad. Finally HTML/CSS/Javascript is at the point where you can create a full desktop application using open web standards. In addition this model for networked applications is much cleaner and safer than previous strategies (such as Java and Flash applets) because they truly run inside a sandbox where they cannot harm your computer.

The Apple war against browser extensions (Flash and Java applets) reminds me in some ways of the American civil war and the related end to slavery. Just as slavery was entrenched into the culture of the south to the point where they could not willingly let the practice go without experiencing major economic hardships, we, as computer users, have become dependent on proprietary browser plugins like flash to make up for features that ought to have been built into the browser to begin with. Just as it took a bloody war (or some southerners might say a Northern dictator) to force the issue on slavery, it takes a dictator from the South to force us into the future of computing for our own good, when we lacked the will to make the leap on our own.

I’m very excited to start developing HTML 5 applications, now that there is a reliable and stable platform to target: the iPad!

comments powered by Disqus