I read a lot of iPad reviews before I found myself waiting in line to get a shiny new 3G iPad from the Apple Store last Friday. Because WiFi is simply not pervasive (albeit more pervasive where I roam on the east coast than on the west coast, surprisingly I found even gas stations in North Carolina having free WiFi), the iPad without 3G is perhaps best suited for children who need a somewhat controlled access to the internet and for many of us who use their mobile device connected to the Internet primarily from home (according to a pre-iPad market study I recall).
From the many other reviews (including Walt Mossberg’s valuable assessment) you can read about the early experiences with this great new device. I agree with most of Walt’s assessment but wanted to offer some complimentary considerations (from a demanding early-stage entrepreneur, Venture Catalyst, Venture Capitalist and Venture Economist) I did not see.
The iPad is a beautiful, easy to use computer that will serve the lifestyle, internet and computing needs of most people. You should get one at your earliest opportunity.
If you travel frequently, the iPad 3G is so well equipped and easy to use, you can actually peacefully leave your main computer at home. Even novice users will suddenly have the world at their fingertips.
Here are my remarks to make the iPad even better:
The requirement to tether the iPad for the first time to a regular computer and activate it through iTunes is beyond a lawsuit waiting to happen (it does not state such requirement on the box), not the right strategy for consumer adoption of the iPad.
The iPad is a device that is likely to appeal to 5/6th of Greenfield of the world’s population that is not using a computer capable of running iTunes, and bound to find itself limited in market penetration by the tethered activation requirement. Apple should aggressively offer in-store and cloud-based activation to combat this issue.
Now, Apple is often referred to as a great marketing company, in my view because they don’t do any positioning at all. Most of Apple’s products are described by virtue of their beauty and their capabilities and just like with finding a woman with those attributes; you know instinctively when you want to be with her.
Most other technology vendors still foolishly deploy expensive marketing departments to preempt who its buyers may be, and Apple merely states what the device does (in terms of benefits), the number one thing I find myself explaining to interested onlookers is that the iPad is a (lifestyle) computer, not just an iPhone Touch with a bigger screen.
The iPad, also by virtue of which software capabilities are included (see below) suffers from a bit of public confusion and identity crisis, as witnessed by the complete lack of built-in printing capabilities.
The shape of the iPad is perfect for a handheld device, yet the 3G is big enough to make you want to rest it on your lap or elsewhere and tap around with both hands. My 5-year old daughter with smaller hands juggles with the weight and requirement to move the iPad around while playing games, yet not enough to keep her hands off my iPad.
– The volume button
The volume button on the iPhone and iPad irritates me to no end, not where it is placed but which part of the rocker is volume up or down. Given that the iPad can be used in many orientations I would make the volume up and down switch sensitive to the context of the orientation. Meaning, no matter how you hold the iPad, the volume up and down coincides in direction with the visual clues on the display.
– The home button
The home button is visually undetectable in the dark and can be left, right, up or down depending on the orientation of use. This button needs a slight backlit to identify itself under low-lit and dark conditions.
– Back curvature
On a completely flat surface such as a desk or kitchen counter, the iPad has a tendency to spin around easily, especially when typing hands-free. A slightly less curved back, with more surface area touching the underlying surface, would improve resistance and offer more stable usage.
The current speaker position, (on one side only) leads to frequent muffling and diminished volume and clarity of sound when holding the iPad in landscape orientation when hands are prone to cover up the speaker slots. This needs a different implementation, perhaps dual mono sound asymmetric to the orientation of the device.
The display, even though made from a special material smudges easily which when viewed from an angle and will make the owner look like a dirty animal. I am not an expert in display technologies to offer a solution, and these fingerprints are hardly noticeable to the user with a straight-on view of the device.
– The Base
The docking base for the iPad (sold separately) only supports a portrait display of the iPad while docked, not the most natural way to view widescreen videos nor the default orientation of the majority of photographs while charging.
It is probably a software modification, but I found the iPad sometimes responding to fingers not fully out-of-the-way of the touchpad causing some unexpected behavior. Some of those fingers do not need to touch the iPad, I found out, to cause an in-adverted detection and operation.
Apple is clearly ahead of the pack in delivering a compelling lifestyle computing device we can all use and therefore will catch most of the wind in addressing the imperfections of the software provided. That does not mean I suggest you should not buy the device, but it does mean Apple has room to improve with software updates that make the iPad better.
I can tell (and know) that Apple is developing the software in corporate divisions with their own disparate decision-making. As the first vendor to provide truly integrated desktop, mobile and cloud computing services Apple needs to reorganize itself amongst the development of IP (Intellectual Property) that spans those boundaries. No longer is the power of one capability on one platform important, but the lowest common denominator now defines the overall experience.
– Portable capabilities
With much of development efforts at Apple focused on newer devices such as the iPhone and iPad, the lack of development efforts on its OS X companions are affecting the (synchronized) reliability of data on the new devices. With the release of Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) Apple has really dropped the ball on the stability of the address book, iCal, e-mail, and others that affect the use of all devices in concert. With the latest release, Apple changed the way it deals with address book imports, how it deals with duplicate contacts, how it syncs address book images etc, to the extent that you need to verify and make frequent backups of every part of the process to prevent unexpected behavior.
MobileMe is a necessity to synchronize over-the-air many of the e-mail interaction, contact, calendar and notes to keep your information up-to-date at all times, and you should, therefore, subscribe to it (a $99 / year charge). But it took me two months to figure out how to use MobileMe for my business without showing that the e-mails I sent were coming from MobileMe (a long story). Every business owner who wants to take maximum advantage of the iPad and iPhone capabilities is in the same predicament. The cloud services provided by Google’s Gmail finally came to the rescue.
But it does worry me that to get and send e-mail using MobileMe a la BlackBerry demands the proper workings of no less than four e-mail servers. The same with calendar sharing where Google cloud services trump those of MobileMe, and for the first time my wife and I can now share a social calendar (using CalDAV) to which we both can add, edit and delete from the same calendar whenever we wish. These everyday capabilities should be supported by MobileMe monolithically by now, but are not.
Also, MobileMe’s iDisk and Gallery applications are not (yet) natively available on the iPad and users need to use the iPhone derivatives to continue to use those features. I am expecting a beautiful new Remote application from Apple soon, that allows me to control the Apple TV in wonderful glory.
The Application Store (for the iPad) is supposed to support The Long Tail of applications plus the Torso yet it provides no intelligence (yet) to figure out what based on your interest is the best selection of apps available. That means you need to scroll tediously through thousands of apps icons only to have to start over once you installed one of them from that list (as the store does not remember your last position prior to installing). That means you give up exploring the Long Tail of applications pretty fast, and the meritocracy the marketplace (and thus opportunity for app vendors) the AppStore intended to provide is severely diminished.
And while iTunes bravely installs all previously installed compatible iPhone apps on the iPad, the AppStore makes no attempt to then upgrade the Apps (read upsell opportunity) to its iPad native companion. So, it takes hours perusing the AppStore to figure out which of your favorite App has a more capable iPad cousin. I found myself abandoning iPhone apps and instead of bookmarking their respective web pages with an icon on the home screen.
It is also a bit of an embarrassment for AT&T not to have an iPad native iPhone account management app that also incorporates managing the 3G iPad subscription service.
When entering text the iPad prefers to use capitalization in some weird places, insert spaces at other times (without “suggesting” it first) and in e-mail actually changed the from-address descriptor from “The Venture Company” to “The Company”. It appears the dictionary used in the iPhone is more robust than the one used in the iPad.
As a long-time iWork user (for most of my work) iWork on the iPad is a big disappointment. I was hoping to use my iPad as the device I could take to Limited Partners and present my now famous “2010: The State of Venture Capital”, but I quickly found out that iWork on the iPad is not compatible (in many ways, it imports rather than opens OS X documents) with the version that runs on OS X. As stated before, parity of software capabilities between platforms should be of new importance to Apple as that will prevent people from re-evaluating other options. iWork (KeyNote, Pages and Numbers) are fantastically powerful apps on OS X, and in its infancy on the iPad. Novice users can still have fun with iWork on the iPad.
E-mail on the iPad looks and behaves stellar, yet with a few quirks. It appears impossible to change the reply-to address, notes are not synced over-the-air by default, regular IMAP e-mail is pulled only and you cannot set a polling frequency. Some e-mails (such as private equity online) previewed incorrectly, the rendering engine must be different from OS X, where it showed up correctly. Some Word documents could not be opened in Mail, not even with the version of Pages (and part of iWork on the iPad). I hate the horizontal scrolling while you reply to an e-mail, making it impossible to review what you wrote in place.
The Calendar views are visually stunning and well laid out. But some of its functionality bothered me. One cannot change the calendar of an appointment after it has been created. I could not find an option to display the time in the week view (as on OS X), nor could I find a way to accept a Microsoft Outlook invite which it entered correctly in the Calendar.
A version of Safari runs well on the iPad, but I miss a few capabilities including a pinning of favorite pages (as available on OS X). Some documents, including v-cards (address book information from LinkedIn for example), do not load into the appropriate application (address book in this case). Some of the new social call-backs designed to integrate social capabilities by Facebook and Twitter do not work well on the iPad browser, thankfully a one-time process that can be handled on the desktop as well.
– Long list navigation
Long list navigation needs a new indexing approach, plowing through 4,500 contacts on the iPhone or iPad is not fun, nor is scrolling through 2,500 photos (a hobby) really practical. Some of the new indexing capabilities of iPhoto on OS X (face, date, folder, theme) would be welcome on the iPad.
– Multi-user login
Even before purchase my daughter “claimed” certain usage rights to my iPad, which to keep things safe, really requires a multi-user login with separate menus. I am hoping that becomes part of the unannounced features pending for the iPhone4.0 release for the iPad slated for the fall.
A new dawn
I may discover more things that are not perfect on the iPad, but so far I have been inseparable from this nifty lifestyle device that manages to take on a much larger part of my business requirements as well.
The continued development of the iPad will change the face of computing forever, and as a result, people are no longer beholden to the lazy innovation and complacent attitude of Microsoft, joined by the mediocrity of cheap and ever commoditizing hardware partners.
Apple has singlehandedly changed the computing agenda from business to lifestyle and managed to serve its fast-growing customer base with an experience that truly meets their everyday needs.
The iPad has become the third “woman” in my life (in the aforementioned analogy), who is bound to become more capable and more beautiful every day.
Full disclosure: I have no equity in products or companies I evaluate publicly on this site except that they – according to my review – adhere to the promises they make. I pay for the products I want myself and receive no promotional fees of any kind. If you agree with the discretionary role technology should play in our lives I describe in my blogs so frequently, you will find my observations of the implementation of innovation useful in determining whether or when you should buy them.