What’s the question?
Like every other critic and salivating fanboy, I feel compelled to chime in on yesterday’s religious experience in which The Steve descended from on high bearing a tablet. However, this is not a review, but merely a (lengthy) answer to a simple question: is the iPad for me? I won’t be talking about the market for digital content distribution, I won’t be whining about what software and hardware widgets weren’t included, I’m not going to rant about Apple’s closed ecosystem, I won’t be begging to lick someone’s boots for a chance just to touch one. Additionally, although hopefully this is obvious, this is heavy on speculation, since I have yet to actually hold the product, let alone use it for any length of time.
I’ll also take this opportunity to brag that I got 29.5 points on the prediction score card, with only one question as yet unanswered: will textbooks be available (I said yes, and I think this is eventually likely, based on the list of publishers involved). I was briefly unsure if my existing Apple Wireless Keyboard would be supported, but the Design page indicates that in will be, in spite of the existence of the iPad Dock. I got the name right, and most of the detailed features based on the rumorsphere. The substantive places I was wrong were the absence of a camera, the price point (cheaper than I expected), and the lack of any information on iPhone OS 4. I had a hope for an open development environment, but I knew that wasn’t going to be true, so that’s more a self-docking principle point. I failed to predict the dock, and I gave myself a half-point for saying no 3G when there are models both with and without.
Below the cut I’ll start off with a brief history of my personal electronics habits from college through today, and then consider where the iPad would fit into my little niche… and, if it does fit, whether it’s worth it. I’ll also look at what still-open questions about the device would affect my potential buying decision (not the least of which is that I need to try it out in an Apple Store to get a sense of the ergonomics). While I’m only speaking for myself, maybe my analysis will be useful to people similar to me.
For the purposes of this post, I’m discussing a subset of my uses for various electronics in rather broad categories. Over time, the breakdown of which device(s) I use for each task has changed, mostly due to the addition of new devices, but also to some extent due to changes in my tasks breakdown over the past 8 years.
- Taking pictures
- Listening to music
- Reading news
- Making phone calls
- Remote access
- Online socializing
- Taking notes
I’m not going to get into how my time breaks down into those categories, but it’s safe to say what dominates given my employment (software engineer) and primary entertainment activity (video games). Taking notes is mostly only relevant for school, online social networking has increased since I got on Twitter, and I rarely take pictures or make phone calls.
In all four of the charts below, click to embiggen for a more detailed view (although they’re pretty broad generalizations, given that my percentages are rough estimates at best).
In the Beforetime
I jokingly refer to the period of my adult life before I owned an iPhone, which significantly changed my usual “loadout” when going anywhere by combining my mobile phone and music player into one device and also carving a few of the above tasks away from my (relatively much heftier) laptop. While it is reflected in the chart below, I’m not going into detail about how my habits changed as I accumulated new devices over the course of college.
At school, my laptop was my sole computer. I still have that PowerBook G4/400, and the only thing it’s needed over the years has been a new battery and a new power cord. Still going strong (more on how that affects my decision later). I got my first iPod at Christmas 2002, and my first mobile phone (a mid-range Siemens that had Mac Bluetooth support) at Christmas 2003. Before then, I had a Koss CD player for mobile music, and I was wedded to a landline. I still have my old Olympus digital camera, even though it’s only 2.1 megapixels and uses one of the losing memory formats, Smartmedia. I’m not a big picture-taker anyway.
The next big change was getting a home desktop computer once I was employed and out of school. My laptop, Chronos, became relegated to 2nd-class status, mostly taking on the roles of Remote Access and Note Taking, and being my primary computer when traveling for all other tasks. Gaming moved to the desktop almost exclusively, since newer games required newer and newer hardware, more than the Rage 128 card in the PowerBook could provide. (As you have read here previously, most of this gaming is World of Warcraft.)
The iPhone Cometh
The iPhone (I got a second-iteration EDGE one) significantly changed my electronics usage by replacing the iPod and phone in one fell swoop. Because I now had mobile data, it also reduced how often I brought my laptop with me, since I could do some limited forms of online interaction while out and about. Now instead of a laptop requiring a backpack (the titanium powerbooks are light, and beautiful machines, but still a lot heftier than a phone-class device), I could bring a device that just clipped to my belt.
Once Apple added the App Store, I suddenly had my first mobile gaming platform (I think my first purchase was Trism, downloaded over EDGE somewhere in Wisconsin while headed to my friend Gus’ wedding). These are all casual games, and mostly only occupy me while waiting somewhere or riding public transit, although I do occasionally play while sitting at home. The state of my electronics post-App Store is below.
This past summer, I upgraded to the iPhone 3GS, which meant I had a better camera (in fact, except for the lack of a flash, on par with my old Olympus), and one capable of video. It was otherwise a 1:1 replacement of my old iPhone, which I then promptly unlocked for use in Mali.
Room for one more?
So, how does the iPad likely fit into my usage patterns? In my case, it basically needs to be able to replace the few tasks still assigned to my PBG4. I don’t need a full-power laptop because I have my desktop at home, but I do need a device that has a bigger screen for graphical remote access (Microsoft RDP through work VPN, VNC tunneled through SSH to home Mac), and sufficient input capabilities for taking notes in class. It can also take over a few of the tasks that my iPhone had carved away from my laptop, such as Online Socializing while traveling. Pretty much everything else (larger screen web browsing, iBooks) would be an ease-of-use bonus or creating a use I don’t currently have.
Given my proposed usage breakdown in the chart below, the big questions are whether I can easily get a secure remote desktop connection to both my work and home computers, and how easy it is to take notes in class, possibly using the iWork app, particularly if mathematical notation is involved.
I definitely do not see the need for two 3G-capable mobile devices for myself, so I’m glad there’s a WiFi-only version. The other advantage of not being tied to a mobile contract is that I’ll have far fewer qualms jailbreaking the device to run arbitrary 3rd-party apps, as I’ve done with my old iPhone, which might solve my remaining concerns.
At this point, I’d say I’m fairly likely to get one, although I have a hard time giving up on a perfectly functional (albeit old) laptop. It clearly fits in between my laptop and my iPhone in terms of functionality, with some overlap, and I think it might be just enough to retire the old TiBook. Another big advantage is that I won’t feel guilty about playing games while mobile as much, since I don’t have to worry about the necessity of the battery of the device-I-use-as-phone.
If, however, it is very lacking in editing capabilities (The Steve was certainly emphasizing it for content consumption for the most part), or cannot easily access my work and home desktops (possibly requiring jailbreaking), I probably won’t be interested except as a new shiny toy I can lust after until a second generation with improvements.
The verdict is still out until I feel it in my hands. What do you think?