Is the iPad for me?

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.

Usage

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.

  • Programming
  • Gaming
  • 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.

Chart breakdown of my personal electronics from 2001 to 2005, during college.

Chart breakdown of my personal electronics from 2001 to 2005, during 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.)

Chart breakdown of my personal electronics from 2005 to 2007, as a young professional without an iPhone

Chart breakdown of my personal electronics from 2005 to 2007, as a young professional without an iPhone

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.

Chart breakdown of my personal electronics from 2008 to present, covering two iPhone generations

Chart breakdown of my personal electronics from 2008 to present, covering two iPhone generations

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.

Chart breakdown of a possible fit for the iPad in my usage

Chart breakdown of a possible fit for the iPad in my usage

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.

Conclusion

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?

Posted in Computers, Opinion Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,
4 comments on “Is the iPad for me?
  1. BDan says:

    I’m in a pretty similar situation: desktop as primary machine, aging laptop for working remotely (not quite as old as yours, but at 6 years it’s still up there), except I don’t have an iPhone. And the big question for me is whether I can work effectively on it. The lack of multitasking may be a killer here: I need to be able to switch back and forth between an SSH session and a browser, and it would be nice to be able to listen to music while I do it, too. It’s possible that it will still work: Apple might change its mind about multi-tasking (as they did with local apps for the iPhone), or jailbreaking might permit it, or there might be some other workaround, like a useful suspend/resume feature for applications, or a remote desktop app that would just let me do everything on my home machine. I’m not exactly confident that any of these things will happen, though. As you noted, it seems primarily intended for content consumption, though the iWork apps are a good sign, at least. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what it’s like.

  2. Nicolas Ward says:

    Multitasking has been widely rumored as on the plate for iPhone OS 4, maybe not full multitasking but wider than “you can background the phone app while on a call”. I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t ready (as I said, I expected 4.0 announcements here), and the iPad will see those updates when they come.

  3. Andrew says:

    I’m very hopeful about backgrounding in the near future. It was widely rumored (from sources I trust) that Apple has been looking into this, and was considering it for the iPhone 3GS (the 2G and 3G not having enough RAM to make it worthwhile). The idea, as I recall, was that you could mark one or two apps as having special privileges of running in the background. Obviously this didn’t make the cut, but I’m confident that Apple will have found an Apple Way of doing this by the time they release 4.0.

    Additionally, there’s apparently hooks in the 3.2 iPad SDK indicating that videoconferencing was certainly planned at some point. Of interest for people looking for multitasking, videoconferencing could be either fullscreen or windowed. Take that with grains of salt to taste, but my gut feeling here is a) as with the iPhone, this thing is going to expand a LOT via OS updates, and b) Apple has plenty of great ideas in the pipeline for this particular device, as well as for future iterations. My guess is that multitasking comes to the iPad at WWDC this year, along with possible limited multitasking for the 3GS and certainly some sort of multitasking for whatever new iteration of the iPhone comes out.

    Thus ends my claim chowder.

  4. Matt Stevens says:

    I know I will want one

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  1. [...] years, and even though I never got around to reviewing it, my uses have definitely differed from my predictions. I even named mine “PADD” (partially in keeping with my theme of naming Macs after Star [...]

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Nicolas Ward

Software engineer in Natural Language Processing research by day; gamer, reader, and aspiring UltraNurd by night. Husband to Andrle
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