iPad First Reactions


Author’s Note

This post was originally drafted in April 2010, after I got the first generation iPad. For some reason I never posted it and it’s been sitting in my draft for 14 years. With the May 2024 iPad event I thought it would be fun to dig it out.

Looks like I never linked to some of the other reviews I mention; many of them have probably fallen offline in the intervening years.

How many of these use cases still apply?


I have had an iPad in my possession for almost two months. Due to Easter’s busy schedule, I didn’t even open it until that Sunday afternoon, the day after I picked it up at the Boylston Apple Store. I sit here now, typing away in the newly iPad-optimized WordPress app, as the Red Line train I’m on pulls out of Alewife. (Although the more I edit this slowly over several weeks, interleaved with work and schoolwork, that is decreasingly true.)

Since there are a metric boatload of reviews of various specific features (or lack thereof), as well as reviews of the wide variety of apps already released for iPad, I’m going to focus on the way I’ve been using it, in the context of my earlier post on how I would plan to use it that I wrote right after The Steve’s announcement.

Below the cut you’ll find unboxing videos, and some of my early reactions from that Sunday; screenshots of my current icon layout and how some of my favorite new apps look; my experiences with using the iPad for taking notes in class, remote access to both my home and work computers, content consumption and creation, and portable gaming; and finally my thoughts on how the recent iPhone OS 4 announcement will further extend the capabilities of this magical and revolutionary little device.


I somehow managed to resist the allure of my 16GB Wifi iPad for an entire day. Unusual for an early adopter, I know. Since then, I have used my iPad for a wide variety of tasks, including:

  • Remote access to work, home, and school servers
  • Taking notes in class
  • Online socializing while on the road
  • Playing games while on the road or lounging at home
  • Consuming media (news, books, video, comics, etc.) while lounging
  • Creating content

Most of these I discussed as possibilities in my initial post immediately after Apple’s announcement of the iPad; however, the lounging functionality is not something I initially expected to focus on.

Note Taking

The included Notes app is a natural extension of the app as it is implemented on the iPhone, and your notes automatically sync across both devices if they’ve been linked to the same computer. The biggest downside of Notes is that there’s effectively no formatting; for taking notes in class, I really need a way to do simple outlines.

It’s easiest to type with the onscreen keyboard in landscape mode, of course; I find I can type pretty quickly, but not really touch type yet. My most common mistakes seem to be accidentally toggling one of the shift or number/symbol keys, and finding certain punctuation in odd spots (especially when in custom entry modes such as e-mail address fields or URLs). The more I use it, the more this problem is fading. As with the iPhone, my number one issue with the software keyboard is that as I get used to it, I actually type too fast for it; that is, it has a minimum expected delay between keypresses, so presses that occur too quickly in succession are ignored.

I don’t think I could do any serious programming, either in a local window or via some kind of remote access, without the ability to define a custom keyboard in which punctuation is buried two modifiers deep. The other alternative of the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard works here mostly, but is an extra thing to carry (and, unless I take the batteries out, it likes to turn on inside my bag and start whispering sweet nothings to my iPad, wasting both of their batteries).

As I type this now on the T, I find that having the iPad on my lap does not lend itself well to a good wrist angle, especially for my left hand. I may have to adjust this a bit; I think the main issue is that the keyboard is just compact enough to force my arms to angle in at a weird angle. Relatedly, angle relative to ceiling lights, particularly overhead fluorescents is very important, lest you end up with an unreadable bar of glare across the screen.

As an aside, the WordPress app seems to have somehow disabled, or failed to implement, the standard tap-and-hold selection interface. Double-tapping selects words, and gives the selection handles, but you don’t get the Copy option or (new to iPhone OS 3.2) the spelling Replace… option. Similarly you can’t bring up the Paste prompt when moving the insertion point. This is apparently a set of features that it’s up to the app developers to implement properly.

Remote Access

I went with two different remote access solutions: iSSH for opening shells to various *nix servers, as well as tunneled VNC to my home server, and WinAdmin for connecting to my work development desktop.

Both of these apps need some work in the user interface department, although it’s a task that I do not particularly envy; they have to map from one paradigm (touch) to two very different paradigms (keyboard and mouse, respectively). They’re both under active development, and at least for viewing they work great. Unfortunately for interaction there are basic functions, like scrolling or modifier keys, that require bizarre touch combinations.

I think both would benefit from custom keyboard implementations, or perhaps better interaction with Bluetooth keyboards; for example, the control key is not passed through to the shell, so you have to use the ctrl lock button in the UI for even the most basic control characters. I think if I spend more time setting up common things in the gesture menu that will help.

Also, both apps suffer when dealing with how the software keyboard obscures the viewable area. WinAdmin changes the resolution of the desktop, which means everything fits in the current view, but when I get back to my work desktop my windows and task bar are all sorts of messed up. VNC maintains the resolution and lets you pan around, but that means not everything you need to look at will be in the viewable area and the same time (and the single touch gesture is “used” on panning). I would strongly suggest to both apps’ teams that they work on mapping more of the multitouch gestural language to mouse and keyboard events.


I obtained a couple of games before even owning the iPad (ignoring those that I already owned for iPhone that have since been updated to Universal apps), grabbing Harbor Master HD for free (since I had enjoyed Harbor Master for iPhone) and Civ Revolution (since I’ve been a Civ addict since the first game for Mac System 7).

I wouldn’t say I’ve seen a game yet that does anything particularly amazing with the iPad hardware; for the most part they just combine the touch interface with the larger screen size to do things that are evolutionary, not revolutionary, when compared to the iPhone.

I’ve fiddled a bit with GodFinger, which is one of those obnoxious limited-turns games (unless you want to pay for bonus turns). Beyond tossing my sims around my planetoid, I expect to give up on it shortly. Zen Bound 2 is a gorgeous puzzle game that is perfect with the touch interface; it’s just a very tactile game concept to begin with. I understand it was previously available for iPhone but I never bothered to pick it up.

I’m really enjoying Reinier Knizia’s Money (for both iPad and iPhone). I think I’ve played the physical version but once. Unfortunately, other than Catan for iPhone, it’s the only German strategy game I’ve found that’s available for iPad. In terms of gaming, this is my biggest market interest, to see my favorite board games ported to the platform. The iPad form factor seems like it would be well-suited to board and card layouts, assuming good UI design. I’m hopeful that Small World starts a trend.


One thing I did not initially plan to do was load my full photo library onto the iPad. That has already turned out to be a good decision, as I was able to give a quick overview of my trip to Mali in a form factor that’s much more shareable than passing around my iPhone.

At home, on my wifi, I find my iPad is becoming my preferred method for socializing while watching TV/movies on my home theater setup. Even though I’m driving everything through my computer, using it on my lap or at my side means I don’t have to tab out to chat, update Twitter, or slake my thirst for episode-relevant IMDb trivia.

Several tech commentators have pointed out that this type of usage may turn out to be the primary use for the iPad… A limited secondary computer left lying around the living room for basic content consumption and socialization that doesn’t require the heavy lifting (or heavier weight) of a laptop, let alone being tethered to the home desktop, probably in another room.


I did not initially expect the iPad to be particularly capable as a content creation platform, given it’s relatively limited interface and processing power, with the exception of doing remote access as described above. Despite my complete lack of artistic talent, I’ve fiddled around a bit with Adobe Ideas. While I doubt I would use it purely creatively (or even, as in the example below, attempting to draw from reality), I can definitely picture myself using it as a portable whiteboard to sketch out quick diagrams.

There are already a number of videos floating around out there of how various apps enable skilled artists to create in new and interesting ways; possibly the most famous is this viral video of the “first iPad DJ”.

Battery Life

Hands down this is where the iPad wins in a feature by feature comparison (with the exception I believe of the latest Kindle, but that as a device tries to do much less with the juice it has). Admittedly my points of comparison are the used reconditioned battery in my ancient PowerBook G4 (which the iPad is functionally replacing), and the batteries in both my previous iPhone and current iPhone 3GS.

In standby mode, with the screen off, it uses barely a trickle. I’ve woken it up after being unplugged for over 24 hours and it was still at 100%. I suspect that one major advantage the WiFi model has here over the 3G one is that there is no network keepalive traffic, since it just rejoins 802.11 networks on wake; relatedly, it forces you to get no push notifications, which I understand to be a moderate drain on the iPhone even when one is on standby. It will be interesting to see how much iPhone OS 4 changes this, by allowing for more background processing opportunities with the screen off, and allowing for “local notifications”, which are effectively the equivalent of calendar reminders from particular apps.

A few weeks ago I unplugged it Sunday morning after charging to full. It finally hit 15% Wednesday night after being used to take notes in class twice, as well as writing this post and doodling on the T, plus surfing from my couch and downloading and trying out a couple of 3D games. I think with fewer games, that is, only focusing on productivity tasks, you could get close to a week of battery at my occasional usage level (where I’m generally wedded to my desktop).

As a side effect, I am getting better battery life out of my iPhone. This is because when there’s wifi and seating, I’m more likely to do web and social media tasks on the iPad. Even just cruising on the T as I am now, I’d rather play my various games on the iPad than on my iPhone, although as not all of them have been ported to the larger screen format, that’s not always the case. The main battery drain on my phone these days is actually my Bluetooth headphones, which while nicer and more flexible than the standard iPhone earbuds makes listening to music on the go a usage that needs to be planned in context with how long I expect to be away from power and time to charge. I may move some music files over to the iPad just to alleviate this, although I certainly do not have room for my full collection.

Overall, I’d say the battery at least meets Apple’s claimed performance, and I have heard the same in other online reviews, including from people who have done much more subjective testing.

Everyone Else

I’ll leave you with a list of other iPad reviews that are floating around out there. The Ars Technica one is, unsurprisingly, the most extensive. A number of these reviews also get into much more technical detail, although I would argue overall that as is typical with Apple products the iPad doesn’t win eater by feature but rather in overall experience, and in a manner highly dependent on your use cases.