In retrospect, it is now obvious that Apple didn’t name the latest iPad the iPad 3 because they were already working on an 8-inch iPad. They couldn’t come out with the iPad 3 and then name its diminutive sibling the iPad 4. It also would not do to bring an iPad 3 Mini to market a few months before introducing the new 10-inch iPad 4.
“It’s a content creation device.”
Leo Laporte talking about the new iPad.
It’s amazing to me that only now after Apple releases iPhoto for iOS do people see the iPad as a content creation device. It’s as if fantastic creation apps such as Bamboo Paper, Keynote, Brushes, OmniGraffle, and Korg’s iElectribe haven’t been on the iPad until now. In fact, Apple released Pages, Numbers, and Keynote alongside the original iPad and are the sort of apps people generally think of when they talk about productivity apps.
The new iPad and iPhoto have apparently killed the perception by some people that the iPad is a content consumption device. People that have in the past appeared willfully ignorant of what makes the iPad so popular for so many different uses and the pundits and analysts that come up with convoluted terms like “media tablet” to discuss the iPad and clones of it. Welcome to the future.
Tapbots released Tweetbot for the iPad today. It’s a great release of their existing Tweetbot app reimagined for the larger iPad screen. It has the same rich design but makes use of the additional space to fit more tweets on the screen at once and to provide clarifying elements to the user interface. As I type this, Tweetbot for iPad is currently the second app on iTunes’ Top Paid Apps chart. My only complaint is that it isn’t a universal app. You’ll need to buy (and manage) it separately, but it’s well worth it if you like using Twitter on your iPad.
Its immediate popularity was probably assisted by the 2.0 release of Tweetbot for iPhone earlier the same day. Tweetbot 2.0 is better looking, faster, and even easier to use. The iPad version debuts with the same refinements.
Note: This article was originally written on March 31, 2010 before the original iPad was released. It has since been updated with new information following the announcement of iOS 5 and iCloud.
Is it possible for someone to use an iPad as their only computer? The short answer is “yes.” The longer answer is that all of the information we have about the iPad right now is still preliminary. Based on my current analysis I cannot see any reason that someone couldn’t use an iPad as their only computer.
But would you want to? Like any computer, it depends on what you’re going to do with it. Are you the type of person that mainly checks email and browses the web? The iPad is probably the best computer for you – I can’t imagine a better browsing experience on any other computer that is currently available. And, of course, you can download music, TV shows, movies, books, apps, and more directly from the iPad.
Likewise, people that are roadwarriors would also be well suited with the iPad. They get great browsing and email plus a very nice way to manage their contacts and what looks like the best user experience ever for keeping a calendar on a PC. Roadwarriors will also benefit from great prices on 3G cellular data service for the iPad and a computer that is always connected.
Of course there are people that can’t use an iPad as their only computer – for now. Some tasks people use their computers for are currently too complex for the iPad. For instance, graphic designers that use applications like Photoshop need to also have a Mac. Software developers need to stick with a PC that runs their developer tools. People with large music or photo libraries need more storage than the iPad currently allows. And people that edit photos or videos on their computer can’t make the switch. But, a lot of people don’t use their computers for any of that. And for those people, the iPad may be the perfect computer.
You’re probably thinking to yourself “why would anyone want to use an iPad as their only PC?” Because it’s better for them. It’s easier to use. They’re directly manipulating the interfaces instead of through two layers of abstraction – the mouse and the pointer. The screen is filled with the activity they want to focus on. They don’t need to bother with where to store files or how to install or remove applications. As easy as that is on a Mac, it’s easier on the iPhone and iPad. And they absolutely do not need to worry about any sort of system maintenance for the iPad like they do with their PC regardless of whether it is a Mac or runs Windows.
That said, there are a few questions that I have about the iPad when it comes to trying to use it as your only computer. I’m going to leave them in this article as open questions about the iPad and as I gather the answers I will write them up here.
Can it print?
Yes. Apple introduced AirPrint as part of the iOS 4 update.
No. According to Andy Ihnatko during his appearance on a special edition of MacBreak Weekly, the iPad does not support printing at a system level. So, you cannot print directly from Pages or any of the iWork apps. He did mention that there are apps for the iPhone that will allow you to print wirelessly and he expects to see updated versions of those for the iPad. I’m surprised that it can’t. Hopefully this is something that Apple is working on for iPhone OS 4.0. The new printing features that Apple added to the latest version of Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, seem like they were created for the iPhone OS and the iPad. Snow Leopard will download and install printer drivers as needed. So, you can install Snow Leopard on your Mac without any printer drivers. The first time you try to print, the Mac will look for nearby printers and will download & install the appropriate drivers for you. It’s a seamless process and would work very well on the iPad.
Can it update its own OS without being connected to another computer?
When iOS 5 comes out in the autumn, it will be able to download iOS updates directlywithout connecting to another computer.
No. See the answer to the next question.
Is there a way to backup the iPad other than syncing with iTunes? Will a Time Capsule work?
Yes, iOS 5 will support backup to iCloud for free up to the first 5 Gigabytes. Additional capacity will be available for a currently unannounced fee.
No. Andy Ihnatko comments in his article Sure, the iPad is cool – but is it a real computer? on the Chicago Sun-Times that syncing with iTunes is “the only way to backup the device and the only way to apply a system update.”
How well does the photos app work at cataloging photos imported directly into the iPad from a camera or SD card using the Camera Connection Kit? Can you touch-up your photos?
The iPad and the Photos app do a good job of importing directly from a camera or SD card. And retouching photos is something that can be easily added by a third party app since they all have access to the photo library.
Plus, iOS 5 will build some basic photo editing tools into the Photos app and will enable organizing photos into albums directly on the iPad.
Can you initially setup an iPad based with content and settings from your previous computer as you can with a Mac?
You’ll be able to do this from an iCloud backup once iOS 5 arrives.
At this point the only way you can do this is by using iTunes on your previous computer to sync everything to the iPad.
Can it sync with an iPhone or iPod?
The release of iOS 5 and iCloud will keep iPads and iPhones in sync without a computer as an intermediary.
No. Only information that syncs over the air using MobileMe would sync between an iPad and an iPhone or iPod touch.
As you can see, Apple has addressed everyone of the issues I identified when the iPad first came out with features added in iOS 4 and to be added soon in iOS 5. The answer this autumn to the question “Can I use an iPad as my only computer?” will be a resounding “Yes!”
I truly don’t understand where it comes from, but a lot of people have in their heads that the iPad is only for consuming media. In TWiT 259, Leo Laporte says that the iPad is “regressive” because “it is for consuming, not for creating.” Mike Melanson wrote a piece for ReadWriteWeb called iPad SchmiPad in which he says that the iPad is for “couch sitters” and it isn’t useful for the “content creator type of user.” And Paul Thurrott says that “when you use an iPad, you’re typically not contributing to anything … you’re simply consuming” in his Understanding iPad piece (via John Gruber). Other people that have made similar statements include Dave Winer and Jeff Jarvis. It’s almost as if they were handed talking points.
This is plainly not the case. While the iPad is fantastic at consuming media, it’s also uniquely suited to foster creation in ways that a standard PC isn’t. Being able to sense the touch of every finger on both of someone’s hands lends itself to many forms of art. The additional user interface elements offered on an iPad (absent from smaller iOS devices) give it even more power for creative endeavors. The iPad is a wonderful device for all kinds of creation and this will only become more obvious in the coming months and years.
Brushes is an amazing painting app for the iPad. Yes, it was developed for the iPhone first and some amazing work has originated there. Jorge Colombo is an artist that has created covers for The New Yorker on the iPhone!
But, the iPad can take this even further. The larger canvas of the iPad is an obvious benefit. Not so obvious is how much more fluidly someone can work with the pop-overs that are available on the iPad. It sure beats switching the entire screen between the canvas and tools as Brushes has to do on the iPhone. Another great thing about the iPad version is that you can easily hold the iPad in different positions as you paint. Holding the iPad “sideways” is just as natural as holding it the other way — and with Brushes you can turn the canvas but the tools rotate to always face the artist.
Here is some great art people have done with Brushes on the iPad.
- Van Helsing by Dave Brasgella of The Iconfactory
- Toy Story 3 iPad finger painting by Kyle Lambert
- A modern take on M.C. Escher by Joseandrés Guijarro Ponce
I’ve always wanted a drum machine. But I could never justify paying several hundred dollars for one since I’m not a musician and I’d just be toying with it. Shortly after getting the iPad, I saw the guys from Area 5 record a demo of them making some beats on theirs with iElectribe. It was only $10 when I bought it, so it was a no brainer. It’s still a great deal at $20.
This app does almost everything I could do with a large hardware drum machine for a fraction of the price. And I don’t need to worry about finding space for it in the house! The large screen of the iPad gives enough space for all of the knobs and buttons you’d find on the hardware equivalent. And multi-touch means that you can twiddle multiple knobs at once to alter the sound. I’d like to point out that this is something you simply couldn’t do on a computer with a mouse and a keyboard.
Watch these videos showing iElectibe in action. They’re pretty amazing.
- Robert Scoble interviews Rana Sobhany: iPad DJ (Rana also has a “Solace” music video shot on an iPhone for music composed on an iPad)
- The demonstration by Area 5
- Another demo by Denktribe
I have to mention Pages for two reasons. First, it along with Numbers and Keynote are what first signaled to me that the iPad is intended for more than just media consumption. I watched the event where Steve Jobs announced the iPad and I thought it was pretty cool. But the iPad had to be “The Future” before I was going to spend anything over a few hundred on it. And to me “The Future” meant it had to be a new way to do many of the tasks people rely on personal computers for. Pages, Numbers, and Keynote led the way and other fantastic productivity apps have followed (e.g. OmniGraffle, Things, Adobe Ideas).
The other reason I had to include Pages is because this article was written with it on my iPad.
The best way for me to describe Bebot is to say that it transforms the iPad into a musical instrument. The entire screen becomes a surface that responds to your touch with sound. Each finger on the screen will play a different note depending on where you place it. And as far as I can tell from listening, it will play 11 different sounds from 11 different touches. This syncs up with some experimentation Matt Gemmell did with multi-touch on the iPad as well.
So, that’s how the iPad is uniquely suited to this application, but what are people doing with it? Well, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and his wife Mariqueen Maandig Reznor used Bebot on their latest album released under the band name How To Destroy Angels. You can hear Bebot played on “The Believers” and it sounds great. I may be cheating a little bit here, because Mariqueen actually played Bebot on an iPhone, but I’m sure she wishes she had the larger surface of the iPad at the time of the recording.
These are but a few creative uses for the iPad, but it only takes a glance at the iPad section of the App Store to see many other ways to create with it. And the examples above show how the iPad is uniquely suited to creative endeavors. The iPad is no less creative than a PC, it’s just different. And over time it will most likely prove itself to be better suited to creation as Apple expands on the hardware line and adds new features to iOS.
I love the iPad. It’s a great new way for people to compute. And I think that within 5 to 10 years, the majority of computers will resemble the iPad more than today’s standard desktop or notebook computer. But, there are a few things that are wrong with it.
It can’t print
I know. The iPad is supposed to be another straw on the camel’s back as far as paper is concerned. But, it still needs to print for the time being. We’re not yet that interconnected. Providing some relief for the situation, HP is coming out with a line of printers that will print documents that are e-mailed to them. That assumes you have a way to get the printer on the Internet, though.
Something that a lot of people have mentioned is how many senior citizens are drawn to the iPad. There is even an 99-year-old woman in Portland that uses the large type capabilities of the iPad to overcome difficulties reading due to glaucoma. She also uses the Pages app to write limericks. Wouldn’t it be nice if she could print out some of her work to share with peers that don’t have an iPad?
And what about students that need to turn in papers they’ve written?
The puzzling thing about this is that most of the technology already exists to enable printing from an iPad.
Can’t shuffle by album
One of the reasons that I bought my very first iPod was because it could shuffle by album. I’d investigated CD jukeboxes at the time (this was in 2001) and couldn’t find one that would select a disc and then play all the way through it before selecting another at random — something you’d think was an obvious feature for a CD jukebox. Yet, here was this new portable music player thing called an iPod that did just that.
So, why can’t the most advanced devices from Apple today do that? iTunes does it. The iPod classic and iPod nano do it. Even the iPod shuffle can do it! But not the iPod touch, iPhone, or the iPad. I really thought this feature would make a comeback on the iPad. The only reason I can fathom it’s missing from the iPhone and iPod touch is because Apple couldn’t find a way to include it on a small touch screen that they’re happy with. But that’s no excuse on the iPad!
I can’t imagine that Steve Jobs doesn’t listen to albums anymore.
This is where I’d like to see Apple drop one of the iPad’s shuffle “features.” The icons on the home screen of the iPad are in a four by five grid. When you hold the iPad in portrait orientation there are four icons across and five down. In landscape, they are arranged to be five across and four down. The app in the top left is always in the top left, but the app that is top right in portrait becomes the first on the second row in landscape. This obviously leads to spatial confusion when trying to find the app you want to use.
What Apple should do is reorient the icons instead of rearranging the grid. The icons should just rotate 90 degrees to the left or to the right depending on which way the iPad is turned. The top left icon in portrait mode would change to be the bottom left icon in landscape mode, but it would retain it’s spatial location on the screen of the iPad. The end result would be much less disorienting because every icon stays in its right place no matter which way you hold the iPad. Gravity would appear to weigh the icon down by it’s label so that the icons and text would always be upright.
Get on it, Apple.
Has to sync with iTunes before it’ll do anything
It’s just disappointing to un-box your new iPad, turn it on, and find out that you need to connect it to iTunes before the iPad can do anything. And this really hampers someone’s ability to use an iPad as a stand-alone device or as their only computer.
Imagine buying an iPad from Best Buy while you’re on your way to your summer vacation destination. If you don’t know about this requirement and didn’t bring a computer with you, you’d be out of luck. I can’t think of a single reason why this is Apple’s out of the box experience with the iPad.
Separate iPod and iTunes apps
The iPod app on the iPad looks a lot like iTunes for the Mac, doesn’t it? So, why is there still a separate iTunes app? If you tap on the Get More Episodes button for one of your podcasts, the iPod app closes and the iTunes app opens. It’s a bit jarring.
This seems especially odd when you look at how nicely the iBooks app handles it. The store is integrated into the iBooks app. Tapping on a button transforms the app between the store and your library. It’s almost like how the newer versions of iTunes on the computer treat the iTunes Store. The Store can take over the entire window except for the playback controls along the top.
Was this a rush job or a conscious design decision?
Auto-brightness isn’t dynamic enough
The iPad is a device that is used in many different locations. It may be used in a living room with soft lighting, in a car on road trips, while dining at a restaurant, outside on a patio, in an office with harsh florescent lights, and in bed at night.
The current auto-brightness feature does not work well in all of these conditions. It needs to be more dynamic. If I’m outside in bright light, I need the brightness really cranked up. If I’m in bed without any lights on, I need it to drop down to a comfortable reading brightness. Admittedly, the brightness control in the iBooks app helps with this. But isn’t this device supposed to be magical?
Apple could provide a few options for the dynamic range of auto-brightness instead of the current on-off switch. Or, the iPad could learn from how the user manually adjusts brightness in specific conditions and match that.
Dealing with files is hard
The good news is that the version of iOS on the iPad is the first version that had any support for handling files. With it, you can use files across different apps and copy them between the iPad and a computer using iTunes. That is a huge step forward for iOS and one of the key ingredients that makes the iPad more useful when it comes to being productive.
The bad news is that it’s still hard to deal with files. If you copy a file to the iPad through iTunes, any changes that you make to it aren’t synchronized back to the original file. One would think the new iDisk app would help solve some of this. But it doesn’t. If you open a file from the iDisk with another app, it is imported into the other app much like when you copy a file using iTunes. Again, you now have two different versions of the same file.
Apple needs to fix this. It needs to be easier to synchronize files on the iPad with those elsewhere.
No unmetered Internet
The iPad was announced with an unlimited data plan from AT&T for $30 a month. That was a great way for people to get on the Internet that aren’t already. But AT&T changed their smartphone data plans shortly thereafter and the iPad now falls under those. An unlimited data plan is no longer offered.
Using 3G is a great way for people that are less technically inclined to get Internet service. They don’t need to buy a modem or a Wi-Fi base station. Just get the 3G iPad and the unlimited data packages and they’re set. Now they’ll have to get the 2 GB per month package and limit the amount of videos they watch. No so great for people that want to watch videos of family members on MobileMe or YouTube. And even worse if you buy or rent movies or TV shows from iTunes, Netflix, or Hulu.
Since the iPad isn’t locked to AT&T, this is an opportunity for another carrier to replace the plan AT&T abandoned.
No front facing camera
By now you’ve probably seen Apple’s FaceTime ads for the iPhone 4. Wouldn’t it be nice to do that on an iPad? Going along with the idea that the iPad is a great computer for people that aren’t comfortable with computers, it’s also a great way for these people to stay in touch over long distances. And with the extra screen real estate on the iPad, video chats with multiple people could be supported like iChat does on the Mac — assuming the iPad’s A4 processor is up to the task.
A lot of people think this will be one of the new features in the second generation iPad. But it sure would be nice to have now to get some FaceTime with iPhone 4 owners and other iPad people.
It doesn’t have a Retina Display
When I got my iPhone 4, I didn’t use my iPad at all for a couple of weeks because the iPhone 4 display is so good. It’s like looking at an exceptionally well printed glossy magazine page. When I finally did pick up the iPad, it felt good to use it again. I really do like the application designs that are possible with the larger screen and the extra controls that Apple provides for the iPad. But, the display does look a little fuzzy in comparison to the Retina Display on the iPhone.
Again, a lot of people assume that the next version of the iPad will come with a Retina Display and I hope they’re right. But, I worry that may be pushing it. I’m not sure Apple will be able to get a display that large at that high of a resolution without raising prices significantly.
Apple has invited members of the press to an event tomorrow showcasing iPhone OS 4. One of the things I expect to hear about is system-wide support for printing. There are already a few apps that provide printing capability for the iPhone, iPod touch, and now the iPad. But, Apple hasn’t provided the a common printing capability that all apps could use.
When I was watching Steve Jobs’ announcement of the iPad, I thought it would be a neat device but wasn’t convinced that I needed one. That is, until the end of his presentation when he announced iWork for the iPad. On seeing those apps demoed, I was immediately struck with the idea that the iPad represents the future of personal computing. But I also assumed that I’d be able to print from those apps — so that I could still share with people living in the past.
It isn’t just iWork that made me think we would be able to print from our iPads. It’s also taking a look back at Snow Leopard through the lens of the iPad. The improvements to printing in that update to Mac OS X now seem as though they were driven by the need to bring printing to the iPad (iOS and Mac OS share a foundation). They solve the problem of identifying and installing the appropriate printer driver for the printer you want to use on a device that has no slot for a disc containing printer drivers. It’s a very slick and seamless process on the Mac that makes finding and setting up printers so much easier. But these improvements are an absolute requirement to print from the iPad. I have to think this was part of Apple’s long term plan for the iPad and the new user interface for printing simply didn’t make the cut for the iPad’s April 3 release — even though the foundation was already laid.
Lending further support to my speculation that we’ll see printing as part of Apple’s announcement about iPhone OS 4 tomorrow are some iPad support documents that were discovered. Those documents state that “printing directly from iPad is not currently available.” The wording is the key here and it’s Apple’s use of currently that implies that this problem is only temporary.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s announcement. If I am right about this, it is one more step towards the iPad being able to function as someone’s only computer.
Update: Wireless printing is coming in iOS 4.2 which is the first version of iOS 4 to run on the iPad. According to Apple, iOS 4.2 will be available in November 2010 for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.
I have an aunt that has never had a computer in her entire life. The only kind she has ever used were the Apple II computers in the elementary school lab before retiring from teaching. But, she’s recently started mentioning that she wants a notebook computer to write letters to her friends. I have an old iBook from 2001 that I was going to set up for her but it turned out to be dead.
Then Apple announced the iPad.
It will be just about perfect for my aunt and other people like her. I don’t think I am going out on a limb by saying that no one makes an easier to use computer than the iPhone and iPod touch. My two and a half year old daughter is able to use an iPod touch to do just about anything she wants. She plays her favorite Pixar movies (Finding Nemo is her current favorite), looks at family photos, and plays great educational games like Monkey Preschool Lunchbox. My daughter is able to accomplish all of this because with the iPhone she is directly interacting with objects on the screen. There is very little about using the iPhone OS that is abstract – unlike the Mac or Windows. This is great for people that aren’t very familiar with computers. They don’t have to learn any of the conventions associated with traditional windows, icons, and pointer user interfaces. There is no need to know when to single click, double click, or right click. Just tap. Need to make something larger? Stretch it with your fingers. Flick across a web page the same way you would a piece of paper on a smooth table top.
My aunt wanted a notebook computer so that she could move around her house with it. She didn’t want to have to sit in the same chair at the same desk to write letters. The iPad will give her all of the mobility that a notebook would. But when she isn’t using it to type on, she’ll be able to use it in positions she’s familiar with. She can read the local newspaper’s website on the kitchen table just as she would with a newspaper. She can sit in a comfortable chair in her living room and read a book. And she can look at photos of her grand-nieces and grand-nephew anywhere in the house. Even if they were taken only minutes earlier halfway across the state.
For the times that she is typing, however, Apple offers a keyboard dock. When Apple first revealed the keyboard dock I thought it was pretty lame and that I would just use a Bluetooth wireless keyboard. But, after thinking about it, the keyboard dock is perfect for people like my aunt. With it you can use the iPad at a desk just like an iMac or MacBook. And, unlike a Bluetooth keyboard, it doesn’t require batteries! The keyboard dock will serve as a nice place to store the iPad while not in use and it’ll also charge the iPad’s internal battery.
What about the Internet? If I had given her my old iBook or Power Mac, she would have had to sign up for Internet service from one of her local providers. That starts at $20 per month in her area and at that price it’s slower than AT&T 3G. She would also most likely need to get a wireless base station that would add even more to the expense. Not to mention the added complexity of setting up and managing a base station and finding a place for it and the modem that it has to connect to. Most likely, she wouldn’t have bothered and her letters would have been sent only by the postal service instead of e-mail. With the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, she’ll be able to access the Internet for $15 a month. And if she decides she doesn’t always need Internet access she can just not pay for the next month and resume service whenever she wants. Because the Internet access that AT&T will offer for the iPad is pre-paid and doesn’t require a contract. I really do think that this wireless deal with its low cost of entry and ease of use could be revolutionary.
There are details about the iPad that we don’t know about at this point. And a few of them may be show-stoppers for people that are looking to use an iPad as their only computer. People will want to be able to update to the latest and greatest system software and they’ll need to be able to backup the data on their iPad. I don’t think these two things will be an issue for my aunt, though. A great way to work around these two issues (assuming Apple won’t have their own solution by the time they release the iPad) will be for her to visit her sister, my mother, every now and then and sync the iPad with iTunes. iTunes will check to make sure the software is up-to-date and will create a backup just like it does with the iPhone.
I’m excited to see how the iPad affects the future of computing or takes us past computing. It’ll be interesting to see people who have never used computers before – older generations like my aunt and younger generations like my daughter – interact with the iPad. Watching them use it as their only real experience with a PC will be like looking at a character out of a science-fiction movie.