Update: I’ve purchased an HP Touchpad for $99. Why? It’s affordable for most of what we want a tablet for.
Update: We’ve added more specifics about why the iPad didn’t meet our needs, as requested.
Update: And of course now, the iPad2 is out, which wasn’t available when I wrote this article.
“So, you’re an early adopter.”
I heard this far too many times when people found out my wife and I bought an iPad. A partial inference being we were willing to accept problems as a trade-off for having something cool.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Reading the posts of folks who came out against the iPad and then changed their minds I seemed to learn that the iPad was such a natural computing device, that it became a more effective device. When it’s something you always naturally have nearby and find easy to use, you’ll get more out of it.
That was the message that was music to my ears:
You’ll get more out of it because it will fit with your life better.
“You’ll be more effective with an iPad because you’ll WANT to use it”
All those little problems I read about with the iPad I balanced against its user friendliness leading to it being a more effective computer device. But what I found was there were many more “little” issues with the iPad. Like breaking form fields, those places where you type things into websites. And websites that didn’t work on the iPad? I wasn’t too worried because I had heard they all had apps that would do the same thing. Except when the apps didn’t quite work yet.
So I discovered I was experiencing “early adopter burn.” I had a cool device that wouldn’t do things I needed to do. I like to reserve a special word for things that have needed features that fail: broken. We used our iPad for nearly a month, hours every day.
And this is besides all the things that I already knew I would be giving up with an iPad. Like common desktop applications that we use every day.
Yes, we used it all the time
But it didn’t matter: there were too many things that we couldn’t do at all, or were much more difficult to do. Using an iPad wasn’t supposed to make things harder, it was supposed make things easier.
Of course, it was also supposed to bring a new kind of computing happiness into our lives. It did…a little. I would say it brought about $100 worth of new, cool computing happiness into our lives. But it cost too many times that.
Some specific iPad issues
The short version is we would try to use a website for some common purpose and find we couldn’t. Non-working form fields, flash and features walled off from mobile devices kept cropping up. So we would check apps, compare options in different browsers, look for alternative sites, try to access underlying code or URLs, consider alternative ways of doing things, look for browser tricks (like bookmarklets) etc.
We knew going in we would have to stick to our desktop computer for some things, but needing to use the iPad next to the desktop wasn’t what we were expecting.
Typing I actually didn’t expect to be a problem, but had an unexpected issue: it was hard to get my arms close together enough for reasonable touch typing. I couldn’t do it lying down, for example. I had to sit, put the iPad further out on my knees to make for my arms to come together in front of my body. When it was convenient to do that, touch-typing was fine. Much slower of course, but fast enough for most things.
Using word processing documents wasn’t a major desire, and we never reached the point of trying it too much. But for another user the bad iPad document experience was a deal breaker.
Not great for browsing the web
Many well-known sites have apps as alternatives to their websites. We found too often that neither the site on the iPad nor the app was as good as the site on a regular computer (though often the app had extra features that were useful).
An example: The free Netflix app had worked, but then they updated it, and it ceased to work properly. For weeks. And it still isn’t fixed. Tons of reviews in the app store bemoaning that the update broke what was working well. So no way to stream netflix. (Also, in too many cases to get the features of a site we liked, the only option was a paid app.)
For general browsing, did try and mostly liked Atomic Lite as an alternative to Safari, though it didn’t save where you were when closing and had some other deficiencies relative to Safari. But the paid version seemed to have more of what we wanted. And didn’t have the dozens of vulnerabilities that Safari has and won’t be fixed until the iPad gets iOS4.
In general, though we did buy a bunch of apps, we started making a list of possible apps we would want to buy just to give us the web browsing features we already had on our desktop computer rather than just rushing to buy.
Flash is in a LOT of places
Flash was in a lot more small places than we expected. Of course, tons of web “tools” (like for uploading photos) use flash. A more troubling example: sites that make audio files available often use flash players. This is the tip of the iceberg of a more serious problem: flash has often been a way to make things MORE consistent for website visitors, not less.
With audio files, if you simply link to an .mp3 file, many site visitors will have problems because of media player and browser settings. YouTube’s success was built initially built around flash—they were a place you could go where videos just worked. That’s why news sites mostly emulated YouTube in putting their videos in flash. Sites with either lots of money, time, employees or technical savvy are, over time, implementing newer solutions, but most websites have little of what it takes to ditch flash for solutions that work as well.
Not that much extra “cool”
Some cool stuff we hoped to get via the iPad didn’t work out as planned. In each case, our expectations were always at least some of the problem:
- Using it in direct sunlight—too dim. We heard about this but didn’t realize it would be as bad as it was.
- Using it in the dark it’s too bright. The dim setting isn’t as dim as the setting on our netbook, and so is more annoying in bed when one person is trying to sleep. So we didn’t get as much out of the book/reading apps as we would have liked.
- The drawing programs we tried (some paid) weren’t as much fun as either using a pad of paper, or drawing in photoshop with a tablet.
- We hoped to use the Square app for accepting payments, but Square has had repeated delays, and is adding requirements. There isn’t any way we can plan to make use of it until after they resolve all their issues.
- It was hard to track cellular usage. Lots of clicks and typing each time just for a not-too-helpful report. Wanted to know better which uses took how much bandwidth and more easily stay on top of usage. Our usage was as expected too close to the border between AT&T’s different kinds of plans.
Social media sharing was a challenge
We work in social media (our @TweetSmarter account has about 200,000 followers) and so we need to:
- Find, and then extract summaries and URLs from sites with information.
- Save and sort text and URLs.
- Publish information found on social media sites.
Even with two of us working together, one on a regular computer and one on the iPad, the number of workarounds needed just to do basic things was very difficult. And virtually every potential improvement meant trying yet another paid app and hoping for the best. We knew going in this would be a challenge, it was just a much bigger challenge than expected. There wasn’t even a decent Facebook app.
We knew that transferring files would be a bit of hassle, but we accepted this going in.
Would buying apps and waiting for fixes have been enough?
I would guess that with a couple hundred dollars worth of extra apps, that by this Fall the iPad could have reached the point where we would have been on the fence about using it or keeping it. As one commenter pointed out, the iPad works best as an addition to a netbook/laptop, not as a replacement. Of course, Steve Jobs said “Netbooks aren’t really better at anything” and that the iPad was a better way of browsing the web. I have come to disagree on both points.
Part of the reason we left the iPad is that we found, unexpectedly, that more powerful netbooks are reaching a crossover point in terms of power for price. Some are giving sub-notebooks a run for their money:
Why the iPad DOES have competition:
I discovered that the netbook revolution had led to a new kind of cross-category device: I’ll call it a micro-laptop. (You could also say it’s a sub-notebook running on an Atom processor, but then your head would explode .)
It’s what for many years I considered a kind of “holy grail” device: small, lightweight, but as powerful as a desktop computer with a high resolution screen, powerful multi-media capabilities, and advanced wireless capability built-in. A computer for everything you need to do, plus entertainment, plus portability.
I had seen devices like this. They cost about triple what a comparable desktop would. But suddenly, I discovered something that blew me away:
Super micro laptops are now CHEAP
We purchased a computer for under $500 that’s as powerful as some that recently cost OVER $1,000: a dual-core ASUS Eee PC 1201PN 12.1-Inch WXGA Netbook. It has an nVidia ION graphics subsystem that makes it a multi-media powerhouse, and despite having the larger (for a netbook) 12.1-inch screen is still as small as some netbooks with 10-inch screens. It comes with 2GB DDR2 SDRAM, and 250GB HDD and Windows 7 Home Premium. Oh, and did I mention the dual-core processor?
I also highly recommend the site that turned me on to it: Intellireview.com. It shows products that a high rating AND a high number of reviews, and easily uncovers minor issues with great products. For example, I suggest you buy an extra power adapter with the EeePC 1201PN, as some commenters have noted they sometimes last less than a year. (I like always having an extra anyway with a laptop.)
For us, this was a choice that does MORE than the iPad, is just as “cool” (it’s amazingly portable, has a multi-touch pinch-and-zoom touchpad, has fantastic multimedia capability—we plug a DVD player into it, etc.), and costs less.
No, this isn’t for everyone. But we used our iPad for nearly a month—hours every day—so we we know what we’re losing. And what we’re gaining.