Followup on Thoughts on iPad From a Slightly Disappointed Fanboi

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Earlier in the year, I posted Thoughts on iPad From a Slightly Disappointed Fanboi. Having had most of the year to use it, I’ve got some updated thoughts.

I still like the iPad. But my use of my iPad has declined, for reasons given below. I think it is beautifully designed. As for hardware, I can only think of a few improvements that could be made, none of them essential: reduce weight (maybe by changing from aluminum to come carbon-fiber body) and perhaps thickness; add a front camera for video chat; and increase screen resolution. The iOS is good, and continues to improve over time. The addition of multitasking and app icon folders was an improvement. There are a few snags still in the OS—limitations on handling files, etc., but these should improve over time.

As I noted in my original post, “I was hoping I might be able to use it as a laptop replacement. And I think—probably, it can’t be. The basic reason? It has no (real) keyboard.” This is still the primary limitation of this form factor. At present, the iOS is also a limitation: even if you have a keyboard connected to it, iOS does not let you create content as easily as a real computer does. I do a lot of blogging, document editing in Word, and so on; tons of cut-and-paste, formatting, PowerPoint presentations, things like this. You just can’t do this kind of heavy processing on the iPad. I expect iOS to improve over time so that you’ll be able to do these things more and more easily—so long as a keyboard is attached. When that happens, then even for people who do a lot of editing, blogging, and document manipulation like me, the iPad may be able to start to replace a laptop/notebook. But given the current state of iOS and the iPad’s A4 processor—which is great for current iOS but limited in power on purpose, for battery life and robustness—I don’t see the iPad being able to handle these tasks well for at least a few years.

I have some friends for whom the iPad has almost replaced their laptops/notebooks. One of them uses it almost exclusively in his business. He has it linked in with his company’s computer systems, and he can check status reports, emails, etc., all with his iPad. It’s great for him. For a specialized use like this that does not require a lot of document editing, I can see this replacing a laptop. Another is a lawyer who takes it on business trips and vacations instead of a laptop—he uses it to surf, watch media, check emails, and display/read documents. He never likes to do a lot of heavy document editing on the road, so it does not bug him not to have a laptop. For people who are light computer users—say, my parents—I could see the iPad being their only or main computer too. If you are one of these types of users, where the iPad can replace or mostly replace a laptop, this is great because it’s robust, easy to use, light, small, and has great battery life.

But, for me, it can’t. I need a laptop/notebook too often. And my iPad usage has declined, too. One reason for this is that I got an iPhone 4, whose high resolution and A4 processor make it able to do almost everything the iPad can (the iPhone’s processor even has more RAM than the iPad’s does). And it’s already connected by 3G all the time. The main things the iPhone can’t do as well as the iPad are cases where the iPad’s larger size is an advantage: mainly games, books, and video. But I don’t play games much (though sometimes I do play the board game recreations like Scrabble with family on vacations). And in a pinch, you can read books or watch movies on the iPhone, though the iPad is much better for this—and its battery life is much longer too. The other reason my iPad use has declined is that I purchased the new 11″ MacBook Air. This has become my favorite computer ever. Just over 2 lbs, it’s almost the same weight and size as the iPad, just a bit wider because it’s widescreen format unlike iPad.; so it’s about as portable as the iPad and much more useful for my typical use case. I had been using the iPad a lot on short trips—taking it with me to lunch, etc. If I were a lighter user, and mainly checked email and surfed and consumed media, that would be fine; but as I said, I do a lot of document editing, writing, etc., so I would often be frustrated when I had the iPad. Say, at lunch, I wanted to edit a blogpost, reply at length to an email, and so on—I found myself having to put off tasks until I was at a real computer. Now, where I used to bring the iPad, I will bring the Air, and use my iPhone to tether it. The Air is sufficiently powered for my typical uses, has a full size keyboard, and great battery life. It’s an amazing machine.

I also still have my 15″ MacBook Pro, which is my “main” machine. I use it around the house. But when I travel, either around the city or longer distance travel, I usually take the Air. (I use a wonderful service called SugarSync to synchronize files and folders across the Air, the Pro, and an iMac; Xmarks to synchronize bookmarks across Chrome, Safari, and FireFox on all 3 machines; and Carbonite.com for online backup). On trips out of town, I tend to bring my iPad and the Air. On planes, say, unless I want to edit documents, which is rare for me, I’ll use the iPad for movies or books.

So, bottom line: I look at the iPad as a book reader plus. And I love reading e-books. I almost never buy a paper book any more if the e-book is available. I never buy from iBooks; always from Amazon’s kindle store, using the kindle app on iPad (and iPhone). I put free epubs (say, those from Mises.org) on iBooks. I much prefer the iPad to the actual Kindle device to reading books, as does my wife, who has one of each; her Kindle hasn’t been used in months. I prefer it because it has a built in light, and touch controls—and browser, apps, movies, etc. So I view the iPad as a book reader with great extras like movies, browsing, email, apps (like NetFlix), and games. For some, it can replace or almost replace a notebook computer; for others, it augments it.

As for the competition—as with iPods, I don’t see other devices been able to compete for some time with the iPad. Now, granted, in the past three or so years, since I switched to Macs, I’ve become something of an Apple fanboi, but as I said, the hardware is fine and doesn’t need much change, so at most a competitor can match the hardware aspects of the iPad. And for software: more powerful software can be put on a tablet, but that will reduce battery life and add complexity; and it’s hard to imagine any competing tablet OS surpassing the elegance and ease of use of the iPad’s iOS. But—time will tell.

4:45 am on December 10, 2010
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