I had the great fortune of being in the evil empire on the 3rd of April 2010. It was a searingly hot day with no clouds. I walked across a long bridge in a rather pleasant manner. Eventually I came to a cafe where I was to meet three friends. I was soon exposed to the most majestic of scenes. The three of them had iPads. I was handed one and told to play with maps. zOMG. I had been totally wrong. This slate of goodness was a complete bag of win.
Within five minutes without any effort on the part of my friends, purely by experiencing the reality of the device I had been utterly convinced not only that I must acquire one with all haste, but that this was a clear turning point, a clear arrival of something I had completely lacked the foresight to anticipate but now seemed inevitable in retrospect. I hurried down to the shop, burst through the door and started waving liabilities of the US government, and a card capable of converting liabilities of the European Central Bank into liabilities of the US government, at the various men of industry present, hoping to entice them to surrender one of the devices from their great warehouse. I was in luck, and gushed vigorously about my own lack of prescience as the payment was handled.
On paper the iPad is crap. Its hardware is too slow, it’s a rubbish laptop, it’s a media player that doesn’t fit in ones pocket, it needs a device running a full blown operating system to sync with etc. On such a basis I dismissed the concept before encountering it in person as some sort of fools adventure, where some visionary with no grounding in reality had lead a design team down the path of constructing a solution in search of a problem. It is so rare to find such a device where the end result is so vastly greater than the sum of its parts.
In actuality the device is a far superior media consumption device than say a PSP, iPod touch or some other device with a crippled screen. One must experience it to understand. Having watched my own blu-ray rips of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children on my PSP and iPad, both encoded at recklessly high bit rates, I can say the experience on the PSP is an utter joke compared to the iPad. To be able to hold such a magnificent window into the universe in ones very hands, to be able to carry it anywhere and gaze into the viewing delights it provides, it now invokes almost a feeling of revulsion in me when I see scrawny characters stooped over the screen of a small device attempting vainly to “experience” something through a tiny keyhole.
One can read a whole library of content at leisure using the iBooks app, every page turn an immensely satisfying visual experience. My eyes have never tired using the device and I can report no real crippling issue or even annoyance. Again, compared to trying to read something on any other of those numerous small devices, one just has a whole new paradigm, a whole new exponentially superior ease of existence. Even listening to music is a more pleasant experience, one having a proper interface through which to select the desired tune.
While it is said by some that the iPad is a crap laptop, it might be more accurate to state that any laptop taken outdoors is a bloated, poorly designed iPad with numerous inconveniences and stressful annoyances, and any laptop remaining indoors is but an expensive box of compromises relative to a desktop computer with most of its advantages counting for naught in such an environment. To show a friend some pictures one need only pass the iPad in a simple motion and the friend is free to physically manipulate the device with the utmost freedom and intuitively browse through the picture collections, sharing with others various moments by merely twisting their wrist in the direction of the individual they seek to share with. Contrast this to lugging out the battleship laptop and passing it over, trying to not poke out the eye of anyone nearby with one of the edges as they clatter and wallop off various obstacles. The thunderous weight of the device requires an annoying effort for all who physically manipulate it. Browsing through the pictures will be slightly more difficult owing to the lower suitability of a trackpad and keyboard for the task. While I may be accused of gross exaggeration or outright whinging, it is only the reckless rationaliser who will try to pretend that there is no difference in the pleasantness of using these two devices for this task.
An iPad is a much neater and easy to carry device than all but the most crippled laptops. Unless the laptop is huge and horridly inconvenient, the viewing experience on an iPad for much content will be almost as good, with reading a book arguably being much superior on an iPad. It seems a strange and perhaps unintended effect, but the iPad seems to have made laptops a somewhat less attractive choice in general. For an iPad and desktop do both the tasks of a laptop in a superior manner. In fact I dare say I will never buy a laptop again.
But there is one caveat to all this: The iPad is useless for productive people. Or rather, it is useless for all those who are productive outside of “base”. The road warriors, war drivers, programmers who take off at full speed doing real work once the seat belt sign is turned off, basically men who still create when non-stationary, shall find little in the iPad. For the iPad is a device that enables the best possible mobile consumption experience. It is a magnificent window through which one can consume the works of others with the least of physical inconvenience. In this sense it is the opposite of a laptop, which is a poor mobile consumption device but an excellent mobile production device.
I find myself as one who only really produces when at home in my bunker. There are too many distractions, inconveniences, uncomforts in the outside world to set oneself in the mood for production, and since I leave my oasis relatively infrequently, even if I was of the mind to engage in productive endeavours, the opportunities to do so would not justify the tradeoffs in using devices suited to mobile production. So for me, when I do find myself travelling or otherwise in the outside world, I only wish for a device that relieves me of some of the tedium of travel, or allows me to easily share with others some content, such as emails, pictures or videos. For this the iPad is ideal and far more suitable than a laptop. Back in the bunker, a desktop then has a clear advantage over a laptop, as the laptop scores no points for allowing mobile consumption, while it makes sacrifices in price and components to fulfil the restrictive needs of full mobility. So I find myself coming to the conclusion that, at least for those who do the vast majority of their productive activities at “base”, the iPad has the curious effect of making the desktop far more relevant in 2010 than it was 2009.
Having acquired an iPad and greatly desiring to program it, while simultaneously tiring of trying to use programming languages much inferior to that of Objective-C in other endevours, I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to purchase a Mac mini. While waiting and hoping for an update of the hardware I frequented macrumors.com. I was amazed at the amount of people who had almost the exact same “story” as me, that is, “dumping my laptop for an iPad and Mac mini.” Once the device was updated I purchased it and a wireless keyboard from Japan as it was cheaper there than in Ireland, it allowed me to get a Japanese keyboard and my friend’s parents who were visiting him in Japan were kind enough to be bring it back for me. While it may sound as if I am some sort of Apple fan or enthusiast from these actions, I must say that it is only with a new found sense of productive pragmatism that I purchased these devices. The Mac mini provided the most superior means to write programs useful for both work and play in a beautiful language and environment, it provided a means to program the iPad itself, it is very power efficient and space efficient (significant concerns as I will likely be living in quite a small apartment in the future) and has a most beautiful design. OS X 10.6 is arguably moderately more pleasant to use than Windows 7 aswell.
And in the spirit of pragmatism and lack of irrational love, I can name many things I significantly dislike about my two new delightful devices. The lack of inclusion of a blu-ray drive on the Mac mini is backwards and almost embarrassing. Apple is engaging in a juvenile reality denying exercise trying to force people to buy recklessly compressed 720P pseudo-HD shite off iTunes by crippling its own computers. This is a prime example of how different divisions of a large company can cause anti-synergy. The fear of competition with its direct download iTunes model has lead Apple to gimp its own hardware. If these two sections of the company were separate businesses this destruction (or rather, deliberate uncreation) of wealth would not occur. Blu-ray has succeeded, has been universally adopted across the consumer electronics industry, offers far higher quality than direct download and is the only choice possible for those who have poor internet access. Apple is trying to leap to a medium-less future far too early, before the necessary infrastructure is in place. This just needlessly cripples the present experience, and won’t make the medium-less future come any faster as it is dependent on huge factors outside of Apple’s control. And if Apple really believed that the medium-less future is here today, then why do they not drop DVD and CD support aswell, which unlike blu-ray actually are at the point of being realistically made obsolete by the internet. In the end it all comes down to trying to shovel that low quality iTunes crap, but crippling my Mac mini isn’t going to make me pay for that rubbish.
Another complaint is the price of the device, which is clearly unreasonable for the hardware contained. But one can justify that by the value of the software in allowing the user to better get real work done, which was certainly the judgement I made when deciding to buy it. As for the iPad, while I of course consider it a revolutionary device, it is only the start of good things to come. Web browsing is annoyingly slow (at least by my standards) and syncing with iTunes is a disaster if one ever changes computer and it can be a colossal pain having to setup everything in the way iTunes wants. One cannot just drag and drop a video onto an iPad, it has to be copied into the iTunes library (and often converted to an iPad friendly format before this) resulting in numerous duplicated files and inability to use an iPad to transfer data to and from computers that one does not own. The more I think of it, iTunes seems to be the source of all my woes. Such a terrible piece of software, in fact I’d go as far as to say iTunes as a whole represents a terrible design philosophy I most wholeheartedly detest.
On that miserable note I end this article of praise for two excellent devices.