iPad, YouPad, WiiPad, MyPad

I’ve been using the iPad for a few weeks now, and I thought it was time to look back at the value proposition I thought I was buying into. The later blog posts will look mat how it turned out.

Around 5 years ago I needed a new (personal) laptop. I really, really wanted a Tablet. Eventually I bought an Acer with Windows Tablet Edition. After a while, I thought I had made a mistake – I use a wireless mouse/keyboard with it (so I can lift the screen higher), and it is really too heavy to use on my lap on the sofa, so it should have been keyboardless. It works OK with a pen, but the interface is clumsy – because it is designed for a mouse. So today, I just use it as a desktop – too heavy to carry and easier to use when mouse/keyboard driven.

I struggled hard to love that machine. Actually, even liking it was hard. Nowadays, it is easier to articulate why it failed to earn my affection, because what I thought I was buying, what my heart wanted, is the device I am caressing here, on my lap.

The problem with The Windows Tablet concept is that it is too clever for it’s own good. It does everything a PC does (but most of the time you only need a fraction of that) and it focussed far too much on “clever” handwriting recognition (when even A genius would have trouble interpreting my handwriting – and I would far rather type, given the choice). Ironically, of course, this repeated the mistake of focussing on handwriting recognition technology which could not deliver that was originally made in the, err, Apple Newton.

So couple of years ago I bought a Netbook. I refused to buy one with Windows. That defeated the whole objective. Is didn’t want a new laptop. I wanted something light, that booted fast, for browsing on the sofa, and that I could carry with me when travelling as a “slave” to my machine at home. Anyway, I didn’t like where Microsoft was going with Windows.

But that didn’t really work either. I replaced Linpus with Ubuntu (the Easy Peasy Netbook build – I was a systems programmer back in Unix Version 7 days, so I feel very at home with the platform). But somehow it didn’t work for me. The Aspire ONE looks and fees great, but the battery life isn’t boos enough, the screen is too small, the trackpad not good enough, and there simply wasn’t enough integration with my desktop PC. I now know I was missing a lot of the Cloud Services that make the iPad work for me – DropBox, SimpleNote, and, of course, the AppStore. And you don’t really need a keyboard when surfing on the sofa. I’ve never owned an iPhone, and I always considered a stylus to be a natural way of interacting (since I fell for the original Palm Pilot). But multi-touch and two handed typing really changes the paradigm (as well as proving me wrong – although I remain to be convinced about it for the iPhone form factor as I am of an age where my eyesight is deteriorating, and have been a ThumbPad fan since the original Palm Treo). The simple keyboard on the iPad is the diametric opposite of the overloaded, stylus driven Tablet keyboard – not just faster, but more pleasant to use. The only criticism I can think of is… why did anyone think it was necessary to put little fake “ridges” under the “F” and “J”?

So, hats off to Apple for innovation (and well done to Microsoft for slavishly and mechanically copying an existing experience in new technology and creating and overcomplicated monstrosity in the process – sticking to your strengths, I see).

And congratulations to Apple for not announcing a Tablet a while back, when everyone kept saying they would, but waiting until they got the user experience right.

When the iPad was announced, I knew I wanted one (because I trusted Apple to do something special) but still had to justify the investment to myself (not the money to buy it, but the knowledge that I was selling my soul into the future, just like I did when I decided, many years after most people had bought one, that my personal MP3 player was going to be an iPod, even though I rarely shop on iTunes (Amazon or 7digital are cheaper) so I only originally bought it to rip my CDs.

After the announcement, before I had even seen an iPad, these were the reasons I thought I wanted one:

1. It’s a Browser, stupid. It’s too bid to be a PDA (I will not always have it with me), or a Smartphone (I’m not Dom Jolley) and if I’m going to use a keyboard with it I might as well use a laptop. And, actually, I really like the idea of a web browser turned into a physical “thing” for couch surfing. Most “apps” are just glorified browser plugins, aren’t they? 2. It means I don’t need to buy an eReader. Sony has all the proprietary tendencies of Apple without their flair in user experience, and Amazon doesn’t really understand the world east of New York (or west of San Francisco) – and is even more blatant about trying to lock me in to it’s store. BUT that means I need DRM free books. Just like I won’t buy DRM songs from iTunes, and only started buying online when the world realised (with Steve Job’s help) that people would only freely pay for music when they were sure they could own it forever (without jumping through hoops, and whatever future technology changes come along). I think The iPad could be really good for books – I don’t buy the eInk arguments because when I am tired or have a headache I find it much easier to read a high contract screen than a real book.

3. Err, that is really about it, although then fact that the Guardian had an iPhone App did help (shame it isn’t much good on the iPad yet – but I am sure it is coming, and I love the Eyewitness App).

So, three months later (or maybe less, but it felt like much more) I was finally standing in an Apple Store (not anywhere else – I am buying the experience, not the device) and got to touch one for the first time.

On the way to the shops, I thought there were two options:

1. The cheapest. I bought a 3rd generation iPod – and I rejected the first generation iPhone as so clearly inadequate to my current Smartphone (but the 4th looks good). So isn’t this a disposable device that I will replace soon?

2. The most expensive. 3G & lots of memory. Because my life is going to resolve around this device in future. I will always have it with me. I will be “always on”. I will synchronise EVERYTHING with it.

But which? So I tweeted for advice.

One response was about videos. I never thought of that. I listen to most my TV off iPlayer and much of Radio 4 as podcasts. So video could be important. Which means maximum memory. But I could not quite commit myself to a second SIM card and £10 a month for service when I suspect that I would only use part of (while I have 3G on my mobile phone). I was impressed by the MiFi device a colleague was using recently, and a bit of browsing (on the iPad, in the Apple Store) revealed MiFi applications for many Smartphones. Didn’t it make more sense to carry one WiFi hot spot that I could use from the iPad, and my personal laptop, and M’s laptop (and her iPad once she also decides she needs one :-)?

So, I have a 64G WiFi iPad. I am typing this blog post on it (I have been meaning to start a public blog to complement my internal IBM one for quite a while – and the iPad was the incentive I needed, both to use it to blog, and to blog about it!) I have replaced my paper notebook for To Dos and Meeting Notes with it. This is the first piece of technology that has caused me to think “this could change my life” since that first Palm Pilot and my first GSM Mobile phone.

I’ll blog about how I am using it later.

Oh, and the blog post title? Well iPad is obvious – and, as I said, it’s an iBrowser to me. YouPad refers to the video thought – if YouTube gets its act together it could be the future of my TV experience (although, based on experiences so far, I think BBC iPlayer has the edge – it is awesome on this device – but if they don’t make it available when I am outside of the UK, then that IS going to sour our relationship). WiiPad is a whole other world, since people seems to simply LOVE games for the iPhone – but I have never got PC games (since Moonlanding on a PDP10 in the early 70’s, through a Star Treck game we wrote at college on a CDC 6400 (which must have been one of the most expensive gaming consoled ever), to Adventure in the late 70’s – after which I just gave up computer games as “not me”). But maybe the iPad could even change that.

But ultimately, it is MyPad. What I have been looking for, for years.

Blogging in the Public Eye

Until now, I have on blogged within IBM. This is my first attempt at doing a public blog. The incentive is my iPad and an attempt to rebalance the amount of time I have for social networking. After all, if the iPad is making me more productive, it should free off some time for other things.

I decided on Posterous as a blogging platform, because I can submit posts anytime, anywhere from any device, via e-mail. Am hoping this will help me to blog regularly.

This is part of a new focus on this Blog, Twitter and Facebook. The plan is to integrate all three with my life, the way I work and each other, more than I have in the past (when I tended to dip in and out of various tools to understand them, rather than use them.

Let’s see how it goes…