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The Apple iPad – Productive Tool or Toy?

2010 May 4
tags: , ,
by MKS

I live in Canada, and the Apple iPad is not yet available here officially from Apple. However, they’re readily available on eBay, CraigsList, and Kijiji (the Canadian site is still active). I recently purchased a 16GB model from a fellow off of Kijiji, paying about $30 above the retail price as a premium, still new in the box.

I’m sure those who are interested, have already read reviews, so I won’t hash over all the apps, or the pros and cons in general. I’ll focus on my personal impressions, and what it means to me as a consultant.

Ironically (for those that know me) – I originally didn’t want an iPad – I actually bought it for my wife, really! :)Her “use case” is primarily for 3 things – email, web browsing, and YouTube / web videos (for her TV episodes, which she watches streaming off of several sites). In short, while she liked it, each of those features were slightly off for her, and she ended up finding it a little heavy and awkward to hold while lying down, which is how she prefers to watch her episodes. After a day of using it, she decided she didn’t want it, and gave it back to me to sell or use.

Before deciding, I thought I would try it out. I already am a heavy iPhone user (which I love), and transferred over some of my common apps:

  • iFitness – exercise / weight tracker
  • Stanza – eBook reader
  • Merlin – Project Management tool
  • Things – Task Management tool
  • GoodReader – document viewer
  • Zinio – Magazine viewer
  • SugarSync – doc synchronization / offline storage
  • Evernote – webnote clipper / sync
  • Zabihah – Halal food/mosque finder
  • and a few other games, kids apps, etc

Some of them have iPad versions, some of them do not, and use the “2x” zoom feature, which is somewhat usable but not ideal. I’m sure most will have iPad specific versions, though I’m not happy that I’m going to have to rebuy some of them (like Things) at a steeper price.

One caveat – since the Canadian app store isn’t supposed to officially sell iPad apps yet, only a few of the iPad apps are available there. There is a way to create a US account, but I didn’t want to buy any apps from there and be stuck having to maintain two accounts. I created a US account, but only “purchased” free apps, which I will have to “repurchase” later when the Canadian app store is enabled fully for iPad.

I purchased a few additional apps for the iPad (mostly free):

  • New York Times select edition – newspaper
  • BBC World News – newspaper
  • Marvel Comics
  • Epicurious (online food guide / cookbook)
  • The Weather Channel
  • iBooks – Apple’s official eBook reader app
GoodReader for iPad screenshot

GoodReader for iPad

Out of all of the apps I’ve installed, the best – and best bargain by far – has been GoodReader. I can’t say enough about this app – it will read almost everything you throw at it, except for ePub (industry standard eBook format, which the iBooks app will read by default, luckily) and CBR/CBZ, a Comic book format. Both are fairly simple formats, and I’ve made a feature request to Goodreader’s devs.

GoodReader also has great usability features, and makes the best of a bad implementation of a filesystem by Apple (I hope they fix this in OS 4.0 in the fall). iTunes is their method of transferring files from your computer to the device, but this doesn’t support folders. Luckily, GoodReader allows folder/file management once the files are on the device, allowing you to create a folder hierarchy and moving files around. It also supports WiFi file transfer, and the ability to access various servers over the web/WiFi.

The Apple iBooks eReader app is alright. It pretty faithfully uses a “book” paradigm, including a bookshelf to organize your books (again, no folders or multiple shelves), and it will read unprotected ePub format, which is good. If your books are in another format, you can use a tool like Calibre to manage, convert, and save books for transfer to the device (while Calibre supports transferring to other devices, it won’t work yet for iPad/iPhone directly). Once on the device, books can be read more like a physical book, which pages, headers, etc. You can enlarge/shrink the font size as well as selecting alternate fonts. After using an eInk eBook reader for a while, I’m not sure how I like the screen rendering – it looks a little blurry and doesn’t seem to use subpixel font smoothing (like ClearType).

There are many more apps, but this is still the killer for me – eMail is great, browsing is even better, and doc viewing (with GoodReader) is pretty good. Its not (yet) a laptop substitute, but it can certainly replace a NetBook for most tasks.

The elephant in the room is Flash – neither the iPhone nor iPad support it, and its unlikely that it ever will. Given the runaway success of the iPad (1 million sold in just 28 days), I’m sure that people will start to push for alternatives, which is really HTML5. I’ll be happy to see it happen.

Final verdict – I’m selling it, but not for the reason you might think. I love the device, but the 16GB version just doesn’t have enough storage for me. I’m buying a 32 or a 64GB if I can manage it, though I will have to buy a screen protector and case – its a fingerprint magnet.

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