Saturday, December 25th, 2010

It’s Christmas Day (or, at least, it should be if I’ve set the scheduled posting up correctly), and you may be one of those lucky millions who unwrapped a shiny new iPad this morning. It seems like a good time, then, to finally write a long-form post about my own iPad. And, it’s been about 9 months since I got mine; and 9 months seems about the right amount of time to have let things develop. So here it is.

If you know me, it should come as no surprise that I love my iPad. I give it 6-out-of-5-stars (I’d probably give it 7 if I’d gotten the 3G model). It really has changed a lot of things about my life, though the fact that I’m a gadget nerd probably has at least as much to do with that as the device itself. I wouldn’t expect it to make such an impact on my mother, for example — which isn’t to say I don’t think she should have one.

The most noticeable change the iPad has effected in my life is that I’m reading a lot more. A LOT more. Even though I love reading (and always have), the physical act of reading a book has always annoyed me. I’ve never managed to figure out a good way to hold a paperback so that it doesn’t close itself and my fingers don’t cover up the words and I don’t block the light with my giant head and my neck doesn’t start hurting and on-and-on-and-on.

As I moved into a post-university world, I just sort of naturally stopped reading books and instead focused on web content and television and movies and video games and what not. It was just easier. Towards the beginning of this year, I’d started reading some novels on my iPod Touch to some success. But this sort of reading fits in more at work during lunch or (more often) a compile break. I rarely found myself curling up on the couch with my iPod for a long evening read.

The iPad changes that. The iPad is an excellent way to read. It’s the right size to hold a decent amount of text at an easy-to-read resolution. It’s back-lit so I don’t ever have to worry about blocking the light. It’s great and I do come home just about every night now to settle in on the couch for a bit of reading on the iPad. And if I’m tired and can’t deal with book-sized text? I just make the type bigger and keep on reading. It’s been absolutely fantastic and if a rebirth of my reading habits were all that I’d gotten from it, I’d consider it well worth the price.

This is not to say that the iPad is a perfect eReader: it’s far from it. It’s very heavy. I have to hold it with both hands or prop it up on something to use it, which can make finding a comfortable position tricky. The backlight is a curse as well as a blessing as it (presumably combined with the relatively low dot-pitch of the screen) can cause stress to my eyes and I find myself having to micromanage the brightness slider more than it seems should be necessary.

It’s slightly ironic (I think) that the iPad has turned me into a digital reader so completely that I now desire a better eReader. In fact, today, I suspect that I’ll be unwrapping a Kindle 3, which should be interesting. I’m wondering how the pros and cons of not having a backlight will shake out (the official lighted case should help here, but who knows?). I suspect that I’ll continue using the iPad to read in the dark (in bed, for instance), but I’m also curious how much less I’ll use it if I start reading primarily on the Kindle. If it’s a significant amount, it would almost be like the iPad had convinced me that I should use it less in favor of something else. Which is kind of funny.

Still, that sort of thing is for the next 9 months. For now, I’m reading tons and almost all of it is because of the iPad. Steve Jobs said he wanted to make a great eReader and Apple went above and beyond. And, because of all the other things it can do, if I could only have a Kindle or an iPad, I’d pick an iPad. Indeed, that’s basically what I did choose 9 months ago.

It’s fascinating that the next most obvious change that the iPad has wrought in my life since April comes in second. If you knew me before April and you knew just how far I’ve moved in this area from where I started 9 months ago, you might think I’m understating this second thing. But I’m not: it’s just that I’m reading SO MUCH more now that anything else would have to take second place.

Even the fact that I almost never use my computer anymore.

I know.

I’m rather shocked by this as well.

“Being on the computer” has been my default state for as long as I can remember. Maybe it was computer games or experimenting with the consequences of starting dosshell from my autoexec.bat. As I got older, it was tying the phone lines up dialing in to the local boards to play my rounds of LORD or BRE. Still later, it was AOL and chat rooms and web surfing. And, until I got my iPad, I would unwind with web comics and RSS feeds and hobby programming. On my Mac.

I still unwind web comics and RSS feeds, of course. But I’m far, far, far more likely to peruse them from the couch with the iPad than I am to sit at the computer. These days, the only thing I do that involves me spending large chunks of time at the computer is programming. And I do that far less than I used to. In a way, that makes me sad. On the other hand, I’m reading a lot more.

I’m hoping it’s a cycle: that the time I spend reading on the iPad (or Kindle) will wax and wane compared to the amount of time I program-for-fun. Historically, my hobbies have always been cyclical: so, it seems a safe bet. For now, though, I’m mostly happy with the way things have turned out. Although, it has proven much more difficult to justify dropping three grand on a new Mac when I barely use the one I have.

First world problems, I suppose.

And that’s really it for the real life-changes that the iPad has wrought. There are hundreds of little minor things, of course. But that’s more of my finding a new spot for the iPad in my life instead of wholesale disruption.

It’s great for taking notes at meetings (really, any short or medium-length writing I do will probably happen on the iPad. I’m really only writing this blog post on the computer because the iOS Mars Edit isn’t done yet.

When the opportunity arises to play Dungeons & Dragons, I have all my books on the iPad so I don’t have to lug the books themselves around.

It’s my preferred way to read twitter.

It’s my preferred way to read the news (I like the BBC app).

It’s my go-to calendar (and, of course, it syncs to gCal, iCal, Outlook, and my iPod Touch).

When I’m bored, I amuse myself with solitaire or by losing at chess to the iPad. It even got me liking crossword puzzles (though I’m still waiting for the iOS version of Black Ink).

When I’m handed a Word document to read for work, I just send it to the iPad instead of printing it or trying to read it on the computer monitor.

Heck, I even use the iPad to SSH into the Mac for emergency system administration when something makes the windowing server go bonkers.

And that’s how the iPad has affected my life since April. Perhaps it’s sad that a piece of consumer electronics could affect me so greatly. But I think that’s just a factor of me being me and the iPad really being amazing little device. Even after all of these months, it’s still essentially magic.

That said, I should probably also talk about things I *don’t* use the iPad for. I don’t have any music on it and I only very rarely use it for Pandora. It’s big and heavy, so plugging earbuds into it is just awkward. This might be different if I had some Bluetooth headphones. But I don’t so I just don’t use it for music.

For the most part, I also don’t use it to watch TV or movies. I have used the Netflix app, but mostly for the novelty of the thing (it is rather cool to have Star Trek streaming to a device I’m waving around in the air). But, we have two TVs and I have a reasonably big monitor on my Mac. There’s just no reason for me to watch long-form entertainment on the thing. The only time I’ve done so since I got it was when I was waiting for my car to get serviced and wanted to catch up on an episode of Stargate Universe. And there was so much glare on the screen that it was a rather unsatisfying experience because there was so much glare on the screen. It’s weird: for all the work Apple put in to the media abilities of the thing, I just don’t use them. It’s ill-suited for such things.

It’s great for YouTube, though.

I have used it to show off pictures of my nephew. Other than that, I never start the Photos app.

I bought the iWork apps, but never use Pages or Keynote (for the writing I do, Simplenote and Elements suit me far better). I did build a Numbers spreadsheet for sprint-planning which I find pretty useful. But I only start it up what? Once every four weeks?

It’s surprising, but I never start up Evernote.

Other than twitter (and Facebook in Safari), I don’t use social networking.

I’ve used it for AIM. It’s a frustrating experience (I think that’s because the multitasking still isn’t really good enough for such things).

Surprisingly, I haven’t been able to find good apps for looking up movie showtimes or TV listings: you’d think the iPad would be perfect for those.

I’m looking forward to more experimentation with digital newspapers and magazines, but I’m very price-conscious right now and most of that content is available via RSS or the Web (though in a slightly less elegant manner).

And that’s my iPad usage (and non-usage). I still consider it the best $500 I’ve ever spent and the only downside is that after spending that $500, I won’t be able to afford the iPad2. Which is a shame: FaceTime could be really cool.

Since it’s not impossible that you found this after unwrapping a shiny new iPad and you were looking for advice, I’ve decided to end this piece with a top 10 list of apps in no particular order. Enjoy.

  1. Kindle – Amazon’s eBook Reader
  2. Instapaper – Save things from the web to read later. If you don’t use Instapaper, shame on you.
  3. iBooks – Apple’s eBook Reader
  4. GoodReader – A reader app for everything from PDFs to video files
  5. Reeder – A Google Reader (RSS) client
  6. Twitter – The official Twitter app
  7. Simplenote – An elegant and simple note-taking app
  8. Elements – An elegant and simple text-editor that syncs with Dropbox
  9. Dropbox – The official Dropbox app. It offers access to your files from anywhere.
  10. Articles – A fantastic Wikipedia client

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