48 Hours with iPad: It’s Still The Chair, Stupid

The UPS guy said he felt like Santa Claus

(but it’s no Celestial Jukebox. Read on…)

Today I am an iPad. Well, actually, Saturday I was an iPad. And by and large I’d have to say I’m pretty pleased with it. It does just what I expected it to do – i.e. replace my Kindle and iPhone as info-sources. It’s a LOT easier to use than the iPhone as a reading device, and it does a LOT more than the Kindle ever could. And if that was all I had to say about it, that would be enough.

Now that Saturday’s “iPad nerdgasm” has passed, and everybody who wants one finally has one, the Interwebs are rife with reviews and commentary. There’s really no need for me to go on at any more length than those who have already chimed in about the basic upsides and downsides of what is, truly, a new category of device. If you want a comprehensive overview of the whole experience, you can do no better than Jason Snell’s rundown over at MacWold.com.

The new "default position" for using a "computer"

When the iPad was first announced, I anticipated its arrival with a blog post entitled “It’s The Chair, Stupid” — in which I surmised that the breakthrough implied by this new device was not in its hardware, nor its software, but in the way it would be used: by sitting in a chair, as Steve Jobs is doing in the photo that accompanies this and the prior post.

I am somewhat familiar with this posture. I had a tablet computer before this one, for about two years from 2005 to 2007 (the year I gave up on PCs and switched entirely to the Mac platform, one of the single best decisions I have ever made). That model had a swivel screen that flopped back over the keyboard so that you could hold it like a book or write on it with a stylus. It sorta worked, but was just not very convenient. It was still too big, and while reading on it was semi-satisfactory, I invariably had to flip the screen back around and use the keyboard in order to do anything with it. That early-iteration Tablet PC went the way of eBay when I got my first MacBook in the summer of 2007.

The iPad is an infinitely superior expression of the tablet concept. Once it arrived on Saturday I put my laptop away and everything I needed to do online I could do with the new device. The keyboard is not outstanding, but it’s adequate. I was, for example, able to make a reservation from a hotel’s website with little difficulty. I read all my e-mails and replied to those that I needed to. And when I sat back Sunday afternoon for my coffee with Frank and Maureen, the whole experience — navigating around the browser, navigating pages with my finger, shrinking and enlarging with a pinch — was a revelation. It was, in a word… “fun.”

Is the iPad a “game changer”? Opinions vary. I think it makes a difference in how I can do things, whether that qualifies as a game changer or not is entirely debatable. But I think the key insight is gleaned from this observation in Jason Snell’s MacWorld piece:

There’s just something about surfing the Web using Safari on the iPad. It feels different, somehow. Apple’s marketing pitch says “it’s like holding the Internet in your hands,” and while that’s a little bit cheesy, it’s not far off. There’s just something different about holding that Web page in your hands, rather than seeing it on a desktop or laptop PC, or on a tiny iPhone screen. Tapping on links doesn’t feel the same as clicking on them with a mouse. It’s a good feeling.

My point, exactly. Nice to see that somebody who actually gets paid to say such things agrees with me.

Back in the day, you would sit in your comfy chair with a book, a magazine, or a newspaper — and that was it. You had a single source at your disposal. The breakthrough that the iPad represents is: now you sit like you would have with a book, magazine, or newspaper, and you have the whole fucking world at your disposal. Yes, you had that with your laptop, but that’s still a “lean forward” experience, dominated by the presence of the keyboard; and yes, you have that with an iPhone, but absorbing content from a 2-inch screen can get pretty tedious after not very long.

So yes, boys and girls, this is something different, and something new. And I like it. A lot.

That said, I hasten to add: the iPad in its current incarnation does absolutely nothing to advance the realization of the Celestial Jukebox. You can’t use Lala.com with it because all the players in Lala are based on Flash and the iPad famously (infamously?) does not support Flash. You have to assume that is going to change, hopefully sooner rather than later, now that Apple owns Lala.com. But there is no evidence of that acquisition in the iTunes that comes with the iPad.

I cannot even access the music library on my desktop computer from iTunes on the iPad (as I can with iTunes on my MacBook using the “home sharing” feature). So until I start loading my 16GB with locally-stored music, the iPad is really not much of a music player at all. I don’t think it will even play Pandora (also Flash-based. Maybe Apple should acquire Pandora, too — before Google does…).

And the absence of any kind of third-party app multi-tasking likewise continues to be an impediment for using the iPad as a “jukebox.” Until multitasking is available, there is no way to use a program like Rogue Amoeba’s “Airfoil” to flip the audio signal from the iPad to your stereo (it does work well with Bluetooth headphones, but that’s not how I typically listen to music).

But I think all that is going to change with time. Apple is typically slow to unveil all of the potential of a new device. I mean, how long did it take them to integrate “copy/paste” into the iPhone? I think that’s what’s going to happen here. I don’t know when — nobody does — but I fully expect that sometime later this year there will be an entirely new version of iTunes that supports storing your music “in the cloud.” And already there is rampant speculation that the next iteration of the iPhone OS will enable some form of third-party app multi-tasking. If/when those things happen, the functionality of the iPad will also improve by a full order of magnitude.

In the meantime, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. I expect to start canceling magazine subscriptions any day now…