Why the iPad isn't for me

Macworld Senior Contributor Ben Long is thinking different. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of different Apple had in mind when it started selling the iPad last week. After one day with the device, Ben realized that his conclusions might put him at odds with the majority of Apple fans and giddy new iPad owners. He wisely went into hiding, taking the iPad with him and hoping for a revelation. Here are his reports from [redacted]:

Using the iPad, day two

Ah, those early hours with the iPad. It was a simpler time. The novelty of poking a big screen, and of ferreting out all of the clever new animations that Apple has come up with for things like re-filing an e-mail. The buzz of seeing familiar applications retooled and redesigned for more space. The discovery of entirely new (to me) apps like NYTimes Crosswords.

Download an audio file of Ben Long doing a dramatic reading of this article (MP4, 10 MB).

Things started out so well. Brought the iPad home from the store. Removed it from the expected, beautiful packaging. Confirmed that it was made in the country of California.

Yes, I miss yesterday. It was an innocent day spent playing with a new toy. What the ancient Romans referred to as "circumpedi."

I'm writing this from an undisclosed location. As the only person in the Northern Hemisphere who doesn't like the iPad, I fear for my safety. Macworld has been unable to guarantee my continued well-being, and so I have retreated to what I hope will remain a secret locale. My supplies are limited, the lodging austere. It's just me, my iPad, and an actual usable device, my trusty 13-inch MacBook.

I only hope that my supplies last long enough so I can sneak out under cover of HP's Slate launch.

Day three

This morning I decided to try, once again, to use the iPad for something practical. I figured that maybe things would go better this time, but alas, my frustration only grew.

I needed to research a product and order something, a process that would require comparing listings on several different Web pages with some suggestions that a friend had e-mailed to me. Happily, I sat down with the iPad in my lap and managed to type the URL correctly on only the third try. As always, the page loaded quickly and looked great, for a smallish screen. Oh wait, I forgot, we don't compare the iPad screen to something reasonable like a 13-inch MacBook screen, we only compare it to the iPhone. Sure enough, it's enormous.

Soon, though, the thrill of the Imax-like-by-comparison-to-the-iPhone screen was tempered by the hassle of trying to compare items on multiple Web pages. In addition to not being able to place pages side by side, switching between pages involves multiple taps, separated by a scan of a bunch of tiny thumbnails. Giving up on this approach, I took to transferring prices from different pages onto a piece of paper, using a pencil. This made comparisons much simpler, but I shudder to think what would happen if I were seen doing this in public.

Comparing Web pages to e-mail was even more disconcerting as I had to leave Safari entirely, click on Mail, and then go back to the Home page and relaunch Safari. In addition to being frustrating, this approach is somewhat perplexing because other iPad apps have the ability to open a Web page in a pop-up sheet. Surely Apple knows about this part of the iPad API. . . .

Obviously, multitasking is more important than I realized.

Pencils are running low. I fear for my continued productivity.

But perhaps I've thrown too complex a browsing task at this device. After all, it's merely supposed to be the greatest Web browsing experience ever. What happens if I just stick to a single page?

I spend some time reading a forum discussion. Sure enough, there is something interesting about holding the device and feeling the Web in my hands as if it were a ream of paper.

But even this is a lot of work. A lot more work than merely pressing the spacebar every time I want to advance by a screenful. Instead, I have to swipe, and hope that the screen scrolls far enough, but not too far. And instead of merely tapping on a link, I often have to pinch the screen to get the link big enough to hit, tap it, and then tap the screen again to get it back to the right size. Interacting with the screen is fun at first, but is this really more efficient?

Have noticed that, when it comes to making phone calls, the iPad works every bit as well as the iPhone.

Day four

Steve taught us long ago that typing on the iPhone required practice, and he spoke the truth. After three or four days, I was typing very quickly and accurately on the iPhone. I was surprised to find that it was much easier than typing on my Treo keyboard.

Deciding the iPad might be the same way, I launched Notes app and gave serious typing another try. The iPad has taught me much about my typing habits. For instance, I never realized that I routinely rest fingers on keys that I'm not actually pressing, and I never knew how often my fingers brush keys on the way to the key that I want to press. On the iPad, these habits result in an astonishing number of extra characters appearing. Deciding to employ my iPhone habits of typing, and correcting later, I barrel ahead. But editing is as tedious on the iPad as it is on the iPhone. Instead of including virtual cursor keys, Apple decided to keep the tap-wait-move-little-tiny-handles-around approach to editing.

I have a list of things that I would one day like to learn. I'm fairly certain that relearning to type is not on the list. I thought about moving the list to the iPad to look it over, but figuring out how to transfer the document was too complicated.

[Two hours later]

Neck is hurting. Hands are achy, and am feeling the beginnings of eye strain. At first, I assume that it's the stress of my exile and isolation, but then I opened the MacBook (as I needed to do some actual typing) and realized what a better position it is than the iPad. With the iPad on my lap, I have to crane my neck to look down—the laptop screen sits more in front, and at a far more comfortable angle.

So I try to hold the iPad upright to read it, but this quickly pains my hand. Granted, I'm someone with bad RSIs, so these posture concerns probably won't plague most people. Especially the elderly that are allegedly a prime market for this device.

Of course, I could get a case that would allow the iPad to stand upright, and a keyboard that would give me a worthwhile typing experience. In fact, I probably wouldn't even have to spend that much money to get it back up to the level of functionality and weight of a netbook. But of course, why not just carry a netbook? My Apple-fueled conditioning reminds me that I should think of the iPad as a modular netbook. I would only connect the keyboard when I needed to type. This would be great for airplanes! Without a keyboard, it'll fit on a tray table, but in my room I'll have a real keyboard!

Of course, hotel room tables and desks are always too high for me to type comfortably, and there's no way to use the iPad with a keyboard in my lap, so I'm back to RSI risk.

Food supplies are running low. I wish now that I'd bought the leather iPad case, for the neoprene one is definitely inedible.

Day five

I'm approaching this all wrong. This is a media consumption device. I'm trying too hard to create things on it, I should go consume.

Earlier today, an e-mail arrived containing links to some work-related videos. I sat at the MacBook, ready to watch, and then remembered that sitting upright is so 2005, and that with my iPad I can now lie on the couch and watch video, just as if I had a TV in the room. Fortunately, there's no TV in my current location, so I don't have to wonder why I would watch a tiny iPad screen instead of a TV.

Sure enough, the couch was very comfortable, and the iPad was easy enough to hold. Fortunately, none of the videos were Flash-based, so I was able to launch the first one with no problem.

I found it curious that the filmmakers had chosen to superimpose a nose over every scene, but decided that it must have some symbolic purpose that I didn't understand. Granted, one doesn't think of training videos as having great symbolism, but these are complex times we live in.

The movie continued, and I was surprised at the quality of the iPad's audio. The couch was still comfortable, my hands were still okay. And that nose was still in the video. Suddenly, I couldn't take my eyes off it. It was incredibly well-rendered. What's more, it looked familiar. After a moment, I realized it was my nose reflected so perfectly in the overly glossy screen that I could easily see that I was overdue for some quality time with a trimmer. I tried tilting the iPad to get rid of the nose but found only cheekbones, couch patterns, distant windows, fireplace mantelpieces. After a minute or so I realized that I had not been paying attention to the video, so distracted was I by the terrible reflection.

Returning to the MacBook, I finished watching in the unhip comfort of a regular chair.

But still, the promise of a small video player is incredibly compelling. Just think about it on an airplane. I could load it up with movies and watch for an entire flight, thanks to the iPad's excellent battery life. Of course, because of the lousy keyboard I can't use it in place of a laptop, so I would have to carry the iPad and my MacBook. How is it that, for years, I've pined for a lighter laptop, and now I'm considering carrying an extra pound-and-a-half just to watch videos on an airplane? An airplane that probably has a TV set built-in to the seat.

Have decided to grow the hell up and learn to just sit quietly like people used to have to do when flying.

Day six

I was hopeful that some reading would take my mind off my current travails. As a Kindle user for the last year, I am already accustomed to the differences between book and e-book reading, and have greatly appreciated the ergonomic advantages of the Kindle 2 over a physical book. I can hold it with one hand for extended periods. I can lie on my side and read for a long time, without having to roll from side to side as I turn pages. I can read while using my electric toothbrush. It's been a revelation.

Fortunately, the Kindle reader for the iPad gives me access to all the books that I already own. In addition to giving me immediate access to my media, I find it's a classier-looking application than Apple's iBooks which is laden with cartoony page animations and fake page-edges. Microsoft Bob must work for Apple now.

But again, there's the glare. And the weight. And because the screen is so touch-sensitive, it's hard not to accidentally turn pages.

But most of all, there's that screen. That computer-like screen. That screen that reminds me of work, and of "the media." That screen that looks nothing like a piece of paper. When I look at the iPad screen, I'm back in the virtual world of cyberspace, rather than relaxing on my couch with a physical object. Of course, the Kindle delivers electronic media, too, but the E Ink screen manages to trick me into feeling like I'm reading a book, not engaging with the media bubble.

No, there will be no recanting for me. The iPad does nothing that I can't do with any of my other computers, or my iPhone. What's more, though, my computers do most of those things better. They have interfaces that are more efficient, screens that are easier to read, and ergonomics that are profoundly more comfortable and healthy for someone with repetitive stress injuries.

Granted, I may not be the target market for this device. I'm comfortable using a computer, and I don't tend to surf the Web as a form of entertainment. I'm tempted to return it, but fear the exposure. My only hope is that my supplies last until some kind of "killer app" appears, and changes my mind.

[Macworld senior contributor Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography, fifth edition (Charles River Media, 2009).]

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