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A few thoughts on the iPad

I have more than a few thoughts but I’ll try to control myself.

(In my previous post mentioning that I now have an iPad, a number of commenters mentioned their dislike for Apple’s approach to software development. I want to come back to that for another post, so please wait to comment on that issue. This post is about the product, not the ideology.)

When the iPad was first announced it was mocked by many for its seeming lack of niche. It’s just a giant iPhone without the phone. Who will want it? Just the Mac fan boys and geeky lovers of anything new. That prediction was wildly off the mark. Having sold 3.5 million units in the first 80 days or so, it is the fastest selling electronic device ever.

I wasn’t going to get one–I have a Kindle for reading which I like a lot and my laptop goes everywhere with me–so I have all my photos (about 3000) and all my music (about 3000 songs). What use would I have for a device that weighed more than the Kindle, promised to distract me from reading with browsing and email, and added little functionality beyond my laptop?

Then I met someone who treated it like a serious business tool.

Then I had an idea for a serious economics education app for the device.

Then someone gave me one.

I’ve had it for four days so here are some impressions.

It’s gloriously beautiful. I’ve added apps and bought some I don’t expect to use much just because I want to admire they way they look on the screen. Examples are Star Walk, Solar Walk and the Louvre app.

I have the entire Talmud (or close to it–they’re still creating the parts of it for the app). I had the entire Talmud in English on my Kindle. I think it was $1. It was just for the fun of it. It wasn’t very usable. iTalmud for the iPad is $30. It’s Hebrew or English. It comes with an audio file explaining the page you’re viewing. It tells you where there are daily Talmud classes in your area. It comes with 6 commentaries and when one of those commentaries have something to say about a phrase in the text, the text is highlighted. You touch it and the commentary appears in a box. So instead of buying maybe 50 or so volumes that take up 20 or 30 feet of shelf space and would cost thousands of dollars, I have the Talmud in my hand. It blows me away.

I can read my Kindle books on my iPad. I like the Kindle screen better (though it isn’t self-lit like the iPad.) But when it comes to eye strain the Kindle’s more like reading a book. The iPad is more like reading a computer screen. But the book looks better, generally on the iPad. The charts are crisp–on the Kindle you can’t always read them and photos are the same. On the regular-sized Kindle they’re a joke. On the iPad they’re glorious.

Email on the iPad is fantastic. The on-screen keyboard is pretty good. Not great for long (more than a paragraph or s0) writing but fine for short emails.

The pdf reader I’m using (GoodReader) is spectacular. It is unbelievably easy to create a pdf out of a web page and store it for later reading. It’s incredibly easy to annotate the pdf. I had to go downtown today. Instead of taking my Kindle on the Metro, I took the iPad and read a superb analysis of the securitization market by Josh Rosner. (More on that another time). But while I’ve read pdfs on the regular-size Kindle it’s pretty horrible. The iPad makes me want to read them.

Reading blogs on the iPad is better than on the web. I’m using Pulse as a blog reader. The posts are cleaner and crisper with less distractions.

All of the integrated tasks are really superb–emailing a pdf, a photo, selected text–it’s all really intuitive and a breeze.

In short, the iPad is a pretty good substitute for my laptop. I hate lugging my 6 pound laptop through airports on my shoulder. But it’s not just that the iPad is lighter. There’s something more intimate about the tactile experience of the iPad. Touching the screen seems natural. The only thing I struggle with is selecting text. It’s pretty good but not great. Maybe I’ll get better at it. Maybe there’s something that will make it better.

What are the drawbacks? I wonder about eye strain. Blogging with it is horrible. WordPress has an app but it’s pitiful. I assume it will get better. But typing long docs on a virtual keyboard would be very frustrating. There’s an amazing free Dragon Dictation app that allows you to dictate. I’m also going to try a wireless keyboard.

So based on four days, it’s clear to me that this isn’t just a giant iTouch or an iPhone without the phone. It’s a different tactile, intimate way to interact with your data and photos and hobbies and some of your work life. (And check out the Korg iElectribe. $20 and I’m tempted to buy it just to admire it.)

I don’t want to overdo it. It’s four days. Maybe I’ll get tired of it or frustrated by the drawbacks. But I do think it’s a spectaculart way to carry a bunch of intellectual stimulation and aesthetic diversion when I travel. I’m planning on leaving my laptop at home on my next short trip. (And LogMeIn Ignition seems to be able to get at your laptop’s files from your iPad. Amazing) I’d like it to replace my laptop. It can’t yet. But the fact that I want it to, tells me something.