A week in the life of an iPad owner

Carrying around the iPad demonstrates its many uses

Not due for its Canadian launch for a few weeks still, the iPad is a rare sight north of the border right now.

But, being an early adopter and in New York the date of its American release, I picked one up.

The number one question I hear from friends and co-workers is, “What is this thing good for?”

It’s a fair question in a world dominated by portable electronics, particularly for those already sporting an iPhone 24/7. If you’re familiar with the iPhone or iPod Touch then you have a good understanding of what Apple’s latest creation is all about.

The best way to answer this question seems to be an analysis of how the iPad’s worked it’s way into my daily routines over the past week.

Diary of an iPad owner

April 3rd: The iPad goes on sale

Lines started forming at the 5th Ave Apple Store. I contemplate joining them early in the morning but opt to do a bike tour from Central Park to the Brooklyn Bridge instead.

Later that aternoon I find myself in Soho and wander into the 14th St Apple Store. I jokingly ask a sales rep if they still have iPads in stock to which his shocking reply is “yes we do!”

After a few brief minutes with a demo model I walk out of the store with a pair of 32GB iPads (retail $599 US). Back at the hotel plug one in to charge it and plug it into my laptop to get it registered.

Externally the iPad looks and feels like a giant Touch. The only new physical presence on the exterior is a switch that locks the rotation of the screen – nice for laying down to read in bed. Internally the hardware is similar too. Take one Touch circuit board, add two big batteries, a gorgeous screen and throw in a faster CPU and you’ve got it.

April 4th: US only!

One of my major objectives was to use the iPad as an e-reader so I immediately try and open the App Store to download iBooks. No luck. I’d registered the device to my existing Canadian iTunes account and the app store isn’t available to me yet. With no US account and forgetting the US gift card trick to set one up, I give up on trying to get any apps.

That night waiting to fly home I take advantage of JetBlue’s free wifi and start putting Safari to the test.

Surfing on the iPad is a dream. Most sites are legible without needing to pinch zoom your way around them.

I check out some cat videos and stop motion Lego Star Wars on Youtube and are awed by how amazing even the SD videos look on the ample screen.

Everything works great except for the regular blue lego in place of what should be Flash content.

April 5th: Finally some apps

At home I connect the iPad to my desktop and fire up iTunes to get some apps finally. Still no luck with iBooks, US only and as I later find out it may be that way for some time after in Canada until Apple can sort out publishing issues here.

None of EA Games’ high profile apps are available either. I still manage to fill three screens with app icons for everything from the Air Harp to Flight Control HD. It’s time for bed before I can really try anything out.

April 6th: Reading the hours away

One of my favourite apps for the iPhone, Instapaper Pro, has been upsized to the iPad. The basic idea is that you use a bookmarklet in your browser to save a web page to read later. Instapaper intelligently grabs the story content and saves it in the cloud. When you open the app it downloads everything you’ve saved so you can read it offline and on the go.

This worked well enough on the tiny iPhone screen but reading on the hard cover book size iPad display is simply amazing. My hunger for iBooks grows.

April 7th: Game night

An early success story on the iPhone was Flight Control, a simple game where you use your fingers to guide planes to collision free landings. In single player mode the game is significantly harder as there’s far more room to cram more planes in at once. Multiplayer mode reaches new heights though as my partner and I discover that we can work together, handing planes off across the screen to each other’s respective runways.

Other iPhone favourites like Zen Bound, Plants vs Zombies and Touchgrind are all back in hi-res glory – although many of them at significantly higher prices.

April 8th: News and magazine

Today I decide to see how the iPad is going to “save print” – the hopeful words of publishers around the world, not mine.

The New York Times, Popular Science and Time Magazine amongst dozens of others are all present. Each is taking a different approach, with the NY Times looking as much like a print rag as possible and Popular Science possibly going too far out there into the land of multi-media – a magazine app shouldn’t require instructions. Time Magazine falls somewhere in between. It remains to be seen if people will repeatedly pay for these digital publications or not.

April 9th: Friends to the rescue

With a little help from a friend’s US iTunes account I’m finally able to log into the app store on the iPad and get my anxious fingers on the forbidden fruit. First things first, download iBooks! The free readers I have just aren’t cutting it for a seamless and intuitive e-reader experience. Perhaps if I were a Kindle customer this might be different. iBooks is a great reader.

The previews of NOW’s upcoming e-book format work well, the free copy of Winnie the Pooh is great. I’m satisfied.

While I’m at it I grab Mirror’s Edge and take it for a run. This 3D side scroller is a top-notch game making great use of the touch interface while looking great and bringing something new to the already innovative console version.

April 10th: Final thoughts

What’s the iPad good for? Pretty much anything.

With some practice you can type quickly on the horizontal keyboard and typing with the keyboard dock is a no brainer. But there’s really something for everyone.

  • The IT crowd can remotely access servers using apps like ConnectPC.
  • Musicians can use the iPad as an additional midi controller in their existing rigs or even use one of hundreds of apps as audio sources. Readers are well taken care of.
  • Youtube and movie buffs alike will enjoy a solid viewing experience, even if the screen isn’t actually a widescreen format.
  • Web junkies won’t be able to give up on the unprecedented access to the net.
  • Gamers have something unlike any other device to experience all sorts of new modes of interaction.
  • Developers are just discovering the possibilities this new device class presents and the killer apps are yet to come.

One important note is that I’ve yet to find myself in a situation where I’d need the 3G model. Forget for a second that this will require a second data plan – unless you jailbreak your iPhone and use it as a wifi hotspot – it’s not like the iPad will fit in your back pocket. This is a device clearly meant for laid back consumption in environments that usually have wifi.

When you do use it on the go, apps like iBooks and Instapaper give you offline content access and you’ll survive if you can’t submit your latest Flight Control high score to the leaderboards.

Every person I’ve seen touch the iPad is consumed by the techno sexiness that it exudes. With 450,000 of them sold in less than a week there’s no doubt Apple is on to something.

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