Apple iPad (Wi-Fi) Review: Spork Edition

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“What am I going to do with this thing?”

This is what I’ve been thinking about since I first laid hands on the iPad back in January in San Francisco. While the rest of the Internet bitched and moaned about the lack of this (camera) or that (SD card slot/USB port/etc.), which I couldn’t care less about, I wondered what developers could possibly do in a matter of 8-10 weeks. After all, the iPad is only as good as the apps that are built for it.

Someone on Twitter said it was the equivalent of a spork yesterday (I can’t seem to find who said it, so apologies to that person for not properly crediting them) and I couldn’t agree more.

Friends and family alike will tell you that my ardor for it over the weekend was quite sickening. But the magic has worn off and I can see clearly now that it’s unclear where the iPad fits in the grand scheme of things. Sure, I love the ABC app if only for the main purposes of being able to watch Modern Family in the bathroom, kitchen and bedroom, but what else?

(More on Techland: Apple iPad: Eight Hours Later)

I’ve said this since January and I’m sticking with it. Apps will determine whether or not the iPad is a success. Not sales figures. For now, iPad specific apps are decent but not great. This will change over the course of the next six months and I’m sure we’ll be blown away like we were when the first crop of augmented reality apps were being demoed for the iPhone 3GS. There are smart and intelligent people out there building amazing apps that we’ve yet to dream about.

(More on Techland: 10 iPad Apps to Grab on Launch Day)

I find zero pleasure in hammering a machine to find out just how long it will last under extreme conditions. I don’t do that. The iPad easily goes a full day with sporadic use and intermittent sprinklings of “hardcore” use. If you want a range then I guess 7 to 11 hours sounds about right. Recharging a dead battery takes about four hours if that stat is of interest to anyone.

So what if I have to re-enter my Wi-Fi password once or twice? It’s annoying, sure. These things will resolve themselves in due time.

No matter what size the screen is, on-screen keyboards will never adequately replace physical keyboards, but the landscape layout hasn’t stopped me from doing what I need to do. I can probably type just as fast on the iPad as i can on a real keyboard. I am, however, constantly looking down. Oh, and why isn’t the apostrophe key on the top-level?

The App Store for the iPad is a bit difficult to navigate and unless you know what you’re looking for, you might not find it. Aside from the Top Charts section, I don’t know where to go to find cool apps. This minor gripe will soon be fixed, I’m sure. For now I’ll tinker with Netflix, Scrabble and the Marvel Comics app. Oh, I might actually start to cook thanks to the Epicurious app.

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If I didn’t already stare at a computer screen for over 12 hours a day, I might be able to read iBooks for longer than an hour. I found myself curling pages as I do with paper books, but it just wasn’t the same. The texture and sound aren’t there. If I only I could take this to beach where I plan to be all summer. Curse you, Sun.

On Monday, I was feverishly tapping away at my laptop on the couch with the iPad inches away. When I came up for breath, I looked at both and couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t been using the iPad the whole time. I desperately want the iPad to replace my laptop when I’m on the couch or in bed. I might want to have kids some day, but my laptop says no. The transition hasn’t been easy and sometimes it’ll sit on the couch untouched for hours. I fear change.

When I’m at home I just browse the Web. Mobile Safari does a bang up job, but I wish it supported tabs. Maybe iPhone OS 4.0 will allow such shenanigans. Also, any time a new page is opened, Safari defaults to Google Search rather than the URL bar. It’s kind of annoying.

Speaking of iPhone OS 4.0, I’d love to see multi-tasking. And would it be too much to ask to swipe through the Calendar instead of tapping a button? Just sayin’.

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Taking care of e-mail in the morning is significantly easier on the iPad than it is on my iPhone. What a difference that added column makes. The two column system is wonderful and makes navigating the Settings app a breeze. But it hasn’t eliminated the need to dive through multiple levels before, say, turning Wi-Fi on and off.

I’ll most likely purchase a 3G model later this month because I quickly learned upon exiting my protected network that the iPad becomes somewhat useless without a data connection.

It’s hard to whip out the iPad in public and not look like a complete elitist asshole. I constantly hover over it and eye would-be thieves or those I think might want to steal it. It’s uncomfortable. I need LoJack or maybe I’ll just leave it at home.

Will it change your life? Spend some intimate time with one. Find a friend that has one and spend more than 15 minutes with it. Don’t go to the Apple store unless you have to. It’s different. Not quite “magical” as Steve put it, but different.

So, what am I going to do with this thing? I’m not going to create mass amounts of content with it. Twitter doesn’t count and I’m a shit artist so the SketchBook Pro app is lost on me (it’s really, really good, BTW). It won’t replace my laptop or iPhone. It really is a spork that could change the way we think about personal computers, but not until there are some decent apps. It’s unclear what I’ll do with it or how to best utilize it, but I can’t imagine not having it anymore. I’m sure it’ll come to me sometime down the road. In the meantime, I’m going to watch Star Trek and catch up on Digg Nation on this big beautiful screen while I file this story from 35,000 feet on my way to Cupertino for tomorrow’s press conference.

Sent from my iPad