We Pad, You Pad, Not Sure I like the iPad…

I’ve been ambivalent about the iPad since it launched, but finally had to buy one for a project I’m working on.

A few days in, I’ve actually changed my mind somewhat. I still don’t love the device, but the things that bother me aren’t entirely the things I expected.

As everyone else on the planet has already said, it is a spectacular device for browsing media. The screen is great and a good size for photos or video. The lack of buttons and other clutter makes it very easy to use and both my kids like it. As a Netflix fan, I’ve found it to be a decent way to watch a movie and so far it’s the first Apple device I’ve owned in a long time that doesn’t seem to have any wi-fi issues.

It has sold me on both the potential of tablets and their advantages. In many ways it feels like a true cloud device.

But like I said, there are some problems.

I’ll skip all the stuff about SD card support etc. It’s a problem and who knows if Apple will fix it or not.

But there are some other issues too.

A big issue for me is that I’m perpetually in fear of dropping the thing and it feels as though it wouldn’t survive a 2’ drop to the floor. When you have a device that gets warm enough to make your hands sweat, I’m just not sure I want such a smooth finish on all sides.

The iPad is also damn uncomfortable to hold for an extended period of time. For some reason, I am inclined to hold it in portrait mode like a traditional book. My wife does the same thing. But you simply can’t do that for very long unless you have wrists of steel. The iPad is heavy for its size and it doesn’t let you forget that.

Steve Jobs recently blasted 7” tablets as useless, but I’m not convinced. The smaller size and lower weight may just be the perfect combination.

I’m also surprised at how lame many of the iPad apps are. Most of the apps that are labelled as “optimized for iPad” are simply badly scaled, not redesigned. The “2X” button that scales apps automatically also makes most things pretty ugly. The Facebook app looks atrocious — so much so that I went back to the web interface. Given how many iPads have sold and the higher price iPad apps command, I find it odd that developers aren’t doing better at this.

But I think my biggest overall gripe is the dependency on the iTunes desktop app. For some reason, I don’t mind it so much on the iPhone. But on the iPad, iTunes is rapidly becoming the overbearing parental figure that follows you around and has to get in the way of everything you want to do “for your own good”. The iPad feels like a real computing device, not a phone (even though that line is completely blurred), and the dependency on iTunes and a connection to a desktop/laptop is incredibly frustrating.

At times, the iPad feels like a true cloud device, but iTunes kills that baby-sized dream before it can crawl. You switch it on for the first time and have to connect to iTunes on your desktop. You take new pictures, you have to connect to iTunes on your desktop. You want new music, connect to iTunes on your desktop (unless you want to buy all your CD’s again). You want to back everything up, grab your cable… And iTunes itself just feels clunkier each time I use it. When I’m searching for apps, I don’t want to see music or video results. And vice versa. The iTunes app feels like a bunch of pieces that are poorly slopped together, and given Apple’s dedication to the user experience, I am quite sure they could do better.

The App Store app on the phone isn’t much better. It drives me nuts that when I choose something for download, I am automatically kicked out of the app store and returned to the iPad/iPhone’s home page. I was busy buying things — why did you kick me out?

There are lots of reasons why Apple are fighting the cloud, but I suspect the main one is their perception of control. If you don’t think they are fighting it, just take a look and see what the default Apple advice is for synchronizing your Google Contacts. Guess what? They recommend you sync via iTunes. That way, any time you update your contacts, you have to run home and sync two devices — your desktop iTunes machine and then your iPad. But if you head on over to Google, you’ll find that you can actually sync Google Contacts and Google Calendars without so much as looking at a USB cable. For calendars, you can use CalendarDAV or MS Exchange, and Contacts will sync quite happily with the MS Exchange option too. Now I can update or add a contact on my Android phone and the iPad address book app will be updated within minutes. No iTunes required. Same goes for my calendar.

I love the way Apple can sometimes step back and re-imagine how things should be. When they are right, they are brilliant. But iTunes is a sickly dog that needs to be put down. Or at least genetically mutated into some kind of never-before-seen leash-free über-canine that can rule the world. If they don’t make that leap, sooner or later they will get left behind.