Thoughts on the Ipad

Thoughts on the iPad

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had an iPad for a month now and am so far amazed. I can’t remember the last time a bit of hardware has had a profound impact on my day-to-day life.

‘A Big iPhone’

Not. Anybody who says it’s just a big iphone/touch misses the point entirely –  it’s the other way around – the iPhone is a small and cramped iPad. You simply can’t dismiss the feel of it and the thought behind the gestural language that was seeded on the trackpads and phones but blooms on the glorious screen.

the ‘I’ Pad

One of the less reported traits of the iPad is that it redefines ‘Personal’ computing. The fact is – an unsullied iPad is literally a blank slate – pretty but dull – a soul less hunk of metal, glass and plastic. There is no way to talk about ones experiences of the iPad without living with it for a while and making it your own. The day it arrived my wife asked me “what are you going to do with it?” and to be honest I’m still not entirely sure but I’m going to share how I’m using it right now.

Video

The media side of the iPad was something I was extremely excited about – I’m geeky enough to want to a £500 portable telly and for my sins I got one. Using the wonderful Air Video I can connect to my network media drive and stream pretty much any video format with no waiting and no iTunes. It absolutely rocks. With the addition of Elgato’s Eyetv app (still not iPad native but works well enough) gives me live TV, wherever.  The elephant in the room with  video is the aspect ratio but I’d be happy if they simply let me choose how much I wanted to zoom because at the moment it’s either overly letter-boxed or cropped at least in Apples own video app. I imagine that would be fairly trivial to implement but what do I know!

News & Browsing

They really weren’t kidding when they talked about how great an experience browsing is – it’s just stunning and works. Everything just feels ‘solid’  and when browsing in portrait mode sites just look so much better than they do with ‘the landscape ‘fold’. I hadn’t actually noticed the ability to create bookmarks on the home screen on my iphone because frankly I didn’t browse very much but instead of waiting for linkedin and facebook to be updated to the ipad I’m perfectly happy just going to the sites themselves.  That said I still don’t actually surf that much, I prefer feeds and Newsrack is currently the best on the ipad and works a treat.

Kids

My two year old immediately picked it up and started playing. Not all together unexpected as he’s had a iPod Touch for about a year so it made perfect sense to him. The potential here for education is truly amazing. It’s here where you really feel the ‘personal’ bit tho’. On his touch I’ve simply removed all the other apps and left the kiddy stuff but now he has a million and one icons to navigate (and delete arbitrarily as is his want). I’m hoping that the folders in next version of the OS with help a little.

Work

From a day job perspective it was an exciting prospect. I work in planning and strategy and the key tools for me are sketching, organisation and presentation apps.  I’ve played around a fair bit with Omnigraffle which even though it’s very very much a version 1 it is fantastic for pulling together those little ‘planner charts’. This experience is extremely marred almost to the point of being useless by having to then plug in the iPad into Itunes to retrieve my sketches for further development. That’s not Omni’s fault – that’s Apple and to be fair something which I suspect will be addressed, across the board. Sooner the better. also worth noting is Sketchy –  a sweet little app for pulling together wireframes, doesn’t have anywhere near the flexibility of omnigraffle but if all you need to do is bosh out a few quickies in a meeting it does the trick.  The poster child for usability and portability is mega-todo list Things which wi-fi syncs between desktop, Ipad and Iphone absolutely seamlessly. Alas as I don’t have a U.S. iTunes account I haven’t been able to try out the iWork applications but in the mean time happy to be able to take notes, sketch and present as PDF’s pushed over from keynote on the mac.

Ipad & VNC

Thanks to iTeleport I can now remarkably easily remote control all the other machines I’ve got in my house. I used to screen share from my laptop into my media server and player respectively whenever I wanted to do anything more than changed the channel (which I do through my iphone). The ‘touch’ mode in iteleport works perfectly and the refresh rate is not so bad depending on atmospheric conditions in my home network. In fact I recently started helping out on a screenplay using Adobe Story – which of course is flash based and hence an Ipad no-no. However, I’ve been simply leaving the app open on a mac mini at home and vnc’ing to use, write and review – not quite as neat as a dedicated app but a nifty work around for now.

Jailbreaking & Ipad 3G

OK, I admit it- I did it. Didn’t have a good reason other than to check out what the ‘scene’ was up to and it’s now ridiculously easy with the ‘Spirit’ app. Yes I can now run apps in the background but have realised that Steve was largely right in that you generally don’t need it. I’m sure there will be some great apps out soon (especially looking forward to wi-fi sync working on the ipad which is imminent apparently). If you are brave it’s worth checking out Full-force – it forces native iPhone apps into iPad resolutions – didn’t work on most games I tried –  but on tardy apps it’s a workable stop gap – Ocado and the Guardian for instance.  However it’s actually the iphone/mywi setup which impresses – it simply allows me to tether my iphone to my ipad when I *really* need to get online. Which is rarely at it turns since all my mail, news and social stuff is being pushed to the iphone anyway. As such I genuinely haven’t missed having a 3g Ipad at all!

Designing for Ipad

From my experience so far I don’t actually see the necessity to design ‘specifically’ for the ipad –  but its definitely an opportunity. I can pretty much guarantee that if you make it look good on the ipad it’ll still look good on a desktop so there’s an argument that you might as well.

Orientation

It’s astonishing to see just how ‘traditionally’ well designed sites work on the ipad. If you stick to the current standards around navigation and page structure most things look great. The main consideration is that you now have multiple ‘folds’ depending on orientation. In Landscape mode is unsurprisingly near enough identical to a normal desktop or laptop – most sites are designed for 1024×768 anyway.  The gag is that you actually get back about 30 pixels due to the fact there are no menus and it’s not in an unsightly window.   It’s the addition of the portrait view which adds extra opportunities. In portrait it feels like and is almost double the viewable area. Obviously all they are doing simply scaling to the width of the screen so if you do the maths your fold will be at  (1024/768)*1024 = 1365.  Given this – If I was designing specifically for the ipad  and don’t need to scroll vertically it’s a logical place to ‘hard’ position a footer to frame a page and remove scrolling entirely and give the site itself much more of an ‘app’ feel.

Depth

Additionally there is a fantastic opportunity to design sites with ‘depth’. Since all you have to do is double tap to zoom you could cram in a huge amount of content – you simply would never do on a mouse based browser – and then simply zoom in and out to read.

Sideways

It occurred that since you are always swiping, that horizontal scrolling might be fun. I’ve had a play around with some sideways scrolling sites for a laugh and to be honest it doesn’t work terribly well. The ipad is optimised to condense and scroll vertically and whilst it’s obviously easier swiping than dragging mice around it’s slightly counter intuitive and clunky. I wouldn’t design like a shop for instance where you want to insure that folk actually see what you want them to see. There’s also the other fundamental problem of orientation if you designed something which was no doubt incredibly pretty at 1024×1365 to be viewed horizontally you’d of course be 4 ways scrolling in landscape mode (plus the ipad would probably get all confused about how to scale stuff although haven’t tried that yet)!

Navigation

One of the other considerations when designing for the ipad is navigation positioning – the tradition of the left hand nav is counter intuitive if you are holding the ipad in your left hand and using your right hand to navigate as your hand now covers the entire screen. (The lefties finally got one up on us!). It does beg the question for the future – do we need to start making the nav location entirely customisable?

Irritations

It’s heavy, it wants a camera and some of the interface elements haven’t been well enough thought through – but it’s version 1 so I forgive all of that. What I don’t forgive and what nobody seems to want to talk about is iTunes. It destroys an otherwise fantastic experience. It’s about time that Apple bit the bullet and ripped the bloody thing apart and rebuilt it from scratch. The iTunes store and anything to do with video or managing applications is just awful. I didn’t mind it so much with my iphone but then I wasn’t having to sync all the time. It’s slow, it’s buggy, it’s bloatware and it needs some major love.

The Game-Shifting Paradigm-Changer.

Being a 1.0 digital dude I miss that days we used to talk about paradigm shifts and I believe that this is one of those. Everything we knew or thought we knew about the relationship between a carbon and silicon based life forms is in flux and the iPad is the catalysing expression of a frustration with technology you didn’t know you had.

At least for me, you will probably think differently, but that’s the point.

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  1. very interesting – thanks!

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