Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Two months with iPad  §

So we bought an iPad just as we were going into the hospital to deliver our little one, and it did prove useful in that context… We used it the first few nights with hospital WiFi to do on-the-fly research about all the things we were worried about, needed help with, and so on in relation to our new baby. Being able go do Google searches and watch YouTube videos on offering breastfeeding advice right inside the hospital room really made the initial transition to parenthood much easier than it might otherwise have been.

Now the kid is home, however, and so are we, and life is moving forward and it’s been just over two months with the iPad. So what do I think of it now?

In one way it’s like the crack cocaine of gadgets. You can have a fairly complete, desktop-like web reading experience just about anywhere. It becomes something that yu simpl carry with you out of habit almost all the time so that if you happen to have the need to, you can look anything up "on the fly," and even when you have no particular need of this sort, you constantl find yourself browsing one or another site online that you frequent and read, since with the iPad it’s so effortless.

For anything interactive or productive, however, the iPad basically sucks. The basic reason for this is that it is impossible to get data into the damned thing. On a real keyboard I type well over 110 words per minute with no errors. On the iPad screen I think I get about 25, and that with tons of errors, and to even accomplish that I have to actually be looking at my hands and the keyboard. It’s not, first of all, a standard keyboard; even basic things like numbers and quotation marks require the use of the Shift key (which has a nonstandard size and position), and when pressing Shift the resulting key layout is unlike any real keyboard you’ve ever seen. Combine this exceedingly and relentlessly nonstandard layout with the glass-smooth screen that provides absolutel no tactile feedback or hand position cues and you have a touch-typist’s worst nightmare. To type on the screen is to feel totally awkward and constrained. Almost worse is the lack of arrow keys, making navigation for serious text enterers tremendously clumsy, slow, and almost impossible to accomplish.

You can, of course, connect a bluetooth keyboard, and I have two of them, one of them being te vey nice Apple model. This works great for touch typing, but it requires that the user enter the settings menu to enable it, then connect to it each time a typing session is to occur. So it is that if you plan to type on your iPad using a bluetooth keyboard, it takes about 90-180 seconds to get to the point where you can enter text, thereby eliminating the instant-on/instant-off benefit that is one of the main reasons to use a mobile embedded device like the iPad. Aside from this, the addition of an external keyboard recreates the extra bulk that is the primary reason for choosing the iPad over a netbook in the first place. In fact, it’s worse because with the iPad and a keyboard, the two are not connected physically to one another and you must thus manage to handle and find surfaces for two stand-alone devices instead of only one.

I have a capacitive stylus on the way from Amazon Prime and will try to use it with the iPad PhatWare handwriting recognizer once it arrives. Perhaps handwriting recognition is the path to the nirvana that would be efficient iPad data entry, but at the same time I somehow don’t think it will. Thanks to Apple’s overzealous desire to lock the platform down, they’ve made it impossible for programmers to do things at the system (abstracted) level, like, say, add a new input method in a generalized way that will automatically work for all apps. So even the and writing recognition angle will bew hamstrung by the limitation that it can only be used in one "note-taking" app, then copied from there to other apps’ entry fields and boxes if handwriting is to be used everywhere.

Aside from input methods, there are some other teething problems with iPad 1.0. It has the same limited amount of RAM as early iPhones and iPods, which often isn’t enough for the way that developers have built their (often much more complicated) iPad apps, which means that apps crash (exit abruptly to the desktop) quite regularly, really the worst way Apple could have handled an out-of-memory condition.

As a result of this limitation, many apps are much more watered down than they would otherwise have to be, and are thus much less useful than their desktop/laptop versions. Examples of this problem include pretty much every suite of "office" apps for the iPad, as well as Apple’s own Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. All simply pale in comparison to their desktop versions, omitting vast swaths of critical features that could instead have been redesigned to be touch-friendly if more memory had been available to developers to port them.

Overall the net effect is of a device that is fabulous (and fabulously addictive) when used like the new media version of a television (for consuming content and information produced and entered by others) but that is really quite poor (and poorer than was really necessary) for actual work or entering data or information of any kind.

With that said, this entire post has been touch-typed out (albeit with many dozens of mistakes and backspacing followed by re-typing) on the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, so it is possible to create with it, just not efficiently.

So all in all it’s a mixed bag, pending the arrival of a stylus and my following attempts to use it for sandboxed handwriting recognition. The iPad isn’t a device you "love to hate" so much as it is a device that you "hate to love" and that you feel guilt for not being able to get enough of, given that it costs twice as much as a netbook but doen’t help you to be as productive in many ways. Quite the opposite, in fact, if you’re not careful.

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