iPad: Five Things I Didn’t Expect

Before the iPad went on sale, well before I had a chance even to touch one of the devices, I predicted the iPad would be a big success, an “Inside the Park Home Run.”

I was right.

I don’t say this to impress you. This was an easy call. It didn’t take much prognosticating to come to this conclusion.

I was similarly on target with my expectations as to how the iPad would fit within Apple’s line-up of computers and iOS devices. Consistent with what I wrote, and despite some reports that contend the iPad is “cannibalizing” netbook competitors, the iPad has not emerged as a viable alternative to a laptop computer. And that’s okay. It’s not intended to be. At least not yet.


However, not all of my pre-launch expectations have been met. In fact, I’ve been quite surprised by the way a few things have turned out. Here are five examples (in ascending order):

5. News. For me, one of the biggest joys of having an iPhone have been the news apps — such as from AP or the New York Times. They have been invaluable when I’m on the road and want to keep up with the latest headlines.

My expectation was that the iPad would not have much effect here. If anything, because the iPad was less portable, I assumed that I would still rely mainly on my iPhone for news checking. The larger display on the iPad would give it an edge in some situations. But it would not amount to much.

I was wrong.

As any iPad owner can tell you, the iPad’s larger display offers the opportunity for the iPad to be much more than simply a bigger iPhone. It allows for apps that would be impossible to duplicate on an iPhone. The best of these iPad apps — such as the USA Today and NPR apps — create an entirely new iOS experience. They come much closer to duplicating — and even improving upon — the printed versions of these news sources. For me, they are so much better than the iPhone alternatives, that I gravitate towards the iPad whenever possible.

An even bigger surprise has been the visual RSS-feed-like apps such as Pulse and FlipBoard. With FlipBoard, in particular, my Twitter stream is converted into a sort of online customized newspaper. The result is that I check out many more of the links in my feed, because the automatic display of the content makes it so convenient. I still use a traditional Twitter app, but I try to check in on FlipBoard at least once a day.

With just a bit more evolution of the iPad, I will be ready to abandon print news media altogether. About all that is needed is an economical subscription service with a consistent interface (something Apple is purportedly getting ready to announce).

4. Games. While I am not a big-time player, I do enjoy playing iOS games on a fairly regular basis. I especially prefer games that I can casually pick up, play for a bit, and then put aside. Games that have fit this bill for me on the iPhone include card games, pinball games, as well as several computer games such as Canabalt, Peggle, and Angry Birds.

I expected to play these games on my iPad. I didn’t expect to play them more often than I already did on my iPhone.

I was wrong.

Once again, the iPad’s larger screen made more of a difference than I anticipated. The iPad (HD) versions of games such as Pinball, Labyrinth 2, Real Racing and Air Attack play significantly differently — and much better — on the iPad than on the iPhone. One reason is that, with the larger real estate, you can more easily use your fingers without them getting in the way of what you are trying to see. The iPad versions also allow for options not viable in their iPhone alternatives. With Pinball HD, for example, you can always see the full table at a size big enough to make out the details.

Even games that have not been rewritten for the iPad, such as Angry Birds (I haven’t even bothered to upgrade to the HD version), look and play better at 2X size on the iPad than on the iPhone.

And, of course, there are the great games, such as Scrabble, that only exist on the iPad. [Update: As pointed out by a reader, there is a separate Scrabble app for the iPhone. The iPad version’s interface is so superior, I had forgotten about the iPhone app.]

The result is that I now do almost all of my game playing on an iPad. I only use the iPhone if I don’t have my iPad available. And I never play games on my Mac anymore. 

3. Movies. For watching movies at home, my mantra has long been “the bigger the better.” My goal has been for my home theater to be a superior system for viewing movies than my local multiplex. I currently have a 55” television with a high-end audio system — and have plans to upgrade it within the next year. Given this, I didn’t expect to be doing much movie watching on my iPad — certainly not at home when my home theater was readily available.

I was wrong.

As it turns out, I use the iPad quite often for viewing the streamed movies available for “free” to Netflix subscribers. In fact, for Netflix movies that I watch by myself, the iPad is now my platform of choice. I prefer the convenience of being able to grab the iPad, tap the Netflix app and start watching almost immediately. There’s no need to turn on multiple devices, deal with a remote control or navigate through a series of screens to get to my destination. As a bonus, I can easily move to another room to continue my viewing or (if sound is a problem for other people in the house) plug in my headphones.

As for the iPad’s smaller display, it’s big enough — given that I am only a few inches from the screen. Truly an unexpected surprise.

2. iBookstore. I had high hopes for the iBookstore. With its support for the ePub format and PDFs, I thought it might become my preferred location for storing personal document files on my iOS devices. More importantly, I thought it might be the app that at last convinced me to transition from printed books to ebooks — for reading novels and such.

I was wrong.

For storing personal documents, I use Dropbox. It’s faster and simpler for transferring files (PDFs and more) between my Mac and my iOS devices (as I detailed here).

As for reading ebooks, the iPad’s larger size certainly makes it more attractive than using an iPhone. However, and this may just be a personal quirk, I still prefer paperbacks to ebooks. In theory, the idea of having multiple books available on one small device — with options like searchable text — seems appealing. In practice, however, if I’m going out for the day, I’d much rather carry around a paperback than my iPad. At the very least, I’m less concerned about damaging or losing the paperback. The iPad can be a good choice when I’m home, such as for reading a book in bed, but I don’t do that often enough to get through an entire book that way.

I suspect that I will eventually make the eBook transition — as others have already done. But I’m not there yet.

1. Keyboards and such. Almost as soon as the iPhone was out, I was already longing for the option to use a wireless keyboard with an iPhone. My hope was that, with a real keyboard and sufficiently well-design apps, I would be able to use the combo to get some serious work done when on the road.

It never happened. Then the iPad arrived. Apple announced that the iPad would support Bluetooth keyboards — and that iPad versions of their iWork apps would be available. This was it, I thought. My wish had been granted — in spades.

I was wrong. I have detailed my reasons elsewhere. Mainly, it comes down to three things:

The iPad’s productivity apps (such as Pages) are not yet good enough to meet even my minimalist writing needs (I want to be able to create hyperlinks in an article for example). Actions that require the touchscreen, such as copy-and-paste, are too slow and awkward. File sharing between the Mac and the iPad still doesn’t work well (despite recent improvements to iWork apps).

Things should be a bit better when multitasking arrives on the iPad in November. But that will not be a panacea.

Still, I remain optimistic. I expect that, within the next year or so, most (maybe all) of my concerns will be addressed. Until then, I’m not entirely giving up. I will be on a vacation all next week. As I don’t plan to be writing any articles, I am going to take just my iPad, leaving my MacBook Pro at home (following in the footsteps of Walt Mossberg). I’m a bit hesitant, but hopeful. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Bottom line

True, the iPad doesn’t yet do everything I would like. But I have patience. It’s still a 1.0 device after all.

On the other hand, the iPad already does many things spectacularly well, better than any other device I have ever tried. That’s why, in less than a year, the iPad has emerged as the standard against which all other competing devices are measured. In regard to this turn of events, I am not at all surprised.