Sunday, June 13, 2010

iPad for Writers, First Impressions

I just last week bought an iPad with the intention of developing software for it.

I wouldn't, as a consumer alone, have made the purchase. But it's important as a developer to really get to know the eco-system, to become a real user in order to understand how such applications would be expected to behave, to lean what's already possible, and to find out what users might need.

Almost immediately, I really like the device, like it far more than I expected to.

Here are a few early impressions for potential iPad buyers. This will look nothing like a formal review. I've never done one and don't figure to star now.

I bought the cheapest version of the iPad I could get (the 16 gig WiFi version), because I don't intend to pay for 3G every month (I have a WiFi connection available enough of the time), and I won't be loading the thing up with media. Applications and data alone won't come close to burning 16 gig.

Another aspect to consider is that Apple will certainly be updating this thing in a year, leaving whatever you buy today sadly in the dust.

I bought the EcoVue for iPad case and like it so far. It's a leather notebook-style folio that protects the iPad well when not in use and allows standing it at a low angle for onscreen typing. It also has an elastic strap for one-handed holding when you're simply reading a book or browsing.

Whether you buy the EcoVue or not, you will want some kind of protection for you iPad. The glass screen presents a large target, and the naked device is slippery. The first time I held it in a store, it wasn't three seconds in my fingers before I nearly dropped it.

The iPad feels heavy (a little heavier than I would wish but not truly burdensome). It's screen is lovely and bright, though too reflective in direct daylight for reasonable reading.

Default brightness settings were too bright for me (and likely will be for the average user) unless I'm using it outside. This setting is easily adjusted.

Don't expect to fire up the iPad as you're walking it from the store. You need a machine with an iTunes account to bring the thing truly to life. After the first connection and a software update, it's possible to do software downloads, browse the web, and check e-mail without a connection to another machine.

Battery life, on first blush, seems pretty decent, though I haven't stressed it enough to see if, during my everyday use, I'll get the promised 10 hours. Some users are claiming to do even better than that.

There are a ton of free applications of all stripes. Do a search for something like 'Must-have iPad applications' and you'll get a bunch of useful lists.

I bought Pages, Apple's word processor, for $10. I also purchased a mind-mapping app,  a relatively sophisticated drawing app (neither of which I've used enough to comment on), and a dictionary/thesaurus combo that looks promising. 

It's too early to tell how well Pages handles short story and novel writing, though I can say that it isn't really tuned for long documents. There is no useable scrollbar that I can find, so the only way to navigate is to scroll by swiping (painful) or to do a Find on words that you know are in a scene you care about.

The process of purchasing and downloading applications to the device is simple and quick.

I have big hands and won't be able to type seriously on the iPad's onscreen virtual keyboard. E-mails and short notes will work fine. For more than that, however, I'll want to have a wireless keyboard (Apple makes a small version that looks pretty decent).

Several of the free and inexpensive games I bought for my iPod Touch work well with no updates on the bigger screen of the iPad. In fact, this device is a huge improvement in terms of usability.

I've just started syncing iCal with Google Calendar. This feature seems to work well and is incredibly handy, though I haven't yet found out how to use Google's tasks (a sort of ToDo list feature and an offshoot of the calendar proper) in iCal.

The application I've used most so far is the Kindle app. It is free, easy to use, and presents a nice reading experience. Within a couple seconds of having bought a book through Amazon's Kindle store, assuming you have a connection on the iPad, your book will be downloaded and ready to go.

If you have multiple devices with the Kindle app installed, you can jump among them and your bookmarks will remain in sync.

The application allows enough customizability of screen brightness, font size, and screen colors to tune things to please any reader I can imagine.


It's my impression that writers will come to love iPad. It's always-on nature (no waiting for boot-ups) and its un-computer-like impression is bound to please. The array of applications a writer might find useful is already impressive and is bound to grow quickly.

Next time I'll talk a bit about this device versus the Kindle hardware, about my continuing experience with software, and about any other new impressions I have.

No comments: