After all the hype and hoo-ha, I finally got my hands on an iPad two weeks ago. Since then I've been struggling to see just where it fits into my digital life. There's no doubt the iPad is a great product that has captured the imagination of the world. After all, it is the world's first really successful tablet computer that does most things well. It's superb for consuming content – news, web pages, books, magazines, videos, movies – and it is an ideal photo viewer. But just where does it fit in the life of someone who has both an iPhone and a MacBook Pro?
I struggle. At home, on the couch, it is unparalleled for single-task information consumption. But because of the current absence of multi-tasking, it isn't much good if you want to browse the web at the same time as keeping open Skype or another chat client. Every time you want another bit of information you have to exit the task in hand and then return later. And as a book reader, the iPad is big, big. It is so big that it feels unnatural in comparison with the more book-like forms of, say, the Kindle or the Sony Touch Edition. It is redeemed by the screen, of course, but it just isn't as convenient as the others. Nor, dare I say, as convenient as the iPhone or iPod touch.
Away from home, there's still a struggle between when to use the iPad and when the iPhone. The iPhone is always with you, in your pocket, and does everything, from texting to web browsing. Sure, it has the same single-tasking limitations as the iPad, but that's somehow ok with the phone. The big fact is that the phone is always in your pocket. To take the iPad is a decision. It isn't small, it isn't inconsiderable in weight, it needs a bag. So you have to make a conscious decision whether or not to take the iPad.
Even if you have it with you, in its bag, you have to decide when to get out the iPad for reading, web browsing or other another task where you can take advantage of the larger screen real estate. In some situations (at a restaurant table or on the London Underground, for instance) the iPad is positively embarrassing. It's too big for the table and looks like you're reading on a laptop computer while eating your meal. And in the confines of a train seat, it feels like you're cradling a 27in television on your lap.
For both these tasks, reading in a restaurant or on crowded public transport, the iPhone has the iPad beat hands down. Over the past few months, since I stopped using my Sony e-Reader, I haven't carried my faithful Crumpler messenger bag and have relied entirely the my iPhone in my pocket. Now I have to choose whether or not to take a bag if I am to make full use of the iPad.
The iPad is as big as a small laptop or netbook but it is severely limited in what you can do with it. Last week, while away in Switzerland, I found I couldn't use it efficiently for blogging to MacFilos. It's also unwieldy when you need to reference a source of information while writing an article, something that any netbook or a MacBook does without effort.
Without doubt, many users take an opposing view. Our man in Washington, Ralf Meier, is completely sold on the attractions of the iPad. He has told me that it does everything he wants while out and about and he will not buy another laptop computer for travelling. He is mainly a content consumer and probably sees things from a different perspective. He also isn't a fan of reading on the iPhone and he finds the iPad far superior to his earlier Sony Touch Edition reader.
For my part, however, the jury is still out. I dearly want to love my iPad and I will persevere until I get access to the iPad Store and can stock up on applications. The multi-tasking promised in iPhone OS 4, in the autumn, will also help address some of my concerns. Then I might find more use for it. But for now I am beginning to think the unthinkable: Do I really need this new toy?