3 million and then some

Somewhat against my better judgement and everything I keep telling myself regarding first-generation Apple products, I got a Wi-Fi only iPad, thanks to an acquaintance who was on Madrid on a work trip1.

As to 3G, and although I had originally planned to get it built-in, shortage of 3G devices meant I have to make do with a “MiFi”:Wikipedia:MiFi or the ancient 3G router I left at my relatives’, which isn’t half bad – I get to use regular SIMs and get full HSUPA into the bargain (plus longer battery life), so I’m not really sorry.

After all, the number of times I used an embedded 3G modem on a netbook at home or weekends during the past year and a half (rather than using a router or a phone) was likely under a couple of times a month anyway, so it’s an acceptable compromise.

It bears mentioning that I don’t really like the idea of having 3G modules embedded in everything – for home use, it is too wasteful and problem-prone when you can just put up a tiny box and set up the connection once for all your gear, using one SIM card.

If I were getting the iPad for work it would certainly be a very different story, but that can wait until the next hardware revision… With the thing currently sporting HSDPA only and half the RAM of an iPhone 4, there’s certainly room for improvement.

But that has zero impact on the user experience, and, like most people, I’m loving it. There are a few UI quirks that my previous dives into borrowed devices hadn’t revealed, and touch-typing at cruise speed requires a little adjustment at first (there are no physical cues as to where your fingers lie and the key spacing is actually a bit larger than you’d expect), but nothing that I can’t get used to.

Regarding text input, there are only two caveats so far:

  • Not having Portuguese input is a pain for some things, and I hope it arrives with iOS 4 – especially because that was the first release that got the auto-completion well and truly right for us here.
  • Using a terminal session over SSH can be… interesting. Muscle memory keeps telling me to do stuff that the soft keyboard can’t easily replicate, but, oddly enough, using vim is easy.

Killer Apps

App-wise, I was pretty much set from the get go, so I won’t bore you with the usual tales of woe regarding the lack of such and such app (Facebook and LinkedIn, I’m looking at you), or debate the latest, as yet unproven fads (like Flipboard, which has been hyped six ways from Sunday yet doesn’t quite hit the spot) but merely point out that besides grabbing all the iWork apps, I already had most of everything else:

  • Reeder is simply brilliant, and the great UI design only sinks in after you use it for a while. It’s the first thing I tap on every day.
  • Evernote works pretty much great (for plaintext notes), although it’s still a mite crashy.
  • Dropbox, despite being read-only due to what are essentially iOS limitatons, is easily the most useful thing to get files across (and Droptext nearly good enough – would actually be useful if it could create folders, which is the only serious omission)
  • Echofon (which I had stopped using a while back) is pretty amazing on this device, sporting a clean UI and a nice feature set.

All I need is a simple, sensible image editor, and I’m set – Photogene is good enough for basic image manipulation, but something a tad more featureful might be in order later – for now, Keynote does good enough diagramming, and MindNode lets me sketch out mind maps in a jiffy without all the visual clutter other, similar apps, er… “feature”.

Like pretty much everyone else, I think this thing was built for Instapaper and Stanza. iBooks is cute, but not very flexible or practical if you generate your own content.

Stanza, on the other hand, grabs everything I have on Calibre over Wi-Fi without any tedious tethering and will open EPUB files I browse to via Safari or get via e-mail, so it’s an order of magnitude more useful (not to mention more customizable in terms of reading layout).

Immobile Me

Which brings me to the one glaring feature still missing from Apple’s devices: network syncing. I’ve recently ranted on about how pathetically retarded it is to have to sync stuff via USB, and the iPad drives home that point in spades.

Stuff like AirVideo goes a long way towards bridging the gap, but it’s ridiculous to see nearly every developer reinventing the file transfer wheel, with apps like Documents To Go and GoodReader (which I already used before) sporting over half a dozen different ways for you to get your data in and out of the device.

I call it “connectivitis”, and it’s downright preposterous.

Every app that I’ve come across recently devotes well over half its Settings options to let you set up different ways to transfer files – I’ve been trying to pick the ones that work with Dropbox and generic web servers, but there are also FTP clients, proprietary helper apps that you install on a desktop, and (woe betide) even nearly full-featured embedded e-mail clients where you must (again) configure your e-mail accounts to let the apps get at your files.

This is the elephant in the room about using an iOS device, and completely against the MobileMe concept, which actually included the promise of a sync hub for Mac apps (remember when Yojimbo came out?).

I’d love to see Apple fix all of this nonsense with a standard way to sync data wirelessly across its ecosystem (even if at the expense of giving me another reason to keep my MobileMe account – maybe even the best one yet), and can’t wait for iTunes 10 to see if that pans out in some way.

But there is lower hanging fruit – for instance, why iBooks doesn’t fully support the iOS “Open With” feature through the browser is a mystery to me (but then again, the iWork apps suffer from the same omission, so it might be coming soon).

Until they sort out this mess, I’ve set Calibre to download the Economist and a couple of other online magazines and e-mail them to me automatically, thereby ensuring lots of short-form reading material (plus I like it that Stanza doesn’t even try to look like a book).

I can do without files, such as they are, for a little while, even if that means jumping through a disproportionate amount of hoops.

Other Devices

Has this killed off my Sony Reader, then? So far, the answer is no – not because reading on it is hard (it isn’t, at all), but rather because when I want to read books I don’t want distractions or the temptation to pop over to my e-mail or feeds “for a second or two”.

If I have to travel light I’ll likely take only the iPad, but the Reader is roughly half the size and a third of the weight, so it’s not hard to take along. And, despite the iPad having excellent battery life, the Reader is likely the only gadget I have that I practically never charge – well, of course it needs charging every couple of weeks or so, but that’s equivalent to “very seldom” in this high-powered, technicolor, hysterically interactive gadget universe we now live in.

It is nevertheless true that I now find my iPhone a tad small, but that is why I am still taking the iPod Touch with me to read news over breakfast – not just because it’s so much more practical in terms of form factor, but also much easier to clean cheese and marmalade off of.

The iPad is now what I sit down and relax with instead of a netbook for both consuming media and drafting documents, but I go and sit at a desk or with my laptop if I need to code, do fine tweaks on files or print stuff2.

Netbook-wise, my initial inclination is to dump the lot as time permits. But it’s very likely indeed that I will keep one around with Fedora 13 in case I need a different flavor of UNIX for fooling around with (or if Chrome OS ever comes out for real).

But yeah, two thumbs up for the iPad (and, given that I’m now contentedly tapping this away on it with my feet up, two big toes up for it as well).

1 Actually, thanks to two people – Nuno, who bought it for me, and Pedro, who dropped by ninja-like late in the evening on his way back home to actually deliver it. The fact that we needed to resort to cloak-and-dagger-like tactics for me to actually get my hands on an iPad before it became technically obsolete is a testament to how badly screwed up Apple retail is these days – regardless of volumes, priorities and suchlike, selling them in “Spain”:Wikipedia:Spain but not in Portugal (even if only via online store, which ships across Europe) is completely and utterly ridiculous.

2 And even then, there’s an app for that, although it also suffers from the ailment of having entirely too many different ways to get at your files.