It is a joy to read on, from how crisp and beautiful the type looks on screen to the brightness of the display. I've been reading eBooks from Amazon, and Apple, and articles from the New York Times, NPR and USA Today. These applications bring back the joy of flipping through pages and stumbling upon articles that I might have passed over but are worth my attention. Reading feels familiar and effortless. Yet, the iPad is much more than an eBook reader.
Like its iPhone cousin, the device is a shape shifter–perhaps you remember the wonder twins, Zan and Jayna, These DC Comic Superheros took on other forms when they touched their hands together–and assumed different shapes and properties. The iPad, like it's predecessor, the iPhone, when connected to the iTunes store, takes on different forms. It's a book; no it's a video from Netflix, no; it's my music collection; wait; it's a collection of scholarly papers; hold it, now it's my kid's coloring book. Perhaps this is the real genius of the device and the business model. Not only has Steve Jobs sold me this device capable of assuming so many shapes, but he's sold me a store of stores that I can access at anytime, from almost anywhere. And that's what I have been doing, shopping. After the iPad arrived, I found myself filling it up–with free books from Apple's new book store, syncing the Kindle eBooks that I had already purchased from Amazon, the National Geographic world atlas, the star gazing map that superimposes star charts in the night sky. It feels a little bit like surfing the internet for the first time. I'm giddy at the knowledge buffet that has been put before me and that is so easy to transport. So it's great for shopping and and consuming content, but how would the iPad fare as a primary computing device?
Last week provided me with a test scenario: WiFi enabled jury duty waiting rooms. I left the laptop at home and took my iPad. I was able to respond to email, use the web-browser to check on course Web sites–the kind of tasks that I generally have to do on a laptop or desktop because of page loading times and the amount of screen real estate required. I find typing on the touch screen a bit awkward. The two thumbs method doesn't work; the iPad is just too big in portrait mode. I had better luck when I laid it on my lap and reverted to two handed typing, but I make many mistakes. Many applications have been redesigned to take advantage of the extra screen real estate. Those that present content, such as NYTimes Editor's Picks, and the ABC Video application really shine, though designers are still making sense of how to navigate–it's not always clear when a swipe or a tap will do. NYTimes Editor's Pick application is something of a rebuke for the "Most Emailed" feature. I miss those stories on my iPad, but I guess I'm back to reading the version that everyone's reading–at least for now.
In spite of the wealth of new things that I have, I'm wishing for a way to cleanly annotate PDF documents. I've found an application called "Papers," that excels at organizing scholarly articles (I'm reading more these days as part of graduate studies in NYU Steinhardt's Education, Communication and Technology program) but it doesn't allow me to highlight or make notes in-line–at least not yet. Still, I am able to make page level notes and add bookmarks. I have access to many articles as opposed to a few, but my interaction has changed. I miss my notes in the margins.
I have found that the iPad can be helpful in meetings because it's easy to look something up and pass along. I found myself using it in an information architecture meeting to refer to how existing pages are designed. A laptop would have been intrusive, but the iPad felt like just the right way to be able to take a look at a page and then share it with the person sitting next to me. I expect that we'll be seeing more of these in meetings for agendas, and supporting materials. Again, I want to be able to annotate–not just read.
When we ordered the iPad I joked that it was my daughter's first computer. It's interesting to think that she may grow up without having to use a keyboard, where machine interaction is based on touch and gesture. The real challenge will be in making sure that we do more than distract and amuse ourselves. The iPad opens up new avenues for imagination, creation and sharing. It's up to us to avail ourselves of those opportunities.