Should I buy an iPad to replace my computer?

the new iPad

There is very little that’s interesting to say about the new iPad. I’d sum it up this way: the iPad’s always been wonderful, and the new model improves the screen, one of the few things that was left to improve about previous models. (Still to go: the weight.)

Should you buy one? If you’re like most of us, and you use your computer mostly for browsing the web, absolutely. The iPad is a pleasure, and it goes places where we read (couch, bed, standing in the kitchen, bathtub) more gracefully than a laptop ever can.

Someone asked me today whether to buy an iPad to replace a dying laptop, and that’s a tougher question. There are still things that are infuriatingly difficult to do on an iPad. Try downloading a Microsoft Word document from the web, editing it, and emailing it to someone. It can be done, but if you’re the sort of person to consider having an iPad as your only computer, you’re probably not one to fiddle and work at figuring out things like this.

(For the record, here’s how: Download the file with a web browser that allows downloads, such as Atomic Web. Use Atomic Web’s file manager to transfer the file to Dropbox. Use a Dropbox and Office-compatible editor such as Documents to Go to edit your document. Finally, use an app such as GoodReader, which has the ability to attach files to outgoing messages, to send your email.)

But for 90% of what we use computers for, the iPad is just all-around better. And the cincher is the battery life, which aside from plugging it in at night you never have to think about. I ordered my iPad 1 the day it was announced, replaced it as soon as the iPad 2 was announced, and Ordered my new iPad Wednesday. (I’ve bought the $499 model each time, and managed to sell it on ebay for around $400 right before the new model’s announced. A few weeks without an iPad makes me appreciate the new one when it comes.)

An open letter to Oxford Dictionaries and Handmark software on the state of the Oxford iOS apps

[My apologies if this has reached you in error. Writing to large corporations can feel like yelling in the wind, so I’m cc’ing a number of emails in hopes that one may reach a sympathetic ear. Please consider forwarding this to someone who can do something about it.]

Dear Gents:

I’ve purchased several of your iPhone and iPad apps, including the New Oxford American Dictionary. I’m a big fan of the dictionary’s actual definitions, but not a big fan of the app itself. Most frustrating is how many taps it takes from launching the app to getting to look up a word. It’s (1) launch, (2) wait for the search command to appear, (3) tap search (a TINY button?!), (4) tap inside the search box, and (5) tap to delete the previous word looked up.

Un-reasonable, especially for a $29.99 app. If I were making suggestions to you, I’d recommend the app to automatically look up a word if one is in the device’s clipboard, and offer a blinking cursor in a search field upon launch otherwise.

Recently I was looking for a thesaurus app, and noticed your Writer’s Thesaurus. As much as I’d like to own this app ($24.99), I cannot buy it after reading some of the reviews. There’s content missing from the app that exists in the book? There are mini-essays throughout the app that can only be found by stumbling on them? And, most devastatingly, the search is no better than the dictionary app? Sorry, I’ll have to stick to the web browser for word discovery.

I hope you’ll invest some time and energy into improving these (expensive!) apps, so that the user interface is as useful and engaging as the content. And I hope you’ll write me back with your plans in this regard, so I can either begin to wait in anticipation, or put my hopes to rest.

Yours truly,
Alesh Houdek

Update: I actually received a response from Park Jacobs at Handmark (the software partner that produces Oxford University Press’ apps) almost immediately, but haven’t gotten a chance to respond to him or post it until now. Shame on me. Here it is:

Hi Alesh,

My Name is Jacob Park and I am the product manager at Handmark responsible for the Oxford dictionaries on mobile clients. I’d like to thank you for your feedback. We’re always looking to improve the user experience and your feedback is critical.

Your suggestion for automatically searching for text in the clipboard is great and a feature that has been added to the to-do list. The loading time you are seeing while waiting for the search command to appear on launch is a result of some libraries being loaded that are required for the ‘fuzzy’ search functionality. I am looking into what we can do to speed that up to reduce the time from launch to search. The search process you describe below seems to reflect the user experience of the iPad app functioning in portrait mode. Is that correct? I think there may be some relatively easy fixes we can get in that would improve the search functionality, particularly on the iPad, like assuming the user wants to execute a new search when the app is brought to the foreground – clearing out the previous text and displaying the search popover automatically with the search field active. I’ll put these in the feature list for the next point release of the application.

Again, thanks for the feedback. It really is appreciated.

Regards,
Jacob

Gruber’s wrong about Apple TV

On Wednesday I posted my article predicting how the future Apple TV will work, and I emailed a link to John Gruber of Daring Fireball, who’s been writing a lot about this stuff (here and here). No problem there, the guy’s busy, super-selective about linking stuff, and probably finds my ideas to be pretty obvious.

But then I listen to him on yesterday’s Talk Show, and holy crap. Gruber believes:

  • There’s no way the Apple TV will use cable cards.
  • The way forward is that channels will be apps. E.g., the new iPad Bloomberg app, but running on the apple TV.

This is insane. Predicting what Apple will do based on what it’s done in the past is a great strategy, except when it’s not. My take-away from what Apple’s done over the last 5 years is that they’ve systematically become more and more realistic about what people need in a product to buy it, and putting that into the product. The obstacles that’ve kept people from getting an iPhone have been systematically eliminated (enterprise support, pricing, more carriers). So why the heck would they create an television that doesn’t work with cable?

Certainly there are people who get by without cable (I’m one), and the numbers are growing every year. But even more people can’t imagine life without cable. (I imagine Gruber is one, sports fanatic that he is.) Is your Apple TV going to connect to a cable box? I think Steve Jobs’ quote, “the simplest user interface you could imagine,” takes that off the table. So I’m sticking by my predictions there: the Apple TV will work equally well with or without cable. For those using it with cable, it’ll abstract away as much of the vestiges of cable — channels, schedules, etc. — as it can.

But the “apps as channels” thing is even crazier thing to me, for reasons that I don’t even think require explanation. Look at the mess that magazine apps have made of navigation. Do you really want every channel on your TV to have its own navigation?!

I usually agree with Gruber, but here I think he’s just as wrong as Marco was. John Siracusa will presumably discuss this today. I think he’ll be able to talk some sense to these people.

Main thing I want to –and can’t– do on my iPad

Rate photos. I’m talking about the 0 to 5 score that can be stored in an image file’s EXIF data. I’m talking about getting a batch of photos previously synced to my Mac to the iPad (perhaps in a reduced size), viewing them in a Photos-like app that allows me to set the rating (and maybe make other EXIF edits, but that’s strictly gravy), and then sync the ratings back to the original files.

You have NO IDEA how badly I want this. I’m learning iOS development in hopes of building the app that’ll be able to do this (Filterstorm Pro comes close, but ends up failing I think). The reason: I believe that my photo library will outlast any single photo organization software. Hence the EXIF approach. It’s the reason I use Lightroom instead of Picasa or iPhoto (tho I’m considering just using Bridge exclusively). But for me, looking at photos and making judgements is 100 times more pleasant on the iPad than on a computer. On the Mac, it feels like work — like a chore. On the iPad, it’s practically a game. I don’t know why, but I NEED this. Eventually, Apple will make an amazing iPhoto for the iPad the way they did with GarageBand. But I can’t wait any more. Help!

Six things the iPhone and iPad still can’t do

  1. Download an image from the internet, crop it, and upload it to a blog
  2. Post a video you find on Twitter to your Tumblr
  3. Download a song from a website and save it to your music app (or generally get music, or anything else, on or off the phone on anything but its “home” computer)
  4. Run Flash (and spare me, the $199 Kindle Fire does it)
  5. Check the weather from the home screen (or display any information other than the date: the calendar app customizes its icon with the current date, but no other app can do this)
  6. Adjust the size of text on a web page

The overall quality thing with Dell

dell 24 I took a passing swipe at Dell in my latest article at The Atlantic, but I wanted to just tell you one specific story. Here’s the old-style Dell 24” UltraSharp monitor. Expensive, premium — it cost $599 back in the day, and the current version still goes for $399 today. I’ve had personal experience with three of these, and let me tell you.

  1. The first is the one I still use at work. It’s survived about three years. But. First of all, the USB-hub thingy built into the monitor never worked. Also, lately, the bottom left area of the monitor is way darker than the rest of the screen. I originally thought this was dust somehow getting sucked between the LCD and the backlight, but now there are weird faint horizontal bars in the same area depending on what’s on the display (i.e., a black square on a white background will make the area above and below it slightly than the surrounding white), so something funky is going on.
  2. The second one arrived in the mail, turned on for a split second, shut down, and never powered up again. DOA.
  3. The replacement worked fine for three years. Just about a month ago, though, the power button stopped working. Monitor works just fine, self-powers down when it looses a signal, but if I want to manually turn it off I have to unplug it. Mind you, I’ve never used the power button regularly, so it’s not like it’s worn out from overuse.

Is the Apple 27” display overpriced at $999? In light of all this, maybe not.