Too Good a Job

It’s the iPad’s fifth birthday! I wanted to talk about the iPad here, since seeds of doubt about the device’s future have begun to creep in from the periphery.

iPad at Work

I have used, or tried to use, the iPad as a work machine. There is something pleasantly utopian about the whole idea. In meetings, iPads always lie flat on the table and they’re always symbolically face up. With an iPad, there is no way to hide behind an upright laptop screen and its protective glow and yet no need, either, for the low-level malevolence of smirking into your iPhone while someone else is talking. In this alternate future, everyone takes turns sharing slide decks they prepared in Keynote via AirPlay (that works, right guys?) and everyone is happy.

Thing is, the iPad completely falls apart as a work machine as soon as any kind of shit hits the fan. You’re in a meeting and an executive just asked you for a sales figure you don’t instantly know? Good luck with that. Trust me, it's happened. Your production server is down and you need to accurately paste an error message into some other window? No fucking chance. Despite everything the iPad does well, switching between applications and moving bits of text between applications on an ad hoc basis (for which no predefined workflow will allow) can be a nightmare.

iPad at Home

At home, iPad usage is a different story. My personal iPad 2 is now approaching four years old and, although I’ve recently been tempted to replace it with an iPad Air 2, I’m almost certainly going to wait for the next iteration. Chiefly, I attribute this longevity to the fact that Apple have made an effort to continue supporting the iPad 2 (or, perhaps, the range of devices that share its hardware DNA). Although it shows its age, the iPad 2 is simply too good at what it does to replace. Apple did too good a job with this one. Like the 12” PowerBook G4, this is one of those Apple products that hit a quintessentially Apple-ish balance of features, power, size, and value. What am I getting at with this is that a lot of tech commentators forget that, for most people, better value means getting more mileage for your dollar. The iPad 2 is better to me because I’ve had it longer, replaced it less frequently than my other devices, and used it a hell of a lot.

What is it Good For?

How much do I really use it? A lot. I still use the iPad 2 every day. It really does occupy a space between the iPhone and the MacBook, just as intended. I use it sitting comfortably or lying down, and neither an iPhone or a MacBook of any kind work as well while you’re lying down. You can sort of cradle a full-sized iPad sideways in portrait mode or wedge it in the crook of your arm or rest it against your knees unlike any other device. It’s large enough and sturdy enough that your hands and arms can relax without letting go of it. I can read the Serial subreddit, I can watch dumb gaming videos on YouTube (using ProTube of course). I can read all my food blogs. I might do a crossword puzzle. The iPad 2—and the types of content and interaction it implies—is simply the best device I’ve ever had when I’m minutes away from falling asleep, when I can’t sleep, or when I’ve just woken up. It isn’t just that, though. I use the iPad in the kitchen all the time. I bring it to stream sports while I’m cooking. I travel with it always (even if I’m travelling for work and brought a MacBook of some kind, my personal iPad is my link to the comforts of home, always loaded with familiar games and content).

I simply don’t like having my iPhone close to me all the time. By virtue of its nature as an unfiltered, vibratey connection to the outside world, it simply presents too many unpredictable and occasionally stressful communication inputs: messenger applications and work email accounts and “legacy” phone calls. I won’t turn those things off, but I can certainly leave them on my desk until morning. As a result, even though it’s bigger, my iPad is personal in a way the iPhone isn’t.

Perfect iPad?

What would I look for in an iPad?

  • Battery life. I have always been very, very impressed with iPad battery life, but it needs to be something I don’t even think about.
  • Better typing, but not necessarily perfect typing. Part of the reason why I love the iPad is that I can’t type on iOS well enough to get any work done. But generally, this is a huge limitation to iOS overall, in that it’s impossible to type more than two or three characters without making a frustrating typo or having the OS autocorrect you to something oddly non sequitur. I type freakishly fast on a MacBook keyboard and, when inactive, my left thumb and ring finger perpetually hover over the Command, Option, and Tab keys while my right thumb lurks above the spacebar. I’ve spent so long using OS X that with this weird kung fu grip I can move almost psychically through the operating system in a way that makes iOS feel painful.
  • I would really, really, love to be able to watch a stupid gaming video and read Wikipedia at the same time. Anyone else out there looking for an app that’s essentially half YouTube client, half WebKit? Call me. Or don’t bother. My phone’s probably in the other room anyway.