By Conrad Blickens... on Wed, 12/15/2010
Another road trip for the iPad. Carol and I flew to Tennessee for an extended Thanksgiving weekend, which meant I had to take along my electronic gear. We both packed our iPads, cameras, iPhones, and I also took along my big MacBook Pro.
Apparently, reporting lousy 3G coverage to AT&T can work. I had used AT&T's trouble reporting app to send several complaints about virtually non-existent service in Maryville, Tennessee. It took AT&T a while, but then I got a message announcing a service upgrade there, and low and behold, service was now better and faster than in my home in Folsom, California.
Just prior to the trip I had upgraded my iPad to iOS version 4.2. Truth be told, I really didn't notice anything earth-shattering. There’s the new Games icon on the home page that invited me to buy games. There's the ability to create folders by dropping one icon onto another and then naming the folder, a feature that I am using on my iPhone, but hardly consider invaluable. You can supposedly print wirelessly, but from what I read only to a very limited number of wireless printers at this point. And you can do multitasking.
The latter does have potential, but so far it is really nothing more than that. I must also admit that I actually had to Google to see how multitasking works. It had not occurred to me that clicking the iPad's hardware button twice would access the multitasking bar at the bottom of the display. When I did it for the first time, I found dozens of apps open and waiting. The idea here is that you then tap on one and it fluently opens to where you left off with it. That comes in handy when you quickly want to look something up, or copy something from somewhere else. Problem is, it doesn't work with all apps. I often use USA Today, for example, and it takes just as eternally long to open it via multitasking as without. And it never goes back to where I left off. The sad truth seems to be that the very thing that makes the iPad so sleek and compelling, its uncluttered simplicity, also makes it unsuitable for multitasking.
Halfway through the trip, Carol's iPad developed a problem. Without warning or trauma of any kind, it stopped charging fully and instead displayed a "not charging" warning when plugged in. I tried all the usual, like restarting, full cold boot, etc., but to no avail. I googled the situation and found nothing but a flurry of references to a media incident last April or so when someone found out that the iPad displays the "not charging" message when plugged into a computer via USB. People had found that the iPads were, in fact, charging, but only very slowly and only to a certain point. Turns out, that’s what was happening to Carol's iPad. It seemed to think it was plugged into a USB port for charging, and not to its genuine iPad charger (yes, I tried several chargers and outlets). So it's a visit to an Apple store genius. I do hope Apple manages to fix that, what with Apple's measly 90 day warranty.
While Carol's iPad is a 3G model, she's mostly using it in our home or office and so we're not subscribing to AT&T's expensive yet so very limited data plan. Instead, we sign up for the 250mb plan for her whenever we go on the road. Turns out, 250mb is woefully inadequate for just about anything. She ran out after just a few of days of fairly light use. These metered data plans must be an incredible cash cow for the telcos, and will be ever more so as Netflix and everyone else is steering to a streaming and downloading everything future. How AT&T is getting away with this rip-off pricing is beyond me. But I am certain we'll be hearing more whining from AT&T on how all those iPhone and iPad customers are using up so much of their bandwidth, and how it's only fair to everyone else to limit them, etc., etc..
I thought I could live with the iPad keyboard, but I really can't. Yes, it's better than any other, in part because it has no hesitation and in part because it is so uncluttered. But uncluttered also means I have to shift into the numeric keyboard for far to much, and the complete lack of tactile feedback means I am hitting the wrong key far too often or, worse, I get a key from the lower row when I want a space. There has got to be some clever programing that could make the iPad keyboard less error-prone. Like, when two perfectly okay words are connected by an "n", it shouldn't be too difficult to figure out to put in a space. And some of the predictive word choices remind of the early Newton.
Once again, I hardly ever used the MacBook. There was no WiFi where we stayed and so I had no Internet access with the MacBook, something that any modern computer really needs to function. So I did almost all of my email and browsing on the iPad. I used the MacBook only twice. Once to upload about 200 pictures from Carol's Canon Rebel 2Ti, because loading the Canon's 18 megapixel pics into the iPad was painfully slow. And another time I went to a Starbucks and spent three hours really working, with real multitasking and all he windows I need to collect and compose data and post it online. Yes, it could somehow be done on the iPad, but it is not really feasible.
On the trip I ran into an elderly couple. He is 90 and a former chemical engineer. She is 82 and still an elegant Southern Belle. Both are still sharp as tacks, and they use an iPad. There a hundreds of apps on it, and they use the iPad for everything. While he is very computer savvy, she is not, yet loves the iPad and has no problem using it. That alone tells a story.
When we started the trip on Thanksgiving Day, we had to get up at 3am and so I forgot to take along a book to read. Yes, as long as ebook readers are considered dangerous enough to aircraft safety so as to have to be turned off while taxiing, on ascent, on descent, etc., an ebook is no full paperback replacement. The bookstore at the airport wasn't open yet and so I got on Amazon to download a couple of books. I ended up with three scifi books that had good reviews. Well, those reviews must have been written by friends and family, as the books were nowhere near ready for primetime. If Amazon wants to truly popularize ebooks, they need to impose quality standards or at least some sort of rating system. I need to know if I am buying some sort of amateur project or a real, edited book. As is, I got two short stories with all too many glitches and errors.
Battery life continues to dazzle. It simply never is an issue. That alone makes the iPad different and so much more useful. I know I will not run out of juice.
iTunes wouldn’t even recognize Carol’s wounded, non-charging iPad, so she couldn’t make the recommended backup before going to see a genius at the Apple store. The friendly dude at the Apple store also could not get it to connect to any of their Macs, and so she got a replacement iPad. Moral of the story: iPads apparently can fail, so make sure to do frequent backups!