Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Out Of The Box - iPad Human Factors

I alluded in my last post that I was less than thrilled with some of the iPad's "human factors" and I'll talk about that and my other thoughts on using this device in this post.

First, let me say that the iPad is a slippery little guy. While I have yet to drop it, holding it feels a little like it's right on the verge of jumping out of my hands at times. This is nothing new - both the iPod Classic and iPhone are like that for me, and I use a case to both make the devices easier to handle as well as protect them were they to fall.

With the iPad, I ordered Apple's cloth case, largely because it would double as a stand for propping the iPad up if necessary. However, they were on backorder for much longer than the iPad itself, and I won't have one in my hot little hands (or around my iPad) for about another week. In the meantime, I'm nervous that the case won't be as protective to falls as it's cloth rather than plastic or neoprene. I may end up with a bigger and less useful case (in the functional sense rather than the coliision with the floor sense).

I'm also very nervous about the screen getting scratched. The default wallpaper screen already shows falling stars which look *very* much like scratches, which I quickly swapped out after three or four false alarms. I clean the screen three or four times a day and am very careful, but I'm not going to truly relax until I've gotten a screen protector, preferably something that also helps take care of the glare caused by the uber glossy screen. However, most of the info I'm reading online is that it's very difficult to get a screen protector on without significant bubbles and even then they tend not to work very well, either making the touch functionality less effective or simply not staying put.

Regardless, I'm going to need something if this is going to get used frequently during the day. I can't imagine leaving it around kids or in a dusty environment for very long, if at all.

Second, I want to be clear that the device does not feel flimsy. Not at all. In fact, it may be just a bit *too* robust. Holding the iPad in a reading position in bed can become tiring after 20 minutes or so, and I consider myself to be in passable physical shape. The iPhone requires less struggle to keep it "up", but does require more of a "pinching" effort with the index finger and thumb, while the iPad needs extra effort to keep it from tipping forward or backward because of the weight. It's comparable to a hefty trade paperback book in terms of weight, which I had to start using a lap desk to hold upright in bed last year. The device is clearly intended for use on a lap or in hand, and weight is something that will have to be addressed in the near future. I expect that they'll move to a plastic backing rather than the existing metal, although I'm about 90% sure that the metal backing is currently a heatsink for the device. Which in turn makes me wonder if a rubberized case would defeat the heat transfer properties.

I should be very clear that the iPad is *not* a space heating device, as are most laptops these days, especially those from Apple. It is cool to the touch during operation - most of the heat in a laptop comes from the drive and the power supply, and the ten hour lifespan should give you an idea of how little energy this device requires.

Speaking of battery life, while I have yet to drive the iPad to shut down due to a lack of power, I have gotten it below the 20% threshold where it warns you that the device is very low on power. While I wasn't keeping exact records, I estimate that I used the device for a good 8 to 10 hours during the day with six or seven connections into the computer to load new software or to rearrange the app layout (I'm a bit anal about that - can't have the prime apps on the game page!) I'm convinced that I could get an easy 8 hours of video, more than enough for an airplane trip anywhere other than Asia.

Getting back to the screen protector issue, I am also a bit concerned that I'll lose some of the Bang! factor if I use a protector. While glare is indeed an issue, at the same time the screen is so pleasant to use in low light situations that I'm hesitant to screw it up. My 54" plasma TV is the same way - it's almost unwatchable if the shades are open during the day, but so so so gorgeous at night or if you close the blinds. Astonishingly, reading comic books online (I use the Comics app, which includes a lot of Marvel stuff, but sadly no DC and hence no Vertigo titles at this time) is a *more* pleasant experience than reading them in their physical form, even the ones with good quality paper. Colors pop, lines are sharp, and if the text is occasionally too small to read for my aging eyes, I can always zoom in. And no more long boxes.

And that's really where the iPad is going to take us, to the paperless office. I have no interest in buying a physical book anymore, anymore than I want to buy a CD if I don't have to. While DRM and physical backup issues will take some time to sort out to everyone's satisfaction, it's pretty clear that the days of physical media are very near their end. Imagine - no newspapers, no magazines, no books, no comics, just iPads or other readers and storage. Time to deinvest in those Hearst timber holdings in Mexico and time to invest in hard disk recovery services, because that's where we're going. Like I said before, I'm suddenly living in the future.

As for the software keyboard, I've used it both in landscape and portrait mode. There are issues, especially in portrait mode when the keyboard is much smaller. I cannot touch type in portrait mode - I constantly hit the shift and numeric shift keys and find myself going back and retyping, which is non-trivial as you need to physically place the cursor and that's much more time consuming on a touch-based screen. I resort to two-finger typing in portrait. Landscape is better, but when your return key is under your right pinkie and every time you type an "ar" combination it comes out "awr", it's still not perfect. I would use Dragon or other voice-to-text software in a note-taking situation, despite the fact that I think that the act of note taking itself reinforces the learning process better than any other single action. That said, this is new to me and I suspect that with some further experience I'll get so I've retrained my hands to not rely so heavily on the tactile feedback of a more traditional keyboard. Even those little nubs under the F and J keys are so comforting.

At this point I suppose it would be a very good time to remember that this is a first-gen device. Remember when iPhones didn't have GPS? I still have one of those. I suspect that we'll see a lighter and cheaper device in about a year, and I'm OK with that - mine has been well worth what I paid for it so far, and I expect that after WBC West I'll have an even higher opinion. The first iPods that came out were 5Gb and $500 and about twice as big as the current 160Gb version that costs $225 now. I'm just delighted to be on the bleeding edge and thrilled to be here. For now, this is the device I'll use on a daily basis, just like I use my iPhone, but as a home appliance and occasional professional tool (I can already see me using this as a lyric server with the band, possibly as an instrument if they produce good ones and things that I can hook up via a USB or MIDI cable).

I'll go into more depth on the software as I get to know the various apps better. Especially implementations of board games, which have so far been a lot of fun. Particularly intriguing but also particularly intimidating to me (for some reason) is Mu, which has an iPad native version. Now I really want to see Tichu...


Laurent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laurent said...

Let me know when your case arrives, I'm interested to take a look. I'm still on the market for one but at this point I'm leaning toward a leather "notebook" one (something that looks like a book cover)

Greg W said...

If they had Race for the Galaxy I would already have one. :D