iPad Initial Thoughts: Consumption

by Dave Michels

One thing about the iPad that I’ve been looking forward to is using it for consumption. I have a few movies in MP4, and I’ve been jealous of folks that have iPads on planes.  Compared to my notebook computer which is plagued with bulky keyboard and short attention span batteries, the iPad looks incredibly fit for entertainment purposes. So one of my first objectives was to copy over some movies onto the device.

I store a few videos on a NAS device that allows me to get to them from any of my video devices. There is the Boxee downstairs, my PC in my office, my Android phone, multiple household PCs (and a Mac), and we have a portable device (Micca) we use in the car (it’s a disk with a video-out that connects to the car TV). With all of these devices, I just copy the desired MP4 file to the preferred device. The Boxee actually indexes the NAS and treats the content as local.

Well, you can imagine my shock to learn there is no way to copy a movie over to the iPad via a simple USB drag and drop.

The post PC era may be queued, but today, the desktop computer is safe.  The iPad requires iTunes to load movies! Instead of just dragging over movies like I do with ALL MY OTHER DEVICES – an intermediary valueless step via iTunes is required. I know lots of people like iTunes, it provides subscriptions, a store, lots of free content, and is the gateway to happiness also known as a an iPod or iPad. To me, it’s a fat software program with another ToS agreement that has an insatiable appetite to upgrade itself.

Some devices, like the Boxee truly do skip the PC – it scans the NAS and treats the remote content as it it were local. My Android phone is USB and connects to my PC, but no special software is required. I simply drag the movie into my film directory and watch it later on the phone. But with the iPad, I must first load iTunes, then import my content, create playlists for simpler management, and then sync. That’s all assuming my content its in a compatible format. If it isn’t in a compatible format (the iPad only supports a few formats), there are some third party apps available for purchase. This isn’t a one time ordeal, every change-up will require modifying playlists and resyncing.

A friend of mine uses an iPad exclusively when he travels. I recommended a film for him, so I sent it to him via a download link. It never occurred to me that he had no way to load it on his device.

Why is this middle tier necessary to do a basic function of transferring content between USB devices? And another thing, what’s with the proprietary cable? My smartphone and headset today share a cable in my travel bag, now I must carry another cable to charge the iPad from a standard USB port. Can someone explain that one?

I have no intention of installing iTunes on my PC – so I set up on my kid’s PC (that he uses with with an iPod).  I imported my content from the NAS, created a new playlist and then the content copied to the iPad via the iTunes sync. My content was format compatible!

How do I describe the ultimate device for consumption? Rigmarole.

Defenders of the iPad tell me that I need to stop fighting. That it’s all better if I just go to iTunes, and buy content from Apple. Apple will make sure my content is formatted correctly and even analyze my content so it can mek recommendations. It is so simple a grandma can do it. That’s impressive – and I respect that. But I have content, I have the state of the art iPad, I have USB, I have wi-fi. Why must I have iTunes? Then they tell me that soon (or maybe now) iCloud will solve it. This means I need to upload my content to the cloud so I can download my content over WiFi to get it onto the device sitting a few meters away. It’s a miracle!

As far as I know, iTunes is necessary to load videos. I checked out Azul, which expands codec support, but it still requires iTunes, In fact, it requires content to be copied as “documents” to get loaded on the iPad.

Yes, I know, life would be simpler if I just used iTunes. I did before with my iPods, but grew frustrated. Luckily, my favorite playlists all contain groups from a different era, so the playlists require little modification.

I will watch some movies on my trip next week (to UCSummit). I expect the experience to be second to none.