iPad initial Thoughts: Intuitive

by Dave Michels

I’ve been playing around with this iPad now for a few weeks. Of course, I was curious to see what this thing could do – it has changed computing and mobility forever. I was derelict in not getting one sooner. Though I am not quite the target customer.

Since I sold my company, I’ve been working in a home office and days go by without a need to leave. Therefore, I’m one of the few that mobility isn’t that important. April had no travel, but conferences are starting up. I’ve got the UC Summit next week, then NEC Advantage, and in more travel in June. I can’t wait to try it out on the road, but I’ve heard mixed reviews if the device can truly replace a travel laptop. I have a dedicated travel laptop that isn’t much bigger than the iPad – I suspect it will keep its job because of the amount of writing I do.

Coincidentally, I just got a new desktop. I can’t get over how cheap desktops are. For $973, I got a Dell XPS 8300 desktop with an Intel i7 2600 processor(8MB Cache, 3.4GHz), 8 GBs of RAM, 1 TB of disk, Win7/64, and a 24″ Ultra sharp DVI display. Wait, there’s more: USB 3.0 ports, DVD-RW, a video card that also supports my other DVI monitor. and a sound system with a sub-woofer. That’s a hell of a lot of computer for less than $1k.

I bring this up because the iPad wasn’t much less. Now you might be quick to say that an iPad should not be compared to the PC desktop – and I agree, they are very different devices. However, the two are often compared, and the iPad is supposedly replacing the PC in a “post a PC era.”  I simply don’t get that on every level – usability and economically.

I have already confessed to not being the ideal iPad customer because I tend to be desk bound, but there’s more. I’m not an Apple person. I’m not really a PC person either, but that isn’t the point. The issue is Apple tends to be an all or none proposition and life can get tricky – let’s see. I do have a few iPods, but the only Mac in the house belongs to my son which he got as a gift. I don’t know how to work it. Even worse, I have my email, contacts, and calendar in Google services – also  I use an Android phone.

The first thing I did on the iPad was set up my Gmail account. It was simple, I went into setup, selected mail, selected Google and put in my credentials. My mail appeared and I was happy for almost a minute. The iPad sucked down my Mail, Calendar, and Notes – but not my Contacts. I don’t know why, but it wasn’t a bug. I researched the solution, and of course, there was a fix.

After deleting the Gmail credentials on the iPad, I followed a new set of instructions. The correct approach is to setup Gmail as a Microsoft Exchange account (?). So instead of selecting Google as the account type, select Exchange (totally intuitive). Ignore the Domain field, and just enter the userid (email address), email address, and password. That worked – now I have Mail, Calendar, and Contacts. No Notes now, but I don’t use those. I imagine some users are frustrated by having to choose Notes or Contacts. I was happy for a few more minutes, but realized my Gmail tags were gone.

Tags are what makes Gmail, Gmail. Evidently, the problem now is I am using the Apple client and I should probably be using a Gmail client. So my first trip to the Appstore I’ve heard so much about. Look, there’s a Gmail client made by Google. Problem is it has bad reviews. A few checks with friends and I hear that Google and Apple are competitors so both work to make cross platform experiences bad. A few more test questions and I found that people who love their iPads generally moved off, or never used GMail. There were plenty of third party Gmail clients that catered to Google users, but none of them made me feel great.

For now, I am sticking to the Apple client. It is nice in that it combines all main in a single multi-account view, but without labels it’s frustrating. Also, I got a Gmail calendar invite from another Gmail user – I tried to decline, but it didn’t work – evidently the Apple Calendar and Mail are not well integrated for users of Gmail services.

Clearly Android, being on my phone, is going to be more familiar. It is also nicely integrated with Google  – but I am working to set aside these biases and try to understand the iPad. Unfortunately, I keep finding things a bit quirky. For example, I’ve heard over and over (iPhone vs. Android phones) how much better the iOS keyboard is over Android. But I found otherwise. Above, when setting up my Exchange account, I had to enter my email two times consecutively – once for userid and once for email address. The iPad changes the keyboard for each field. The userid field was a normal keyboard without  the @ key or the .com key. Nor did it have the numeric keys (my email address has a number). So I had to change keyboards several times to complete the entry. In Android, I can do the whole address without having to change keyboards once. When I moved to the email field and repeated the entry- the iPad sensed the field type and changed the keyboard. Now the @ key was there (not the .com key). I get the idea, but its attempt at being smart failed me. I just learned how to type my email address, but it changed the rules.

Last point on user intuitive. Android has buttons – the iPad has a button. The button gets used a lot. I’d be in an email, and it contains a link, which takes me to the browser. So to get back to email, I have to press the button and go back to email. This felt clumsy so I asked around and found there is a gesture the involves wiping the screen with 4 fingers to switch between apps. Every platform has these tips and tricks. So, I’ve been using a four finger swipe now which is a nice function, but it doesn’t feel intuitive to me.

What is really nice on the iPad is the graphics and animation. I love the way pages turn. In general, the interface nuances are far more refined than Android. The iPad is growing on me, and its an impressive device. It just doesn’t feel like God’s gift to mankind as its reputation suggests.