MIND MELD: The Apple iPad: Sizzle or Fizzle?

Science fiction fans love new gadgets. The most recently hyped gadget is the Apple iPad. Sure, it’s sexy, but like any gadget, it has its pros and cons.

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Do you own an Apple iPad? If so, what are the things you like and dislike about it? If not, are you thinking of getting one? Why or why not?

Here’s what they said.

Marie Brennan
Marie Brennan is the author of the Onyx Court series of historical fantasy novels: Midnight Never Come, In Ashes Lie, and the upcoming A Star Shall Fall. She has also published nearly thirty short stories. More information at www.swantower.com.

Full disclosure: my brother works on the iPad. Which doesn’t give me any special insights or advantages — I spent a year and a half not knowing what his job was, just that he’d been moved to a new team at Apple, before they announced the thing publicly — but if you want to read bias into this, go ahead.

I don’t own an iPad, and am not likely to buy one any time soon, for a variety of reasons: cost paired with lack of immediate pressing need, caution regarding the first generation of *anything*, etc. Having said that, when I saw the specs of the iPad, I admit it looked attractive, for two reasons.

Weight/size and battery life…


My current series of novels are historical fantasies set in London, and I go there every year for research. While I’m out wandering the city, my laptop stays behind at the hotel. Why? Because even though it only weighs four pounds, that’s way too much to carry on the kind of long-distance walks I’m doing. The one time I tried, my shoulders *hated* me by the end. So when I looked at the iPad specs, the first thought that went through my head was, “I might actually be able to take that with me.”

Of course, netbooks are also lightweight. And they come with keyboards, which is a big selling point; the iPad’s touchscreen keyboard was not nearly as bad as I feared it would be, but still problematic. (I discovered my right ring finger has a tendency to drift as I type, just enough to brush something and add a comma when I don’t mean to.) The iPad’s wireless keyboard is nice, and weighs almost nothing, but then of course you’re carrying an extra piece. On the other hand, the 3G setup is awfully attractive for my kind of wandering research, and the iPad makes a much better e-reader than a laptop does.

In other words, I view the iPad entirely through a lens of travel. If I did more of that, and less typing of long documents — I often write while traveling — then I think it would be very attractive indeed. But my major reason for having a full-size laptop rather than a netbook is that the latter is too uncomfortable to type on for long periods, and this doesn’t solve that for me. (Although admittedly, the touchscreen interface is *magic* to play with.) In the end, I think my needs are better served by a laptop and a smartphone than by an iPad, with or without accompanying devices.

Not that I even own a smartphone yet. If I buy anything from Apple soon, it’s going to be an iPhone, not an iPad.

Jane Litte
Jane Litte is a lawyer, an avid eBook reader, and the co-founder of the popular (and sometimes controversial) DearAuthor.com, “a romance review blog by readers for readers”.

I do own an Apple iPad. I’m not an apple fanatic. Or I wasn’t one until recently. By way of background, I purchased an iPod when it first came out and purchased one upgrade which worked fine until I abandoned it to the iPhone in 2007.

I’ve been a big digital book reader since the 2000s. I began reading, untethered from the computer, using the Handspring Visor and then the iPaq 4700 which I recall paying approximately the same amount that I did for the iPad. When the iPhone came out in 2007, I saw my opportunity to get rid of my cell phone and the iPaq and just have one device that could do everything.

But then the eink readers began coming on to the market and I thought I might like something with a bigger screen. I purchased the original Sony PRS 500 and then the PRS 505 which I used for quite some time until I was sent the Sony Reader with the light. I still have that device. I had purchased the Kindle 2 but sent it back to Amazon. I did most of my reading at night and the inconvenience of having to have a booklight was too troublesome for me.

Even with the Sony Reader, I spent many an evening reaching for my Iphone. The device was always with me. It had a light on it. Having hooked up my calibre digital library to the cloud, my iPhone gave me access that a non connected eink reader did not. Most importantly, I could read my books in bed without bothering my husband, something that I could not do if I employed a booklight. (Have you ever used a booklight at night in a dark room? You are like a lighthouse signalling your locations for miles!)

This was a long way of explaining why I bought the iPad. I bought the iPad thinking that it might just be the perfect ebook reading device. It was larger thus allowing me to fit more text on a screen. It was backlit, allowing me to illuminate just the text, not the entire room. It had internet connectivity, providing me with access to my cloud of digital books. Further, it had a keyboard with which I could type notes. I could send emails! I could surf the web! I could watch videos! and on and on.

Having owned my iPad for three weeks, I can tell you that it is great for sending emails! surfing the web! watching videos! updating my facebook and twitter statuses! but you know, it’s only an average ebook reader.

It’s heavy. Oh, possibly the fault lies with my weak forearms but I cannot hold the device in one hand. More often than not it rests either on my lap or on the table. The LCD does tire my eyes (or at least I feel like my eyes are tired after reading on it for a couple of hours). It’s hard to read in bed because I like to lay on my side and the device really isn’t made for resting on a bed. The software applications aren’t well designed thus while one application gives me access to my cloud it won’t let me take notes and yet another might allow note taking but won’t allow me to read previously purchased content.

In short, I love my iPad but I love it for things other than ereading. The ereading is a plus, not the driving force behind my useage of the iPad.

Lou Anders
A 2010/2009/2008/2007 Hugo Award nominee, 2008 Philip K. Dick Award nominee, 2008/2006 Chesley Award winner/nominee, and 2006 World Fantasy Award nominee, Lou Anders is the editorial director of Prometheus Books’ science fiction and fantasy imprint Pyr, as well as seven critically-acclaimed anthologies, the latest being Fast Forward 2 (Pyr, October 2008) and Sideways in Crime (Solaris, June 2008). He is the author of The Making of Star Trek: First Contact (Titan Books, 1996), and has published over 500 articles in such magazines as The Believer, Publishers Weekly, Dreamwatch, DeathRay, free inquiry, Star Trek Monthly, Star Wars Monthly, Babylon 5 Magazine, Sci Fi Universe, Doctor Who Magazine, and Manga Max. His next anthology, co-edited with Jonathan Strahan and due in June 2010 from Eos, is Swords and Dark Magic. Visit Lou online at louanders.com/.

I went into the Apple store the evening that the iPad was released and owned it by Monday morning. I thought I was getting a luxury item, an indulgence, and am amazed at what a necessity – work-wise – that it has proved to be. I do most of my reading already on my iPhone, using the Stanza app, but was frustrated with the size of the browser. I also have been doing a lot of art direction on the iPhone, which is surprisingly useful for viewing a front cover, but not useful when you have to see a front-spine-back cover spread. Now I’m reading manuscripts in iBooks and viewing jpgs and PDFs of cover art/design on the iPad and wondering where this device has been all my life. (Incidentally, to get a manuscript sent as a Word .doc into iBooks is fairly simple. I’m using the free Stanza Desktop software, opening the .doc in Stanza desktop, clicking “Save as ePub” and then going into iTunes and clicking “add to library.” And that’s it. Sync your iPad in iTunes and instant ebook from a submission.) Meanwhile, the Goodreader app is great for PDFs, and with the latest update, can open them directly from an email. This is beyond useful.

My wife’s verdict on the iPad was that it very useful for what I do but not useful for her own needs. However, she had watched Vanity Fair streamed via the Netflix app within a week of my getting it. I’m also quite impressed with the Marvel Comics app, and was considering purchasing some titles on it (beyond the free ones) when I heard that – apparently – it isn’t paying the creators royalties yet. So I’ll hold off till it is but could easily see how this is the future of comics.

As to iBooks itself, it’s a gorgeous app. I’m reading my son Winnie the Pooh on it now, one chapter night, and the illustrations look fantastic. The page turning, which replicates the look of an actual page turning (right down to reverse text showing through on the other side of the paper as it flips) seems like an unnecessary effort to duplicate an outdated tech, but is surprisingly beautiful and delights my son. And the way you can load non-DRM ePub format ebooks into iTunes the same way you can load CDs/MP3s into it may finally wean me off paper the way that iTunes has already weaned me off needing to own CDs. But beyond iBooks, the Kindle for iPad app is way better than an actual Kindle, and I hear the B&N eReader for iPad app is about two weeks away from debuting. So in allowing the device to run multiple eReader platforms, they really have made the iPad the device. Some people complain about the backlighting and want e-ink, but personally I find e-ink about as thrilling as reading a digital watch. Plus I read in bed for a half hour each morning before my wife wakes up, so I need the back lighting. And really, come on, the color!

As to wishes: I’m reading for iBooks to have an iPhone equivalent for when I’m not carrying the iPad, and that’s apparently coming this summer with the next iPhone software update. And the Pages app, which is gorgeous, needs a track changes feature to be useful for editing manuscripts. I still like my desktop for writing long emails (like this one) and my laptop for writing fiction, but the iPad is now my preferred device for reading submissions, viewing illustrations, viewing PDFs, and maybe reading comics. I have yet to watch a movie on it like my wife has, but that’s only because I’m too damn busy. And I wish that Stanza would release an iPad version, which I hear they have no plans to do. But that only means that iBooks will replace Stanza as my preferred manuscript reader, while I’ll probably shop around between B&N, Kindle, and iBooks for my own book purchases.

And yes I read the objections that you can’t hack it, unscrew it, yada yada, and I totally get them, but I’m not a hacker nor a maker and as an editor and art director, this is the device I’ve always needed. A good buddy of mine, who is a location manager in Hollywood, and needs to be able to bring in high quality digital photographs of possible locations into production meetings, feels the same. Remember all those PADs they carried around on ST:TNG? Well, they are here.

Jay Garmon
Jay Garmon is a writer, editor and consummate trivia geek. He’s been cited as a source by the Wikipedia (which is to damn with faint praise) and appears weekly on TechTalk radio in Chicago. You can follow his pedantic ramblings at www.jaygarmon.net.

I don’t own an iPad, and I have no plans to buy one. There are a number of reasons why, but the main one is that I simply am not sold on the slate/tablet form factor.

If I’m going to passively consume content, I’m going to do so on a much larger, nicer screen (especially one nicer than the iPad’s 4:3 sub-HD screen). If I’m going to interact with my content, I want to do so with more than a soft touchscreen keyboard; I want a full keyboard and mouse. If I want a portable device, I want one I can fit in my pocket and that weighs far less than 1.5 pounds. If I want to lug some weight about, I want an actual operating system and processor, not the iPhone OS running on an ARM-based chip.

As a guy who reviews tech for a living, I’m aware of the problem the iPad is trying to solve. The public wants a 15-inch HD screen from a device that weights 6 ounces, fits in their pocket, and has a 72-hour battery life. The iPad is as close as we’ve come to the dream, but it isn’t close enough to earn $500 to $800 of my cash.

I don’t think tablets are the answer, either. I’m waiting for wireless LCD overlay glasses or even contacts that connect to my handheld device. Then I get augmented reality, which is the real Holy Grail. Then I don’t need dorky glasses to watch 3D TV. Then I don’t need a screen, just a gestural/voice/eye-movement UI like we saw in Minority Report. We don’t even need holograms; we can just generate 3d images in our virtual field of view. A physical screen is a prison. It’s the screen that needs to go virtual.

All that said, I’m glad the iPad is around, if only to jumpstart some innovation on a number of content fronts. I’m genuinely excited about interactive comic book apps by Comixology and Marvel, because comics have been trying to figure out how to take their medium digital for a while. I find it hilarious that Time magazine wants $5 per issue of its iPad edition, especially when I can get Time for free on the iPad’s own browser. But if that fool’s errand makes magazine publishers think hard about their next-generation content and business models, I’m all for it. It’s no coincidence that Hulu decided to add a paid service tier just when the iPad arrives — another idea I expect to fail — but if it gets providers innovating around serious mobile video offerings, I can’ wait.

The iPad has been compared to the CD-ROM, the last technology that was supposed to transform and reinvigorate publishing. That’s not a compliment. But even though we aren’t all trading CD copies of our favorite magazines today, the CD-ROM did noticeably move the needle on digital content consumption and innovation. I expect the iPad specifically, and tablets in general, to be just that sort of interesting and helpful failure.

But I’m still not going to buy one.

Graylin Fox
Graylin Fox began writing in 1994 while sitting at a horrible desk job. Keeping a notepad and pencil next to the keyboard she began writing down her dreams creating some vivid poetry. In 2003, Graylin began writing short stories. Her imagination and graphically detailed descriptions take the reader inside the stories just as in her poems. She currently reviews books and other geeky things at http://scifigeeks.wordpress.com with her own ramblings and writing snippets at http://www.graylinfox.com/blog. You can follow her on twitter (@graylinfox) – caution – snark is usually a daily occurrence.

I don’t own an iPad but I seriously want one. I keep watching the list of applications being released which only increases my desire for one. I already love Netflix because I need the no-hassle convenience, getting the movies on the iPad makes it even cooler. Scrabble could easily take up entire days sitting on the porch and no worries about losing tiles if we want to play at the beach.

I love the ability to use it as my bookstore and library. I am overrun by books at home, with boxes of unshelved books due to lack of space. As an ecologically minded person I like the paperless trend. As a geek, well, this just makes my lil heart sing. I am sure my addiction to my iPhone will be outpaced by my love for the iPad. I also am confident a new toy will come out in the next few years that will get me all wobbly kneed again. I love technology!

Brenda Cooper
Brenda Cooper is a technology professional, a science fiction and fantasy writer, and a futurist. Her recent books include the Endeavor award winning Silver Ship and The Sea and a sequel, Reading the Wind. See www.brenda-cooper.com for more info, and for periodic reading recommendations.

I do have an iPad and I love it. It’s small, has a beautiful screen, and is really easy to read and use. Apple has delivered another gorgeous user experience.

It’s exceptionally good for media consumption and will get better over time as more apps come out designed for it. What I love best is that I can sit on the couch and use it comfortably which has never been totally true for me with laptops.

Much of it is still a promise. The New York Times app is a great news-reader but not yet complete, the WIRED app isn’t out yet, etc. Today it is really a better iPod touch in many ways, but the bigger screen makes it more useful by far. New apps will transform it.

The lack of multiple-tasking makes it nearly useless for non-fiction content. I write a column for Futurismic and sometimes prepare PowerPoint presentations for keynote talks, and I usually have four windows open at once and some background queries where I’m researching. Not possible on the iPad.

It’s OK for writing fiction, and if I learn it better I think it will be fine. It’s so mobile I will surely adopt it as my mobile platform.

I wish I’d had the self discipline to wait for the 3G model since I’ve already wanted connectivity a few times when i didn’t have it, but then again it’s a good thing for my wallet that I didn’t.

John Anealio
John Anealio writes songs about Science Fiction & Fantasy. He has released an album of original Sci-Fi & Fantasy inspired music entitled Sci-Fi Songs and has had one of his songs published by Pyr in the appendix of Mike Resnick’s Starship:Flagship. You can download tons of free music and listen to his podcast at http://scifisongs.blogspot.com. John also co hosts The Functional Nerds podcast with Patrick Hester at http://funtionalnerds.com.

I do not own an iPad yet, but I will almost certainly get one at some point for one reason alone: Music Apps!

Much has been written about how the iPad is more of a content consumption device than it is a content creation machine. While this may apply to certain art forms, the iPad, or more specifically the brilliant people developing apps for it, is going to offer musicians revolutionary ways to create and perform music. The iPad is only a few weeks old and there are already quite a few amazing music applications available.

  • First up is a multi-track recording app called Studio Track. This app allows you to record up to 8 tracks, mix, and add effects. I’m not sure how you’d get a quality microphone hooked up to the iPad, but this is a long way from the $500. cassette four-track recorder that I used in high school.
  • Next up is the Korg Electribe, drum synthesizer/sequencer app. I actually owned a $300. hardware version of the Electribe at one point. It is a very unique device and the touch interface seems to be an even better way to interact with it. I can envision creating beats with this on the go and later importing the results into my laptop for further recording.
  • My favorite music app for the iPad has got to be Synth. Synth is a keyboard style app that you can play right on the touch screen. All of the synthesizer sounds and effects are great but the most amazing feature is the built in sampler. This allows you so use the iPad’s internal microphone to record any sound in your environment. It then automatically maps that sound to the musical keyboard. You can make music out of anything! Check it out:

I’m very excited to see what music apps the developers will come up with 6 months from now or a year from now. As I see more and more ground breaking music apps appear, it is going to be harder and harder to resist dropping the $500. for an iPad.

Amy Sterling Casil
Look forward to several new science fiction and dark fantasy stories from Amy Sterling Casil this fall, including the all-novella anthology series Panverse 2, and Blood Lite 2, edited by Kevin J. Anderson. Amy is the author of about 100 short stories, 2 novels, and many nonfiction books and articles. She is writing science fiction again: for better or worse. Much free work of hers and 35 other authors is available at Book View Cafe: www.bookviewcafe.com and her blog is Incipit Vita Nova, www.asterling.typepad.com.

I don’t own an iPad, and for right now, I don’t think I’ll be getting one. My daughter has used my last two phone upgrades, so I don’t have an iPhone either. Let’s see if upgrade #3, coming up in November, will let me get the iPhone that I do want. Sadly, I’m not sure that I want an iPad no matter what its price is. We visited the Apple store in Santa Monica on the day after the iPad’s release and had no problems quickly getting access to a floor demo model. I spent quite a while with my daughter testing the device and seeing what it can do. The iBook application is gorgeous and nice. I noticed that the Endgadget review of the iPad uses the same book featured in the in-store demo – Winnie the Pooh. I left the store feeling like I enjoyed the demo and felt it was a very beautiful device, with a lot of cool features. However, for what the iPad is, similar to an iTouch, I think it’s too large and heavy. I found myself thinking that I’d have a hard time holding it up on a bus or train and watching a TV show, YouTube video or reading a book. Endgadget pointed up that they could use the keyboard easily in landscape mode, but were forced to do hunt-and-peck in portrait mode. Also, from what I understand, it does not currently allow multitasking, and doesn’t have a webcam or a regular camera. When I asked at the store if I could use it to make phone calls, the rep had to say “no.” And, it’s awfully self-contained – there’s no USB port and it must use wireless-only to connect to networks. I think it’s probably a great device for those who use small computers to consume “content” and who don’t do much in the way of creating content or work via the internet. As someone who does graphic design, the iPad looks awesome, but provides me with no ability to create. Other people can type very well on the iTouch and iPad keyboards, so I’m sure I could learn. But right now? It seems too big, too narrow in what it provides and too media-consumption-oriented for me to go for. So, sadly – no iPad. You have to use the single-rear-pocket jeans for it, too . . .

I also have a slight concern in that when I see media advertisement these days, such as the Verizon 4G network, they have promotions like “Use it when you enjoy the great outdoors” and all the geeks are sitting on a fake log in a fake forest playing Super Mario Kart or whatever they are playing. The main reason I would not use the iPad much while traveling is that I enjoy real nature and scenery. I don’t feel the need to carry digital entertainment with me everywhere I go. I also have a Kindle, and while the colored iBooks are nice and the page-turning is cool, the Kindle is an easier size to hold and use, and there’s a big difference between my turning the video page with my “magic finger” and a light touch of the page turn button on the Kindle. Based on the demo only, the Kindle still seems more usable as a book-object to me.

Alexis Glynn Latner
Alexis Glynn Latner‘s science fiction novel Hurricane Moon was published by Pyr in 2007. Twenty-three of her novelettes and short stories have been or will be published in science fiction magazines, especially Analog, and horror and mystery anthologies. She also does editing, teaches and coaches creative writing, and works in the Rice University Library.

Oh, there’s sizzle. I don’t own one, but this device gives me the I-want-that twinge.

One of our regular patrons at Rice University’s Fondren Library has a new iPad, and he’s thrilled. “IPad rocks!” David announced. I said, “Can you tell me why in 20-50 words?” David showed me the lightness and thinness of the device and that stroke-the-screen-to-make-things happen property. He then demonstrated a constellations app. It shows you the constellations anywhere in the sky, including those that would be there when it wasn’t daytime. Turn the iPad upside down and you see the celestial zenith even if you’re in the middle of the day and the middle of a library.

“Check out what it does for art!” David touched an icon called named Art and opened icons that said Paintings, Baroque, and Flemish. QED: the quality of the display was superb. “These cool apps only cost a few dollars each!” he enthused. David’s wife Andrea was with him. I heard her thinking, Well yes, after you spent $500 for the thing!

I noted that the iPad is right-sized to carry around like a prized notebook. That can be a very attractive quality. And lately iPads have turned up as a prize offered by some technically discerning organizations, including our Houston Public Radio Station, KUHF, in their recent pledge drive, and Fondren Library IT, as a lure for completing an online Library Quality survey. A fine prize it is.

My reservations about the iPad are in a different area. I think about the many people who have never seen a starry night for real. Just recently a friend told me how he stunned his in-laws when he drove them to a quiet desert airport in winter and told them to look up at the dark night sky. They’d never seen the stars like that.

Steven Brust, on a panel at the Comicpalooza convention last month in Houston, pointed out that Second Life (the virtual online social world) is no substitute for First Life, i.e., having a life. Good and even great computer apps are no substitute for First Life. But the better they are, I’m afraid, the more apt they are to be substituted for First Life.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Patrick Nielsen Hayden is a senior editor, and the manager of the SF and fantasy lines, at Tor Books. He is a winner of the Hugo Award and the World Fantasy Award. With his wife, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, he co-edited the fanzine Izzard, won TAFF in 1985, and helped found the New York Review of Science Fiction; today, the Nielsen Haydens are among the instructors at the annual Viable Paradise sf writing workshop, and co-write the weblog Making Light. In the rest of his life, he edits the occasional anthology and plays lead guitar for the New York City band Whisperado.

I do own an iPad. I bought it for reasons both professional and self-indulgent. Professional, because I feel like I need to know and understand the developing e-book market, and I find the dull gray “e-paper” displays on the other major e-book readers very uncomfortable to read. (By contrast, I’ve read several books on the Kindle app on my iPhone entirely without eyestrain.) Also because I’m always interested in reducing the amount of weight I routinely tote around. Back when your average book editor routinely carried a couple of full-length paper manuscripts around with them, the adoption of portable computers was a big win. I had a feeling that Apple’s lightweight word-processor for the iPad, Pages, would be adequate to the task of reading and taking notes on a novel-length manuscript, and in fact this turns out to be the case. (The other tools that every working writer or editor with an iPad should get are the free-to-inexpensive file-syncing service DropBox and the $0.99 App Store program GoodReader; with those two working in tandem, you can–nearly seamlessly–read any text, Word, RTF, PDF, or Excel file on any of your computers on the iPad’s screen.)

On a self-indulgent note, it’s very pleasant to be able to do things like watch video or browse the web in places and positions other than hunched over one’s office desk. Yes, you can flop down on the couch or sprawl in an easy chair with a clamshell notebook or netbook, but it’s always been a little awkward; despite the term “laptop,” the devices themselves have never been optimized for the human lap. This device is.

I share a lot of Cory Doctorow’s concerns over the move away from people owning their recordings and their books, the abusiveness of shrinkwrap licenses (certainly including Apple’s), the many pitfalls of device-locked DRM, and the dangers to both culture and the publishing industry entailed in practices that might wind up giving one or two technology companies a chokehold on our business. But I think Cory underestimates the extent to which well-designed, easy-to-use products like the iPhone and the iPad make a net contribution _toward_ the world’s store of personal liberty and happiness, via all the people who are thereby enabled to do things that wouldn’t otherwise get done. For Cory, the constant hassle of devices and programs that don’t work as reliably, and that require lots of finicky twiddling, is a negligible drain on the resources of his planet-sized brain. For most of the rest of us, that drain is more consequential.

Steven Gould
Steven Gould‘s first science fiction story, “The Touch of Their Eyes,” was published in 1980 in Analog. Since then, his stories have appeared in Analog, Amazing, Asimov’s and various anthologies. His novels include Jumper (which was recently released as a major motion picture), Wildside, Greenwar (co-written with his wife, Laura J. Mixon), Blind Waves, Reflex and Griffins Story. Besides his own website, Steven is one of the group bloggers at Eat Our Brains.

Jobs Law: Any sufficiently hyped Apple product is indistinguishable from MAGIC.

I’m not going to talk about eBooks, DRM, Publishing, or the virtues and sins of locked-down operating systems. I’m especially not going to talk about why everybody should or should not buy an iPad. I’m going to talk about interfaces.

In the beginning there were patch cables and switches and dials and it was good (but not really.)

My freshman engineering course used a slide rule (1973) and that was the last time. Cheap TI calculators came in almost immediately after. My first Fortran course (Spring of 1974) used punch cards. I hated punch cards. Oh, my god did I hate punch cards. But, as a writer (first submission, 1975, first sale, 1979) I jumped onto computers really early. I know Apple has been calling the iPad MAGICAL all over the place, but you want to see MAGICAL, go from a manual typewriter to an IBM Correcting Selectric. So, it was MAGICAL when I took out a $5K loan in 1980 to buy my first computer. (More than 2/3 of that was for the seventy-pound letter quality printer that took over three minutes to print a double-spaced page. But, that page looked good.)

Before I fall into an orgy of personal reminiscence about all the different computers, operating systems, software, and printer, let me generalize a bit about the MAGIC. It’s been MAGICAL several times in the evolution of personal computers. Changing from character-mapped displays to graphics, to Graphical User Interfaces, to the mouse as pointer, to email, to the web as both a means to communicate, then research, then a publishing destination in of itself. The expansion of computer from strictly working device to gaming to music-and-video entertainment center. All these were MAGICAL.

And so is the iPad, but in very similar ways to the above evolutionary steps. Is it a game changer? To a degree. Is it the greatest thing since the abacus? No. But it is significant. It is one of those evolutionary steps.

I started computing using something called HDOS, then CP/M, then MS-DOS. In other words, all those text-command driven OS’s. These required a level of abstraction to achieve results, like giving commands to a dumb but very literal servant. Compare that to using a mouse to control a pointer to drag an icon across a video display to an icon of a trash can. There is still a level of abstraction (you’re manipulating something removed from the screen) but it’s more concretized now. Next touch that object on the screen with your own finger and swipe it to the side. A button pops up inviting you to delete. You touch the button. You see a link on a web page. You tap it, you get it. You see a pile of photos, you use two fingers to stretch them out, seeing all of the photos in the stack. You’ve all seen the videos or played with an iPad. Once again, the level of abstraction has diminished.

The iPad is significant because it is just a sheet of glass. When they say, “There’s an app for that” what they really means is that the iPad becomes that app. It’s just a sheet of glass. No mouse. No keyboard. Just this heavy sheet of glass that becomes everything from a newspaper to a seismograph to a movie theater to an email client to a piano to a talking skull head. (All of these apps are on mine.)

And this is significant.

Here’s what I predict.

This is a paradigm that will catch hold. Weight will go down, as will cost. There will be competitors. Some of them will feel like cheap plastic knockoffs but if they get the weight down while keeping the battery life, I’m there. All the OS’s will play. I am particularly interested in seeing the Google Chrome version as well as Android as well as Ubuntu. Windows? Gag me. I expect to see one that looks like a sheet of plastic, possibly even transparent when off, perhaps a quarter inch thick. I don’t expect them to get much smaller in screen size. Apple got that right. They might go as big as an 8-1/2 sheet of paper, maybe even legal-sized as those proportions are good for HD video.

There will continue to be locked-down versions (Apple DRM App store I’m looking at YOU) but there will be wide open versions, too. Some of these will be wonderfully stable and some will be flaky as all get out. Sadly, the locked-down versions will continue to be more stable than the open ones.

And, at some point in the future, the piece of glass will go away and we’ll be doing haptic feedback motions in the air while holographic images float before us, but I’m thinking that’s still out there a ways. I hope to see it, though.

That will be MAGICAL.

Wil Wheaton
Wil Wheaton is an actor (Stand By Me, Toy Soldiers, Flubber, Star Trek: The Next Generation, NUMB3RS, Criminal Minds, Leverage, Big Bang Theory), author (Just A Geek, Dancing Barefoot, The Happiest Days of Our Lives and Memories of the Future, Volume One), blogger, voice actor (Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Ben 10: Alien Force, Legion of Super Heroes, Teen Titans), a columnist for the LA Weekly and Suicide Girls, a widely-followed Twitter user (@wilw), and a champion of geek culture.

I don’t actually have a strong opinion on the iPad; I don’t think Apple really made the case for it, but I’m not going to buy a first-generation device from Apple anyway. I’ve seen the iPad up close three different times, and each I was impressed with how beautiful it is, but I got +infinity to my save versus WANT simply because it seems like a very expensive toy at the moment, and I just can’t justify the investment in hardware that Apple will make obsolete in a year.

However, I *did* come up with one reason that could eventually develop into a compelling case to buy the iPad: board games. I wrote about it on my blog recently:

When Apple announced the iPad, I was so unimpressed and bored with it, I couldn’t even muster a “meh.” It seemed to solve a problem that didn’t exist, and while I kept waiting for Apple to make the case for it, I don’t think they ever did.

I mean, if I’m going to spend five hundred fucking dollars on a device, the company had better make a very compelling case for why I need it. They should also not tie it into the worst mobile service provider in the history of known space, but I didn’t even get that far on the decision tree, on account of it costing five hundred fucking dollars and just being a big iPod Touch.

I’m not knocking anyone who thinks it’s awesome and shiny and a must-have precious, I’m just saying that at the moment, the iPad (oh, what a truly unfortunate name) isn’t for me.

However, I saw an article this morning that made the first move toward a compelling case for the iPad: boardgames. I’m not talking about checkers and chess or even Monopoly … I’m talking Ogre, Car Wars, Settlers, Battlelore, Talisman, Arkham Horror, Dungeon … I think you get my drift.

It would be incredible to play boardgames that look like boardgames on a tablet device. You know that awesome Carcassonne game on Xbox Live? Like that. Imagine how awesome it would be to play Car Wars on a tablet: it would look just like the Deluxe Edition, with counters and a map grid and everything, but all the math and DCs would be done by the computer – unless you really wanted to overlay a turn key, I guess. You’d never have to worry about the dog crashing into the table and knocking your vehicles around, you could play against an AI, and you could flip over to another window to go shopping at Uncle Albert’s, all the way back (or, uh, forward) to the fantastic 2037 catalog.

If I could take books, and movies, and boardgames I love with me when I went on trips (even if it was just a commuter train trip for an hour) then I would have to make a substantially more difficult saving throw versus WANT. Right now, I just have to roll a positive number, with a +20 bonus and no chance of critical failure.

7 thoughts on “MIND MELD: The Apple iPad: Sizzle or Fizzle?”

  1. I’m blind in one eye, and the other’s best days are behind it, so I can read with a magnifying glass or get an IPad or one of its clones. The backlighting makes it preferable to the Kindle. Easy call.

  2. I use an old folding Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad which certainly mitigates the shortcomings of the on-screen keyboard.

    Early reports of the iPad camera connector kit also indicate that, though designed for
    photo downloads, it works fine to connect USB keyboards to the iPad.  It also apparently works well with headsets for things like skype communication.  So, John Anealio, this probably indicates that it will work with some of the higher quality USB microphones.

    I know from personal experience that cell phone type headphones with built in microphones work through the iPad’s headset jack so that’s another avenue for higher quality microphones to be used with it.

  3. I know that I want to get one, but not for an e-reader. I have too many physical books as it is, and I’m not a huge fan of reading them all on a screen. Plus, with a regular book, I don’t have to worry about a battery or taking it on the plane. 

     

    What I really would use one of these things for is writing and reading internet things. I read a number of websites over the course of the day, and without internet at home, my phone becomes the thing that I use for this, and while that’s all well and good, I’d much rather the bigger screen, plus a couple of the absolutely gorgeous applications that I’ve seen for reference. My iPhone is already a multiple purpose device, serving as my calculator, dictionary, map, communications tool and so forth. It’s a very science fictional sort of gadget, but the way that I use the internet, it’s useful to me. 

     

    I honestly couldn’t care less about not being able to open source it or have any particular qualms about having apps pre-approved from the App store. It’s Apple’s baby, and they can sell whatever they please, and economics will take care of the rest. I’m not an artist, programmer, hardware nut or something who really cares about Flash.

     

    Now, I wouldn’t mind having a camera and USB slot on one of these things – it’s not perfect, but I’m sure that we’ll see what happens with Version 2.0. 

     

     

  4. Wow, what a good illustration of the principal that one size never fits all. Even the very pretty, multi-use iPad isn’t for everyone.

    I will pass on some advice I saw online, that I think is excellent. If you plan to travel with an iPad, get the 3G version even if you have wifi at home and at work. The $130 price difference is a one-time charge, and you don’t have to pay the monthly access fee until you need it.

     

  5. @ Steven Gould  Thanks for the info Steven.  I had heard about the camera connector kit, but wasn’t sure if it worked with other USB devices.  In addition to a good USB mic, you could probably connector a USB audio interface, so that you can connect more traditional, higher quality microphones to it as well.  I’m excited to see where all of this will go.

  6. I don’t own an iPad, and I hadn’t planned on getting one until Apple supports Adobe Flash. Steve Jobs changed my opinion about that. A friend of mine just got one and I was able to play with it the other day and I really liked it a lot. It made me feel like I was in the future (all it needed was an LCARS display, and I would have flipped out).

    I also read that when you play Scrabble on it, you can turn the iPad into the game-board, and use your iPhone as your private tile “holder.” I thought that was really freakin’ cool.

    It seems like an AMAZING toy to have available during long days; waiting for kids to finish (enter activity here).

    David Taylor

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