Thursday, April 8, 2010

Kushibo slices through the Apple iPad

So on Sunday I decided to head on over to the Apple Store in Ala Moana (which was once the largest shopping center in the world, I'm told) to check out the iPad (which should have been called iSlice). We have not one, two, but three Apple Stores within a few miles of each other, unlike Orange County where there are like two that are supposed to serve three million people.

Anyway, it was a madhouse. Predictably, loads of people were there to see the iPad, which had been released just the day before. I don't even want to imagine what the lines were like to get one of those, though I myself did wait nearly two hours in line at the Apple Store at Kahala Mall to get a 3G iPhone in the summer of 2008, so I have some idea.

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[The third local fruit stand is the Apple Store Royal Hawaiian Village, located in Waikīkī amongst a lot of high-end shops, and not far from the Cheesecake Factory, which makes for a nice date night. If I'm headed for the Cheesecake Factory, I leave my name (there's always a wait), pick up my buzzer, and then bum around the Apple Store for half an hour or so. I think I've even posted from there. The Waikīkī store is the newest and services the tourists — especially Japanese but increasingly Koreans and other Asians, not to mention loads of Mainlanders. Nice folks there; they replaced the earbuds for my iPod Shuffle, which went kaput only a couple weeks after it arrived from China.]

It took me a while to actually get my hands on one of these things. There were about six each around the two tables closest to the entrance, plus a few along the side wall. It was sort of a wait-behind-someone-and-watch sort of thing, though I'm certain any ajumma in the vicinity would have managed to get one in her hot little hands.

In fact, the woman in the above picture may have been such a person. I watched as an Apple Store genius (yes, that's what they call the workers there) showed her how different tasks work. He demonstrated how pinching one's fingers could make the text or email or whatever smaller, while reverse-pinching (I'm going to coin that phrase) would make it larger. He did a lot of that. I watched.

Although I had to wait patiently (which is very, very, very hard for me), it was actually quite all right to just watch. The iPads looked even cooler in person than online. They were perfect in size: small enough to handle easily but large enough to be highly functional. 

Finally I got my hands on one. I think that's my thumb in the lower right-hand corner, though it could be my friend's. The first thing I wanted to do was see how the keyboard worked. The online keyboard was especially intriguing to me, as I saw it as a way to use this as a completely stand-alone computer.

It reminded me of a virtual keyboard I almost bought for my iBook some years ago, a keyboard projected onto a flat surface in front of you, like a table or airline tray. I'd seen it in MacWorld, and I liked the idea of just tapping my fingers onto the table in order to type. In the end, not knowing how well it worked, I decided to get DragonSpeak instead (back when it was costly).

Anyway, I will tell you right now that I was quite disappointed with the onscreen keyboard. Not because it didn't function, but because all it did was function the same as an iPod Touch or iPhone on-screen keyboard, just bigger.

I love my iPhone, and I am happy to tap out (not type out) messages and emails when I need to, but it is not the kind of keyboard I want on a grander scale. See, the iPod Touch and iPhone are designed for key-by-key contact with the index finger, which is what the iPad does as well. But think about how you type with a keyboard: You rest your palms and your finger on that surface — usually at A, S, D, F, J, K, L, and the semicolon — and then you move your fingers up and down the keyboard, pushing down on the key you want to type.

But therein lies the problem: As soon as you rest your fingers at ASDFJKL, and the semicolon, you end up typing them. The only way to avoid that is by keeping your fingers above the iPad instead of on it. This is highly uncomfortable and inconvenient. And this doesn't even get into the fact that the numbers and most common punctuation marks are missing.

In short, the onscreen keyboard is unusuable as a stand-in for a regular keyboard. All is not lost, though, as Apple will sell (by the end of April) a special keyboard that also works as a dock that keeps the iPad upright. This will transform the iPad into a netbook of sorts, and you can run MS Office-compatible software from Apple in order to do word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets, not to mention email.

At the same time, Apple's current bluetooth-enabled keyboard will work on the iPad, so there's no need to fork over seventy bucks if you already have one, and if you'd prefer to get one with Han•gŭl, you can  get that instead (I guess the iPad keyboard dock will also be available in a Korean version).

What I'm hoping, though, is that Apple will offer a future iPad OS in which the keyboard recognizes that a hand resting on the onscreen keyboard is not letter input. That might be a difficult thing to set up, but I'm confident that if any company can make it work, it's Apple.

Anyway, the iPad has been described as a large-screen iPod Touch or a large-screen iPhone without the phone (though Skype-like services can turn it into a phone). Frankly, I think that's an apt description, as long as you recognize that that's a situation doesn't diminish it, but rather, offers opportunities. When I'm out and about, I use my iPhone for surfing the Internet, but it is too small to become a primary computer for browsing the Web or producing email or blogging content. With the larger screen, that's exactly what can be done, especially with a keyboard attached. In short, people love their iPhones for convenience, but the size limits their ability to make it a primary device; the iPad solves that for many users.

Would I buy one? Not for myself. I'm a grad student who can't afford to be a first adopter, not to mention that I would rather wait until there are a few more functions in the software or hardware (like fixing the keyboard, though that's not a deal-breaker). After all, I just bought a brand-new MacBook Pro early last semester (to replace the one above that was lost in The Grapefruit Juice Incident of 2009) and I already have an iPhone, so the iPad would be expensive redundancy.

Would I buy one for my mother, who travels around from child to child for babysitting and finds herself sitting at home needing to get through the pile of email that's popped into her inbox? Sure, especially if her five-year-old PC craps out and she needs a computer. I got her an iPod Touch for Christmas for the very reasons I mentioned earlier, but if she had an iPad instead, it could negate for her any reason to get a new PC.

Frankly, if it's not an iPad she gets, I'm going to push her to get an iMac (a desktop), because I'm tired of her calling me up to ask how to do this or that in Windows when I really have no idea. If she has an iMad, I can go through whatever Mac OSX feature that is and manipulate her screen, solving the problems for her while I tell her through the iPhone what I'm doing. With an iMac and an iPod Touch, my mother would be formidable.

Who should get an iPad? While there are some for whom an iPad could be their sole computer, I think most users would be people who have an anchor computer at home (like my own iMac in my dorm) but who frequently want to surf the Net, write emails, watch multimedia, etc., while somewhere else. It would make a very good secondary computer for many people, especially if they make some nice dual-pocket sleeves for the iPad itself and the keyboard.

And in that sense, I don't think Apple will be cannibalizing its current customer base. This will be an additional device for most current Apple users, not a replacement for something else they would have bought. Moreover, it will be, like the various iPods or the iPhone, a new device to entice PC users into the world of Apple, which would lead not just to iPad sales, but also to later purchases of iMacs or even MacBooks and MacBook Pros, once they got hooked on the delicious operating environment.

After we were done playing with the iPads, we went to Pietro's and got pizza. Remember Pietro's? It's a Japanese chain, but there used to be a few of them in Kangnam. Believe it or not, they had the most authentic-tasting pizza al tonno (tuna pizza with spinach and onions) I've ever had outside Italy. I missed them and was tickled that Ala Moana had one, right next to Nordstrom's. It was quite tasty.

The end.


  1. Nice!

    You betray your age possibly in your ability to touch-type. I think Apple has realized that most if not all of it's demographic these days are "hunt and peck" typists, even if, like myself they can type at a reasonably fast rate.
    Our hands are always hovering just above the keys in the most awkward of carpal tunnel inducing postures!
    I was glad to see that the iPad will recognize any bluetooth keyboard, I hear the keyboard/dock doesn't travel well because the stand the iPad rests upon doesn't move. I was thinking one of those rubber roll-up ones myself.

  2. I'm not so sure that betrays my age... "What's my age again? What's my age again?"

    That is to say, I'm a Gen Xer, but all the Gen Yer undergrads surrounding me also touch-type on a regular keyboard.

    I do hunt-and-peck quite well, thank you very much. In fact, I prefer the iPhone in the vertical position because the smaller keyboard (compared to horizontal) means I can whip out a text message or email pretty quickly.

    But I want my iPad to be a replacement computer, and for that I need a regular sized keyboard that I can use as a regular keyboard. You see, with touch type, I can type up to 90 words per minute (having been tested professionally when I worked for a credit card company and did input all freakin' day).

    Anyway, you're right that the dock may not work so well, but then they have all those other keyboards, so it's okay.


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