iPad bloopers. No, it isn’t perfect

Highlights

For bottom line readers too busy to enjoy the copy:

  • Too many addictive games
  • The onscreen keyboard is squirrely
  • iTunes isn’t a great way to sync files
  • Your iPhone bluetooth headset won’t work with your iPad
  • Apple’s apps lack the maturity you would expect from a third generation OS
  • Apple’s delayed 3G release was shameless

Before going into the details of what doesn’t work on the iPad, I want readers to know that I seriously considered taking a slightly different (more positive) approach: an iPad wish list. I considered this because my entire life I’ve had to defend myself against people who ask, “why are you being so negative?” when I point out little flaws that need to be addressed.

I might also point out that I seriously considered pulling out my Chicago Manual and Style and AP stylebook to look up the proper way to insert questions into the middle of sentences like the one in the previous paragraph. I thought about that as seriously as I really thought about the wish list idea because, to be quite honest, I embrace my essential negative self as an essential component of a healthy, whole personality.

As long as I digress, which seems to be a pattern I see developing in this blog, To be honest, I’ve been browbeat by some of the most negative people you can imagine, so I understand the negativity of negativity. But I’m really getting tired of PC (positively correct) personalities who spend more time being negative about people’s perceived negativity than they spend paying positive attention to legitimate concerns.

“You know,” someone might say, “this operation could be a little leaky. Maybe we should do more testing.” “Don’t be so damn negative,” the positive person from BP says. “Any spills will be minimal, and we have top kill as a backup.” “But an oil spill could cost the tax payers billions of dollars,” the alleged negative thinker says. “Don’t be so negative, the tea party will never let Congress raise taxes to pay for it,” the positive BP exec says. “Besides, Congress limited our liability to $75 million, and we’re a British corporation anyway so it won’t be our tax dollars.”

No, having concerns is a far cry from being negative, something Apple should have remembered before they rushed to market with Newton. So when I mention these iPad downers, I have to emphasize that this is a little more than a wish list. Apple needs to take notes and address issues ASAP (okay, most of them…okay, all but the first one).

Too many fun games

That’s right, there are too damn many fun games on the iPad. I bought this machine to make me a better person. I wanted an ereader with benefits, like the benefit of a fully functional computer. During the month of April I wrote a comic book script, edited a novel and downloaded dozens of books I didn’t have room for on my bookshelves. And I was reading them too.

Then I was browsing the app store for an html editor and I saw a cute little icon for a free game. What the hell, I thought. So I downloaded the game and damned if it wasn’t so much fun I started downloading others. And then, because game play is a slippery slope to game addiction, I began paying for games. I wasted the month of May winning five hundred games of Yukon in Mondo Solitaire. I found all the beetles in Amazon the Hidden Expedition and rebuilt the Bride of Frankenstein. I played every level of Airport Mania twice (even though it’s just an iPhone app), found the secret temple in Askend HD (without earning expert status on a single level, I might add) and watched the bears snarf down hundreds of chickens and pigs in Farm Frenzy 2.

Then I got three emails in five hours from Apple with my iTunes tab. One hundred and thirty dollars. In five hours. My wife called over her cat rescue friends for an iPad intervention. (That’s the last time I’ll show Carol my iTunes bills and say, “Can you believe this?”)

Oh, and did I mention Pocket God, where I can make the pygmies dance, fling them into volcanoes, dangle them over sharks, skewer them with harpoons, feed them to piranhas and turn them into zombies? That’s one of the few iPhone apps that looks just as good on the iPad.

I know I challenged Obama’s complaints about the iPad in my previous blog post, but it’s full disclosure time. The iPad’s free and two dollar game apps can turn your mind to mush quicker than huffing gasoline and from a lead-based paint can in an airplane glue factory, but you won’t show any symptoms. Your family won’t know to intervene until the iTunes bills have emptied your account.

Oops, the keyboard did it again

As cool as the onscreen keyboard is, it can be clunky. (Are you listening Apple?) Not Microsoft clunky, which is like the distance between Hell and Alaska, but just enough to irritate when you’re in the middle of typing a blog on how great the iPad is. And then, after a few paragraphs, it can be outright frustrating.

I could write this off as the 1.0 blues and tell myself that Apple will fix the problem in future upgrades, but given their history with iPhone Mail I really want to light a fire under the developers’ floor.

The keyboard jumps inexplicably in the middle of typing. There’s nothing more frustrating than typing away and realize th oh, shit look at this, I was typing a sentence in the paragraph on apostrophes and somehow the keyboard jumped me back into the middle of the word “that” at somehow you’ve just inserted a sentence smack dab in the middle of a word you typed three paragraphs before. I thought the dock keyboard would fix this problem, but that keyboard jumps around as well.

Forget HTML, this is a QWERTY clusterf…

Ninety five percent of the time typing on the iPad keyboard is perfectly natural, especially in landscape mode where the keyboard is full-size. That other five percent of the time is like working with OCR software. You spend almost as much time correcting the errors as you would have retyping the document.

Apsotrophes and quotation marks are on the numbers screen which you have to toggle by typing the “?123″ button, which makes you 1) break your thoughts and 2) think about the keyboard layout just to type ” ‘ “. Yes, I know, the iPad OS automatically anticipates abbreviations, but it doesn’t do so consistently. For instance, it won’t type “I’ve” and when you try, it types “vie.” When I discuss hell, which ministers using their iPads would most certainly need to do, the iPad types “he’ll”.

That still leaves quotation marks, which, if you type dialogue like I do, can be quite frustrating. And when adding the possessive (like “Dick’s”) to the end of a name, you have to break your chain of thought to toggle the keyboard. This is especially annoying when you realize Apple duplicated the key that toggles to numbers and punctuation at the bottom of the keyboard screen, but they didn’t place the duplicate on the far right, but one key over, which makes it pointless (see the three illustrations below).

Hey, Apple, why don’t you get rid of that key and put apostrophes and quotations in its place?

The Stephens reconfigured keyboard

And where are the printers’ characters? That was a feature on the first Mac for God’s sake. And arrow keys would be nice, if only left and right arrow keys to let us move the carat back and forth between characters in a word or line.

I take that back. Arrow keys are essential because the iPad OS rarely lets you place the cursor inside a word. You have to select and erase the entire word to correct it.

But typing apostrophes is nothing compared to the he’ll of typing HTML (did you catch that? I typed “hell” but the iPad didn’t like it). You literally have to toggle between all three keyboards to type HTML commands. To type command brackets you have to toggle the letters/numbers board and, while still in the numbers mode you have to toggle the second level math function keyboard, to type code you have to toggle back to letter mode. To close a command you have to toggle twice for the open bracket.

Here are the three keyboards, for those who haven’t seen them:

The main keyboard (notice how the “.?123” key is inset)

The numbers keyboard

The punctuation keyboard

We’re talking simulaneous carpal tunnel in the fingers and brain cells. Perhaps Apple needs a fourth HTML keyboard. I know, web developers should use their traditional computers. But for guys like me, who need to type the occasional HTML command for their iPad blog written on an iPad, the situation is intolerable. And, trust me, there’s little relief from the few HTML editing apps out there, as you will discover when I review them.

The keyboard dock, a case in conflict.

Finally, I broke down and bought one of the iPad dock keyboards, but it provides only marginal relief. First of all, hauling the keyboard around defeats the purpose of portability. And, trust me, tucking an iPad under your arm makes you look awesome. Tucking an iPad with a keyboard under your arm makes you look dorky.

Second, if you’re going to cart your iPad around you want a case to cover it (if you doubt me, see what happens when you accidentally drop it in the Starbucks parking lot and try to take it back to the Genius bar afterward). However, if you slip the iPad in its case the iPad won’t dock. On top or that, the physical and virtual keyboards have just enough differences to add to your frustration when you switch back and forth like I do.

In addition, other apps don’t seem to have full access to keyboard functions. Perhaps this is because, once again, Apple’s open access development isn’t fully open access. So Office2 HD can’t captitalize words at the beginning of sentences, and it doesn’t recognize arrow keys but it can replace two spaces with a period. Pages does recognize the arrow keys, but can’t automatically captitalize or type periods.

Where’s iSync?

Why can’t I sync iWork files wirelessly? There are half a dozen other apps that let me synch files wirelessly, including Office HD. You would think Apple could come up with a way to synch to iTunes without the USB power cable. Or, even better, have the iPad automatically mount as a drive on your Mac desktop.

The truth is, iTunes is a lousy syncing protocol for files. You have to open iTunes, find your app in the apps tab, and drag the files to and from your computer desktop. That’s assuming the app bothers to synch with iTunes.

Sadly, the third party apps for wireless synching aren’t much better. Many require you to install parallel apps on your desktop computer. Others set up your iPad as a server, but the server only looks inside the application’s file heirarchies.

You can move iWork files over the internet, but a twenty page Pages file can take four minutes to move, which is more painful than synching through iTunes (unless, of course, you’re off site and have to back up your files wirelessly).

Can you sync files? Of course, you can. Is it easy? Sure once you learn how to do it. Is it time consuming? More time consuming than plugging in a zip drive and copying files to your desktop. Is it intuitive? As intuitive as a Windows application, which is to say, you’re Apple. It isn’t supposed to work like this.

The iPad can’t print, or, the ghost of Snow Leopard still haunts Apple developers

(This is appended to my original post)

Many of you may remember that Snow Leopard shipped without drivers for most printers. After two months Canon released drivers for Snow Leopard but even the Apple Genius at my local Apple store couldn’t help me configure my MacBook to print to my wireless printer. “You could always hook up by USB,” he suggested. Since that defeated the point of wireless printing, I restored system 10.5 instead and I’m still using it. Then I bought my iPad, a wireless device, and guess what? It doesn’t print at all.

I must admit, I’ve gone so digital with my life since I restored 10.5 to my laptop that I rarely use a printer anymore, but many iPad users need to print their documents, and they need to print them on the road. Isn’t that the point of a portable device? Apple has a neat workaround to this. They expect you to sync with iTunes and print from your home computer.

Am I missing something? If I wanted to print from my MacBook Pro I would be using it to start with. Let’s think this through: I’m surfing the web on my iPad at home, and I see a neat sight I want to print. Or I order something from the Apple Store online and want to print my receipt. What do I do? I email the link to my MacBook, haul it out, boot it up, check email, click on the link and print the link.

Oops. The receipt was a PHP form so I can’t find it now.

I don’t expect Apple to support every feature of every printer, the overhead on the system would be too high. But a generic driver would be nice so I can at least print something that looks like a reasonable facsimile.
Nor do I expect Apple to support printing via USB cable. Wireless printers run a couple of hundred dollars these days. Surely Apple can find a way to connect iPads to wireless printers.

Surely…

Incompatible with your iPhone’s bluetooth headset

One of the write-ups that made me drool for an iPad was an Apple release that said I could listen to my movies and tunes through my bluetooth headphones (note the word “headphones.” It seems innocuous, but it’s a big hint). I hate using headphones because the wires get tangled up and messy. So I thought, awesome. I already have my bluetooth headphone for my iPhone. I’ll use it with my iPad.

Ironically the Apple Genius was as surprised as I was when I called to complain that my iPad wouldn’t pair with my bluetooth headset. It turns out, if you want wireless headphones, they need to be mp3 compatible stereo headphones. And, trust me, you want a good set, so you’ll be out at least another fifty to a hundred bucks. That’s not quite as much as my recent iTunes Apps bill, but it’s close.

The Plantronics 605 stereo headset I ordered from Amazon (and immediately returned for a number of other reasons) was supposed to have a built in mike and compatible with my iPhone. It turned out, they were wrong. So I went to the Apple store for a good stereo bluetooth headset. They only had one in stock. You guessed it, the Plantronics 605. He said, go to Best Buy.

I’m sorry, something’s wrong when you go to the Apple store for an iPad accessory and the Apple sales rep says go to Best Buy.

So I’m still shopping.

Planned obsolescence from the beginning

My biggest complaint is Apple’s shameless two launch date strategy. Apple decided to hold back release of their 3G iPad by several weeks. In their defense, they may have needed six more weeks to work out the 3G bugs or to wrangle some concessions from ATT who will make twenty times as much money on the iPhone as Apple.

Nonetheless, what would it have hurt to hold back the entire product line release until the 3G models were ready to ship? No, I think Apple knew damn well that suckers like me would buy the iPad on day one, and then hand their slightly used iPad to a spouse or whiny child and buy the 3G later this year.

Carol and I debated whether or not to buy the 3G model, but had it been available, we would have bought it. Now we’re going to be a two iPad family. Of course, she thought she should get the 3G and not my hand me down. For a week or so, it looked like we would have to buy two 3G iPads and my son Bryan, who lives and breathes Microsoft, would get the used iPad for Christmas. I finally came up with a good compromise that allowed me to keep the 3G, but I know it will cost me a lot more in invisible IOUs that will appear magically in the future.

That’s just how marriage works.

Had Apple simply released both models together, they could have saved countless families hours of negotiation.

Crippled applications

I’m going to review Apple’s iPad applications in the near future, so I will save the details until that blog. But let me give you a hint. Apple’s onboard applications have some surprising oversights. I suspect most of them stem from their beginnings as iPhone apps, but Apple did such a marvelous job of retooling the iPad OS that I find myself bothered by how little thought they seemed to have given their basic apps such as Calendar, Safari, the App Store and Mail (especially Mail).

Parting thoughts

Do any of these complaints mean I regret buying my iPad? No, not for a minute, not for an instant. Am I having second thoughts now that I know I could have had an Eee PC if I only waited? (You would think that after all the jokes comparing the iPad to feminine hygiene products, Apple’s competitors would come up with a product name that started “Eee P”) No, I’m laughing at the idea that all the Windows naysayers who mocked the iPad will be lining up for their own version.

I just want Apple to think long and hard before they release the announced next OS. If it takes an extra half year to get it right, wait a half year. I knew there would be bugs with early adoption, and I’m actually happy that the iPad works as well as it does. Better, even, than I expected. I do, however, want to prepare potential buyers for some of the bugs they can expect, so they don’t see the shortcomings as reasons to stick with their Windows devices, or decide they don’t need an iPad because they have an iPhone.

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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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3 Responses to iPad bloopers. No, it isn’t perfect

  1. Clark Dunlap says:

    What do you expect from a company that has a paean to Original Sin as its Logo? At least Jobs is anti-porn. 😉

    • Welcome as the first person to comment on my blog, Clark. Yout reply suggests you spent some time in San Marcos, Tx. I wish there was a prize, but as you know from my blog I spent all the money downloading games.

      The rumors are true that Jobs, McCartney and Ringo Star have put their differences aside and now jokingly call each other “Six,” but the job they wanted was already taken by Gates.

  2. Clark Dunlap says:

    Well, he did invent the gui, just cause Jobs used it first, big deal…
    Good to hear from you…Hey I didn’t know you had a missionary uncle by the same name..

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