I am writing this post on my new iPad. It is, as I hoped, a pretty amazing piece of technology. Using it makes me feel like I’ve stepped right into a childhood Star Trek fantasy.
I’m very happy with most of the apps I’ve tried so far (including the one I’m using right now, the WordPress app built by my friends at Small Society), but iBooks (Apple’s eBook app) seems incomplete in its functionality. You can change font color and size, but not screen or text color, so I can’t invert to white text on black, which is my preference for reading on a screen over long periods of time. Browsing the bookstore is awkward—it took me a while to find the genre menu, and within a section like the free Project Gutenberg books there doesn’t seem to be a way to sort and filter by any of the metadata I know Gutenberg has available. So, the layout is pretty, but I think book readers will benefit from having multiple eBook apps available. Alas, Stanza (my favorite on the iPhone) does not seem to be planning a full iPad app now that they’ve been purchased by Amazon.
Also, a small digression on that eBook topic. There’s three pieces to the stack: the eBook content (in a format like ePub), the reader software, and the hardware device. Actually, make that four pieces: let’s add the shop you buy/license the book file from. A lot of the ebook options available now are vertically integrated—you buy a Kindle, which runs proprietary software, uses its own file format, and the files must be purchased from Amazon. Or maybe you have options of a couple different file formats, or can buy them from several different shops, but the hardware and the software are linked. You don’t buy a Kindle then load your own reader app on it (without hacking it, at least). But on the iPad, this thing I am typing on right now, the options are more open. You could write an app to support a different book format, you could connect users to different book shops and let them decide what apps they want to read them with (DRM permitting), and if you don’t like the app store approval process, you could even do all of these things in a web app you control fully.
Web browsing on this is a lovely experience, like curling up with the Internet like it’s a magazine or a comic book. I suspect some of the most interesting new things for the platform will turn out to be web-based. I also want to see more apps like the Korg iElectribe, software implementations of hardware interfaces that still have enough tangible oomph to feel intuitive and satisfying.
I bought this device because I hope that myself and others, by experimenting, will open up new ways of interacting with content, and break apart assumptions based on past devices’ limitations. I expect we will think of some pretty cool stuff. The things I can do on this tablet today are just the start.