Wednesday 16 June 2010

Up close and personal with the iPad

Guest post written by Andrew Lewin

So in the end I lasted six and a half days before giving in to the inevitable and buying an iPad. It was inevitably going to happen sooner or later, and six and a half days was only a fraction shorter than I realistically thought I'd hold out for.

So after a week and a half of being the proud owner of an iPad, what are my thoughts?

The short answer is: I really like it. On a deep, emotional level - it truly is a thing of beauty and the definition of an object of desire.

And what am I using it for? Here again the answer is simple, but not particularly illuminating. I use it to check email, to look at Twitter, to go through my RSS feeds and browse a few specific news pages such as the BBC first thing in the morning and last thing at night. If I'm watching TV, then I'll quite often want to know a bit of background information on the show or find out who a specific actor is. And during a Formula 1 event, I'll want timing and live commentary information. I've also been known to transfer TV programmes that I've recorded on
my Elgato tuner so that I can watch them on the gloriously large screen in comfort (on the sofa or in bed.)

All of which might sound a bit underwhelming - "couldn't you do all of that already, using the iPhone?" And of course I could indeed do all of that. But the strange thing is that I didn't; well, I did have a period when I would check email and Twitter in bed first thing in the morning, but I've even stopped doing that recently - a combination of not wanting to run the iPhone's notoriously fickle battery down ahead of a full day, and the mobile screen being just too cramped for it to be truly pleasurable when not strictly necessary because of being on the move.

Safari and Apple Mail are two of my most used apps, of course. For Twitter, I had been clinging strangely to the
Twitter iPhone app even though it shrinks the screen down to a fraction of the full iPad size (or becomes fuzzy if you use the 2x zoom function on it) even though the Mobile Twitter site is pretty good in Safari, and there are a handful of good but not-quite-right iPad apps such as HelTweetica, and Tweetdeck despite the latter app's overwhelming popularity with many folk. So I was delighted when one of my oldest iPhone apps - Echofon - was just updated to work on iPad with exactly the sort of classy, simple but full-featured interface I've been looking for but failed to find elsewhere. Finally, I am happy!

For Formula 1, there's the extremely expensive (but apparently extremely good)
F1 iPad application costing £20 for a full season, but I go for the much simpler free timing application from the Formula 1 site and it was amazingly useful during this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix when it came track as to who was doing what with pit stops.

For all those TV and film queries, there's the
IMDb app which is already iPad-enabled. It's a little quirky in its layout and interface - it didn't seem to be able to do a lot of things initially, but poking around (and even turning the iPad horizontally rather than holding it in portrait mode made a huge difference in functionality) revealed it had a lot more to it than first appeared, and it's very stylishly implemented. It's become one of my favourites as well as most useful apps in the interim.

About the biggest problem I had was finding a decent RSS reader that syncs with Google Reader. On the iPhone, I've been very happy with
Byline, but there's no iPad version of Byline yet and so it's stuck in a very small window on the screen (it scales up 2x very poorly and totally loses the whole iPad experience.) The Google Reader site is also very underwhelming using iPad's Safari, and certainly didn't give me any warm, fuzzy sense of doing anything truly worthy of the iPad.

And then just in time, I found
Reeder for iPad, which is just gorgeous. There's been a version for iPhone for a while that looks (to me) rather like my old favourite Byline, but they've really done an excellent job expanding out to the iPad, using the flicks, sweeps and pinches to their full effect - and all the time in a beautiful interface. At last, reading through my RSS feeds becomes a true joy instead of a chore.

Oh, and I should put in a mention for
iBooks. I always wondered why Apple rather downplayed the e-book functionality of the iPad when they launched the product earlier this year, and I can only think it was because they only had the licensing rights sown up in the US and so everyone else was going to miss out. Fortunately they managed to do a deal for the UK as well at the very last minute before the (delayed) UK iPad launch, and while only a few publishers are on board so far it's surprising how many titles there are. Even better is the selection of out-of-copyright books available - I have several Sherlock Holmes books downloaded, as well as Dracula and a Father Brown from GK Chesterton, as well as the quite beautiful Winnie The Pooh book that Apple lined up as a flagship free download for everyone.

So those are my current uses (and resulting apps) for the iPad. There's nothing really earth-shattering here, or anything new - I suspect I've barely scratched the surface and certainly haven't been adventurous in possible uses of the iPad, and have really only kept in the safe shallow waters of familiarity to date. Nothing that I can point to and say "look, that's truly ground breaking!" And yet when you start using these and other apps, it really does make more of a difference than it sounds in changing your online consumption experience.

There's more to be said about all of this, and I'll do another blog post soon (when I get the chance) to try and delve into why I think the iPad really is a massive game-changing device - even at the same time that it's also incredibly hard to explain to anyone why it's actually different.

But that's for another day.

Andrew Lewin works for COI, a central government department, as a web developer/project manager/social media advisor and technical consultant. He was creating e-zines before anyone started calling it "blogging", and was setting up Fantasy Formula 1 sites by twisting blogging software such as Movable Type and Wordpress into being content management systems before it became all the rage and standard operating procedure. Andrew can bore for England on all aspects of online accessibility, usability and interface design, and has worked in and around the media for twenty years since starting in production and IT support at the magazine publishers H Bauer. That started a lifelong love affair with Mac-products, with a proudly PC-free computer purchasing history that started with a Mac IIsi in the dark days of Apple without Steve Jobs. Andrew now lives in south west London with a thoroughly modern iFamily of Apple products - iMac, iPhone, iPod and of course iPad: all of whom get on very well together, keep Andrew in line and tell him what to do. Andrew blogs at "Let me think about that..." (where this post originally appeared) and at "motorsport.ind".

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Monday 14 June 2010

Al Williamson: 1931 - 2010

Al Williamson, the award-winning comic book illustrator, has passed away aged 79.

Al Williamson's distinctive style inspired a generation of artists including Dave Gibbons. His legacy lives on in Flash Gordon and Star Wars comics (amongst others).