Friday, May 14, 2010

From the Field: iPad Up Close and Personal

By the end of the first month the iPad was available, Apple had sold a million of them. Mine was one -- but only just. I waited for the 3G version, thinking if the machine was all about access on-the-go, then a WiFi connection alone wouldn’t be enough.

I’ve now had mine for two weeks, and although I can certainly remember what life was like without it, I can no longer imagine life without it.

The machine is awesome. You’ve read about its ability to showcase photos, websites, music and movies. You know it can access something like 200,000 apps at the App Store. It lets you read your e-mail. Just like iPhones and iPod Touches.

But there, the similarities end. iPad goes much further, becoming a device for creation as well as exhibition. On it, I can create presentations. I can build spreadsheets. I can even write, in Pages (which outputs to Word, if you’re worried or wondering). I’m planning to write a novel on the thing, if I can carve out some time. (For now, I’m writing this post on the iPad, which I suppose makes this my first metapost for January Magazine. Oooooh!)

But since you’re here, I bet you’re more interested in the iPad’s function as an e-book reader -- and the iBookstore.

Now, before I go on, full disclosure: I’m not an e-book kinda guy. I like books. I like having that inch of paper in my hand. I like a book’s heft. A book’s tactile wonder, the feel of paper. But hey, if the iPad lets me read a book, why not at least put a toe in the water?

Turns out reading on an iPad is a trip. The backlit screen is bright as a clear summer day -- and just as stunning. Pages turn easily, with a tap or a swipe. When you swipe, the pages curl! The book included with every iPad, Winnie the Pooh, contains illustrations -- and those pop just as powerfully as the text. Beautiful.

Because the iPad works in any orientation, you can position it in landscape mode and read a spread at a time, or in portrait mode for a single page. Type not to your liking? You can change the font to any of five options. Words not big enough? You can change the size. Want to search for a word or a name? No problem. Want to lie on your side and read in bed? There’s a rotation lock, so you can freeze the screen’s position. Want to jump to a certain chapter? Go to the table of contents, tap the chap you want -- and you’re there. Want to bookmark a page? Easy. Just stop reading, and iBooks remembers where you are.

My favorite thing? Faced with a word I don’t know, I tap it -- and up pops a dictionary window that offers every possible definition. Another tap vanishes it.

A person could grow to love this.

At the iBookstore, the books are piling up, although not as fast as the apps themselves do in their own store. Still, the NYT bestsellers are here, along with thousands of other books. The store has a featured-titles banner, offers bestseller lists and free books, and more. Of course, you can search by category, author, whatever. As on the App Store, just click a book you’re interested in, and it downloads to your iPad right away, to a specially made bookshelf in the reader. The bookshelf will hold everything you buy, no matter how many: no more piling beloved books in boxes in the attic!

And then there are samples. I downloaded a sample of When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I'm Dead (Twelve) the new Jerry Weintraub memoir, and it was 39 pages long. Plenty enough to get a sense of the book. The sample of Atlas Shrugged? 262 pages. One could almost survive on the samples alone (much more easily than one could survive on those 30-second snips at iTunes).

All in all, the iPad appears to be a superb e-reader. I still love physical books, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But the next time I take an extended trip, I may leave the paper editions at home and grab some e-ditions on the fly. Or watch a movie... or read e-mail... or surf the Web... or, well, I may just let my iPad decide for me. There must be an app for that.

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Blogger Loranne Brown said...

Ohhh, thanks for adding to my gadget-envy. Someday ...

You say: "iPad goes much further, becoming a device for creation as well as exhibition. On it, I can create presentations. I can build spreadsheets. I can even write, in Pages (which outputs to Word, if you’re worried or wondering)."

I read a lot on my iPod Touch, especially when out and about, stuck somewhere without a book. I will add, too, that it's possible to use the iPod Touch for content generation. I use the Quick Office suite app -- which isn't cheap. It is, however, amazingly functional, despite the Touch keyboard. Combined with Mobile Me, which allows you to store your iDisk files in the ether, you can either download to read and edit, or upload new content generated on the Touch.

My Touch is with me everywhere. I worry that I'll need a much larger purse for the iPad. Have you actually been carting yours around with you to use on the fly?

Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 10:52:00 AM PDT  

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