I Was Wrong About the iPad

Apple's latest device proves itself to be a worthwhile companion, although many apps are a letdown

A little while ago I thought that Apple had slipped up with the iPad. Based on what I'd read, it looked too big, too heavy, not a laptop replacement, not a Kindle replacement, neither one thing nor the other. Even so, knowing myself quite well, I guessed I'd soon be an owner of the fatally flawed device.

So it proved. A couple of weeks ago I surrendered to gadget lust. A meaningful relationship has since developed.

It is a bit too big. It is a bit too heavy. But one quickly adapts and it soon feels natural. The key thing is that it has replaced my Kindle. Almost. I might still prefer my Kindle on the beach, say, because the screen is easier to read in very bright light and I wouldn't want to get sand on my iPad. In all normal lighting conditions the iPad is a lot easier to read. Friends report eyestrain from the backlit display. This seems to vary from person to person. I have now read half a dozen books on it, and I find it comfortable hour after hour.

I use the Kindle app, rather than Apple's IBooks. I already have a ton (as it were) of Kindle books. It is nice, but inessential, that the iPad app keeps places, bookmarks and notes synchronized across devices. iBooks is better-looking and has search and a dictionary, like the Kindle device but unlike the Kindle app. On the other hand the Kindle app can do white text on black for reading in bed without annoying your wife. For now the main thing is that Amazon's range of titles is much bigger.

So the hardware is great, but many of the apps are a letdown. I would rather stay in the web browser to read newspapers and magazines than open any of the news apps devised for the iPad. The WSJ and NYT apps are downright bad--slow and clunky in the first case, starved of content in the second. The FT's is better--I mean that most sincerely--but navigation is harder than on the website; and where is the search panel? Mostly I use the FT website, which the iPad moves around very easily. I'm sure there must be good media apps I haven't come across yet. The NPR app is well done: it shows you what is possible (doubtless it helps that there is no print version to measure it against).

Better apps will come, of course. The OS could use some work too: it has annoying limitations. File management is...well, there is no file management. Everything has to be done circuitously, or with third-party apps. For reading PDFs, which I do a lot, I have ended up using ReaddleDocs with the iPhoneOS viewer--a strange way to satisfy a very basic requirement, but the best method I have so far discovered for combining smoothly scrolling PDF pages with the ability to save and organize documents. This basic functionality should be on the device to begin with.

It doesn't matter. I'm devoted. The iPad is the best photo album you have ever seen. Google Maps is fantastic too: the combination of touch control and the bigger screen is amazing. Try Topo Maps: it stitches large-scale US map sheets together before your eyes. Incredible.

The iPad does those and many other startling things, but it triumphs mainly as a wonderful ebook reader and fully reclining web browser. Contrary to my earlier thoughts, it not only surpasses the Kindle but for many uses supplants the laptop too. Far from being neither one thing nor the other, it  is all things to all men--a good thing in a piece of electronics.

Moving on, though, I have been reading about the new iPhone. There, I think Apple may have slipped up.