Monday, April 05, 2010

Kindle, as a hardware platform, is dead dead deadski.

I was all ready with the arguments for why Kindle was going to be fine. Better screen, longer battery life, lighter weight. I even have a mini-spiel about the battery life in particular, where the 2 week battery life means you stop thinking about Kindle as technology. And, to be clear, I think the Kindle is still a superior device for reading.

Just not superior-enough.

Of course, this should be great for Amazon, as they now have an even-more-killer platform for Kindle digital books. The Kindle has done its job. It has convinced people that digital reading works and created a digital book market Amazon dominates. The question for Kindle hardware becomes one of cost. At $99, or free, I’d hold onto the Kindle for reading at home, where the superior reading experience trumps the disadvantages of E-Ink. The mistake for Amazon would be to get into a consumer electronics arm’s race with Apple, since Apple has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to sell high-margin hardware in markets where everyone else is racing to the bottom. Amazon has brilliantly created a new market for books, now they should gracefully step aide, ensure their books can be sold to as many different readers as possible, and work on building the best possible digital reading experience on all devices.

Now, back to iPad.

The good: the iPhone UI works very well with a larger screen. The screen itself is bright and touches accurate. Combined with a bit more processing speed, the interface is very responsive and switching between apps is fast enough to obviate the need for multitasking in most situations. The Keynote app is strikingly cool, although time will tell if I can produce an entire talk using just the iPad. The keyboard works shockingly well for me, although finding positions where you are sitting comfortably and can type tends to be a legs-on-something affair — Fatboy beanbags should start selling the “iPad productivity” edition. iPad has also finally solved my “read technical PDFs on the go”-problem, something Kindle never managed to do. I’m using Dropbox to backup my PDFs online (can’t say enough good things about Dropbox, by the way, but that’s another post). Then I installed the Good Reader app, which lets you grab PDF files from Dropbox.

Mobile PDF bliss.

Other good parts: the 10-hour battery life claim seems conservative. For browsing, email, and using apps, the iPad is an absolutely killer device. If I wasn’t writing code on a daily basis, I would no longer carry a laptop around. App reviews coming in a later post.

The bad: 1.5 pounds doesn’t seem like much, but compared to the Kindle, iPad is a bit heavy. The Apple case is functional — the weird tackiness of the material holds the iPad in place when you’re typing on the iPad with your legs up — but uncomfortable in your hands. I would still recommend it, but I would expect 3rd party cases to trounce it eventually. The handling of iPhone apps is just horrible. I don’t really mind having the app run in a window, but the window doesn’t recognize the orientation of the iPad, so if the iPad is in landscape mode the iPhone app is running on its side. Worse, when you aren’t doubling the iPhone app, centered is often the least convenient place for the window to be — why can’t I drag the default location around?

The various SSH and VNC clients are this close to being useful, but aren’t yet really designed to take advantage of the big screen on the iPad. App competition should fix this, but it still means waiting.

The ugly: the iPad’s WiFi antenna is not very good. It regularly drops to 1 or 2 bars in my house despite iPhone and laptops being fine. Lots of folks commenting on this online. Not a deal-breaker for me, but still annoying. The other ugly bit is that my MacBook Air’s USB port doesn’t effectively charge the iPad, so either I need to use the wallwart or turn off the iPad and charge overnight off of the Air.

All-in-all, for version 1 of a new product, iPad seems very strong. Apps will solve many of its limitations, while version 2 will almost certainly bring us a camera and other hardware improvements. If you are thinking about buying one, think about what you use your current computer for. If it is primarily email and browsing, iPad might be a better device for your needs. If you need to write extensively or create code, maybe not. So far, I’m happy with mine!

copyright © 2009-2014 Cory Ondrejka