Friday, June 04, 2010

Working on the iPad, an interview with Joe Kissell

Working on the iPad, an interview with Joe Kissell.

Joe Kissell and Take Control Books have just put out the ebook Take Control of Working with Your iPad. I asked Joe for an interview about this device, which the regular reader will be aware I'm very fond of. Joe's answers clarified several key issuses for myself, I hope they may for you too.
- Eolake


Joe Kissell, what do you think is the position of the iPad in the market? This has been much discussed, some see it as superflous, some see it as an important new platform, and everything in between.

I think of the iPad as a new category of device, not as a tablet computer. It doesn't do a lot of the things a laptop with a conventional OS can do, which of course Apple thinks of as a strength and critics think of as a weakness. There's this real tension between people trying to get it to do everything a laptop can do on the one hand, and developers looking for novel uses that are uniquely suited to this form factor on the other. I think, and hope, that the latter ultimately win out. It's not a substitute for a laptop or a smartphone. It's simply an object that does a variety of useful things, and does them in situations in which a laptop would be too big or heavy or cumbersome and a smartphone (or, say, iPod touch) would be too small and constraining.

Asking whether it's superfluous is like asking whether minivans are superfluous, given that there were already cars and full-size vans. Zillions of people decided that even though there were other ways of moving people and things from point A to point B, this in-between form factor made sense, and that the advantages outweighed the tradeoffs. Obviously, size isn't the only distinguishing characteristic of the iPad, but I imagine it coming into its own as a device that's great for doing various tasks that are just not ideal on a laptop or a smaller device.

What do you think are it's most important weaknesses and strengths?

Off the top of my head, some of the current weaknesses are the weight (too heavy to hold in one hand for any period of time, as when reading a book); extremely limited video out; and the fact that the display is relatively low-density and is useless in direct sunlight. There are software issues, too, most of which will be addressed in iPhone OS 4.0 in a few months, or by updates to third-party apps. However, I have to say the lack of Wi-Fi syncing for Apple apps and Apple's failure to leverage the iDisk for pervasive cloud-based storage are real sore spots, with no remedy in sight.

Support for external keyboards is, for me, a gigantic strength. [See videos] Long battery life is another big plus, as is Document Support, which finally lets one app send a document to another.

... I am a bit unclear on this. Could you give a couple of example of how this are done or what it could do potentially?

Sure. So the way this works is that an app says, "Hey, I can handle files of types x, y, and z." And then another app has a button or icon or whatever that lets you send a document to any other app on your iPad that has registered itself as able to handle that file type. Some apps can send and receive, some can only send, some can only receive, and some don't (yet) offer Document Support at all. But it's becoming much more pervasive.

As a practical example, let's say I have a PDF of one of my books in GoodReader, and then later I download ReaddleDocs. I can send the PDF from GoodReader directly to ReaddleDocs with a couple of taps, rather than having to copy the file from my Mac or PC to my iPad a second time. At the moment, I have at least a dozen apps on my iPad that offer Document Support to some extent, so I don't have to particularly worry which app I've transferred a given file to; in most cases I can move stuff around on the iPad itself pretty easily.

Continuing, I also think the accelerometer and compass are even better, and potentially more useful, on the iPad than on the iPhone. But it's the third-party apps that are, I think, the very best thing about the iPad. Some of them are just amazing, and unlike anything I've seen for other platforms.

... A couple of examples?

Well, as the father of a newborn, I'm pretty jazzed about the various Dr. Seuss apps (The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss's ABC, and The Lorax so far). The Alice for iPad app is also amazing - a wonderfully interactive way of experiencing this familiar text that just wouldn't make sense on a laptop or an iPhone (admittedly, it's a bit past my son's comprehension level, but lots of fun for me). And I'm really digging Zinio (for reading magazines, such as Macworld), the Wired app, and the Marvel Comics app. (I think you can see a theme emerging there...) I'm really happy to have Pro Keys for quick musical doodling - not quite as nice as a real piano keyboard, but a lot more portable! There are some extremely cool and unique games too, but I don't really have time for much more than a quick hand or two of solitaire!

Which of the weaknesses are you most optimistic will be improved soon?

In terms of hardware, I can imagine a bit of weight being shaved off the next-generation model, but I don't expect the screen resolution to increase any time soon. I can only hope Apple opens up video output, and I truly don't understand why they haven't done so already. I'll be very happy to see the promised updates to Mail, the multitasking features, and numerous other iPhone OS 4.0 changes, too.

What do you think is its potential for doing actual work? Now? And potentially in the future?

Well, given that I wrote a book on this topic, I have kind of mixed feelings. The bottom line is that it depends on what one's work is. If you're a writer, and you traffic mainly in plain text - blogging, for example - then the iPad can be a fantastic work tool. It's absolutely fantastic for taking notes (typed or handwritten, or even recorded audio). If you work with spreadsheets a lot but don't need a massive amount of screen real estate, it's also a pretty good fit. And there are great apps for doing charts, mind maps, task management, drawing, painting, music, Web research, and so on.

However, if your work involves (as mine does) a highly structured, layout-oriented sort of writing, then right now the iPad just won't cut it at all. Tools that would enable me to write and edit, for example, a Take Control book on the iPad don't currently exist. The current version of Pages doesn't come close, and neither do any of the third-party word-processing apps. And I'm sad to say that the best presentation tool on the iPad, Keynote, is just not great, especially when it comes time to actually give the presentation on an external display.

All these things can certainly change in the future, and I hope they do. But for me, if the iPad never evolves to the point where it can substitute for my laptop, that's OK. It doesn't need to do all the things a computer can do. It's still a wonderful, useful device in many other ways.

 Thanks, Joe!
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Joe Kissell is an author, dad, computer geek, traveler, and dreamer living in Paris.


Eolake's PS:
By the way, I feel that what the iPad is brilliant for, is sort of  interstitial work. Work or other activities you do in between other things. Like when you are standing in line, or on a bus/train/plane, waiting for a meeting, etc etc. A laptop is often too slow and clumsy to pull out, or you didn't bring it because of the weight, and so on. The iPad fits in the smallest bag, it starts up and shuts down instantly, and it's not imposing.

Update:
Ganesha Games said:
For a wargamer, writer and ilustrator like me (I write and sell rulebooks for tabletop wargaming, mostly in ebook form) the ipad is a killer device. It holds all of my publication, all available at the flick of a finger, rolls dice for me (the Dicenomicon app is superb), lets me sell ebooks by email (I can email a customer the book he just bought straight from Goodreader)plus carries all my media, my artwork, my books and my comics. I used a netbook before but I was always wondering whether to leave it home because of the short battery duration, and it was more cumbersome to use on the wargaming table when demoing my rules. The iPad has solved all these problems, putting my smartphone, my kindle and my asus eeepc to rest. I'm even reselling paper comics to finance my own switch over to digital (example, I sold my Atomic Robo trade paperbacks to buy the digital version on iVerse).

10 comments:

Michael Burton said...

It's great for taking handwritten notes? How?

Joe Kissell said...

Michael: Well, read my book for complete details, but... there are a bunch of note-taking apps that let you write on the screen with a fingertip or stylus (e.g., Penultimate, Write Now XL for iPad, All Notes, PaperDesk for iPad, smartNote, Sundry Notes Pro, etc.), and at least one (WritePad for iPad) has handwriting recognition that turns your scribbles into real text.

eolake said...

I can mention that I like the Dagi stylus. it has a clear, slanted tip which lets you *see* the exact point where you're writing, whereas anything else hides that point.

Michael Burton said...

The lack of stylus support was one of two things absolutely disqualifying the iPad from my consideration. (Writing with my fingertip just doesn't make it, sorry.)

Now that I know there are styluses (styli?), I may have to reconsider that objection.

I hope the WWDC next week includes some sort of announcement that will remove my other objection, then maybe I can get an iPad just like the cool kids!

(I did get your DevonThink book, Joe. Very helpful.)

eolake said...

The other objection being...?

James said...

Eolake: Thanks for the info. Always appreciated!

Ganesha Games said...

For a wargamer, writer and ilustrator like me (I write and sell rulebooks for tabletop wargaming, mostly in ebook form) the ipad is a killer device. It holds all of my publication, all available at the flick of a finger, rolls dice for me (the Dicenomicon app is superb), lets me sell ebooks by email (I can email a customer the book he just bought straight from Goodreader)plus carries all my media, my artwork, my books and my comics. I used a netbook before but I was always wondering whether to leave it home because of the short battery duration, and it was more cumbersome to use on the wargaming table when demoing my rules. The iPad has solved all these problems, putting my smartphone, my kindle and my asus eeepc to rest. I'm even reselling paper comics to finance my own switch over to digital (example, I sold my Atomic Robo trade paperbacks to buy the digital version on iVerse).

Michael Burton said...

The other objection is the App Store and the censorship issue.

If there were any other place to buy apps, I would have no objection to Apple being selective about the products it carries in its store. But there IS no other place to buy iPad or iPhone apps, so Apple is in control of what we're permitted to do with the machines we bought from them.

I bought my first computer (an Apple IIe) in 1983, back when we still thought of the microcomputer revolution as a revolution, putting the computer power that was once the exclusive domain of governments and corporations into the hands of individuals. The App Store monopoly is counter-revolutionary.

As a long-time Apple fan, I hold out a sentimental hope that Apple will announce a way to setup third-party app stores at the WWDC next week. But I'm not holding my breath.

eolake said...

Update: the Dagi stylus does not work well when a skin has been applied to the screen. The friction becomes very high.

And I like the skin, it reduced both reflections and fingerprints, so it stays.

TC [Girl] said...

Eo/Joe: thanks for doing the interview. Very interesting/helpful.

Looking forward to reading about the various note-taking apps. I like the idea of your stylus, Eo. Cool.

GG: thanks for your comments. Very helpful, also.

MB: I'm w/you on the censorship/monopolizing. Way annoying and hoping that will change, also!

Eo: bummer re: the stylus on the skin. Sounds like that skin would also be a good thing to cut down on abrasion; hence, I would also want it to remain on.