My iPad Second Impressions

Jean-Louis Gassée, a Silicon Valley veteran, is currently general partner for the venture capital firm Allegis Capital in Palo Alto.

I'm "stuck" in Paris (poor me), volcanic ash from Iceland has closed the airports. Stranded but not ignored. I have my iPad. In business meetings, in cafés and restaurants, the iPad is, as I reported two weeks ago, an all-around "guy-and-chick magnet." Sit down, stroke the screen, and Parisians, not normally the outgoing sort, admire and strike up a conversation. Norway's Prime Minister, stranded as well, used his iPad to govern remotely…très chic. I've never seen anything like this.

I gave myself two weeks to form an opinion of the iPad.(And note well the my and opinion: I may let a fact sneak in here and there, but I intend to convey my personal impressions. (As we say online:
YMMV. You might come to a different conclusion.) I carried my brand new iPad everywhere, and I mean everywhere: From the smallest room in the house to the office, out to the coffee shop, into the 747 cabin and then on, to a magazine industry conference in Paris. I wanted to know if this would come back to the pail after a fortnight. Call me a skeptic, but I've spent too much time inside too many sausage factories to trust a demo, (which is a first impression.)

I'd pre-ordered two iPads and was given an appointment on launch morning at the Palo Alto Apple Store. In and out in a few minutes, then back home for the unveiling. Initial setup was easy, although you should learn from my mistake: I'd forgotten to prevent iTunes from syncing automatically. I have thousands of pictures in my iPhoto library; this was going to take hours. My suggestion: Get the apps you want from the App Store and start enjoying your new iPad right away. Sync your media while you sleep. With more than 3,000 programs, most of them written for or adapted from the iPhone, the App Store is a pleasant and welcome surprise. My existing iPhone apps look a bit dwarfish on the bigger screen and pixelated when blown up in 2X mode, but they're serviceable.

So how does the iPad feel? I purchased the iWork productivity apps: Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheet) and Keynote (presentations). This isn't the iPad's strongest suit. When you transfer a document to the iPad, the hyperlinks are "unfolded". Here's the original…


…and the same file on the iPad:



I hoped the URLs would somehow fold back "under" the linked words when re-imported into my Mac, but no.
The trouble doesn't stop there. On a networked PC and Mac you can drag-and-drop a file from one machine to another by using a shared folder arrangement. Here, the desktop metaphor breaks down because the iPad (and the iPhone) doesn't have an explicit, exposed file system. To ship my Monday Note draft from my Mac to my iPad, I have to email it to myself as an attachment, or use a convoluted iTunes service. The email method is simple. I click-sorry-tap on the attachment and the iPad automatically offers to open it in Pages.

The iTunes method, slightly more complicated, uses the File Sharing section in the Apps tab that you see when you connect your iPad:



This is, in effect, a folder. You add your PC or Mac files and they'll show up in My Documents on your iPad after the next sync. When you've finished tapping your Great American Novel, you can sync it back to your desktop computer through the same mechanism.

Applications such as Air Sharing HD and GoodReader help, but not completely. With Air Sharing and a WiFi connection, your iPad can show you the files on your PC or Mac, but you can't use them-you can't open them in your iPad apps.

There's also a Mac app called PhoneView. Once your iPad is connected, you'll see "everything" inside. Proceed with caution.

Geeks can go here to see more details about the promising doc compatibility and sharing features…and "promising" is the right word. I'm disappointed. I can't perform tasks such as writing (or editing) a real-life, hyperlinked document on my iPad. Let's hope the iWork software updates will quickly make the promise a reality.

Email

Very nice. Fast, easy to set up, easy to use. For me, it's fully functional; not much to say beyond that. I hear we'll get a "unified" mailbox some day.


Web Browser

Browsing shows off the iPad's speed and smooth finish. It has the Apple design "touch", literally. Scrolling and pinch-zooming are well-tuned and convenient. The browser doesn't have tabs, but bookmarks sync with my Mac through MobileMe.


Speaking of scrolling and zooming, the Maps app (in collaboration with ex-friends at Google) is spectacular on the iPad. Treat yourself to a satellite view of your favorite city, move around with one finger, zoom with two. I just sent myself this iPad screenshot; you push the Home and Sleep buttons to take it, just like on the iPhone:


As on the iPhone, the iPad's built-in Safari bookmarks show a User Guide, very nicely done. Enterprising geeks have discovered that Apple uses a specific framework, dubbed AdLib, to create a "desktop-like" Web application. They speculate that this augurs well for more high-quality Web apps from Apple.


Entertainment

Everything works well-even very well. I've loaded iTunes movies, rented one, I've used Netflix and the ABC app. Same for the iPod function and its CoverFlow. "Nothing to see, here", by which I mean no trouble, no disappointment, the iPad does a spectacular job.


Games

I have nothing to say about games; I'm simply the wrong customer. Out of curiosity I loaded Smule's Magic Piano, and Korg's iELECTRIBE, Accordio and miniSynth Pro. Very impressive although, again, I'm not the target. As food for thought and extrapolation, I typed "iPad game" into Google: 112 million hits.

eReader

After two weeks, Apple's iBooks and Amazon's Kindle still look good. I hear the debate about e-ink versus backlit screen. I don't mind reading on a computer screen, but I also like paper. I can load a math textbook from the Kindle bookstore on my iPad, and solve exercises using pen and paper. As an investor, I'll be watching what the iPad (and its competition) does for-or to-the textbook industry.

Turning to newspapers and magazines, I like the agitation surrounding the iPad. The presentation I gave to the Presse Magazine conference in Paris last week confirmed the enthusiasm and the anxiety. There's much skill, energy and €€ in play.

I've tried the New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Popular Science, GQ, the Zinio magazine distribution app, Paris Match and Le Monde. They're all promising but they show that the genre still needs work on both the UI side and particularly with the business models. I have an aversion to subscriptions that make it difficult to cancel, and only Le Monde lets me buy a single issue using their in-app purchase mechanism.

Regarding the UI, the gold dust needs to settle for some, while others need to lose their East Block smell. The former (names withheld) enjoy the new UI toys a bit too much. They're tiring, distracting. The latter need to do better than a timidly sexed-up screen replica of the paper-based product.

Still, I'm hopeful. There's no good culture without bad taste;
the excesses prove that designers are pushing the envelope and conquering uncharted territory. The medium has yet to coalesce and find its sui generis place, but I'm optimistic because there's enough competition, interest, and customers to make "it" happen-a thriving electronic newspaper and magazine industry. As for Apple's role as an advertising platform (iAd?), that, too, will be worth watching.

Presentation

Keynote, Apple's PowerPoint-compatible superset app, shows us the iPad idiosyncrasies. I brought the official iPad-to-VGA adapter with me to Paris, hooked it up, and hoped for the best. Zero setup, as we have come to expect, with no fiddling with F-keys or Desktop Properties. The projector displayed the presentation while my iPad displayed a (limited) presenter's console. But, wait, switching out of Keynote, there's no way to display the main screen. The iPad manual says I can display photos using a projector, but there's not a word about a general replica of the iPad screen. At the conference I tried to show a movie but got an "Unauthorized" message, instead.


The conference organizers had insisted: Don't forget the VGA adapter for the iPad. I didn't. But, while I brought two machines for friends, I forgot to pack mine. No problem…almost. My configuration automagically resurrected itself on one of the spare machines when connected to iTunes. This gave me the opportunity to use MobileMe's Find My iPhone service. It found my two iPads, the one left behind in my office and its freshly minted clone. The one in it found in Paris is shown below:



I could lock it, display a message on it, or remotely wipe its content. I chose the latter, I'll see the results when I get back. In the meantime, as advertised in the screenshot above, the one left behind is now "dead".

Conclusion and memoriam

Has the long-suffering tablet device finally emerged? The iPad isn't perfect but, for me, it's more than good enough, and extrapolating from the iPhone trajectory since 2007 we'll see a steady string of improvements, especially if competitors such as HP and (the now-disliked) Google spur Apple and drive investment and creativity.

A final word…for Bill Gates. In 2001, he predicted that within five years, the Tablet PC would be the most popular form of PC sold in America. The timing was off, but he might end up being right, even if he might not enjoy the fruits of his vision. Being a visionary is a bitch. Bill's prediction was only one of a long string going back to Dynabook, Newton, Grid, Go and other prophecies. The iPad might be the real thing, finally.








By Jean-Louis Gassée
Special to CBSNews.com
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