I went to the store yesterday to try out the iPad, and I (more or less) impulse bought it on the spot. Technically, the iPad held no surprises. Experience-wise, it did.
With no further ado, the surprises, enumerated:
1. Browsing the web on the iPad is quite possibly better than browsing the web on a computer. Technically, it’s just like browsing the web on the iPhone. Except that the viewport is much bigger. This is a simple, simple change that inspired many a “it’s just a big iPhone” comment. When it comes to browsing, those comments hold true, in a technical sense. Yet, the embiggening really transforms the experience.
On the iPad, web pages look just like a web page would on your MacBook (or Dell, Lenovo, Alienware XL2bunchofnumbers or what have you). On the iPhone, web pages looked truer to the html than they did on other phones, but they were still, of course, miniaturized.
So, browsing on the iPad looks the same as it does on a computer. Then, what’s the difference? The method of interaction.
On a computer, you move your mouse to links and other interactive objects then click on a mouse button to make things happen. On the iPad, you just touch them. Also, you can put your finger directly on the page and push it up and down. Again, this is a small difference on paper that changes the experience wholly. It feels more intuitive. For me, it feels better.
(Incidentally, I’ve had three different people tell me that their two-year-old kids quickly learned how to use an iPhone. The whole “touch an object, get a reaction” way of operating is what allows this to happen. It’s difficult for someone that age to understand that moving a mouse and hitting keys with certain markings causes a change on the screen, but they do understand the idea of things reacting when you touch them.)
2. You know how there’s a lot of iPhone development work these days centered around creating an iPhone app version of a web site or application? That’s not necessary for the iPad. There’s plenty of space, so most web stuff does not need to be re-presented in smaller bites.
The best way to use Facebook on the iPad is not through a Facebook app, but through Safari. (Well, probably – I haven’t tried Facebook Ultimate.) The best Twitter application for the iPad is Brizzly, through Safari. Flickr.com is better than the Flickr app.
3. The same thing I said above about web browsing, except with games. I thought Final Fantasy I for iPhone was well-done, but there’s no way you can avoid some cramping in a phone game when porting a game with a certain level of complexity. On the iPad, it’s spacious and detailed. You can touch things without worrying about accidentally hitting the wrong thing. It’s a better game than it was on NES or Playstation. To sort of get you an idea of how it looks and feels.
(I tried to play it with one hand while holding the camera with the other, and my girlfriend walked in in the middle of it and made fun of me for doing this. It is also upside down. Yet, I think there’s still a chance that it’ll help you get the idea.)
Final Fantasy I is just a remake of an old game, so it might seem like it’s not that relevant that it’s good on the iPad. (Although it did debut as the top grossing game the week it was released, so a lot of people out there do care about remakes.) However, if simply giving a game five times the area improves things this much, it’s a great sign for future games made specifically for the platform.
4. The keyboard is rather good. I’m not going to write a novel on it, nor even a blog post, if my MacBook is nearby. However, it’s perfectly fine for writing tweets or typing terms into a search field. Being able to spread your fingers out is a big deal.
The iPhone touch-based user interaction model was a huge step forward. But in some ways, the iPhone’s phone-sized frame muted just how huge it was.
In a way, the iPhone is like Jigoro Kano, the creator of judo. He was innovative and capable, but being 5′2″ and somewhat of a pacifist, there were certain things he just couldn’t do. The iPad is like Masahiko Kimura, a much bigger and stronger judoka that defeated fighters all over the world, illustrating more clearly to the world what Kano’s techniques could do.
Of course, spending much of his life traveling around to beat people up limited Kimura in ways that Kano was not limited, in the same way that the iPhone can go many places that the iPad cannot.
(Wow, that post took a pretty weird turn at the end. OK, I’m done here. Excelsior!)