I have had an iPad for a month or so now. I got it so that I could test the course material for Mathematical Structures to see that it was tablet-friendly. But, sad to say, I don’t think it will be much use for that.
Everybody says that the wonderful thing about an iPad is that it is so intuitive to use. Well, not for me it isn’t. I have never had a machine which has driven the air around me so blue. (There are a few websites that have done that, but here it is the actual machine that is so unusable.)
The screen is quite extraordinary. Everything is completely sharp, at almost any magnification. And, contrary to my expectation, I find that the finger gestures which control it come quite naturally and easily.
I also like the “always on” facility, something that my Psion PDA had and no computer I’ve had since then has ever managed. Of course this would be better if I could actually edit my diary on the iPad …
It goes without saying that the “keyboard” is completely hopeless. When I was a student typing my thesis, I could use two fingers on a portable typewriter. Even two fingers on the iPad are beyond me; I have become a one-finger typist.
Here is a random list of some other things that have either stumped me completely or irritated me intensely. They are in no particular order.
- When you enter a password, each character is clearly shown for several seconds after it is typed. Also, the limitations of the keyboard mean that if a password contains digits or symbols (as many are required to do), the switch of keyboards is clear to anyone watching. I cannot think of a way to make the system less secure.
- The icons are minimal and not at all explanatory. For example, when using the web browser, there is an open book icon, which turns out to mean “bookmarks”. So, when you want to bookmark a page, you touch that icon, right? Wrong! You have to use a different icon made up of a box and arrow, which takes you to Facebook, Twitter, etc. Hidden among them is a button that does what you want.
- There are no arrow keys on the keyboard. So, if you mistype a character, you have to take your hands off the keyboard and position the cursor by touching the screen. If your fingers are as big and clumsy as mine, you can’t do that without further faffing around to enlarge the text, and then you have to shrink it again before you continue typing.
- There is no editor, just a clunky notepad which appears to have no way to save files, or to move them to a more usable machine. (With some difficulty I managed to get from the app store something which claimed to be a dropbox editor, but it refuses to edit dropbox files, and you can’t get it to open anything not in its own list.)
- I keep my diary as a plain text file. The iPad shows it with random bits of text underlined in blue, although they don’t link anywhere. (Just recently I was reading a comment on a web page whose author felt very strongly that nothing except hyperlinks should ever be underlined on web pages.)
- The maps are dreadful. Not only is my street in St Andrews missing, but the shops shown nearby are almost all either non-existent or in entirely the wrong place.
I decided to have a serious attempt to get notepad files from the iPad to another machine.
First I used the cable supplied to connect it to my laptop. The laptop saw several folders called things like Books, Photos, Purchases – of course these are all empty. No notebook files anywhere. There is a folder which contains Dropbox files, but since I can’t edit them this is no use: the Dropbox files are on my other machines already. (That is Dropbox’s job!)
Then I had an idea. You can send things to Twitter, Facebook, etc., but also (at least in some programs) you can also mail them. Now I can’t use any of my University email accounts, since either they require a command line, or the editor doesn’t work properly; but, when I got broadband installed, they gave me an email account which is provided by Yahoo, and it happens that Yahoo is one of the types of mailer that the iPad does recognise. So I exported the Notebook document to mail, and used the Yahoo account to mail it to one of my University accounts; and, sure enough, there it was (“sent from my iPad”).
The document, incidentally, was the first draft of this post.