Adventures of an iPad newbie

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 good

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 …

The bad

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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5 Responses to Adventures of an iPad newbie

  1. At least some of these problems should be solvable with suitable apps.

    Apple Maps is indeed notoriously awful. In fact I had a recent adventure trying to catch a ferry in Greece, when we ended up driving off road through a field instead of taking the main road, and very nearly missing the boat. It turned out my navigator was using Apple Maps. But you can – I believe – download Google Maps from the app store for free.

    Instead of using the inbuilt notepad thing, you could download Evernote or some such. (I’ve not used it myself, but I gather it’s popular.) There also seem to be textfile editors which automatically sync with dropbox.

    • Well, I made a couple of discoveries about the Dropbox editor. First, on most computers you can open the editor and load a file, or open a file with a particular editor, but the iPad only gives you the second option; not my usual way of working, which is why it took me so long to discover it. But there is no Save button; it turns out that, instead of putting the file back where it came from, it puts it in a Dropbox folder of its own called PlainText. I didn’t realise this until Dropbox told me that I had two copies of the same file…

      As I say, not exactly intuitive! And before you say that this is the fault of the app, not the machine, I would say that if it came with a decent editor the problem wouldn’t arise.

  2. Dima says:

    Regarding passwords, this is a standard smartphone interface you see. Yes, you are running a smartphone OS on your iPad…

    Maybe you can just get an external keyboard for it. There are quite useful…

    Why iPad and not an Android tablet? The latter are much more workable. IMHO Apple hardware/software is increasingly becoming irrelevant, marketing-driven, and falling behind (Maps are a good example of this). Android devices come standard with Google mail/docs/talk etc interface, which is much more polished and useful by itself (I’d say democratic), while iPad is meant to be a nice gadget supplement to your (preferably Apple’s) “proper” computer.
    On a sufficiently powerful Android device you can even run Linux
    (Sorry for a rant :–)).

    • I think that, had I had any say in the matter, I would have chosen an Android tablet.
      I am just surprised at how wrong all the people are who say the iPad is intuitive to use.

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