E-mediate



What's wrong with the iPad2

By Peter Hulm

The iPad2 is such a great gadget – somewhere between a gorgeous toy and an indispensable tool – you might expect the perfect machine when you put down your money.

It's far from that.

The iPad2 missionaries are right: it is terrific. But you'd better be prepared for some disappointments when you help Apple make indecent amounts of profit.

The onscreen keyboard

First off, whatever you have read about the onscreen keyboard, don't expect it to be the answer to a writer's prayers, unless you normally compose your masterpieces on a Blackberry or cellphone. Expect to lay down another $100 for a bluetooth keyboard of some sort or other.

My favorite is the Logitech keyboard case. True, it's the only one I've tried for any length of time, but compared to the others it is compact, robust and offers you a case that protects the iPad while providing a writing surface should you need to use paper and ink (signing your check to buy it, for example).

It operates through a battery that charges through a USB cable (provided), and this seems to last just as long as promised — at least a month.

The bluetooth keyboard saves you from having to press a key to reach numbers, and if you need ANSI foreign characters, the version I use gives them without having to practice arcane onscreen manipulation.

Select, copy, cut, paste

The same caveat goes for Apple's cut and paste facility. Placing your cursor just where you want it takes some training. Steve Jobs is said to have been inspired to create the Macintosh after seeing Xerox Park's WYSWYG screen and mouse. Well, he didn't find the replacement with the iPad2, that's for sure. Logitech's keyboard makes it easier with special keys, including the usual arrow navigation. And it is one answer to Apple's annoying habit of having only a backwards delete key, especially when the iPad replacement for arrow keys (press, wait for the bubble to appear and then move) is such a washout.

Battery life

Apple can't be faulted for giving you a decent day's work unconnected to the power supply using iPad2, which is more than can be said for the iPhone. But along with other reviewers, I recommend finding a battery back-up, another gadget that costs you $40, simply because the Apple connector system is so cumbersome that you are unlikely to want to rely on finding a computer or carrying one around to recharge towards the end of the day, let alone finding a nearby power outlet, since the connecting cable is short.

Slow charging

Be warned that the iPad2 is slow to charge, even with the special plug that delivers 10 rather than the standard volts to your machine. The charging cable pretty much monopolizes a plug wherever I am for the times when I am not using the iPad. I did by a Logitech iPad stand for about $40 and this, unexpectedly, will charge your iPad while it is in the cradle.

Heavy duty

Since you are likely to find yourself carrying the iPad2 around everywhere, be warned that it is not so light that you can lie on one side in bed and read/watch TV/view podcasts for very long. That's why I finally bought a stand, with loudspeakers that improve the iPad's hardly stellar sound.

The App Store

I've had a go at this in my review of App Apps, but it's worse than I stated. Since I live in the German-speaking part of Switzerland (whose national languages are French, German and Italian, with English as the unofficial second language), all the recommendations and featured apps are German by default and I can't find a way to tell Apple I want my books, videos and apps in English.

File management

All reviewers complain about Apple's file management system, with at least one charging that the iPad doesn't really do file control. If you can work out exactly how copying files and apps from your computer to the iPad2 and back really functions, you deserve a free visit to the App Store.

I have downloaded and paid for at least three apps to make it easier for you. Even the best (i.e. most general) of them, Disk Aid, with a paid-for PC-Mac companion, leaves you in the dark about why iPad puts files where, and podcasts/videos remain a mystery: I have 500 podcasts on my PC but I can't for the life of me work out how to transfer them to the iPad2.

As for synchronization, I download updates to my iPad and then find myself downloading them again to my PC, then synchronizing twice to be sure I have everything.

Supposedly I could automatically transfer podcasts and videos from the PC to the iPad, but I don't want to simply funnel material across until I need it. So I have set the options to manual synchronization, but what that means I don't know, since it seems to do nothing except stop any of these space-eaters from sliding down the channel onto iPad.

Multitasking

I understand this is the big improvement of iPad2 over iPad1. Horrors. What Apple means by multitasking is a row of icons showing you the last programs you were using and where they were.

It does not mean calling two programs up on screen at the same time and cutting and pasting between them. Roboform, an online password manager I took over from the PC, includes its own browser since Safari won't let you cut and paste passwords and sign-ins. So do several other programs, to get over Apple's lock-out system to stop viruses and corrupted programs infecting each other.

How frustrating you find this will depend on how much program switching you do, and how much you expect similar programs to offer you the same facilities (for saving pages to online storage on Dropbox or for reading later etc.)

Organizing web saves

One result of Apple's lock-out system is that setting up page-saving systems in the multiple browser clones around in the apps world. You have to pretend you saving to the app, then delete part of the address and then you have a chance of saving pages.

If you are using Dropbox or a similar online storage system, with each new app you have to re-enter your email address and password. If you are a good surfer and create complicated passwords, this soon gets very tedious, especially since Apple gives you no way to save your defaults for recall when needed (and blocks programs like Roboform from operating as it was designed to do).

Just so you know, if you use Roboform, you have to enter its password, then your master password for the entry, if you have one, then copy the email address, then multitask back to the app, paste your email address, multitask back to Robform, entering the first password once more, then copy the entry's password (i.e. you don't have to enter the master password twice), then paste the password into the appropriate box in the app.

Once or twice you don't mind, but 30-50 times a day?

No Flash

I know some people consider this an advantage. But the Jobs-Adobe war has left us as casualties. It means Safari can't play BBC news videos on the iPad2, for example. For me, that's a big drawback.

I can switch over to a browser that plays Flash (360Browser, for example) but I cannot make this my default. It's Safari or nothing, so far as I can see.

iTube

The other regular complaint from reviewers is the iPad2's iTunes and Video facility. Within iTunes I can theoretically watch videos from iTunes University: lots of fascinating lectures on everything from literature to economics (even programming), and podcasts on an even wider range of subjects.

To access them when you cannot use wifi, you have to download the material first. I've complained about the download feature earlier. Let me now complain about the delivery system. Often iPad's videos, even on the 64Gb machine, stutter and halt every couple of seconds.

Trusting rave reviews from others, I paid for Intellicast HD, which supposedly downloads sound and video in the background before delivering it to you.

I saw no difference. Also, I could not find iTunesU among its choices. Instead I was offered a range of programs I do not normally see on iTunes. So it is not really an alternative.

Apps available

Supposedly, there are half a million apps available in the store. See my review of App apps to learn convenient ways of navigating through the clouds.

But there are still some amazing gaps. No good contact organizer, for example, that is, one you can sync with your desktop version reliably. See my review of Schedulers.

As for games, all the attention has gone to Angry Birds, which seems to have the same appeal as Manic Miner on the Sinclair ZX81 or Donkey Kong: it was the only thing out there you would want to spend time on, but largely because others were as obsessed with it as you.

Reorganizing Apps

Chances are, pretty soon you are going to find your with more Apps than you know what to do with. You can create a folder for most apps (Apple won't let you do it to all) by simply holding down on one until it starts wobbling, then move it over to the one you want to put in the same folder and this will be created automatically with a suggested name.

But soon after that you will need to move the apps around from screen to screen. In theory it is simple. Hold down with a finger on the app until it starts wobbling again and then move it off screen left or right to go to the preceding or next screen.

That turns out to be a very iffy process. Sometimes the icon just won't go, sometimes it refuses to go into the folder you choose (even if there are fewer than 20 in the folder itself). And all the other apps rearrange themselves to make space for it.

Printing

Apple boasts about Airprint as if it is a feature rather than a huge design mistake. Printers that are Airprint-capable, largely HP printers, it seems, can print out from the iPad2 or from the Mac.

Setting it up is no more difficult than attaching a printer to your desktop network these days, so you might not think this is worth making a big deal of, unless you are trying to disguise your earlier failure to do so.

I know it works because I bought a cheap HP printer that does Airprint (the D110a, which cost me $128 in Grand Bahama but sells in parts of the U.S. for $67). Set up was almost a breeze, largely because of HP rather than Apple. It took some finagling to get the wireless router to recognize the printer, but who these days expects clarity from instructions?

App attacks

Ndili's Printing for iPad, costing about $5, claims it can set things up for your other printers, too, if they are all part of the same wifi network. It didn't work for my Canon Pixma 870.

The app has an impressive variety of printer drivers on its list, but not the 870, and when I substituted the 830 no printer was recognized.

I wrote to Ndili explaining my problems. Within a day they came back confirming that they have no driver for the 870 and suggested setting it up with the basic HP. Still no luck, and I'm still $5 out of pocket.

Not much, I know, but I'd rather have known beforehand that it wouldn't work and squandered my money on something frivolous.

Gotcha!

It's not the only time I have been caught out on the iPad2. I paid $5 for an app entitled Printful that promised to download news automatically from Google Reader for offline consumption without your needing to select what you want.

Within a week Printful had piled up over 1400 stories in its file without any clear way to delete them, except one by one. When I went over to the website to find out how to do it, I saw a number of complaints about this. The owner of the site said, first, he was working on this but the problem was that other aggregators downloaded as needed, but he had to collect them on his server (or so I understood). A bit later he said it affected very few people so it was not worth fixing. When I tried to append a comment reporting that I too had difficulties in deleting stories, the site required me to sign on with some other service and then bombed out.

Within a month, when I tried to call up the program again, it told me the app no longer operated because it was too much work for its creator.

It's a pity. It was a nice-looking app in the Flipboard mode. See my review of News apps for some better-performing aggregators.

Conclusion

With all these complaints, am I sorry that I bought the iPad2? Would I buy it again? You betcha. I actually bought the iPad2 for my wife, since she needed something to read and play games on in bed. She hasn't had a chance in six months to get to know it, though we do watch a program offering aerial views of Switzerland together and use Google Maps on the iPad to work out what it is showing us and how we could get there.

As a designer, my wife is also impressed with the art programs such as ArtRage and Sketchbook, and was wowed by the musicmaker app Seline HD. But to see what else I found interesting, including many freebies, see the home page Reviews.

ReadWriteWeb has an article about the things people hate about their Kindles and iPads. For iPad2 it is wi-fi connectivity problems (35%), backlight bleeding on the LED display (15%), microphone quality (15%), USB issues (10%), and screen issues (10%). Users comments singled out the lack of touchscreen precision, the refusal to accept a non-Apple charger, and the shortness of the Apple cord.. And I thought we were all enthusiasts.

Last updated: 2 March 2012

* Peter Hulm is Advisor on Innovative Journalism to the European Graduate School (www.egs.edu), a communications consultant for several international organizations and a journalist who maintains several websites, including www.crosslines.ch and www.switzerlandtoday.ch.