iPad, One month in

I’ve had the iPad mini for a solid month now.  I have more thoughts on it.

I still use the iPad every day.  I think i have figured out why I reach for the iPad instead of my phone during breaks or in the evenings.  Its the screen size.  I have a 5.5 inch Note II but the extra 2.4 inches actually makes a big difference to apps and to the experience.  Its something that has been repeated time and again over in blog after blog but has never really been explained.  Maybe it its one of those things that you need to experience.

The midsize tablet screen is very nice.  Its small enough to hold and read for an extended period of time, show off pictures, and watch the occasional video (Chromecasting still reigns supreme).  I have even chosen to get games (Simple Rockets and Star Command) on the iPad rather than my phone due to the screen size alone.

It has actually got me to consider getting a smaller (normal) phone, a 5in Nexus 5 perhaps?

I upgraded, against my better judgment, to iOS7.  The majority of my stock apps banished to the third page in a folder I managed to avoid much of the cotton candy theme but I’ve had to adjust to the new photo, camera, contacts, and settings icons.  Its not a huge deal.

Control center is leagues better than the previous solution of “nothing at all” but it still pales in comparison to Android Quick Settings panel.  Apple continues its stance of “We know best”.  Its not customizable, period.  If i want to connect to a specific Bluetooth device or wifi network I still have to go through the settings panel in contrast to just a long press in Android.  The Audio controls are completely worthless since I don’t use the substandard stock audio apps.  AirDrop is useless to me for two reasons. First I don’t have other iDevices to share with.  Secondly, I’d rather have the data in dropbox, google drive, or my server than floating around isolated on devices.

The upgrade to notifications is still lackluster compared to Android.  You can’t dismiss individual notifications, the information displayed is hit and miss on importance, and they still lack any functionality other than a shortcut to open the app.

Apps is the background it still a joke.  Tap a notification the app still has to launch and update.  Auto-backup for apps like Dropbox and Google+ still require you to have the app open for the backup to happen.  I’m used to any picture I take on my phone to be in the cloud seconds after it’s taken.  Its  a huge disappointment that I have to remind myself to perform an action on the iPad that just works on my phone.

The launch of iOS 7 has opened a floodgate of updated apps.  PocketCasts is new and pretty with its cross platform synchronization.  Which works better than expected.  Calendar 5 is the BEST calendar app on iOS I have found to date with a seamless use of google calendars.

My overall reactions to the months so far?  I like the tablet form factor.  When this tablet goes back in 2014 I’ll be buying another (Android most likely).  I was differentially wrong when I said that tablets fulfill a need that doesn’t exist.  They have the potential to replace the basic functionality (Internet, email, Facebook) for a large segment of the consumer market.  You’re still kidding yourself that a tablet could replace a PC for a power-user, but with a little ingenuity and code I could see myself PC-less soon.  I’m considering moving away from my desktop (perhaps mothballing it) to more of a cloud based solution at home.  (More posts come about this).

A gamers view on the iPad

I’ve had the iPad for a couple weeks.  Its great with newsfeeds, ok with video, and lackluster as a gaming device.  So lets talk about gaming.

The biggest problem is controls.  Touch just doesn’t cut it.  It limits the gameplay options to just swiping and tapping.  Some games try and emulate a gamepad but without tactile feedback emulated buttons are a poor consolation to a real piece hardware in your hands.

A second drawback with touch is that my hand is constantly blocking the screen.  How am I supposed to time a swipe perfectly if I constantly have to position my hand over the screen.

There are good games based on touch though.  Angry Birds by Rovio is far and away the gold standard for the platform.  Its a game that could not have become popular of tradition console/PC controls.  It needed the touch base platform and it doesn’t suffer from it.  A point which I haven’t ever seen brought up is that the majority of the game action happens after you touch the screen so you get to watch and enjoy the game.

The platform for mobile gaming (iOS and Android) is centered around casual gaming.  Gaming where you play for a few minutes between meeting or at lunch.  Its a way of gaming with absolutely no depth.  There is no plot, no long form game dynamics, no soul in these games.  They can be fun to play for 10 minutes a day but they quickly become monotonous and repetitive and get discard while you move onto the next 10 minute wonder.

I recently started playing Infinity Blade 2 to escape the casualness only to have it slapped right back into my face.  Infinity Blade 2 is beautiful idea which is ruined short sighted casualness.  The game has amazing sweeping landscape shots that are ruined because the player has to constantly swing the camera madly around and pick up bags of gold, potions, and keys.

I played through the castle, got to the level 25 end boss, and expected to go onto the next level.  NOPE. You die and start over.  Weird right?  I play through the castle again now the boss is now Level 125 he promptly killed me, at level 9, and sent me back to the beginning.  Oh new routes opened up?  All lead to bosses level 50, 75, and 100.  All kill me.  After an hour or so of grinding I get up to Level 15, every boss still kills me.  I have to be doing something wrong.  This can’t be the whole game, right?  I’ve only scene 20ish different screens.  WRONG, this is the whole game.  They expect you to grind dozen of levels out of 20 different sequential screens on rails, beat the boss again, and fight one other guy.  Its just pretty casual gaming.  Pop onto it for a couple minutes between meeting or at lunch, fight a couple battles move on.  Not compelling.

There are some original great mobile games;  The Room, World of Goo, SimpleRockets and superbrothers swords & sworcery and some great ports Minecraft, Frozen Synapse, KOTOR, and XCOM.  These games are a minority though, gaming on a mobile device is extremely disappointing and takes a backseat to consoles.

iPad, The first week

Its been a week since my drive into the world of iOS again and I have thoughts to share.

The battery of the iPad mini is awesome.  Coming from years of plugging in my phone every night, without fail, to having a device that lasts 2 or 3 days is awesome.

I love the lightning connector.  Its small, its simple, its REVERSIBLE!  Huge downside is that its expensive and its proprietary.  If Apple would license this out, it would replace microUSB.  The odds of that happening are none to anti-slim.

I’m terrified of dropping this thing so I immediately bought a case.  Its painful to cover up a all glass and aluminum device with bulky plastic, but its almost necessary.   I bought case by Photive on Amazon.  It has three amazing features.  First it has a kickstand, awesome for watching youtube while making dinner.  Second, its sturdy.  Third, it doesn’t have a flip cover that has always made devices harder to handle for me.

I’m having a great time playing the games I couldn’t play before.  I found Star Command and can’t stop playing it.  I have my eye on XCOM: Enemy Unknown and just waiting for a sale or promo.  Though it would mean foregoing playing it on Xbox and the achievements it would unlock.

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I’m desperately trying to hold onto the thought that this is a home screen that is functional.  But the longer I use iOS, the more  I am being forced away from that ideal.  There is no way to display any information without opening an app.  I guess widgets would ruin the aesthetic.

These are the apps I use daily and the only apps I have notifications turned on.  The rest of my apps start on page two, and are alphabetized.  No folders.  Page three remains the single folder of banished stock apps.

I was reintroduced to what I like to call the “workaround apps” Since I used Google Voice for all my texting needs and the Official Google Voice app was iPhone-only (Looks horrendous) and will most likely not be upgraded ever I returned to an app I used to use on my iPhone,  GV Connect.  It looks great on the iPad but lacks push notifications.  Enter Boxcar.  A push Notification service for all sorts of things including Google Voice.  After about 30 minutes of tinkering, I can text to and from my iPad with notifications in a pretty app.  I honestly expect Google to announce Hangout-Voice merge this week since I went through all that.

One of my biggest hesitation on buying a tablet all these years has been, “Why would i use it rather than my phone or laptop.”  The answer is twofold i discovered.  First, I am lazy and the iPad enables my laziness.  Its much easier to grab my iPad than find, boot, then use a laptop for simple things like web searches and email.  The second reason is that the screen size difference between my phone and tablet actually makes a big difference.  Just using Chrome is a different experience that is more akin to a desktop than on a phone.  It really is a melding of the two platforms.  I understand why the tablet market is turning PC sales into the latest nosedive platform.

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I have issues with the screen size.  Its a screen that was obviously made to view photos on. Its a 4:3 aspect ratio, 1024×768.  Which is perfect for photos because most are also 4:3.  But, and this is a huge but,  every piece of video media created in the last 5 or 10 years has been 16:9.  I remember the pain and turmoil over buying movies in widescreen (16:9) or standard (4:3) back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  I thought we were past this conversation and done with black bars.  I was wrong.  Anything video produced on anything, other than an iOS device, looks like this, black barred.  The video is only using 75% or 22.2 sq. inches of the screen.  Any advantage of the 7.9 in screen evaporates with video.  Its a rare instance of Apple comprising hardware to suit an older media (photos) rather than the new (video).  This even conflicts with Apple’s main hardware of the iMac, which is 16:9 and Macbook, which is 16:10.

Luckily the iPad still works great as a Chromecast remote for YouTube and Netflix.  It’s missing the lockscreen controls though.

It also not a device that is easy to wield as a thumb typer.  Its imposible in landscape even with the split keyboard.  In portrait its better but still slightly too large to comfortably thumb type.   I’ve been reduced to single finger touch typing while supporting the iPad with my other hand.  Reading on it is awesome though.

Overall, I’m nit-picking again.  I like the device, its part of my daily routine now.  I use it as much as I can and I haven’t come across anything that would make me not use it.

The “Its new and shiny” phase is done.  Now it time to see how much time it steals away from my phone on computers.