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.

IMG_0022

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.

IMG_0020

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.

 

 

Brave New World, Again

Years ago when my wife started her current job there was talk about company iPads.  Weeks turned to months and then into years.  A couple of months ago I decided that it was never going to happen and just bought her a 32GB Verizon iPad mini.  She loves it, uses it everyday and has really grown attached to the LTE data connection.

Fast forward to the present.  The company issued her a 64GB WiFi iPad mini.  My amazing wife offered one of her iPads to me and after we discussed who would carry which one and I got the WiFi-only model while she would keep the LTE model.  Not a problem for me, I can  tether it to my phone when I’m not around WiFi. 

This marks the first personal iOS device since I traded my iPhone 3G for a Samsung Epic on January 6th 2011.  Time to set it up.  Since its a company device Jailbreaking is out.

2013-08-27 19.32.52

 

Here is the starting point.  Every device looks like this on the first boot.  First thing, lets get rid of those apps I will never use.

 

 

 

 

2013-08-27 19.35.31

 

The brave few apps that survived the first wave of cuts, the rest are banished to a folder on page 3.  I was surprised to find that newsstand can’t be placed into a folder.  However there is a neat trick to hide it without jailbreaking.

 

 

 

2013-08-27 19.43.55

On to installing all the things!  I had clicked install on about 10 apps and clicked “Not Now” on this message when I realized that it wasn’t going to let me install anything until I complied.  I filled out the security questions and was back on track.

 

 

 

 

I downloaded all the google stuff.  I discovered that you have to log into to each one individually. I saw this screen a lot.  

2013-08-27 20.03.53

2013-08-27 20.03.16

I saw this sign in screen a couple of times and was delighted to see what I had grown accustomed to on Android.  I was quite sad that it wasn’t in all of the Google apps.  Apparently, Google hasn’t updated all the apps yet, get on it done googs.

 

 

 

 

2013-08-27 20.30.39

After logging into all my apps I was reminded why the iPad apps are clearly labeled separately from iPhone apps.

Seriously Apple, there is this thing called scaling.  The internet has been using it for decades.  Another thing, why is the keyboard so tiny? Isn’t that a system feature?

Google, I understand that you’re going to roll Voice into Hangouts, please do it soon or update the app.

2013-08-27 22

 

 

I did manage to avoid using the mail, calendars, and contacts account for everything but contacts.  Goog you need to release a Calendar and People app. Skeuomorphism in its prime, so much wasted white space.

 

2013-08-27 20

Steve Jobs once said 

There are clear limits to how close elements can be on the screen before users can’t touch accurately. We believe 10-inch screen is minimum necessary.

I never understood that statement because the touch zones work great on the of my 3.5in screen iPhone 3G, 4in Epic, and 5.5in Note 2.  But on the iPad mini If I try to hit this button I fail 9 times out of 10.  I don’t even try anymore, I just use the back button. 

2013-08-27 21.42.54The final product after a couple of hours and its no where near complete. I have lots of app searching to do, but the basics are in place.  I’ve got all my Google apps (Chrome, gmail, hangouts, search, drive, voice, youtube), Netflix, Newsblur, and Marvin.  Plenty to make this device very useful.

I really don’t like the look of the homescreen.  Lines of square boxes and lines of boxes within boxes are not my cup of tea.  I feel like there is a lot of wasted space again.  The screen could easily fit another column and row without crowding the icons.  This is one area where Android thrives, but I’ve talked about this already.

Enough with the snark and nit picking though.  This is a fine little internet machine.  I’m quite excited that I will no longer be left behind with the prevailing “iOS first” developer mentality.  I can finally play all the games, try all the new startup apps, and have all the new features that haven’t made it to Android yet.  

The majority of apps I use on my phone are cross platform and the rest have reasonable alternatives.  A major exception is Pocket Cast which hasn’t updated to Ver. 4 yet and won’t until after iOS7 releases.

Speaking of iOS7, I’m looking forward to trying it out.  The my little pony theme shouldn’t be too big of an issue since I’ve banished all the stock apps to a folder on page 3, the enhanced notifications are a step in the right direction, toggles will finally be available through control center, and Airdrop might be a nice alternative to dropbox or plugging the device into a computer.

I’ll give iOS a couple things, animations are smooth as silk, multitouch (when the touches work) is integrated better into the OS, and the battery has been amazing (only had it for a day).  

It’ll be an interesting experience seeing the difference between and which one I reach for first; my 5.5in Android screen or my new 7.9in iOS screen.