I admit that I bought my iPad for the wrong reasons. I got one because it seemed like everyone I knew had gotten one for Christmas and, well, I felt left out. I didn't think about how it would fit in with the gadgets I already owned (laptop, Kindle, iPhone), and I didn't borrow a friend's and take it on a test drive. Now I just feel annoyed, having spent $600 on a device that hasn't done anything to improve my life. A salad spinner would have been a better investment, and I don't even eat that much salad.
I don't think the iPad is useless. There's no question that it makes browsing the Web while sitting on the couch easier. Though I have a relatively svelte laptop, it's kind of a pain to tote around the apartment. But am I the kind of person who pays $600 to save the effort of detaching some USB cables from time to time? I don't want to be that kind of person.
I also use the tablet to time-shift. I've long been a fan of the Instapaper Pro app, which allows me to bookmark articles throughout the day and read them on my iPhone during my commute or when I arrive back home. Using Instapaper on the iPad is superior to reading an article on the comparatively cramped iPhone. But again, it's not that much superior. On the subway, the small screen is actually a bonus—I find the iPad too unwieldy for rush-hour travel, or really any situation where you can't use either two hands or a hand and a lap.
When it comes to reading books, I prefer my Kindle—its e-ink technology offers a break from the brightly lit screens I stare at all day, it's light in my hands, and its single purpose means I'm less likely to be distracted by a droll tweet from @pourmecoffee. The Kindle is also economical, and not just because it's cheaper than an iPad. The money I've saved by subscribing to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on Amazon's reader has paid for the device and then some. Every time I want to do something on the iPad, by contrast, Steve Jobs has his hand out.
The iPad's interface also has some serious limitations. Typing on the thing is beastly, rendering the device useful only for consuming, not composing. And there are limits to what you can consume, as I learned when I tried to stream the Jets-Pats playoff game while traveling, only to realize that radio streaming is typically a Flash affair and thus not possible on the iPad. (In retrospect, this native New Englander was grateful to the iPad for failing me that day.)
Vexed by these shortcomings, I turned to my Slate colleagues, many of whom are enthusiastic supporters of the device. I hoped they could explain the tablet's appeal. Here's the e-mail thread that ensued:
Me: I hate my iPad. What am I doing wrong?
Ellen Tarlin: Give it to me.
Jessica Grose: Maybe the problem is that you are expecting it to be more than a toy. It is not "useful" in any meaningful sense, unless you are traveling with it. The games are super fun though.
June Thomas: Maybe you're too happy with your iPhone. I use my iPad to do the same things I do on my iPhone only on a bigger scale. I say download Angry Birds—it's 450 times better on the iPad. It won't improve your life (the opposite), but it will get you addicted.
Chad Lorenz: Download these apps: Flipboard, Flud, Instapaper, NYT, NPR, WaPo, Slate, Wikipanion, Twitter, Google, ABC Player, WikiTunes. Maybe IM+ if you use Gchat or other IM services. Set up the e-mail for the e-mail address you get your newsletters sent to. And buy some iBooks. iTunes also gives out a free music video every week, which is worth at least one viewing. Sign up for the newsletter of iTunes' weekly 99-cent movie rentals.
Farhad Manjoo: And Netflix: 60 percent of my iPad time is spent on Netflix.
Ellen Tarlin: Get married. Then you can use it to ignore your wife.
June Thomas: Or you can be considerate and use the Kindle app on your iPad to read in bed. It's much quieter than the actual Kindle.
Farhad Manjoo: But brighter. The problem with reading a book on the iPad is that there's always the Web and Netflix to compete with. I've never finished a book on the iPad.
Taige Jensen: I have mine by the TV and quickly share YouTube videos people bring up, settle inquiries instantly, use Beejive to consolidate all my chats/AIM/Facebook/Google, manage scripts on set, write, manage my calendar, watch movies in bed, make music tracks with BeatMaker, manage my Dropbox folder, take notes in meetings, read the news/magazines, and play games.
I think you're doing it wrong.
Noreen Malone: All of which you can do on a laptop …
Taige Jensen: I think if you bought it thinking it was more capable than a laptop, you'll probably be disappointed. I have a terrible HP laptop that you can only use when plugged in, so I'm obviously biased.
John Swansburg: I think it's amazing that Apple has convinced so many people to pay $600 for what seem like such marginal improvements in their lifestyles—$600 to be able to check my e-mail in bed in a slightly more comfortable fashion than I can on my laptop seems sort of crazy when I stop and think about it.