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Apple iPad Review
Is it a Game Changer?

Includes: 14 iPad Apps for Photographers & Cinematographers

Reviewed by Ron Risman -- April, 2010

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This was a difficult article for me to write, mainly because I just haven't been able to nail down my thoughts on whether I believe the iPad has lived up to "my" expectations of what I thought it would be.

Prior to the launch of the iPad I truly believed that this would be a game changing product.   I imagined that students, parents, techies, road warriors, and teens would all want an iPad thanks to its ease-of-use and portability.  To me, the entire process of waiting for a notebook computer to boot-up just to do even the simplest task like web surfacing or checking email is very counter-productive.  The iPad, with its instant on / off and incredible battery life (10+ hours), seems like the ultimate take-anywhere computer.  And for many, just may be.

Like many of the other reviews out there, I will be covering both the things I love about the iPad and the the things I don't love about it. There will also be many facets of the iPad that I won't cover in this article, mainly because I would rather focus on what my impressions of the iPad are now - aftering using it, compared to what they were just the day before it was released.

While it is easy to fall in love with the iPad, there are a few issues that have made me wonder if this marriage will ultimately work out.  After all, we all know how enduring love is when it's based on looks alone.

Why it May Not Be The Ultimate Marriage

The size and form factor is definitely one of the reasons you'll fall in love with the iPad, but it may also be one of the reasons you find the marriage a bit disconnected.  The 9.7" display is bright and beautiful with text and graphics that are crisp and sharp, but this is before you start to swipe, pinch, and tap all over the screen. The size of the display combined with the glossy finish makes smudges and fingerprints stick out like a soar thumb. Fortunately, the fingerprints and smudges all but disappear when the iPad is turned on, but it makes for a terrible first impression when showing others.  The work around for this issue may be to install an aftermarket screen protector, but I can only imagine how many screen protectors I'll waste trying to get just one to adhere without air bubbles.

The light 1.5 lb weight of the iPad is another reason to fall in love with the iPad. Now you can leave you 3 - 6 lb net book or laptop at home and take the iPad with you on vacation to check up on your email, social media connections, and news. It will make reading in the airport, on the plane, or in the hotel a lot more fun and you'll most likely be able to do all three before needing to recharge it. Unfortunately, while the iPad is very light, it doesn't feel as light as it is. Compared to a heavier notebook which you use by placing it down on a desk, table, or in your lap, the iPad is more likely to be held in much the same way you would a magazine. Not only does this get uncomfortable after a short while, it also makes typing a bit more awkward.

Typing on the iPad

Typing on the iPad is best for those that "hunt & peck," although better typists will still be able to get upwards of 40-45 words per minute once they learn to hover about an inch over the keyboard while typing Multi-touch is a great feature of the iPad but not while typing.   Keeping your hands about an inch above the keys while typing will help to ensure that only one key is pressed at a time.  The other thing to keep in mind is that the lack of tactile feedback means that you really need to keep your eyes on the screen. If you often have to type in written documents into the computer you'll be better off getting the iPad Keyboard dock or connect using a bluetooth keyboard for those tasks. If you are a fast touch-typist you'll quickly discover that the on-screen keyboard lacks the ";" key that would normally fall under your right pinky finger. So instead of the normal "ASDF JKL;" layout, you are given "ASDF and JKL." After a while you may get used to it, but I found the fastest and most accurate solution was to use the middle three fingers on each hand to cover the keyboard. In this configuration I was able to consistently achieve 40-45 words per minute with minimal errors.

When holding the iPad in landscape mode (horizontal) the tablet is just a bit too wide to comfortably thumb type.  Yes, you can stretch those thumbs to reach the middle characters on the keyboard, but you'll find it uncomfortable and less accurate.   In Portrait mode (vertical) the shorter distance between your left and right hands make it much easier to thumb type, but since the keyboard only takes up the lower ¼ of the screen, the iPad will now feel a bit top-heavy and will make it more tiring to type for any real length of time.   The best typing position for a 'naked' iPad would be to use the iPad horizontally on your lap.  The keys are large and wide in landscape mode and you'll find typing accuracy will be pretty good.   Ergonomically speaking, it probably isn't the best position to be typing in.

The Apple iPad case is one of the best accessories available (for now) for the iPad. Not only does the case protect the iPad during and when not in use, it also features a front cover that can be flipped around to provide a slant to the iPad, much like typing on the top of a 3-ring binder. This works great either on a desk or lap. The case does pick up specs of dust especially when wiping the screen clean, but overall it's a great solution. The texture finish also makes it easy to hang on to the iPad when carrying it around.

The iPad / iPhone OS

Top Navigation Controls Need to be Moved to the Bottom of the Screen

I love the iPad operating system;  For the most part it is very intuitive and fluid, especially when zooming, panning, sliding, pinching, and tapping.  The one design flaw I have noticed over the first couple of days is that the top-navigation controls should be relocated to the bottom.   When holding the iPad, especially in portrait view, you'll be holding the iPad around the lower 1/3rd of the device, making it inconvenient to keep reaching up to hit the "back" button in Safari or to use other menu options in apps like "Pages," "Mail," "iPod" or virtually all other application with top navigation.  On the iPhone the screen is so small it doesn't matter, although interestingly enough many of the navigation bars on the iPhone are located on the bottom of the screen.

Is It Really Charging?

Another OS issue I discovered is that when the iPad is plugged directly into most USB ports the device will sync, but not charge.  At least that's what the message says at the top right of the display.  This is a big mistake and one that hopefully will be corrected by Apple in upcoming firmware releases.  When the iPad is docked to a computer it should charge as well as sync, period.

I went to the web to see if others were having problems and found that this is an issue with all iPad's, however it seems that the "no charging" message may not be 100% accurate.  From what I have read on various web sites, the iPad will indeed charge from the majority of USB ports, but only when the iPad is in sleep mode. If the iPad is turned on while connected it does actually receive enough juice to keep the battery life from draining, but not enough to actually increase the charge. I have tested this and found this to be the case. After keeping my iPad plugged into my PC's USB port for over 3 hours with the screen turned on, I did not lose any battery life. Also, some newer model Macs have a higher power USB port, which will enable the iPad to charge normally, even when on.

The Constantly Moving Volume Control

Ok, this next quibble is more me than the iPad and it's a bit silly to mention, but I still thought I would mention it.  When holding the iPad in its default position the screen is vertical, the home button is centered below the screen; the standby button is on the top-right; volume controls and rotate lock are along the upper right edge, and the headphone jack and microphone is located along the left top edge.  However, since the iPad will rotate to any of four orientations, I was constantly losing track of the volume controls.  Watching a video in portrait mode puts the volume controls along the right (or left) edge, watching a video in landscape mode and you'll find it either on the bottom right or top left.   Not a big deal until you're in the middle of a classroom or meeting and happen to navigate to a web page or video only to discover that the volume control is cranked up all the way, and now you're fumbling around to find the controls while the embarrassment grows.  I guess the best way to prevent this would be to keep the rotate option locked or keep the sound off by default.  The Apple iPad case, which I love, makes this more problematic than it normally would be since the case blocks the visibility of the buttons and also has a button-matching black finish.

Instant Mute

Here's a tip for those that need to mute the sound quickly.  Press and hold the volume-down button and after about ½ second it will jump to MUTE.

The Best Computer is the One That's with You

This line is a rework of a quote from photographer Chase Jarvis who always says that the "The best camera is the one that's with you."   Chase even has an iPhone app called the "The Best Camera" app.  The reason for this quote is that unlike the other bigger, higher-resolution, and more capable camera's that you may own, it's most likely your phone camera that will be with you when you really need it - since, well, it's always with you.

This quote came to mind during Easter when I was showing the iPad to family members.   Since it doesn't fit in a pocket, it inevitably ended up on the coffee table or couch.   I was out on the patio enjoying the great 75-degree Easter Sunday (in New Hampshire), when I was asked if I remembered what year the May 9th Massachusetts ice storm took place.   I would have preferred to use the iPad to look up the info, but guess which computer was immediately accessible to me?  The iPhone. It was much more convenient to do a quick search on the iPhone that it would have been to walk around the house looking for where I (or in this case a family member) left the iPad.  I have a funny feeling the iPad will soon become the equivalent to a TV remote or a set of keys - always wondering where I last left it.

I also took it with me in the car over the weekend, using it and getting to know it at any opportunity.  However, due to its size, I had to figure out where to leave it when I left my car to do some shopping.  I ended up sliding it under the seat, whereas my iPhone was slid into my pocket.   Again, the iPhone will be the one device I'll almost always have with me - and when I need it the most.    Luckily I found that my 5 year old ScotteVest jacket has an inside pocket that fits the iPad perfectly.  This will allow me to take it with me to more places.

iPad Apps

The applications that are available specifically for the iPad's larger display are head and shoulders above their iPhone equivalent.   The larger screen real estate and faster processor is allowing programmers to not just super size their apps, but also provide functionality that would have been impractical on the smaller iPhone screen. 

In the first weekend of availability there were about 1300 iPad apps available, but the iPad will also run all the apps designed for the iPhone, which brings the selection to well over 100,000 apps.   Since iPhone apps are written for a much lower resolution display, they only take up the center ¼ portion of the screen.   Luckily, Apple added in a 2x zoom feature for iPhone apps, allowing them to use up a larger portion of your display.   While resolution isn't great I did find that using iPhone apps definitely helps make the wait for the publisher to rewrite the app for the iPad that much easier.

Despite the fact that iPhone apps will run on your iPad, I can almost guarantee that you'll never purchase an iPhone app to run specifically on your iPad.   Why? Once you see an app that was written specifically for the iPad screen, you'll never go back to one designed for the iPhone screen - unless of course you have an iPhone.

My Recommended App List for Photographers & Cinematographers

Since the focus of Cameratown is photography and cinematography I thought I would share some of first apps that I have downloaded over the weekend that are photography or cinematography centric.  Most of the descriptions are direct from the software company, though I have added comments to some of these as well (in italics).

  • Filterstorm (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
    Filterstorm was designed from the ground up to meet your mobile photo editing needs. Using a uniquely crafted touch interface, Filterstorm allows for more intuitive editing than its desktop counterparts with a toolset designed for serious photography.
    The app allows you to load and save images, crop, and change to B&W, and offers adjustment sliders for hue, saturation, brightness, and contrast as well as a curves tool with histogram. There are also preset filters for vignettes, noise reduction, sharpen, posterize, tone map, box blur, and scale.

  • Lighttrac (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 5 Stars out of 5
    LightTrac is a must have tool for photographers who are interested in knowing the ideal times to shoot your photos outdoors. As a serious photographer, there may be times you wished you knew what elevation and direction the sun would hit a pond or lake or waterfall or any outdoor subject for that matter. With the help of LightTrac, you can find out both the direction and elevation of Sun at any time of day for any location in the world. Also switch between the locations for quick reference. It becomes an indispensable tool once you start using it.

  • Clinemeter (0.99 cents)  - Cameratown Rating:  5 Stars out of 5
    This professional tool called Clinometer is the most precise (all you can get with some calculations) slope measurement tool for the iPhone/IPod Touch. It can be used for simple applications like aligning a frame as well as for more sophisticated fields of applications where an arbitrary slope needs to be measured exactly. Read the reviews (and write your own) for all the applications you find! 

    A very useful app for photographers and cinematographers who want a precision tool for measuring angles and slopes.  The ultimate bubble level!

  • Adobe Ideas 1.0 for iPad (Free) - Cameratown Rating:  2 Stars out of 5
    Adobe Ideas is your digital sketchbook, letting you capture and explore ideas anywhere you go. Adobe Ideas is an ideal companion for the professional design applications from Adobe, including Adobe Illustrator® and Adobe Photoshop® software.  

    Features include: Simple vector-based drawing tools, zoom without jaggies or big pixels, variable-size brushes using multitouch control, vector eraser, huge virtual canvas, email ideas as PDF files, gallery style organizer allows you to scroll through your ideas, separate drawing and photo layers, 50-level undo.
  • Slides for iPad ($1.99) - Cameratown Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
    Slides is a slideshow editor with Facebook integration. It turns your iPad into a digital photo frame with Facebook photos of you and your friends. Browse your Facebook photos by albums or tags and add your favorite photos to the slideshow. You can also pitch and zoom for each slide and rearrange the slides to create your unique slideshow. Slides has built-in music and transitions (dissolve, move in, push, reveal, spin ,and flip) to enhance the picture frame experience.

  • SmugMug (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 3 Stars out of 5
    Puts the power of full-screen photos, dazzling slideshows and HD video right into your client's hands. View your galleries with a glance and a swipe. With a portable portfolio you're always ready to show off and seal the deal. Use your iPad as a digital photo frame and display all your images in one sleek setting. Prop it on the shelf and grab it when you're on the go.

  • IMDb (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 5 Stars out of 5
    IMDb is the world's largest collection of movie, TV and celebrity information. IMDb is the leading app on the iPhone and iPod Touch to find US showtimes, watch trailers, browse photo galleries, get US TV listings, find latest DVD releases, explore popular charts and share movie info.  A great tool for cinematographers who like to research information on films

  • StumbleUpon for the iPad (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
    StumbleUpon helps you discover and share great websites. As you click Stumble!, we deliver high-quality pages matched to your personal preferences. These pages have been explicitly recommended by your friends or one of 8 million+ other web surfers with interests similar to you. Rating these sites you like automatically shares them with like-minded people - and helps you discover great sites your friends recommend.

    Cameratown: I feel this is a great app for discovering new websites relating to photography, great images from around the web as well as from Flickr.

  • Voice Memos for iPad (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 4 Stars out of 5
    The iPad doesn't ship with an audio recorder app. With Voice Memos for iPad, you can now record audio on your iPad using the built-in microphone, your headset, or an external mic.

    If you want to use the email function you'll have to upgrade to the 0.99 cent version, a very fair price in my view. Add a trim or editing function and this would have received 5 stars.

  • The Weather Channel for the iPad (Free) - Cameratown Rating - 4.0 Stars out of 5
    A smart photographer or cinematographer will check the weather well in advance of a shoot and will continuously check the radar leading up to a shoot. I personally use the Weather Channel app to try to gauge the quality of the upcoming sunset or sunrise. I like a sky with some clouds as it adds contrast, looks great with wide-angle lenses, and makes for great sunrises and sunsets. The iPad version of The Weather Channel also features a 3 hour "futurecast" option to provide a look at what the near future may hold.

  • Wordpress for iPad (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5
    There are literally thousands of photographers and cinematographers out there with a wordpress blog. Wordpress for the iPad makes it easy to manage your website right from the comfort of your couch. You can create a new post, edit a post, and read / delete comments. My only complaint is that there doesn't seem to be a way to preview your post before submitting it.

  • Twitterific for iPad (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 3 Stars out of 5
    Twitterrific is the friendly, award-winning Twitter client that's beautiful to look at, easy to use and full of elegant features. Effortlessly read and compose tweets, search Twitter.com, filter message types and much more!  

    I love the look and simplicity of Twitterific, although it lacks the ability to add a photo to a post and just doesn't quite match the power of TweetDeck (see below)
  • TweetDeck for iPad (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
    TweetDeck is the best way to stay in touch with what's happening now on Twitter for your iPad. TweetDeck's iPad optimized interface shows you everything you want to see at once, so you can stay organized and up to date wherever you are. Fully manage all your Twitter accounts. Check web pages from within TweetDeck, and attach photos to your tweets.

  • eBay App for iPad (Free) - Cameratown Rating: 2.5 Stars out of 5
    If you like to have the latest technology, then you know the advantages of selling your old gear on eBay or buying new or used gear on eBay to save money. This app for the iPad is well designed and allows you to check the status of your "My eBay" account, but unfortunately you cannot post to eBay from within this app or check messages. eBay does make a "seller" app for the iPhone, but it has not been rewritten for the iPad.

A Game Changer?

For the record I want to apologize about something. For weeks I have been saying that I believed that the iPad would be a "game changer." Since I had never touched the iPad at that point, it was a statement based more on belief that reality, and was no more accurate or honest than those who have been commenting negatively about the iPad without ever having used it. My opinions were based on the fact that current laptop computers, for the most part, are just plain overkill for most folks. They have terrible battery life, are too heavy, and they take too long to ‘boot' up and turn off.  Add to that the fact that probably 90% of consumers that use a notebook computer outside of  work only use it to check email, catch up on news, surf the web or check their Facebook page  - and it's easy to see why the whole idea of a "desktop" on your lap is overkill for many people.

The iPad is the answer to almost every negative feature of a portable / laptop computer.  It's very lightweight (1.5 lbs); it turns on instantly; features a true 10-hour battery; it doesn't require a big carrying case; it is totally silent since there are no fans needed or hard drives; and most importantly, the interface was designed from the ground for easy-to-use portable computing.

Sure, Net books have seen explosive sales over the past couple of years thanks to the under $400 price tag, but the net book has always been a stop-gap answer to portable computing, since they share most of the same issues that plague all traditional laptops (i.e.  poor battery life, long boot and shut-down times, and a clunky operating system designed for more powerful computers).

The whole idea of a lightweight tablet with an OS specifically designed for mobile computing has always made a lot of sense to me, but it wasn't until Apple's iPad announcement that anyone has had a real chance on getting the masses to take notice.  Their success with the iPhone's simple design and easy-as-pie interface, combined with the ability to download useful (and some not so useful) and inexpensive applications has made the iPhone the de facto standard against which all smart phones are compared - and now they have introduced a tablet with the same advantages AND to a consumer that already likes and is comfortable with the touch interface.  But once I started actually using the iPad it quickly became apparent that the what worked for the iPhone may not be enough for the iPad. 

Since the iPad has a much higher-resolution and larger display, software developers are already writing apps with more substance, giving them desktop-like functionality.  That's great news until you discover that the iPad wasn't designed to be a desktop replacement.  A laptop or net book CAN be someone;s only computer, but the iPad was designed by Apple to be a companion to a desktop or laptop computer, which is why the minute you take it out of the box it asks to be connected to a computer so that it can shake hands with Apple's iTunes 9.1 software.  The iPad also lacks printer support or a USB port as standard, forcing you to email content to another computer for sharing or printing.  Yes, there are apps in the iTunes App Store that allow you to print wirelessly through a desktop or laptop computer, but there doesn't seem to be one solution that works for every app situation. Some will print from the email and web app, but not through Apple's Pages app or Google Maps.  Just with these two omissions alone it becomes obvious that the iPad was designed to be a standalone computer solution. The lack of direct connectivity and an always-on internet connection are the main reasons I don't feel that the iPad is as strong a product as I believed it would be. However, I do believe that it has already become a game changer to the degree that it has put the tablet PC into the spotlight. Since the initial announcement of the iPad, there have been dozens of other tablet PC announcements, but none of them with the simplicity and design that has garnered so much attention for the iPad. If other companies hope to compete with the iPad in the coming months they better get their act together before Apple releases an update.

In this review I didn't bother talking about the included iPad apps (iBooks, Maps, YouTube, Photos, Safari, Mail, etc.) since there is plenty of information and demos on the Apple website about each of these. My main goal of this review was to provide my thoughts of the iPad after extensively using it for a couple of days. In the weeks to come I will be taking a closer look at individual features and applications and I am sure that my fondness for the iPad will continue to grow and grow as new functionality is introduced.

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