The Right Tool For The Job

Or, “Why I Won’t Be Buying an iPad.”

Back when they announced the device, I put my thoughts up.  Now that the device has released, I’ve read the reviews and seen videos of it in action, I’m still not buying one.

Largely, it is for the same reasons I mentioned.  Since I’d never pay for the 3G data plan, its function as a mobile computing device is limited to Wi-Fi hot spots, and currently I’ve got a phone for that.  So the next use would be to have it around the house.  I’m really not big on browsing the net while watching TV, mostly because I usually want to actually pay attention to the TV.  And really, for the quick things I’d want to look up, I have my phone (I don’t have a land line anymore, so I always have my cell phone on me).  When I do actually want a computer it is primarily for two things: writing and drawing.

As far a writing goes, I’m not a touch typist, not really anyway (I can type without looking at the keyboard, but you can go insane watching my hands float all over – home row is for sissies), but my typing is dependent on the tactile response of the keyboard, to know when I’ve made mistakes.  I’ve seen people complain about how a laptop forces you to be in an uncomfortable position and the iPad lets you be more relaxed… only, I’m not uncomfortable when I use my laptop.  In fact, I’m often more uncomfortable in the big cushy couches most people love.  I like rigid, straight back, seating (though when I watch movies I do like a bit of tilt and some head support).  Using an iPad and the positions I’d have to be in to type on it two handed looks to be painful to me.  I may end up at an Apple store to play with one someday, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it.

For drawing, as a previously mentioned, I don’t want to draw with my finger.  I really don’t.  I like using a stylus, which the iPad does support, but I’d really have to use it to see if it is worthwhile.  And is it pressure sensitive?  I use the heck out of the pressure sensitivity on my Wacom.  I’d hate to be without it.

Most of the web based gaming I do these days is Flash based and wouldn’t function on the iPad, so that’s out.

For me, the iPad just isn’t the right tool for the job, and currently my phone, netbook and desktop do the things I want very nicely.

On the other hand, while I wouldn’t buy one of these, I think my wife would like it quite a bit, except for the whole iTunes thing.  We are Zune people, and I really don’t want to install iTunes and then have it and the Zune software start fighting over who has control of the MP3 tags.  But if we could get over that, I think she’d be very happy with the iPad as an email checking, Internet browsing, note jotting, media consuming machine.  We’ve got a few boxes of CDs and DVDs sitting around waiting for a garage sale, perhaps we could use them for something else.

The iPad

You can search all over the Internet and find out about the specifications and tons of opinions on it.  Here are mine.

First, I think the name is silly.  The people guessing that Apple was making a tablet came up with dozens of better names.  Does no one at Apple have access to Google?  It would have taken less than five seconds to search “iPad” and find the years old MadTV skit.

Next, I am not impressed.  They showed nothing in their presentation that made me want to have one of these over a netbook.  However, I see potential.  To me, the ultimate success of this device will depend on two things:

  1. What applications get designed to fully use this device.  The best idea I’ve seen floated so far is a “cash register” type application since one of these plus a couple of peripherals is cheaper than most computer registers.
  2. The next revision of the hardware.  Apple is notorious for withholding features.  They like to put just enough in a product to make people want it, but hold back enough features to be able to also make revision two, three, and four worth buying too.  Expect the next version to have the front facing camera most people feel is missing, and more memory.

Lastly, I think they priced it almost perfectly.  The only way it gets better is if AT&T subsidizes the price of the 3G version in exchange for a 2 year contract.  Personally, I wouldn’t want the 3G, so it is priced right as it is.

To me, at the moment, the deal breaker is the keyboard.  The virtual keyboard looks like it would only be comfortable using if I can manage to have the device at a 45 degree angle allowing me to type and see the screen.  This means that I’d either have to be hunched over the device, or to be lounging on the couch with my feet propped up allowing my lap to hold it up at a usable angle.  But that’s because the biggest feature of a portable computer for me is writing, and the iPad seems to be aimed more at people who are more interested in reading and watching.  This could be saved if someone makes some sort of clip on keyboard and screen protector (i.e. – the keyboard folds up over the screen, kinda like the clam shell design of a laptop).  But it would also have to more than double the weight of the device because you can’t have the screen be heavier than the keyboard in that sort of design.

Another missing element for me that I don’t think will ever make it into the Apple design is the ability to use a stylus.  I like to do digital art (doodling more than anything) but I don’t like doing it with my finger.  Perhaps, if the iPad sells well, Wacom will decide to make the Cintiq into a full blown art tablet.

Overall, as I said before, I see potential, I even see this as being a device that plenty of people could put to good use, but just not me.  And that’s okay.

One Step Closer

The 360 takes another step toward closing the Console-PC gap with its upcoming release. Check out the details over at gamerawr.

The biggest thing to me, and the step I’m saying they are taking, is the addition of the keyboard. Frankly, voice communication has only come so far, and for games supporting multiple chat channels, like MMOs, voice is severely limited. Some games just need text, and without a physical keyboard its just too hard to do. If you don’t believe me, trying using virtual keyboards, or even your 10-key phone pad to write long messages. There is a reason people invented text message short hand. (And deep in my heart of hearts, I hope this goes toward the erradication of needless short hand.)

Should this take off as I expect it to, we could be seeing the beginning of the end of PCs as a gaming platform. Though some might think this is great, its not entirely all roses. How do indie game devs break into the console? Maybe Microsoft could start offering a program to burn viable 360 discs so that indie games could be run… but I don’t really see that happening because it opens alot of doors to piracy. Also, if game modding continues to be popular, consoles do not exactly support making mods, at least not modeling and creating textures. As, of course at this time I don’t believe Microsoft supports external game servers… the PS3 claims it will though (or will support paid hosting of game servers).

In any event, the 360 is adding something new that may have an effect on the industry as a whole. Time will tell…

Double Fisted Gaming

I hate playing First Person Shooter games on a console system. The step back from a keyboard and mouse set up to a console game controller is just too much for me. However, games for consoles have been getting better and better, and upgrading my computer over and over keeps getting more expensive. So I’ve been looking at the next generation consoles… So far, the XBox 360 seems like a good one, and I like the idea of online play which it excels at. But the Playstation 3 promises to be backwards compatible with all PS2 and PS1 games, which is something I miss on other systems. I currently own a GameCube, and I’d kill to play classic Super Mario Bros. if they’d let me. It wasn’t until I was really looking into the Nintendo Revolution that it hit me as to what I really want from a game system… Double Fisted Gaming.

I look at the Revolution controller, the new wand thing… and it sounds both neat and annoying. However, it also sounds like halfway to what I want. Imagine playing a shooter game, with the wand-like controller as a gun, and a second controller on your other hand to control movement. Not two thumbsticks like current games, but two completely separate controllers… like a keyboard and a mouse.

Now, I know game companies like the idea of people being able to sit in any position and hold the controller… but you know what? Screw ’em! I want a second controller “keypad” that I strap to my leg or something, or rest on a table and give it about a dozen or so keys, maybe even a scroll wheel (for weapon switching in FPS games). Take that and the Revolution wand and I’ve got me a “keyboard” and a gun in my hand. Hell yeah!

If you are a designer out there and want to make fansy controllers for game systems.. please, PLEASE, steal this idea!