Monday, April 19, 2010

Some Random Impressions On The iPad

The rise in Blind Gadget Culture was one of the trends I discussed with many in the industry last year. There are a large number of options now available to us on what now seems like a monthly, or weekly, rate for alternatives to what we once considered traditional access. I’m going to stay away, for now, on merits of those claims or the dangers in selecting a standard for any access solution. I do, however, want to throw in two pennies into the hat as to what my initial impressions were on holding this recent “flavor of the month” tech product.

I’ve broken these down into three areas. My mind thought of the device from a Low Vision standpoint, a non visual perspective and a general impression of the device as a whole. I’ll start with the general ruminations first.

General feelings..

It is heavier than I thought. 1.5 pounds doesn’t sound like much, I’m reminded of the weight of last year’s Intel Reader, but it really is when you get right down to the heart of the matter. An iPhone doesn’t weigh as much as the iPad of course, however, there really is quite a big jump when you go from that smaller display to one that is now 9.7 inches. And the 1.5 pounds doesn’t feel all that well in your hands for longer periods of time or for when you are typing long strings or doing detailed tasks or... The weight of the iPad is well distributed, and that is a plus, so you won’t feel like one portion of the device is heavier forcing you to hold it from only one side. I’m just not sure about how I’d carry and use the device when not sitting comfortably at home.

The other thing I noticed right off the bat was the glare. The thing is a fingerprint and glare magnet. Darker settings is where the backlit display really shows its stuff. And there again is one of those odd moments that makes me think about where and when I would use such a device.

The speaker is loud but not really. Using this in public would be awkward with speech for me. I’d have to go the headphones route a whole lot. Even with Netflix, I would be using headphones and that gets old after a while. I also hope the upcoming iPhone OS 4.0 will add more voices to Voiceover. The default voice can only take you so far and I’d even say that some who are hard of hearing would have possible issues with pitch and intonation in crowded areas.

Low Vision thoughts..

If you hate a laptop and the way you have to use a track pad with Screen Magnification then you may hate this.. a lot. Swiping the display at higher magnification levels is a slow process at first. I say that because you either pan slowly in the beginning or you warp across the landscape without intending to do so. This could be considered more of a user problem than an issue of UI or how Apple has implemented their version of magnification. Icons within the OS are sharp and easily read, however, the same can’t always be said about the apps. And those who up convert their apps from iPhone to iPad have issues with font scaling anyway. Therefore, a good suggestion would be to go for the ones that are made for the larger display of iPad native support. This may, note may, mean you have to repurchase your favorite apps all over again if they don’t offer a free update to the newer platform.

I find that increasing fonts is better than using the device at 2x or something that would make me have to touch the device more often just to see the other side of the display. Better still, I’d say drop the magnification entirely and rely on the Voiceover to drive you in most areas. Not only would you keep the whole screen in view, but you would have speech to tell you where you have landed in apps and in menus. I mean, you are only going to have to touch the device for input anyway. Using VO with no magnification could make you a faster user than all the finger work it would require to view the device under higher magnification levels.

I honestly believed that the iPad would be great as a Low Vision device. I’m rethinking that now after some brief use of it to try and to complete some basic tasks. It is better than holding the iPod and iPhone up to your nose. The downsides though are that the smaller devices are more portable and a whole lot lighter. And if you have trouble using a 15 inch laptop, or an even smaller 12 inch or less Netbook, the iPad won’t make life any easier for you in the regards of interacting with a computer.

Non Visual ..

I’ll approach this from two angles. Do you want a touch screen the size of a standard 8x10 piece of paper? Do you want to move your finger across a larger area than your iPod or iPhone? Would it make you feel better to have 22 icons spread out over a larger canvas? Then you will love the iPad if you answered “Yes” to any or all of the above.

Placing the iPad in your lap, like a Braille book, negates the weight concerns I spoke of earlier. In fact, not looking at the display fixes a ton of issues really. You can place this on a table and interact with it, where as a visual user would have to sit and point their head downwards to view the display. So, if you can get over the bulkiness of the larger size, and you feel right at home with the Apple touch navigation, then this may work for you. I would say that you may still be a tad faster on navigating on a smaller display. And carrying an iPhone or an iPod is probably a better device for the person on the go. The iPad, however, would be a good coffee table device for casual media surfing.


I would say wait. This initial release is like a paid beta cycle. The unit feels rushed. The new iPhone 4.0 OS brings a whole lot more to the table. And, as Apple is prone to do, a second generation iPad will flesh out the unit’s strengths better. Once when developers, and even Apple themselves, know exactly what those strengths really are.

Despite what some have said on the web about this thing, it isn’t a new way of looking at computing. No new paradigms, no new platforms and for the love of black turtlenecks it isn’t something we haven’t seen before. It is what we call in sales a “step up” model. It takes the successes of the other Apple devices and makes them now go to 11. Or, in this case, go to 9.7.

If you are already in the Apple ecosystem, then this unit maybe a good buy for having around the house. Or for when you replace that 6th iPod that totally bites the dust. The bigger display is nice to have for some things. But, for non visual users, you aren’t in a situation where this will make your experience all that much more improved over what we had before April 3rd.

If you are considering a plunge into the Apple Kool Aid party, the iPad may not be the ideal device for your indoctrination to the land of Jobbs. Moreover, if you thought that this device would be better for those in the 4x magnification crowd.. well. I’d suggest going with a cheaper first time purchase in the realm of an iPod.

The truth is, and this is where I completely agree with those who are for and against the iPad, you can’t really say this is a giant iPod until you hold it in your hands. This is the first device I’ve used in a long time where initial experience immediately formed my opinion. And that opinion was intensely personal at first then reflexive later on after I put it down.

I think that is why the iPad doesn’t support multi user profiles at the moment. Apple is aiming this device at the individual user and as a media appliance to secure iTunes’s future. And it does this very well. I give them credit for that. It isn’t intended to replace devices you have now. That too has been communicated by Apple. its when you try to take the unit outside of the scope of what it is made for when you see the flaws over the glossy glare intensive surface that the debate gets more dicey.

Note that I’m also going to steer clear from the saga of the $500 WiFi only versus the 3g aspects of the iPod. That too comes down to personal preferences and your desire to pay $30 a month for iPad wireless access. Best of luck with that decision as it really distorts, for me at any rate, if this machine is worth the cost of admission.

1 comment:

Pete said...

I really do agree with your comments about Magnification. This is I really ran into problems. not swiping so much, as I'm used to doing that with the trackpad, but in text composition. I couldn't get the magnification set right to see both the onscreen keyboard *and* the text I was trying to type. I don't really need the keyboard magnified. It's plenty big enough for me to see. It's the *text* I couldn't see. But if this all will make me a better voiceover user, than hey I'm there! Speaking of, do you think practicing with trackpad commander on the Mac is more like VO on the ipad? or is it more just moving around the screen with the cursor, or a bit of both? One comment about where this fits in though, It really can also function as an ipod, and because of the big screen, a really good one for the low vision user. I'm also recommending this as a beginner computer with a mac paradigm for those who're really not ready to take the "big" leap.