Sure, it’s shiny, sleek and cool — the latest must-have accessory. But here’s why I’m sticking with Apple’s real perfect product.
By Leigh Gallagher, Assistant Managing Editor
For weeks it sat as an unchecked box on my to-do list: “buy iPad.” I wanted in. I was eager to see what all the hype was about. Working in magazines for 15-plus years, I needed to see and experience this new device that promised to lead print journalism—indeed, modern civilization itself—into the future.
At Fortune we had been spending weeks working late nights to ready a sparkling new iPad version of our magazine; it was getting rave reviews. As a Blackberry
loyalist who’s never had an iPhone, I had also missed the app revolution entirely. Tired of being left out when friends shook their phone to find a restaurant, programmed a bedbug locator, or saw how they might look with Justin Bieber hair, I thought it was time to join the conversation. And with my home MacBook on its last legs and my dead-tree Wall Street Journal subscription having recently expired, the time had come nigh. Lots of people told me I might even be able to use my iPad as a replacement for my laptop; one friend, a literary agent, told me his wife was writing her Ph.D. thesis on it and was loving the process.
So I finally took my app-less self to the Apple Store one night last week and announced proudly to the greeters that I was ready; this was to be the Night of my iPad Purchase.
The clerk politely indulged my sense of self-importance and showed me where the iPads sat, gleaming. High on the excitement of it all, I decided against getting the keyboard: if I was going to do this, I wasn’t going to try to turn the iPad into something it wasn’t. I was going to learn to love it for what it represented—a new form factor that would change. my. life.
When I got home and took it out of the box, my iPad looked stunning. In a single moment my living room became more stylish than it had in 18 months of DIY interior design. I had finally joined the club.
But when I started to use it—that’s when the love affair ended (or really, failed to kick in).
I surfed the web, paid a few bills and did a little online shopping. It was easy, but I was surprised by how much I fumbled on the touch screen. caps were left uncapped; I leftoutspaces; a few times I tried to position the cursor in one text box only to open another instead. But mostly, the touchscreen slowed me down. Like most writers, I type faster than I can write or even think; after talking, typing on a keyboard is the form of communication most natural to me. Absent that tactile depression and familiar click, I was thrown off balance. Without the subtle guardrails of the keys, my fingers slipped and slid all over the flat surface.
Pecking with two fingers instead, I fumbled with typos. I could never seem to find the underscore (which I swear is in two different places). The special .com button was a handy new experience. But I was still stuck in QWERTY quicksand. A free online typing test soon showed I was right: typing on my standard keyboard, I typed 96 words per minute; on the iPad my score dropped to 27 WPM. When typing and communicating takes more than three and a half times as long as you’re used to, well, this communicator gives up. I realize most people got over this long ago when they adjusted to their iPhones, and most of what I’m experiencing is probably growing pains as I enter the touchscreen tablet world, but I can’t be the only person facing this problem. In the information economy, speed is everything. Why was no one talking about how the iPad was slowing them down?
After that, everything about my iPad started to look a little less appealing.
When I put it down on my sofa and caught it in less flattering light, I saw my unattractive fingerprints all over it. When I took it to work the next day, it weighed down the new handbag I’d bought in part because it would fit it (plenty of people have lamented the iPad’s weight issues). On the subway, when my Wall Street Journal app didn’t work, I happily went back to my print papers and magazines. The next day, I learned of the recent flurry of articles that warned against sharing touch screens with others during flu season. Great. Now it was a germ trap, too.
There’s no climactic trip to the Apple Store return counter in this story. Reader, I’m keeping it. There are plenty of reasons to, even for an early resister. I can sit on my sofa and surf the web (as long as I don’t need to type very long urls). It makes awesome noises.
looks undeniably beautiful on it, as do other magazines and newspapers, and I’m sure I’ll soon find some apps I won’t be able to live without. People say it’s a consumption device more than a communication device, so once I start to use it that way I might think differently.
Also, I just got the most fabulous ostrich leather sleeve for it, and I feel a rush of coolness when I send an email (albeit a short one with typos) that says “sent from my iPad.” (I could also just buy the separate keyboard dock, which would make things easier.) And really, how wrong can the rest of the world be? According to ChangeWave’s recent survey numbers out this week, iPad user satisfaction notched up four points from its last survey in May to 95%, surely a historic record for a consumer device.
People around the office all said I would soon adjust, which is Apple’s
take, too. “We think people become accustomed to typing on the iPad and find it an incredibly easy and intuitive experience,” said spokesperson Trudy Muller; she pointed out that auto correction and auto completion learn the user’s typing habits, making it easier. (The underscore, it turns out, jumps to the front page of the keyboard when the cursor is in the ‘to’ field of an email, when you’re more likely to use it, the same way the ‘.com’ key appears when you’re typing a URL.)
The iPad user guide says the screen has an “oleophobic” coating but wiping it with a clean cloth is supposed to help with fingerprints. As for the germ situation, those concerns may be a tad overblown. While there are germs on an iPad, medical experts say the risk of transmitting a virus from one is no greater than from touching a doorknob. (“There’s no such thing as a sterile surface,” says Aaron Glatt, M.D., CEO of St. Joseph Hospital in Bethpage, N.Y. and spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society.)
I think my colleagues are right; I’ll adapt. I hope I can. As a lifelong Mac loyalist, I don’t even know how to use a PC. I have some faith that if I just use my iPad more I’ll become faster and maybe as zippy as I am on a regular keyboard. But Steve Jobs need not worry even if I don’t. I’m also adding a new unchecked box to my to-do list: “Buy new MacBook Air.”
–Editor’s note: Leigh Gallagher promises to revisit touchscreen typing and life in the tablet world for Fortune.com in three months. Stay tuned.