iPad: Netflix App, Musings, & Wishes

I read that Netflix is coming to the iPad. Given that Adobe already has a widget for turning Flash applets into iPhone apps, there’s no reason not to expect Hulu et al to be able to provide iPad apps for their content as well.

So, given that we’ll almost certainly have Netflix, and most likely Hulu working on the iPad, and that many newspaper sites will simply switch to HTML5 / H264 — what’s missing? Nothing of note, it seems.

The interesting thing is that by allowing Adobe Flash apps in via the App Store but not via the web, Apple makes it easier for developers — of casual games for example — to monetize their products while improving the user experience. Unless you like being deluged with butt ugly ads while playing online games.

It looks like the iPad may be a very complete media consumption device pretty much on day one. What I’d really like to see for the iPad are:

  1. A clamshell case that effectively turns the iPad into a laptop with keyboard. The ideal design would probably have a pass-through dock connector, stereo speakers, USB slot, SD slot, and extra battery power.
  2. A paint program — I know Brushes was demoed on stage at the launch (I own the iPhone version), but despite its high-profile user, I find it pretty poorly designed and would love to see major improvements in its UI or some real competition.
  3. A image editor (i.e. Photoshop-like program). The obvious candidate here would be a port of Acorn since the program is already 100% cocoa, and the UI is almost iPad ready. (Then again, the Pixelmator team has been really quiet for a long time, notwithstanding vacations.)
  4. A 3d sketch modeler (like Teddy or Curvy). The iPad would be perfect for this kind of 3d “sketching”. (I’m actually tempted to have a shot at writing such a tool.)
  5. Coda or something similar — i.e. a combination programmers’ editor and FTP client (ideally with some kind of simple image editing functionality so you don’t need to perform acrobatics to crop or scale images, etc.) — but then projects like Bespin would allow you to integrate basic editing tools into your websites.

It’s the battery life, stupid

I was impressed with the iPad’s battery life, which I found to be even longer than Apple’s ten-hour claim, and far longer than on my laptops or smart phones. For my battery test, I played movies, TV shows and other videos back-to-back until the iPad died. This stressed the device’s most power-hogging feature, its screen. The iPad lasted 11 hours and 28 minutes, about 15% more than Apple claimed. I was able to watch four feature-length movies, four TV episodes and a video of a 90-minute corporate presentation, before the battery died midway through an episode of “The Closer.”

Walt Mossberg, in his review.

Speaking of video: Apple asserts that the iPad runs 10 hours on a charge of its nonremovable battery — but we all know you can’t trust the manufacturer. And sure enough, in my own test, the iPad played movies continuously from 7:30 a.m. to 7:53 p.m. — more than 12 hours. That’s four times as long as a typical laptop or portable DVD player.

David Pogue, in his review.

I can’t believe that two other high profile reviewers didn’t even mention battery life. The iPad could dispense crisp bacon and protect you from alien attacks and it wouldn’t matter if its battery life sucked.

That’s essentially the one item which was open to doubt, although Apple’s record with battery life claims is pretty good (most of their unibody machines have outperformed their claims in reviews, although of course battery life tends to degrade over time — my first generation Macbook Pro’s battery life started at around 3h normal usage with new batteries, and is down to about 2:30 on this, its second).

I do wonder how long it will run Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars which can suck my iPhone 3G’s battery dry in nothing flat.

Claims that the iPad is more about consuming media than creating it need to be taken with a grain of salt — it hasn’t shipped yet! There’s good reason that for some creative applications (e.g. 3d sculpting) it may prove superb. And I foresee third-party cases with integral bluetooth keyboards.

Apparently my iPad is going through customs… Argh.

Fanboys 1. Pundits 0

Cosmic Encounter could be a great iPad game

So Apple is running out of iPads, Dan Lyons has changed his tune, magazine publishers are jumping on the bandwagon. I guess sometimes the fanboys are right. (Indeed, I’d have to say that Apple fanboys tend to be pretty accurate — certainly more accurate than the professionals — on Apple’s actual announced products, they just suck at predicting anything about unann0unced products. But doesn’t everyone?)

Board Games

It took a while, but some commentators have figured out that the iPad will be great for boardgames (unlike any other platform except Microsoft’s Surface, which is more of a tech demo than a product). For $3.95 on launch day you can get BoardBox — a collection of classic boardgames rendered very nicely (by the looks). I haven’t seen it working (for obvious reasons) but I’m going to take a wild guess that it may have some competition in price, quality, and polish. Travel Scrabble costs $20 on Amazon, and if you’re like me it’s a product you use once and never again.

I’d love to see some classic board wargames converted to the iPad and their — often horribly complex — rules systems automated. SPI’s old freebie Napoleon at Waterloo would be a great start. It’s something I’d love to do myself, but I simply don’t have time. A really great, obvious candidate would be Victory Games’s Ambush! Any game that involved a ridiculous collection of expansion packs or incredibly fiddly components (e.g. Cosmic Encounter or Illuminati score on both) also has a shot.

RPGs also have potential, perhaps more than any of the above. Ideally, each player would have their own iPad, but one would be enough. At last, one purchase could get you the game system, character sheets, “miniatures”, dice, and content.

Children’s Books

Another killer app is children’s books and interactive “games”. A typical children’s book costs $10 and has a lifespan of approximately … well if your child likes the book, about a month. I imagine we’ll quickly see a whole bunch of famous old titles, such as the old Broderbund “Living Books” ported (they’ll need to figure out the whole mouseover thing, although if I recall correctly they were more driven by clicks than mouse activity).

The Opportunities are Endless…

The iPad is, essentially, interactive paper. (The Kindle is, essentially, paper. Big difference.)

It’s the gizmo Bill Atkinson envisaged when he was trying to come up with the perfect computing device (not quite cheap enough to lose and not care, but getting there) and then gave up and produced HyperCard. Anyone who deals with maps (pilots, navigators, field geologists, the military) will want one because it can replace maps (imagine a map with interactive “find” or automate great circle navigation or automatic magnetic north correction), which are expensive and a pain in the ass. If you look at the way computers are used in hospitals, iPads are a huge, obvious win (both cheaper and better suited to hospital environments, where keyboards are a hygiene and usability disaster) — indeed healthcare loved the Newton and has been one of the strongest proponents of tablets in general.

Fewer Things to Lug Around?

If I may return briefly to one of my hobby horses: new tech devices succeed when they reduce the amount of crap you need to carry around with you, the iPad is poised to succeed in ways we simply haven’t figured out yet. These days, I carry around a backpack that usually contains (a) my laptop, (b) a notebook for sketching and taking notes, (c) as many useful/interesting books as I can bear to carry, (d) miscellaneous cables (including multiple sets of headphones for my iPhone because I’m always misplacing them). If we make the reasonable assumption that my laptop is going to stay there for the time beingand that the iPad’s battery life will be sufficient to permit its use for notes and sketches then this will change from laptop + notebook + books + cables to laptop + iPad + fewer books + cables. (Sadly, most of the books I am likely to carry around are not available electronically.) So, not a huge win for me. Oddly enough, the big win is that I’ll end up taking more stuff with me (e.g. I get the New Yorker via email — now I can read it conveniently) and having less stuff at home (e.g. I will cancel all our physical magazine deliveries). Similarly, I’m going to bite the bullet and rip our DVD collection. If only book scanners were a little more practical…

It could be a huge win for me when traveling — if I trusted the TSA not to steal my laptop from checked baggage and/or I didn’t have to pull out the laptop at airport security if I packed it in a carry-on. LogMeIn and its competitors are available for the iPhone, so I wonder whether I might be able to use an iPad as a terminal for a “real” computer on the road (1024×768 is hopeless for “real” computers these days though).

The thing I don’t anticipate doing, but I may yet be surprised, is giving up carrying a laptop around. Here’s what I use my laptop for: 3d modeling (using Cheetah 3d and Blender), 2d graphics, web development, software development (occasionally), game development (using Unity), email, web surfing, games (very occasionally). The thing is, I basically travel between two locations — home (where I have a very nice desktop system to work on) and work (where I have a tolerable system to work on). I can easily imagine decent sketch tools being available for the iPad (both 2d and 3d) and quite possibly a Blender port (since it runs on modest hardware). I think it’s safe to say that web, software, and game development on an iPad is not on the cards for the foreseeable future, but the iPad may prove to be a great tool for planning development vs. doing it.