The New iPad

by Michael Camilleri

Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever bought an Apple device on the date it was released and I thought that I’d take the opportunity to share my first impressions. This isn’t a review. There are plenty of those around if you want to know if you should get one. Instead, here are three thoughts.

First, the screen. My thoughts on the screen differ from most of what’s likely out there and I feel it’s necessary to put them into the appropriate context.

The first iOS device I ever owned was an iPhone 4. While I had seen, and briefly used, iPhones and iPod Touches prior to this, the 4 was my first real experience using iOS. Furthermore, I bought it in October of 2010, by which time every app that I could find had been updated to use Retina display graphics.

As such, the Retina display that Apple first shipped on the iPhone 4 is my baseline and it’s what I’ve measured all screens against since. Other screens have not fared well, and this includes the iPad 2.

This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed using the iPad 2. I certainly have. I used it on average once a day for at least 30 minutes or so (and often far longer). It has travelled with me to other countries, been a tool I use at work and entertained me with video, text and more.

But the screen has always been a disappointment. Nowhere is this more apparent for me than with the loupe tool that’s used when you want precise placement of the cursor in a text field. Sometimes it feels as if this tool was created especially to demonstrate just how low the resolution is.

The new iPad fixes this problem. The screen is brilliant (in the literal sense of the word). However, I will admit that I wasn’t blown away by it as others sound like they were. For me, the screen is not so much a revolution as the fulfilment of the iPad’s promise. It is what I have always wanted the iPad’s screen to be. I am happy that it has reached that point but I would not call it a life-changing event.

The second thought is about Internet connectivity. While I purchased the ’4G’ model, I’m not referring to the download speeds or the antenna or whether the lower left corner gets hot through use. What I’m talking about is the ability to get on the Internet.

Much has been made of the differences between post-PC devices and traditional PCs (both laptops and desktops). Post-PC devices emphasise touch over other forms of user interaction, they generally enforce a simpler conceptual model of an application, they abstract away the file system.

But I think there is another important difference between post-PC devices and traditional computers that I didn’t fully appreciate until using the new iPad: post-PC devices need to be on the Internet.

Again, some context. I purchased the 16 GB Wi-Fi only model of the iPad 2 thinking that, while I obviously wouldn’t be able to use the Internet everywhere I went, I’d at least be able to use it in places that had public Wi-Fi. Before I had this thought, I should have considered more carefully where I live. Japan, for all its reputation as a technological wonderland, has not jumped on the free public Wi-Fi train with gay abandon. Or, indeed, any abandon. I have seen free public Wi-Fi spots in select places but it’s really been in very, very select places.

Private Wi-Fi networks, however, are everywhere. Mostly these are deployed by the mobile phone carriers. I’m not sure exactly why this is although I assume it’s to offload some of the capacity from the cellular networks. Whatever the reason, it means that, while there’s plenty of Wi-Fi around, if you don’t have an account with one of the carriers, it may as well not exist.

There is perhaps no more frustrating (#firstworld) problem than trying desperately to maintain a connection to the free public Wi-Fi network in Kansai International Airport before you get on your plane so you can download a book from Amazon to read on the flight. Well, no there is. It’s trying to desperately to maintain that connection while your phone happily jumps on SoftBank’s Wi-Fi network at McDonald’s. And Starbucks. And the airport’s train station. And numerous other locations.1

When the time came to purchase the new iPad, I knew that this time I didn’t want to have that experience again. So I purchased the iPad through SoftBank and, in return for a small monthly fee, I now have access to their very extensive network of wireless hot spots. And it is glorious. It is easily my favourite part of the new device (even ahead of the screen). Again, having Internet connectivity is not so much a revolution as it is a step closer towards the perfect iPad. It feels silly to talk about iterations of the iPad as a progression towards some Platonic ideal but, well, I just spent $680 on the new iPad when I already own the previous model so let’s not get into semantics about what is and isn’t absurd.

Which brings me to the third thing. The New Yorker app on the iPad sucks ass. To be sure, 1) it has always sucked ass; and 2) this is not Apple’s fault. But these are my impressions and this left something of an impression on me.

For reasons that one presumes can only make sense to people that never actually use the app, the New Yorker on the iPad does not display content by getting the iPad to do the relatively straightforward task of rendering text on the screen (that’s exactly what they’d expect us to do!).2 No, instead the kooks at Condé Nast have decided that they’ll serve the New Yorker to you as a gigantic series of compressed images. This bloats each issue out to 110 MB, an absurd amount for a publication that is mostly just words on a screen.

The decision to do this is bone-headed for any number of reasons (you can’t adjust the text size, you can’t select text) but the stupidity really comes into its own on the glossy 9.7″ Retina display. Unfortunately (for paying customers), the Retina display and its crazy high resolution doesn’t do the New Yorker’s flat images any favours. They’re blown up to fill the screen and, although the pixels on the Retina display are too small to create the pixelated effect you sometimes see on PCs, it nevertheless results in an image that, well, sucks ass.

I want to make clear that I love the New Yorker. It is literally my favourite publication and I think one of the three or four most important English-language periodicals in the world today. But fucking BusinessWeek has an app that doesn’t have this problem. BusinessWeek. The (rich) poor man’s Economist.

Please, for the love of God, I know you aren’t part of management, but Jason Schwartzman, you star in that delightful video telling us all how to use the New Yorker on our iPad. Please use your magic powers to solve this problem once and for all.3 I am begging you.

  1. Unfortunately, SoftBank disables the hotspot functionality of the iPhone so this is not an option either. 

  2. The only possible saving grace of this decision would be if it were made by Neil Patrick Harris. And he sung a song about it. And even then, probably not. 

  3. The solution is not to make us download 440 MB sized issues.