I want an iPad. It’s not because I’m a raving Apple fan boy or obsessed with the latest gadget – it’s because it fits the way I want to use technology, and addresses frustrations I’ve had with contemporary form factors. There are three specific products that I want to use with a tablet:
- Pen-and-paper role-playing game PDFs.
- Comic books and magazines
They’re all print-based, and they share characteristics that don’t easily translate to a laptops, netbooks, or PDAs. I’ll preface all of this by saying these are my opinions; you may find reading an eBook on an iPod Touch to be liberating, love Marvel’s pan-and-scan tools for comic books on your Windows 7 desktop computer, and have no problem paging through PDFs on your netbook. If so, more power to you … but I find these options less than optimal.
A Virtual RPG Library
Role-laying game PDFs typically have an 8-1/2”x11” form factor that’s too tall for my 15” Mac Book Pro at legible text sizes (and way too tall at comfortable sizes) Things are far more cramped on my 9” Asus netbook. In both cases, I need to navigate on-screen using the mouse, which is cumbersome and/or infuriating. Case in point: I found reading through the rules-heavy, crunch-heavy A Time of War: The Battletech RPG beta to be headache inducing on my Mac; the only time I really felt comfortable was when I was reading it as a double-page spread on my 24” Dell LCD monitor … but that precludes reading in front of the TV or with the family.
The iPad isn’t big enough to display a full-size PDF, but I think the form factor and multitouch controls will make all the difference. Held in landscape mode, I could easily page up and down through a PDF while drag-touching the screen. I could also quickly “page” through the PDF through multitouch gestures, both of which are less cumbersome for me than a mouse.
I don’t want to replace my print RPG books with digital equivalents, but there are times where a well-done ebook would be sufficient for my needs – for example, I have the Pathfinder core rule book, but I think having the monster book in PDF would have been ok (and perhaps even preferable as a GM). The core book is a lot of text that’s easier to read in print; the monster book consists of quick-hit entries that I’d need to use at the table and would be faster to reference as PDF.
Easing Comic Book Sticker Shock
My problem with print comic books is that they’re getting far too expensive, averaging $2.99 to $3.50 per issue. Maintaining my regular pull of X-Men titles is a chunk of change; venturing into other titles (like the current Batman storyline) makes it worse. I’ve read the occasional comic book on my computer, and while it’s functional, I run into the same screen-size limitations as PDFs.
I have the Comixology app for the iPod Touch, and I love the ability to sample comics and compile a virtual pull list. I think they’ve done a decent job in rendering comics on the Touch by allowing you to advance the story panel by panel … but ultimately, it’s awkward, and it’s not how I’d want to spend a Saturday afternoon reading comic books.
A tablet would be perfect for comic books; it’s about the same size as a comic, minimizing the amount of pan-and-scan needed. There’s speculation that a comic book app is coming to the tablet, and I would happily replace ¾ of my monthly comic book pull with an electronic version (and then buy the graphic novel compilations of the stuff I really enjoyed).
Falling into the same boat as comic books are magazines. I’m down to three magazine subscriptions: Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Kobold Quarterly and Knights of the Dinner Table (which is a comp copy since I’m a staff writer). I want Kobold Quarterly and Knights of the Dinner Table in print format regardless, but I’d happily trade the print Analog for it’s digital counterpart. I read Reason’s web site regularly, and sample the story on Time and Newsweek but I can see going back to annual subscriptions (and reading them "cover to cover") if I had them in a digital format. The same goes for newspapers; I read the occasional news story, but paging through a web site isn’t the same as paging through a print newspaper. Having an easy-to-browse newspaper on a tablet (without the annoying unread piles of newsprint accumulating around the house) is appealing to me.
Books, Books, Books
You can have my paperback novels when you pry them from my cold dead hands … but I do see the appeal of ebooks, particularly when traveling and trying out new authors. There are some books that I will always want to have in print (the Harry Potter novels were a good example of this, as were Stephen King’s Dark Tower). Yes as much as I enjoyed reading the Lost Fleet series, I would have been content with reading those fast-read, space-opera style books in digital format.
Space in my house is also a prime consideration for RPGs, comic books, and ebooks, but especially for the last two. My bookshelves are overflowing and finding places to store my comic book long boxes is increasingly difficult. While I don’t want to eliminate any of these, I do have to admit that another 10 years of collecting print-only versions is going to make the problem far worse. An ebook reader, like the Kindle or Nook, would be a good way of getting my paperback fix, would be cheaper, and would take up less space. I’ve played with my mom’s B&N Nook, and while I liked it, the digital ink interface is primed for books, not RPG PDFs and comic books. That means it doesn't work for me ... but an iPad likely will.
"Hmmm ... Upgrades"
The rest of the iPad’s feature set is appealing but not essential. I spent a lot of time surfing and reading online, both for work and leisure, and while my MacBook Pro is perfectly functional in this regard, I’d love not to have to haul out my laptop or netbook every time I want to surf. I may be romanticizing the iPad too much, but the idea of having something that I can quickly pick up, read and put down again is very attractive. I use the iPod Touch this way, and I love it … but the small screen is not something I want to spend the night surfing on. I’m not clear about the iPad’s photo browsing capabilities, but if I can use it to organize my iPhoto library, that would be winner for me. I don’t intend to watch movies or TV on an iPad … but I said the same thing about an iPod.
My goal isn’t to convince you that the iPad is right for you … just that it’s right for me. You need to pick what works for you and your needs. I play games on my Xbox 360 because I got tired of having to keep my PC up to date with the latest drivers and software. I have a DS because I enjoy puzzle games, and the form factor works for me when traveling. But I still play Civilization IV on my Mac, because I love the depth and complexity of the full game, and a laptop or PC is the best way to take advantage of that.
It’s the same with an iPad. I don’t think it’s the best thing since Moses came down off the mountain, but I can see it solves particular problems that have been frustrating me for years. Now I just need to save up enough money to buy one…