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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Why I want an Apple iPad

by Ken Newquist / January 27, 2010

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
  • Ebooks

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…

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Really, he just wants one so he can add it to our growing museum of Mac antiquities. When we're old and grey and scraping by on nonexistent social security, we'll charge admission for people to see Mac stuff from "back in my day."

Hey, you wanted a solution for my ever-growing comic collection ... this is a potential solution. :) And yes, a worthy addition to the Apple museum...

For some of the reasons you outlined, plus the fact that I've got many ideas of programs I'd like to create for the device (most RPG related). I've never been a fan of the netbook form-factor, but I have seen several use cases in my life where something between my iPod touch and my MacBookPro would be truly useful. What I've seen thus far of the iPad fits this space in many ways.

Especially enticing is the $15/mo data connection, as I am rarely near an open wifi network, and crave the constant connection (wired connection at work is severely limited, and when going around I rarely seem to end up somewhere w/open wireless).


I'm the opposite: my home and work are terrible for cell signals, but I always have wi-fi accessible.

I agree that it's got some great RPG potential; I've got some thoughts on that that I'm hoping to post later. I'd much rather have a bunch of tablets (be it iPad or HP's Slate) at the gaming table than laptops, which take up far more space. I also love the idea that I could load up photos of certain key elements for the game (e.g. here's orbital shot of the world you're approaching, here's what this alien looks like) and then pass the tablet around the table to show them off. It's something I do in the game room with my 24" monitor, but it's not graceful, and people have a hard time seeing it.

This is less of an issue with fantasy RPGs, but with Star Wars I have access to a huge amount of multimedia resources, and the iPad would be a great fit with them.

I can see your point, and I would be lovely to have one of these for ebooks and comics. For my part, I simply cannot get around how Apple feels the need to control what I can install on it. Admittedly, the possiblities of HTML5 might make the need to install any gaming software at all could all be developed in thew browser. But still, it's a philosophical point that sticks in my craw.

Also...$499 for 16G seems steep to me. Maybe I'd feel different if I held one and worked with it, but right now, that's not something I have the Spousal Permission Units to purchase.

FWIW, I posted my own thoughts here:

The locked down nature of the device doesn't bother me. I like open platforms, particularly for my web projects. My laptop must allow me to tinker, tweak and hack, or its useless to me.

But a tablet? I view that more as a focused device, and one that I want to work well and consistently. I approach video games from the same perspective -- I used to be a PC gamer, but got frustrated with the endless tinkering, upgrading and/or troubleshooting needed to get games to run ... only to have to do it all over again to get my friend's computer to run.

The 360 is locked down, but it works for my purposes. Aside from the Red Ring of Death (which was a major problem), the system gets me gaming, either alone or with friends, in a fraction of the time that it would take with PC gaming. Hell, just look at the issues we've had with voice chat with the Old Fartz; I rarely have those kinds of problems on the 360.

Now I did have firewall issues to troubleshoot (though those were related to my router, not the Xbox) but even with those and the Red Rings factored in, my gaming uptime has been far better since I switched.

With a tablet, I want to do some very specific things, things that it looks like it will accomplish out of the box (with the exception of comic books ... but I'm hoping that will be available by the time I can get one) and I want it to work.

I could wait for an HP Slate, and then run Windows 7 or some flavor of Ubuntu on it. I'd have far more freedom in terms of apps I want to run, but ultimately, I don't really need that freedom. What I need is a tablet that can consistently and easily display PDFs, ebooks, and (hopefully) comic books. If the iPad can do that, then I'm on board.

I realize this is an exceedingly pragmatic approach but it works for me. :)

Going forward, I think the iTab will ultimately drive the sort of devices you'd like to see -- namely open, hackable tablets. If successful, it will inspire imitators and challengers, just like the iPhone did. Maybe a year from now we'll be comparing and contrasting the HP Slate running Win7 to the Google WebBook running a tablet version of Android. I'd welcome that development. I might even get one ... if the usability is as good as the iPad.

Regarding storage on the iPad, I agree -- I'd like the base model to have more than 15 GB of storage. Having said that though, my RPG PDF library currently stands at 1.2 GB, which means I'd have plenty of space left over for a few movies and songs.