There and Back Again: Returning to iPad’s Cold Embrace

It’s hard to explain. At the beginning of the year, I was pretty sure that the way I consumed content and worked pointed pretty strongly toward a tablet smaller and lighter than a traditional iPad. I had also determined that an iPad mini would not suffice because of its screen, which looks atrocious compared to a Retina display. I would have to explore, then, the world of Android. I bought a Nexus 7, and as my many blog posts on the device will tell you, I was very happy with it.

But over the months, the limitations of the Android platform made themselves more and more apparent. The overall user interface, while miles ahead of where it had been years ago, was still not as fluid as iOS. Though things had simplified a great deal on Android, it was still too noisy and almost demanding of heavy tweaking. Most importantly, the app selection remains woeful. Yes, many, if not most, of the major apps and services are there, but they are almost universally inferior to their iOS counterparts, with many not even designed for use on a tablet versus a phone.

And this was the just the problem with Android. I began to find the size of the device itself limiting. Though I used the Nexus primarily for leisure, the small screen meant that using the device for work purposes would be difficult, if not out of the question — a fact that weighed more heavily on me as my job would be sending me to various conferences over the next few months at which my tablet would get quite a workout.

And I missed that Retina display. I began to envy my wife’s iPad 3, even as I had once considered it unwieldy.

So I plotted. I won’t go into the details, but I managed to get my hands on an iPad mini for a couple of weeks just to make sure I wasn’t crazy for dismissing it. After all, it’s currently the darling product of the tech press, most of whom seem to swear that it’s the superior device to its larger, higher-res sibling. And yes, while I can attest that its size, weight, and build quality are all exquisitely good, I just don’t agree with the reviewers and reporters: the screen is a deal-breaker. Not just in terms of resolution (which really did make my eyeballs hurt during extended reading), but yes, also in terms of size. The full-size iPad gives apps room to breathe, room for one’s fingers to work, room to fully drink in images and video…room to work. (Which is actually something I’ve argued against before. Awkward!)

So through various commercial machinations involving selling and exchanging things on Amazon,eBay, and Craigslist, I was able to get back to a Retina iPad. And I’m thrilled that I did.

So why did I feel this need to wander in the first place? Well, the biggest reason was size and weight. Due to repetitive stress injuries and damage taken during a violent assault, my wrists and hands are not the strong and nimble appendages they once were during the height of my guitar playing days. The iPad felt too heavy during extended use (and if I can help it, my iPad always gets extended use). And on a different subject, I was also becoming more and more curious and fascinated by what Google was doing with its OS and its devices. The thrill of the new, etc.

And the Nexus 7 really is a great device, particularly for the money, and even now that I am fully confirmed in my iOS partisanship, I’d be hard pressed to recommend an iPad mini over the Nexus to someone who wanted a simple reading-and-dicking-around device. (Here’s how I’d probably advise someone: get a Nexus now, and save the extra $130 for a future upgrade on either platform.) And truly, Google Now and recent advances in Google’s core services make the Android platform more and more compelling all the time.

But now that I’m back on the full-size iPad, I’m back in business, as it were. I’m writing this on my iPad right now, so I’m blogging more from the device (and doing so from the Nexus was an unpleasant chore). I’m playing with more music in Garageband. I’m drawing more with Paper. I’m reading more because the high-resolution screen is so much more inviting, particularly with text. And I’m able to do more for work even when away from the computer, because the device gives me the space and functionality to do it.

And I’m accepting the weight as a given. It’s the one big compromise for me, but it’s worth it, and I try to hold it less with my hands, and prop it up somewhere more often. I make do.

The one big thing I’ll miss is swipe-style typing. I’d installed the Swype keyboard on the Nexus, and it was a revelation. It made typing on a smaller keyboard a breeze, and it was the only thing that made blogging from the Nexus bearable. I’m hoping that Tim Cook’s recent hints that the iOS APIs will open up somewhat means that this kind of thing will come to iPhone and iPad in a hurry.

It was kind of odd to realize that, as much as the rest of the industry has caught up in terms of tablets and mobile operating systems, Apple is still clearly superior. There are lots of high points to the other products, many of which outdo Apple, but the overall experience of using one of these devices still hands Apple a definitive win. (Kindle Fires are cheap but slow and clunky, Samsung tablets feel like Fisher-Price toys, Windows Surface is a mess, etc., etc.)

And I believe The Steve (peace be upon him) is not unhappy with me, as he surveys the Universe from his White Heaven of Perfect Industrial Design. I believe he appreciates one that has wandered through the wilderness, wandering to find answers, to understand different ways of thinking, only to come back wiser, to come back home.

Or not. But whatever. I’m going to go play Dots.

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