Random observations about the iPad now that I’ve actually used one

Tonight I visited the Apple Store at Mall of America (and, while I was at it, the Best Buy at Mall of America), and here are some things I observed or thought about during the experience:

I expected the Apple Store to have maybe 3 or 4 iPads on display. In fact there were at least a 16, and there were still crowds gathered around them waiting for a turn. The Best Buy had 3 of them, and a proportionately smaller crowd of waiters.

It’s simultaneously smaller and bigger than I expected. The physical form is maybe 80% of the size I envisioned, but the screen seems bigger, and the bezel is less… erm… excessive than it seems in photos.

The screen is just… wow. It’s a thing of beauty. Even though the ppi is lower than on the iPhone, it seems higher. The extra screen real estate makes an incredible difference. I played a round of my favorite iPhone game, Plants vs. Zombies, and was totally amazed at the difference visually.

This is how a touchscreen interface should be. The iPhone was just a warm-up.

When I first lifted it, I was surprised at how light it was, but before long it started to feel heavy. If I were to use one regularly, I’d definitely want to prop it up in some way.

iPhone apps look surprisingly good in double resolution. They’re intelligently anti-aliased in a way that reminds me of the DVD “upconvert” process on a Blu-Ray player.

Both the Apple Store and Best Buy had the demo units displayed on clear, angled, cylindrical acrylic blocks with a white rubberized ring on top. It put the iPad at a perfect angle for viewing at demo stations, and the rubber kept it in place while still allowing it to be lifted easily. They should sell these.

Apple might be singlehandedly responsible for another H1N1 outbreak. Just think about how many hands are touching these things. They should’ve had Purell dispensers at the front door.

This feels like a new beginning. Sure, the iPad has flaws. But this is the first of something new, and I think it’s an order of magnitude bigger than either the iPod or iPhone. (And not just in terms of the physical dimensions.)

I know it’s too early for me to get one — I want a camera, or at the very least 3G (the latter of which is actually coming, in a few weeks). I also don’t want to pay $829 for a 64 GB, 3G model. But I know by now that eventually… eventually… I will own (or have owned) multiple iPads. I can see buying the $499 entry-level model now, and then buying a higher-end model in a year or two, when the features I want are available at a better price, and keeping the old one around the house too. I bought an original iPhone 9 months after it came out, which I passed on to SLP a little over a year later when I upgraded to a 3GS. I can see the iPad following a similar path — but one slightly less painful, since I paid $200 more for the original iPhone than for the 3GS, and I don’t see the iPad following the same rapid price reduction path.

I cannot put into words just how much it pains me that I walked out of Best Buy, not with an iPad under my arm, but with DVDs of High School Musical 3: Senior Year and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel along with two reams of printer paper. These are the sacrifices we make as parents. (Granted, if I were really being a good parent I’d refuse to let them watch this tripe — the Chipmunks movie, anyway; I have to admit I actually kind of like the HSM trilogy — but… well, OK, I won’t try to justify it.)

More to come…

On the day of Windows 7’s release, Apple reminds me why I’m a loyal customer

Apple Store Mall of AmericaI had a simple objective when I set out for the Mall of America at 9:00 this morning. I was going to go to Best Buy to purchase the Windows 7 Home Premium Upgrade along with the new Porcupine Tree CD. Yes, I am a frequent Microsoft basher, but I will admit I do harbor genuine enthusiasm for Windows 7. I think Vista was a joke, but after having tried out Windows 7 RC for the past several months, I was convinced it was (finally) a solid replacement for the ancient Windows XP.

Now, it’s true that the stores at Mall of America officially open at 10 AM, but I’ve learned from previous big product launches earlier this year — Apple’s Snow Leopard release and the Beatles boxed set/Beatles Rock Band extravaganza on 9/9/09 — that when there’s a hot new product out, the stores will often open early. At least half of my interest in heading out to buy Windows 7 this morning was to see whether there would be an enthusiastic crowd queued up outside Best Buy, or milling around inside Best Buy. Would there be huge Windows 7 banners? Would there be a live video feed of Steve Ballmer on all of the HDTVs?

As it turned out, no. Best Buy was still closed, and no one was visibly waiting for it to open. So I figured that as long as I had (probably) an hour, I’d head to Starbucks — which had to be open for all of those mall walkers who were already out in force — and then stop by the Apple Store, to deal with… my problem.

Yes, as I described in excruciating detail, and with photographic evidence, a couple weeks ago, I had a problem with my MacBook: the Mini DisplayPort adapter was… well… jacked up. I had broken the cardinal rule of not using undue pressure to jam a plug into a jack. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it. Well, I had forced it. And pretty seriously screwed up the adapter plug in the process.

So, as I said, this morning when I found Best Buy deserted, I headed down to the Apple Store. I didn’t have a Genius Bar appointment, but I decided to take my chances. When I entered, I was asked if I had an appointment. I said no, and described my situation. I was told the Genius Bar was booked up until 2:30, but they’d put me on standby, and I should have a seat at the bar. So I did. About 15 minutes later, a “genius” came over to attend to me. I explained the situation, he tried the port himself, and determined that the pin that is supposed to hold the plug in place was bent up. (For some reason, that possibility had not occurred to me — I was convinced all along that the pin was too big.)

He took my MacBook in the back room for a minute to use “dental tools” to straighten the pin, then brought it back out and tried some new adapters in the port — and they worked perfectly. Problem solved. But… there was still the matter of my damaged Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter, which I hadn’t brought with me. No worries, he grabbed a new one off the shelf and gave it to me as a replacement (a $29 value); no need to return the old damaged one. I walked out of the Apple Store 20 minutes after I arrived, with a fixed MacBook and a new replacement adapter. And how much did all of this cost me? Nothing.

Make dubious arguments about Apple’s high prices all you want (though the fact remains that Apple simply isn’t trying to compete in the low end of the market, and other PC manufacturers’ mid-range and high-end computers, comparable in specs to Apple’s, usually cost the same or slightly more), but I challenge you to walk into any other computer store in the land and get that kind of customer service. I didn’t have to buy an extended warranty or a bogus service plan or any other B.S. All I had to do was buy an Apple product in the first place… lifetime Genius Bar support included at no extra charge.

I wonder how the new Microsoft retail store (opening today in Scottsdale, AZ) compares.

My new workstation set-up

Working mostly from home (save for the occasional coffeehouse “office” day) for the last year and a half as a freelancer, my workstation set-up has been a slowly evolving arrangement. First I was in a bedroom on the main floor; now I’m in a dormer upstairs. I’ve been working exclusively with my MacBook for most of that time, but with increasing frequency I’ve had to work on large-layout web pages for clients with no access to a screen larger than 1280×800. Yesterday I finally decided it was time to make a change. I wasn’t up for the $899 outlay for a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display, so after a little (OK, very little) research, I settled on an LG 20-inch LCD that supports 1600×900 resolution, for $159 at Best Buy.

I quickly found that using the keyboard on my MacBook while looking at the LG display was not a satisfactory arrangement, so I also added an Apple Bluetooth wireless mouse. I also found that my desk surface was too low for the new monitor, so I solved that problem with a $6.99 wall shelf from IKEA. That shelf also works well for elevating my computer speakers — a change that makes a surprising difference to the sound. While I was at IKEA I also picked up a solar powered LED desk lamp. Anything to help reduce the number of cords on my desk.

The only problem I’ve encountered so far is the Mini DisplayPort jack on my MacBook. There’s… something… wrong with it. Not sure what, but the Mini DisplayPort adapter doesn’t fit properly. In fact, it requires a tremendous amount of force to insert the plug into the jack. So much so, that I was convinced at first that it was the wrong adapter. But it’s not. It works. But I’ve confirmed that forcing the plug into the jack has actually damaged the plug. But it still works, so for now I’m living with it.

Overall, I’m happy with the arrangement, even if some of the details (the intense brightness of the LCD display, the need to put the solar cell in the window to charge it during the day, along with a few other quirks) are imperfect. But my improved posture itself is enough to justify the effort.

And now, a crappy picture:

New workstation set-up

Added bonus: I hadn’t even thought about the awesomeness of dual displays when I set out to get the LCD. Also, it’s nice to put my Mighty Mouse to use again after it’s been sitting in the desk drawer for months. But the biggest unexpected change — I figured out that the vintage optometrist’s chair I use (along with the vintage optometrist’s desk you see in the picture) actually can be raised… so I cranked it all the way up.

Seriously, UPS… you had to TRY to do that much damage, right?

The other day I ordered a RAM upgrade for my new MacBook. I had contemplated buying it at Best Buy, but I balked at their price of $199. I went down to the Apple Store (no Internet on the Macs on display at Best Buy, and apparently they have the store wrapped in RF shielding, as I wasn’t even able to get a signal on my iPhone there, either), not expecting them to sell RAM upgrades, but at least knowing I could spend a few seconds on a display MacBook checking RAM prices at Ramjet. $69. So I ordered it as soon as I got home.

The package arrived today. Or at least what was left of it. Fortunately the RAM appears to be intact, no thanks to the best efforts of UPS to destroy it. The question of whether such a tiny product really needed to be shipped in such a huge box is another matter, but at least the RAM was shrouded in bubble wrap.

Here’s what I found at the front door:


And here’s the prize inside:


More photos after the jump…

And now I’m going to shut down my computer and install this RAM!

Google, you’ve failed me

Over the past few years, I’ve come to assume that any piece of information in the known universe is only a few keystrokes away, thanks to the wonders of Google.

So today, while wondering when the new Best Buy store at the Mall of America is opening, I naturally turned to Google, expecting an immediate answer.

For those of you now firing up Google in another browser tab, I’ll save you the trouble: try any combination of keywords you like, but you’re just not going to find this information.

Everything that came up for me is speculation from last summer, along the lines of “Best Buy to move into Mall of America?” Well no crap. I’ve seen the old Sports Authority storefront closed up with huge “Best Buy coming soon” signs all over it. It’s a done deal, and it’s probably just a matter of days or weeks before they open. The Best Buy logo was filled in a panel at a time, like puzzle pieces, but it’s all there now so it can’t be much longer. Not that I’ll ever know, thanks to Google.

Update (a few minutes later): Finally I gave up on the Best Buy-centric approach and just googled "Mall of America" "new stores" and found this page stating vaguely that the store will be opening in “late summer or early fall.” Boo.