I got an iPad 3G recently. Yeah, I know what you must be thinking. ‘What a waste of money! What use is it in India? It’s just an expensive toy’. Well, perception is reality – especially for Apple products in India. The perception is not entirely uncalled for since its utility was not clear to most prior to launch. Coupled with reports of it not having a camera, USB ports etc., the perception is even stronger in India – which is a ‘pack all the features in’ kind of market when it comes to gadgets.
After playing with it for a few days, herewith some observations & experiences:
Startup & syncing:
Once the machine is plugged into iTunes, the syncing process is quite smooth. iTunes detected that I had an earlier firmware version and proceeded to upgrade (all 450MB of it!). I chose to sync my iPhone applications too – which I regretted later. While the iPhone applications work on the iPad, they show up in a small box on the screen and one has to expand them into a 2x mode to fill the screen. In the process, the apps pixelate and don’t look too good. The native iPad apps on the other hand are gorgeous, to say the least. Whatever expectations you may have of the visual experience, prepare to be blown away. The first iPad app I opened was the IMDB one and I almost acted like a Justin Bieber fan.
Once the basic setup was done, I checked out the App Store and bought some free & paid apps – magazines, newspapers, kid apps and some word games.
Designed to save space, the Micro SIM slot accommodates a 15 mm × 12 mm SIM card (as opposed to the standard 25mm x 15mm one). Since the iPad is not available in India officially, getting an existing 3G SIM card (only BSNL as of now) to fit into this slot is a tricky affair. One has to physically cut the SIM using a pair of scissors or knife – not for the faint hearted. There are some tutorials on the net which give you a step-by-step guide. I went ahead and chopped my BSNL 3G SIM and guess what, it worked – I surfed the net without a problem! After a few hours though, I got an error message while surfing ‘could not activate the cellular network’. When I tinkered with the SIM again, I got a ‘no SIM detected’ message. That was the end of my experiment with cutting & chopping a SIM. Some merchants offer a micro-SIM cutter now for anywhere between $30 & $50.
Browsing & email:
Nothing special to report here. I have Wifi at home and it was a visual delight to surf some of the iPad-optimized sites. I set up 3 mail accounts and everything worked without a problem.
One common question I have been asked is if I can do any ‘work’ on the iPad – meaning can I write presentations, use Excel etc. One has to buy $9.99 app – Keynote (Apple’s version of PowerPoint, part of the iWork suite) to write presentations. There are similar apps available for documents (Pages) and spreadsheets (Numbers). The magazine & newspapers are mostly free but charge (pretty steep – $5 for a single issue of TIME) for downloading magazines. Some like WIRED have offered a sample issue, free of cost. FT has an app too which allows download of the edition for offline reading. Readers Digest has a similar app. All of these apps are bandwidth hogs and recommended only of if you have a decent WiFi connection.
The apps that sock you in the gut are the visually stunning ones like Guardian Eye Witness. The drool worthy images leap out and come alive on the iPad screen.
The rest of the apps have that thing about them – almost all of them look good on the iPad. Check out this gallery:
Hell, even the Weather Channel app looks good:
Ditto for other apps like Wired, Newsweek, BBC News and Google Earth.
The Indian store of iBooks sucks. There aren’t many titles – so if you are keen to buy books, might as well use Amazon Kindle’s iPad app.
I am not much of a gamer and I prefer word games or trivia. The NatGeo GeoBee game is my favourite while my daughter (4 and a half years old) seems quite happy with the Drawing apps and books. In fact, that’s an aspect not many have talked about – the iPhone and iPad are so easy to use even toddlers become pros in using the gadget. My wife who usually hates such gadgets found the going easy with Scrabble and internet browsing.
So is it all good? No. Typing is a bit cumbersome and I am still getting used to typing on the iPad especially when sitting at a desk. Displaying the screen (to show a movie or presentation) is not easy without buying a stand or case that doubles up as a stand.
Some may find the lack of USB ports an issue. I don’t. If you want to move a document (say a .ppt file) you can’t do so directly. It only syncs with iTunes and copies stuff like music, podcasts, videos, contacts, calendars and apps. Documents received and accessed through email can be stored & viewed.
So overall, without a 3G option which allows you to access the net on the go, the utility of the iPad is majorly restricted in India. Even with an active 3G connection, it is a great device for consumption (and creation to an extent). It won’t be for everyone’s liking but then Apple is not known to please everyone. Hopefully the upcoming versions will have features found in iOS4 and some hardware bumps (a camera?). Until them it will be perceived to be an expensive toy in India. However, no amount of words will do justice to the actual (awesome) user experience. I for one don’t see it as poor value. But hey, what else do you expect from an Apple fan?