16 April 2010

Random Thoughts on the iPad

I find it is easier to justify ridiculous purchases when it's close to my birthday. Not quite two weeks ago I got myself an iPad. Since I've had some time with the thing, I thought I'd make a few random comments, in no particular order or relatedness.

First, I don't travel in teen or even tween circles, so it has been some time since I got called names relating to my sexual orientation. Yet mentioning that I had got myself an iPad leaves some complete strangers with the urge to call me things — online, at least, where being a flaming jerk is some sign of conviction. It's very odd. There's a lot of bruhaha about restrictions on the iPod, but I don't really have anything to add to it. Howard Stearns had more interesting things to say about the matter already, and better than I could. Besides, I've lived all my professional life neck-deep in the Unix and free software world and I've always managed to live happily in mixed environments — open tools on closed OSes, open OSes running closed tools — whatever can be made to work reliably without going over-cost is fine by me. If I really want to program an iPad directly, I can always fire up jsforth.

I personally cannot stand laptops — this is a quirk, I realize. They're too big to be really convenient, and too small to be comfortable to use for very long. That the iPad doesn't try to be a laptop is actually a plus for me. I've had an iPod Touch for quite a while, and while one can visit web pages, read documents, compose email or post to web forums from it, it's really not very nice. On the iPad, this is all much more pleasant. The device was made for casual browsing at a coffee shop, and I've adjusted to the freaky keyboard fairly quickly.

I've been waiting for something like an iPad running something like the GoodReader app for more than 15 years. While I may be a professional computer geek by day, when not at work I turn into the Dilettante Philologist. I do use some of my computer skills for my dead language work of course, but my computing needs are very different when I'm on the Philologist setting. I've transferred a large stash of journal articles, old books, Helmut van Thiel's magnificent editions of the D scholia on the Iliad and Odyssey, PDFs of my own notes on Greek work to the iPad. Now when I'm waiting at the dentist's office I can once again try to comprehend Matic 's paper, Topic, focus, and discourse structure: Ancient Greek Word Order; or Dale's classic three papers on the metrical units of Greek lyric verse. The iPad may be a bit heavy for a mobile device, but it weighs considerably less than the print edition of the unabridged LSJ, which I have at my fingertips in the Lexiphanes application. I can only hope someone will write an application to interact with the Perseus corpus.

On a whim, I downloaded Charlie Stross' Iron Sunrise into the iBook application. I'm about three-quarters through the book. I'm a big lover of the traditional book format even for casual reading, but I have to say reading on the iPad has been very comfortable. The amusement value the over-wrought page-turning animation passed quickly enough, and I can read for hours at a stretch without the thing distracting me from the novel. The only small complaint I have is about some of the typesetting. For chapter and major section starts Iron Sunrise was probably typeset with a few words in small caps, but that font didn't make the transition to the iBooks app. The first three words are in slightly large all lowercase. More careful editing would fix this.

All said, I love this device, mostly because I know I can travel a lot lighter in the future (I used to have to be content with the Middle Liddell, heavy enough in carry-on). For me, the iPad is mostly a way to interact with text — lots and lots of text. Thanks to some development time with the iPad Touch and the iPhone, the iPad is awfully good at that. It'll be interesting to see what the next five years bring to the entire industry around devices like this.

1 comment:

Helma said...

I thought I would send an update your way now that Logeion (including LSJ, Autenrieth, et al.) has been released for iOS. Attikos works with it; if you tap Logeion, it will switch apps.