On Friday, the magical and revolutionary iPad was finally released internationally, arriving "down under" at 8 AM. Like a couple hundred others, I stood in line outside the Apple Store to buy one.
Given my previous thoughts and commentary on the device, such an announcement may seem surprising. And yes, I went into the purchase unsure as to whether or not I would be keeping it or returning it in a few days, thinking it would be simply something shiny that I'd get tired of in a short amount of time. I have had a fascination with it, even though it's running a stifled operating system and even though I give Apple enough of my money already, but try as I did to stop wanting the stupid thing I couldn't let the idea go.
Ever since the Eee was first announced years ago, I have had a yearning for slim, lightweight computers that I could take with me without a lot of struggle. My systems of choice have always been a variety of laptops, but usually they've been massive and bulky desktop replacements with no battery life that did serious damage to my back. When I got my first Eee, I had a respectable amount of computational power in a device that was the size of a paperback novel; even though I eventually sold it, I really loved the machine and simply wished someone could come up with something that has decent horsepower and a higher resolution screen.
I can pinpoint my iPad interest (which until then had been something I didn't at all want) after seeing a video of someone pairing a bluetooth mouse up to a jailbroken device. You can already attach bluetooth keyboards to the iPad by design, but it doesn't support mice. Watching this video, I had a realisation of using one of the slates at my desk, then simply grabbing it and taking it with me when I wasn't at home. It was what I wish the Eee had been, a fantastic mobile experience in a slim and tiny form factor.
So I stood in line for mine, walking out of the store two hours later with a 64 gig 3G model. Probably the first thing I did was jailbreak it; I gave up doing this on my iPhone, since I only ever used two things on it from Cydia: stuff for cosmetic changes (new icons, better fonts, etc) and the device unlock so I could use my US-based iPhone in Australia. When I bought the 3GS iPhone here in Australia I didn't need the device unlock, and the cosmetic upgrades weren't enough to me to justify the arduous process of jailbreaking the phone every time Apple tried to break it.
That said, the iPad is significantly more useful to me jailbroken. As it's much more of a computer than the iPhone was intended to be, I have expectations from it that aren't going to be met within Apple's walled garden. Since jailbreaking it, I have enabled true multitasking– something that won't even be an option with the iPhone 4.0 update later this year. Finally, I can run a chat program or IRC chartroom in the background while I browse websites in Safari. Apple didn't permit this officially because of concerns that battery life would take a hit, which it does, but I also feel like if I want to run simultaneous programs I should be able to do that while knowing how it will affect performance and battery.
Speaking of battery, even with the third party adjustments I've made to the device after the fact, I continue to be stunned at how long it lasts. Apple says it gets 30 days of standby time, which I can totally believe; leaving it unplugged next to my bed while I was sleeping, I woke up eight hours later to see that battery was just down to 97% even with wifi, 3G, bluetooth and push notifications enabled.
In the end, I've been really happy with the purchase. I was unsure at first, pretty confident that I'd be taking it back after the new shiny smell wore off. Admittedly, I'm only happy with it because I jailbroke it; if I was leaving it the way it was out of the box, I'd probably not see enough of a point in this to keep it around. But with the ability to run other programs that allow it to do stuff Apple won't let me? Hell yes.
It's not a complete replacement for a full computer, but I don't really need it to be one now; if I just need to quickly get online or write an email (or a blog entry, like this one) it definitely beats pulling out my full 15" laptop. For light computing, this thing is perfectly sufficient. If I need anything more demanding, that's what my laptop or desktop are for.
So, from an enthusiast point of view, I do love this thing– but only because I hacked the OS open to run code I otherwise couldn't. If I hadn't jailbroken it, I doubt I'd be able to justify paying for it. For grandma who wants to play Bejeweled or watch cats on YouTube, it's fine as it is. But once you move past the obstructions Apple put in front of it, it's got the capacity to be a lot more. I don't know why Apple cuts its products' feet off the way it does, but I suppose that's their right. For me, I'll continue to break their rules as long as it lets me get the functionality that I want, not what they tell me I can have.