My Excellent iPad Adventure
As an author and writing teacher living in tech-savvy Seattle, I keep up with technology in self-defense. When several friends and students announced they were braving the lines to buy the first iPads available to the public, I calmly declined, “I’ve already pre-ordered my 3G iPad,” I said. “Besides, I don’t like crowds.”
It’s true, I’m a compensating introvert, like many writers who find themselves suddenly whisked away from our contemplative desks to book tour. I’m 8 weeks into a book tour now for my new memoir I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapure here on Earth. While I’ve enjoyed traveling and receiving both warm reviews and welcoming readers, I was happy to be briefly hiding out at home. The idea of shivering in a fierce spring storm outside the Apple store awaiting a SuperBowl for Geeks, held little allure.
So, how did I find myself with hundreds of other zealous iPad techies at 9 a.m. on April 3rd, staking my claim to the Great New Gadget? I had a dream. I’m a PC and a Mac and my iPhone is part of my brain. But I’ve never dreamed about computers until dawn April 3rd. Perhaps it was the Jungian collective unconscious or the World Wide Web abuzz with iPad glory.
In my dream I saw my elderly parents sitting in their matching astronaut-like Lazy Boy chairs, each happily using their new iPads. My mother, a techno-phobe, was emailing her wide circle of friends and us kids — at last.She was also playing Scrabble, her favorite game. On her iBook shelves were her spy thrillers and historical novels. My father was no longer buried alive in newspapers and scientific magazines; he was following his environmental bent and saving all that paper and landfills by scrolling through his subscriptions on his iPad. And in the evenings, when they were not attending their local Apple store for free classes, my folks were each watching their own film with headphones.
It was a vision not to be ignored. I bolted from bed, fed the cats, grabbed hot tea and oatmeal and showed up at the mall right when it opened. The vast temple of consumerism was shockingly empty. It looked like an abandoned back lot for a horror or sci-fi movie with just a few Pod People wandering around like aliens landed.
Maybe I was the first to arrive? Maybe the iPad was a big bust?
Outside the Apple Store there were more employees than buyers. I counted ten people milling around, treated like royalty by Apple employees in bright blue t-shirts emblazoned with “iPad.”
“I’m here to buy an iPad for my folks,” I told a welcoming employee.
“Great idea!” her enthusiasm woke me up. And since I don’t drink caffeine, it was a nice jump start. “Do you have a reservation?”
“Ah, no . . . “
“Follow me,” she said and led me around the corner of the mall where a hundred-strong crowd of iPad addicts awaited their fix.
Actually, the Reserved line didn’t look like addicts. They were well-dressed -- for Seattle -- self-assured, and seemed annoyingly competent. After all, they had made up their minds and with admirable efficiency planned ahead. I was surprised to note that this line had fewer young people, many silver-haired foxes, both female and male, and buyers who were nobody’s fool. As they stood in line, many did their business on their iPhones even though it was a weekend.
Are there really weekends anymore, now that we’re all wired?
“Here you go,” the Apple employee took me to the Unreserved line, which was much bigger, a motley mob – many more young people, parents with kids, students, and folks like me. They might as well have put a sign up:
Undecided, Ditherers, Procrastinators, Unorganized
When I mentioned this to a couple standing in line next to me, they laughed and said, “Maybe we’re just more discerning or want to make up our own minds.”
“Yeah,” I said, “we’re independents.”
“Swing votes,” the man agreed. “If anybody is going to win they have to convince us.”
I saw myself in a brighter light. I was in a more sophisticated and sought-after crowd. A rebel without a cause. The helpful Apple employees certainly welcomed us. During the wait, they passed out water, orange juice, and Mrs. Field’s cookies. If airport security lines were this courteous, flying would be fun again.
The family in front of me were there to buy two iPads: one for their high school son for his good grades and the other for the parents, one of whom was a nurse and wanted to use her iPad on her long night shifts. During the three hour wait, I struck up a conversation with a couple, Tim and Bonnie McCannon. Tim is a software designer of circuit boards and his wife works in import-export.
We chatted about all the rapturous iPad reviews, from the New York Times to Wall Street Journal to Steve Job’s own “magical and revolutionary.” Like me, the McCannon’s use PCs and Macs, along with iPhones.
“Think of all the trees this will save,” Tim said. “I always think about the environmental impact of any technology.”
I had read Apple’s tech specs for the environmental impact: the iPad was arsenic, mercury, and PVC-free; its aluminum and glass were recyclable.
“You know," Bonnie added, "I visited a landfill once and realized you cannot recycle those glossy magazine pages. Now, they’re online only. “
It was Tim who coined the iPad description that stays the most in my mind. “It’s a solution in search of a problem,” he said.
After three hours of waiting we had advanced to the head of the line and my back was so sore I was doing yoga on the cold mall floor. Bonnie tried to bolster me by showing me her family and pet photos on her iPhone.
And then, it was my turn! They had not run out of stock as we feared. I held in my hand my own – or, my parents – iPad. The Apple trainer helped me download iTunes, surf Safari, and watch a family video on YouTube. But it was iBooks that I was most interested in downloading.
My new book is already on Kindle, so we downloaded a Kindle app for Mac.
“Why don’t you check the iBook store to see if your book is there?” the Apple trainer asked.
“Oh, probably not yet,” I said.
But suddenly there my book was on the iBook shelf, as a sample that I could promptly buy. My forefinger was trembling as I turned the virtual pages of my own book and saw how easily the screen responded to page turns, bookmarks, table of contents, and the rich turquoise and green colors of the cover.
At last I realized that there was another reason I’d gone through all of this to get one of the first iPads.
I wanted to come out and Play!
Apple has always appealed to my sense of pleasure and play, not just work; of elegance, not just efficiency; of design, not just function. Didn’t Steve Jobs start out as a calligrapher? There is a flow to Apple’s creations.
As my fingers touched and scrolled and flipped pages, I remembered how my father, an engineer, assesses any man-made structure, from bridge to building.
“It must have the twin virtues of utility and beauty,” he always says.
Add to that, pure play and the pleasure principle.
And now that I’ve had a day or two to play with my parents’ iPad before my brother presents it to them for Mother and Father’s Day, I am even more impressed with its sophistication and playfulness. I know it doesn’t yet run Adobe Flash. Note to Steve Jobs: Get over your feud with Adobe and please give us Flash files.
My wish list also includes: WORD for iPad, which I hear is coming free in June via the web. Sorry, but the Pages app available now, while being a beautiful product, is still not the standard for publishers and they can’t seem to even open my Pages files saved as Microsoft WORD. And could iBooks also offer authors an Author’s Page, reviews, and other interactive options like Amazon.com already does? Also, please give us more search engine options than Safari. I’ll leave it to the techies to help advance the iPad conversation as to what it still needs to be the perfect mobile companion.
For me, for now, I am happily borrowing and demonstrating my parents’ iPad before I receive my own 3G. But next time, I will stay home and let Apple ship it to me. I won’t miss the crowds. Besides, I’m already on Facebook with a few people I met in the No Reservations line, like the McCannons.
In fact, I just wrote Tim to say, “A solution in search of a problem?” For me, the solution is iPad and the problem is, “I’ve been too serious about my computers and fun-deprived for way too long!”~