Apple iPad: Still some bugs and rough edges

You've read a lot of enthusiastic love letters to the Apple iPad in the past few days, from deliriously happy early adopters.

And I'm one of those happy buyers. So is my wife -- we bought two.

But it took some work to get the iPads configured properly, and some things still aren't working right.

So, rather than write yet another love letter to the iPad, I'll tell you some of the problems you might expect to encounter if you buy one.

First: You can't use it without syncing it to iTunes first. It's kind of a buzzkill to take your long-anticipated iPad out of its box, switch it on, get ready to play, and instead see an icon saying you need to connect to iTunes. Instead of getting right down to futuristic computing, you're going to be spending the next few minutes configuring things.

Did I say a few minutes? My first sync took more than an hour, while the iPad imported copies of all the data and settings that were on my iPhone. During that time, I chewed my nails down to my elbows.

Subsequent syncs also took a long time, more than a half-hour. At one point, I started a sync immediately after a sync ended, and even that second sync took 11 minutes--it should have taken just a few seconds, just long enough for the iPad and iMac to shake hands and realize there were no updates. Instead, the sync took forever, like two teen-age lovers who can't bear to end a phone call ("You hang up!" "No, you first!")

The slow sync problem went away by itself on my Sunday, my second day with the iPad. I'm still chasing down the cause of that bug. I think the problem might not be on the iPad; it might be on the Mac, specifically a problem with last week's Mac OS X 10.6.3 update and MobileMe. Still, I blame Apple for this -- they chose to release a major upgrade to Mac OS at the same time as the iPad, as well as an upgrade to iTunes. Of course people are going to have problems.

iPhone apps work on the iPad, although it takes some fussing for some. I had difficulty getting two of my favorite iPhone apps to work: Instapaper, an app for reading articles, and Boxcar, an app for receiving push notifications from Twitter, Facebook, and more.

My quick-fix for those two apps was to simply log out of them and long back in again. It seems that would be a good fix for any iPhone app that synchs over the cloud. However, that didn't work with PushGmail, which sends push Gmail alerts to the iPhone, I'm still trying to straighten that out.

iPhone apps on the iPad either appear in a little box, or doubled in size to fill the screen. I found the doubled apps were a little jaggy. They're still usable, but I'm looking forward to those apps getting native iPad equivalents.

The iPad doesn't always appear to charge when connected to some computers and USB hubs. The problem is that older computers, and USB hubs, often don't send enough power through the USB ports to charge the iPad, Macworld's Dan Frakes explains. The solution: Plug the iPad directly into the wall socket, or connect it to a newer computer's USB port. Or just leave it alone; the iPad will charge when it's asleep, even though when awake the display says, confusingly, "Not Charging." I got the "Not Charging" message when connecting the iPad to my USB hub, but not when connecting directly to my 2009 iMac.

I found several quirks in the Pages app for the iPad. The first quirk: It doesn't sync documents to the desktop; rather, it makes a local copy. This can create versioning problems if you work on a document on the iPad and then on the desktop, or vice-versa.

Soon after discovering that problem, I discovered the reason for it: The iPad app strips significant metadata from desktop word processing documents, including section breaks, bookmarks, comments, and repeating headers except for the first instance.

You may have heard about Gmail's slick new interface for the iPad. The new Gmail iPad interface hasn't arrived yet for Google Apps mail. I found both Google Apps mail and Google Reader to be a little bumpy on the iPad; still very usable, but not as nice as they could be, and probably will be in a few short months. Quick tip: If you want to scroll the app, rather than the browser window, scroll with two fingers.

And, of course, as is already well known, Flash doesn't work on the iPad's Mobile Safari. I flipped through my "to watch" folder in my Safari bookmarks, and found most of the videos didn't play. On the other hand, YouTube videos do play, even videos embedded into other Web pages.

The final problem with the iPad: It makes my iPhone look ridiculous. The iPhone looks like an iPad for dolls.

But I'm getting silly now. Like I said: My wife and I are very happy with our iPads, we're glad we bought them when we did. But I don't want to write yet another blog or article praising the iPad. You can already find a million of those. I just want to let you know about some problems you might encounter if you decide to buy one for yourself.

Found any problems on your new iPad? Let me know in the comments below, or email me at mitch@mitchwagner.com, or tweet about it with the hashtag #MitchiPad.

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