Friday, April 23, 2010

iPad Review (with people with disabilities in mind)

I've had my iPad for a week now & have to say, I'm loving it! I haven't gone nuts downloading a ton of apps, but I do have a variety that I think are worth mentioning. There are a few things I'd definitely like to see in the next generation of iPads and a few flaws, that Apple could probably address with software updates.

Overall, the functionality is pretty intuitive and I can do most things that anyone else could. There are a few multi-finger gestures that I can't do, but for the most part, I've been able to navigate quite well, using my stylus. Certain functions can be done in multiple ways, for example, you can enlarge or shrink pages by pinching and pulling at the corners or you can double tap. I have noticed that the iPad is very particular and is programed to sense tiny differences in movement, pressure and the duration of your finger or stylus is on the screen. Because it is so sensitive, it does seem to work more accurately and consistently with fingers, versus the stylus. There have been many times that I've been using it and I have to try to push the same area two or three times, before I get it just right. It can be annoying at times. I think the easiest solution would be, for Apple to design a capacitive stylus with a more precise tip. All of the capacitive styluses that I've come across (including the Pogo that I'm using) have a thick tip, about the circumference of a pencil eraser. If they could somehow narrow the tip to a point, it would make it easier to be accurate.

As far as accessibility to goes, I really think Apple should include some sort of override setting for the stylus. It would solve the problem of not being able to do multi-finger gestures and it would help the iPad to recognize the difference between stylus and fingers. I haven't tried the Voice option yet, but the ability to change font size and adjust the volume and brightness, in the settings menu is helpful. I'm very pleased that there aren't many external buttons. The only other "problem" I've come across in concerns of accessibility is that, some apps rely on movement and/or do not self adjust the orientation. In terms of being accessible, Apple should consider the fact that many people with disabilities cannot pick up, or move the iPadthemselves. I realize that there are only a small amount of iPad users with this unique problem, however, it is a concern to those of us dealing with paralysis and motor skill deficiencies. It's a minor issue that could most likely be easily resolved by giving users the option of shutting of kinetic features and/or individual apps could give users alternative means of controlling the device. 

The iPad technically, has no "correct" orientation, and is supposed to adjust itself based on the movement of the iPad itself. You can choose to lock the orientation if you wish, however some apps (mostly games) rely on kinetics, such as Nintendo Wii. In the game Sims3, for example, you need to shake the iPad as part of earning cooking skills. Since I can't shake, or handle my iPad, I'm destined for virtual cooking failure. It would be simple for creators to allow tapping as an alternative; just as lazy people have the choice to play their Wii from the couch. Kinetic gaming features are cool, but I don't see any justification for them being absolutely necessary. Many of the current apps already allow for customization, so I don't see why Apple couldn't make the kinetic features optional.

A lot of the iPad apps are iPhone apps that Apple has tweaked for use with the iPad. The one glitch I've encountered in several apps, is that they are only setup to work in the "portrait" position. This means, you're forced to use the iPad vertically, and depending on how you have to position the iPadin order to use it, vertical might not be the most convenient orientation. I for one, use my iPad in the horizontal orientation, because the height is shorter than the width, thus making it easier for me to reach/touch the entire surface.The current apps that only work vertically, could easily provide updates to rectify the issue. Some of the TV sites like, ABC, TLC and Discovery Channel do not (yet) automatically self adjust, or the home page is vertical, while the videos can be watched in either portrait or landscape. I'm hoping more apps will update the iPad apps to work in both orientations. I find it ironic that there are (at times) unnecessary kinetic features embedded into games and yet, apps that should respond to movement, to auto-correct the orientation of the iPad don't always work. 

My only other complaint is the inability to view or use anything to do with Flash. I think this is a big mistake, as tons of very popular websites use Flash and aren't accessible on the iPad. No Flash means only having a limited access to the web; which stinks. I'll be using my iPad primarily from home, so I rely on my existing wireless network for internet access. However, I'd be ticked off if I was one of the thousands of people that are paying extra for 3G (access on the go) service. I can't see paying full price for internet services, if you don't have full access. Some of my favorite sites rely on Flash, like HULU and Facebook games (like Zynga and Slide games). You can also forget about playing huge multi-player games, like World ofWarcraft and Maple Story. I can't even access the social section of my own website, because it uses Flash. If I really want/need to access Flash websites, I can switch off to my laptop. Apple would like you to think that the iPad is a smaller, more convenient version of a laptop PC, but that isn't true. The iPad has the potential to replace traditional laptops in the future, but currently, there are too many missing capabilities to make the switch from a PC to iPad alone. Right now, iPad's capabilities are stuck in between the versatility of a PC and the limitations of specialized mobile gadgets, like e-books. That said, the things the iPad CAN do are pretty sweet!

Two of the best features of the iPad are it's compact size (smaller than the average magazine) and its full touchscreen. The iPad is definitely easier to lug around than a laptop, and easier to read, and operate than smart phones. My dad is always complaining about the ever shrinking size of electronic gadgets; he says, "they're designed for Leprechauns." I know myself, that trying to use my cell phone or other electronic devices are difficult to use, because of my limited mobility. I no longer have the dexterity or fine motor skills required to push buttons that are a quarter inch in size. I'm sure many people with disabilities, and the elderly, find it frustrating, not being able to read or accurately press buttons. The iPad is great, because it allows for customization. You can increase the size and type of font of text and easily zoom the screen in and out, which makes for much easier reading. The lack of buttons is also a plus. The touch screen is far easier to operate than pushing keys or having to scroll and select things with a mouse. If I want to type on a PC, using Microsoft's on-screen keyboard, I have to use mouse to select and press each key. The process is so tedious that it's not worth it for me to use. My iPad's on-screen keyboard is huge and I touch each key directly, as if I were using a traditional keyboard. Being able to type laying down gives me more time in the day to write, answer emails and surf the web. Before I owned the iPad, I was limited to only typing if I was sitting and only being able to use the mouse, if I were laying down. Now, I have more options to how I spend my day, because I have extra time to write. 

The other great features of the iPad are: e-reader, social networking, productivity, gaming, music, videos and creativity. Even though there are limitations to surfing the web, it's great to be able to check e-mails and keep up with social networking sites, like Twitter and Facebook. The e-reader feature is awesome, and has all the best qualities of the top three competitors. iPad gives users the freedom to download and purchase books from a variety of sources, so you can shop around for deals and freebies. The fact that it has a full color touchscreen, makes it feel more like you're reading an actual book or magazine. The advantage is, you can store thousands of books into it's small size, customize the font and look up words, with it's built in dictionary and search features. Not to mention, for someone like me, that has to turn pages with a stick and has an elaborate set-up (tables and book stands), every time I want to read, the e-books are a godsent. My iPad has taken out all the stress that comes along with reading and made me more motivated to want to read. 

If you get tired of reading, there are tons of fun games, which are all operated by touch, similar to the Nintendo DS. You can also save space withiTunes, since you can store tons of your CDs and movies. It's pretty amazing how much stuff you can carry around in such a small device. There's also lots of great productivity apps, that give you the ability to work on the go, manage/organize information and jot down ideas. One of my favorite apps is Sketchbook Pro, which lets me create art. I haven't had the freedom to sketch in a long time. For me, the annoyance of having to ask for help every two seconds, (for an eraser or changing colors) takes away the enjoyment of drawing. The iPad sketch book gives me the freedom to switch colors and textures, as well as to make corrections on my own. It's amazing how well the program simulates different mediums and it gives you the ability to create work in layers. I'd say it's a must have for any artist.

I realize the iPad is a bit pricey, for the average middle class person. The good news is that it does come in several versions; the cheapest runs around $500. If you already own a smart phone, you might want to wait and see what (if any) changes they make to the next generation of iPads. The originaliPad is sure to drop in price as newer versions get released. If you don't own a laptop or a smart phone, you really should take a trip the Apple store and check out the iPad. Also, if you're thinking about investing in an e-reader, it's well worth the extra $100-200, considering everything the iPad can do. I'd highly recommend the iPad for people with disabilities, especially those people that enjoy reading and/or writing. It can take the place of bulkier, assistive devices, that aren't as versatile or easy to use. Plus, the iPad gives the user freedom to switch between tasks independently. I'm always grateful to have anything that gives me back a sense of freedom or independence.


  1. Glad to hear that you're enjoying it, even if it does have a few shortcomings.

    Have you downloaded any books yet??

  2. While I still hate Apple, I'm glad the iPad has worked out for you. A friend of mine has one, and I've tried it out a little bit, and it's actually pretty nice. The video quality is surprising for what it is.

    Anyway, glad it's working out for you!