iBad experience

As Apple has presented iPad 2 recently, it is time for me to sum up my iPad user experience. Because Apple focuses on the overall user experience, right? And the competition focuses on specs and features, and this is wrong?

At least this is how Techcrunch has understood the Jobs’ message. Unfortunately, I cannot confirm it with an original video from Apple.com, because this site requires me to install Quicktime browser plugin to watch videos, without giving any other possibility. And I’m not going to install it, because unlike Flash and Silverlight I know that a) Quicktime is only needed for this one single site in the Internet – the Apple.com, and b) I had a nightmare experience with some previous version of the Quicktime player for Windows before – this bloatware had installed ton of services eating up my memory and CPU cycles and had constantly tried to upsell me into the Pro version. So: no, thanks.

But I digress. So, the iPad 1, and its overall user experience. I didn’t buy it for myself, it was a gift for my mother. Everybody needs a computer nowadays, but she in her 60’ies is not very computer affine, even though she is a computer technician by her education. So I thought, an iPad doesn’t have a file system, nor device drivers, nor firewall & antivirus software, and iPad is from Apple that is being rumored to be a company that cares for user experience. So I thought, iPad is the best fit for my mother.

She is a normal retired person that wants to follow her children on Facebook and Flickr, get connected with her former classmates and friends, read books, occasionally write a couple of invoices, and otherwise read mail and try to surf in the Internet.

So I have bought the 16Gb iPad without 3G, from a local German shop.

The first very positive experience was that it came with the fully charged battery so that I could start using it right away. This is really cool and this is how all gadgets should be delivered.

And the first very negative experience happened soon thereafter. I’ve switched the UI language to Russian, because well, my mother is a Russian living in Germany.

Have you ever seen the German iPad switched to Russian language? Apple, have YOU ever seen it?

Let me read for you the application names the iPad has displayed: Safari, Mail, iPod, Youtube, App Store, Настройки. Yes, these names appear exactly like that in the UI, with only the last app (which is Settings) being translated. Now, don’t get me wrong: my mother is a great well educated women, but she speaks only Russian and German, and have learned French in the school. That is, no English. How is she supposed to understand what “Mail” is? How is she supposed to understand that Safari has something to do with the Web, and not with hunting in Africa? She has never used an iPod and so also has no idea what THAT could be. And Youtube she cannot even read properly.

And I remind you, it is the iPad bought in the German shop, switched into Russian UI language. What the hell all these English names think they are doing on its screen?

Let me spare detailed description of how exactly bad the localization of Apple software into Russian is. I will only provide you with one, the final example. The Pages app, also by Apple. Do you know how they translated the “Undo” button into Russian? “Не применять”, which means, “Must not use”. I’ve avoided to tap on this button, because I (me! a software developer!) was unsure about what exactly will happen if I would use it. Luckly, by chance I have seen a screenshot of the English version of Pages…

So, the first shock of the localization disaster calmed down, and I started to pre-configure the iPad with some useful stuff before I will present it to my mother. For example, I wanted to buy some content for her.

The first try: iTunes. I’ve searched for some movies in Russian (produced in Russia). Zero. Then I’ve searched for some movies produced in Russia, but translated into German. Zero. Then I’ve searched for popular German movies. I’ve found one or two, which wouldn’t interest my mother. The rest were Hollywood movies translated into German, with quite expensive prices for the German VoD market (think maxdome.de, download.mediamarkt.de, videoload.de). Not very appealing.

Then I’ve switched to music. I’ve searched for some Russian performers. Nothing. Then for some well-known German ones. Nothing. Then for some Chinese performers (I happen to like Chinese music). Nothing. What they have is basically the USA music charts. Not very appealing.

So I went to Safari and navigated to some Russian VoD shops, where you can buy a Russian movie and watch it online. What have I forgot? Yes, you’ve guessed it right. No Flash support in iPad! And those shops are all using Flash.


Then I’ve tried the iBook app. Should I describe what happened? Yep, you’ve guessed it. No Russian content at all, not even Russian classics translated into German. Not even any interesting German book! Only English content. But wait. I can download a book as PDF and then read it with iBook, can’t I?

Yes, I can. I just need to connect the iPad to iTunes on my PC or Mac and use it to place the book into iBook app. I cannot “just” download the book in Safari on the iPad itself and read it in the iBook. Hm. But wasn’t the whole idea of the iPad in my case to be a replacement for a full PC or Mac? So why do I need an additional computer in my household? OK, I have by chance a “real” computer at home, but I don’t have iTunes, nor I need this bloatware on my Windows PC. Is that what Apple understands when they speak about overal user experience?..

But I digress again. Failed to provide tons of useful content, I’ve turned over to installing useful apps. I wanted to provide a cool option for her to follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. The only free Facebook app I’ve found is designed for iPhone. There were too many Flickr apps, but most of them were paid apps… And twitter client I’ve found some, but it wasn’t integrated with Facebook. I’ve spent perhaps an hour trying out several apps, and the best fit I could find was the Flipboard. Unfortunately, this app has also an English UI only, so that my mother isn’t using it often (or at all?). And, unfortunately, this app has only English language news sources (just like the Pulse app has), and doesn’t allow to add a custom RSS (for example this blog’s RSS). Well, again, here may be I’ve just missed a cool and useful app – if you can advice me with an app showing RSS, twitter, Facebook and Flickr and also allowing to post to your own Twitter and use all the features of Facebook, and that with UI translated to Russian or German, please let me know. But, actually, shouldn’t Apple have had prepackaged such an app with the iPad? After all, they have pre-packaged the web browser and the mail, something that Microsoft was not allowed to do in Europe…

So Ok, after some time and having prepaired the iPad as good as I could, I’ve presented it to my mother. She was clearly excited about its look and feel, and she could start sweeping and tapping on it almost instantly. I’ve ensured her that she cannot break its software, and that allowed her to overcome her usual fear for PCs. She has found Youtube and we could watch a couple of free (or should I say pirated?) and short Russian clips on Youtube. So the first day went quite OK, besides of the last thing my mother wanted to do with the iPad. She wanted to “say bye”. Let me explain that. Her first computer was a mainframe in the office she worked at. This mainframe had an IBM operating system with a command line interface. To begin to use it, you were supposed to type in “hello” and then your user name. To log out, you had to type in “bye”. The mainframe operators were intructed very stricktly that they HAVE to “bye” to finish the work session with the computer. So what my mother was missing is the similar way for the iPad.

I must say that this is the feeling I’ve also had sometimes, for example with the Pages app. When you’ve finished writing a document, your “natural” wish is to “save” or “freeze” it somehow. But there is no button with “Save” on it that would give you that warm safety feeling.

Speaking of the Pages app, the thing I missed was a documentation (a user guide). I’ve spent may be 5 or 10 minutes trying to understand how to insert a new row above an existing row in a table, but no combination of tapping, sweeping, dragging and pinching could do the trick. After all these tries I’ve felt myself being an ape trying to open a coke can but now knowing how. So I was very impressed to see that my mother was able to use this app to type a whole one-page invoice, with all the formatting and details she needed. Apparently, she was not disturbed by absence of any clues of how to use the formatting features. Perhaps because she didn’t use any.

A similar experience I’ve had with some other apps, for example the iBook or Mail. When you compare iBook, Mail, Pages and Numbers, you will see that these apps sometimes don’t keep similar interactions in the similar ways. For example, the close button might be in the top left, top right, or bottom right corner. Or a button with a box and an arrow going out of this box could mean quite different things, like answering a mail, forwarding a post, or sending a document to printing. Again, my mother seemed to be not disturbed by such inconsistencies.

One of the use-cases for iPad that additionally appeared was using of Skype. So I went to a local shop with the idea of buying a web cam and a headset that can be attached to the iPad port, or an adapter for that. Nothing found. Do I understand correctly, that video conferencing is not supported? And why it isn’t? Does the iPad have a slow CPU and / or no GPU? Do we want to speak about features and specs, and the price I had to pay for the device now?

After all, I’ve spent $640 on it. That’s right, the device that costs $499 in the USA will cost 499€ in Europe. If I was buying a desktop PC for that price, I would be able to use Skype, read books without any additional software, use Microsoft Office (and have a usable physical keyboard for that matter), etc. Unfortunately, I would also have files, drivers, firewalls and other unneeded stuff…

So, my resume of this long post: all in all, it wasn’t a mispurchase. My mother has fun and manages to use the device, at least those apps that are adequately translated or don’t need any translation. But, it was quite an expensive fun, and it was a user experience quality level that I absolutely cannot match with all that hype Apple fanboys and fangirls are producing in the press.

As soon as anybody would produce a reasonable OS for a normal PC hardware, without all this file, driver, firewall stuff etc, I mean an OS suitable for seniors, there are chances I will immediately try it, and, who knows, the next computer my mother will get will not be an iSomething.

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  1. Yes, I can. I just need to connect the iPad to iTunes on my PC or Mac and use it to place the book into iBook app. I cannot “just” download the book in Safari on the iPad itself and read it in the iBook.

    — you actually can do it. when you have attachment in you email, then you can save it to iBook. I think something similar is in Safari too.

    Good app that aggregate Facebokk, Twitter, Flickr is Flipboard, you should try it :)

  2. – can I do it having iPad only? So I go to “some free library”.ru in Safari on iPad, download a FB2 or PDF or whatever format, which is stored on iPad. And next what? To send this file to myself as an attachment? How can I convert the file to the iBook format?

    – is there any app with integrated payment possibility comforably to buy, download and read the Russian books (from litres / fictionbook / aldebaran / etc)?

    – Flipboard we’re already using. I can use it to post on my Facebook wall, surf to pages of my Facebook friends and add new friends?

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