An Artist’s First Impressions of the iPad

Ipad

You’ve heard the hype and now you want to know – what’s it really like to own an iPad?

I have been fortunate enough to be able to order one for myself and it finally arrived last weekend. Here is a super-sized blog post with all my first impressions and reviews. If you don’t want to read it, here’s a summary: It’s freakin’ awesome.

From what I’ve been hearing from you fellow artists and tech nerds lately, many of you have doubts, concerns, and criticisms and I try to address them all here. While I try not to sound like a complete Apple fangirl throughout this entire article, I do think some of the common crits that have been made about the iPad are making mountains out of molehills. Yes, the iPad is missing a few features; however, I believe the strength of this device lies in what it CAN and WILL do for creatives and their various industries. So yeah, I gush a lot. You have been warned. If you have further questions, please feel free discuss in the comments section.

Here we go…




Why I Bought an iPad

I’m an artist and I make stuff. The iPad is poised to become a complete game-changer in how content is distributed to and seen by the people that buy that stuff. This was one bandwagon I couldn’t afford to miss, especially since I recently entered the comics game with my webcomic My Sister the Freak.

In fact, one of the first things I did when I got my iPad was put my comic on it so I could see what it looked like. Check out the quick video I put together:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omyeKBofjk0

The possibilities are exciting. I’m still unsure how or when I will be using this new format, but there’s no question in my mind that this is where the future lies.

In the Box

I bought the 64 GB Wifi-only model of the iPad. This is what it looks like:

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It came with a USB cord, a power adapter, a ridiculously simple instruction manual, and some stickers.

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Drawing on the iPad

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As an artist with lots of artist friends, this is by far the most common question I’ve been getting – Can you create art on the iPad? My answer – Yes, with some caveats:

For one thing, it’s definitely not something I will be using for professional-grade illustrations; for sketching and doodling however, I have found the iPad quite handy. Before I had one in my hands, I had my doubts because I have used several sketching apps on my iPhone and never really got the hang of using them. But I’ve found that drawing on the iPad is much more enjoyable simply because of the larger screen size; the tools fit better on the screen, you don’t feel so cramped, and it’s not as clunky to use your finger for drawing. (Although I do use a stylus. I’ll get to that later.)

Second, the drawing tools on the iPad are always going to be a bit rudimentary compared to other tablets without features like pressure-sensitivity or a pen stylus. It’s hard to get precise lines and the painting process is slower to get good subtle effects. I guess it’s a good thing that I’m naturally a messy painter.

Those things being said, I imagine the iPad is going to become a great sketching tool for me. I was not one of those artists who were hoping the iPad would become a Walking Wacom; in my opinion, that is not the kind of product Apple is going to be making anytime soon. I was happy and surprised that the art capabilities were as far as they were right out of the gate, and it can only get better from here.

Here are the tools I use to draw on the iPad:

    Software

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    I’ve only bought one app so far for drawing and painting – Sketchbook Pro. It has worked very well. Other art app heavy-hitters include Brushes, Layers, and Adobe Ideas but I haven’t tried them out yet.

    Hardware

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    I mentioned before that I use a stylus for drawing on the iPad. It is called a Pogo Sketch Stylus by Ten One Design. Basically, it’s a device that mimics the touch input from your finger. Because of that, the drawing end of the stylus has a large rounded surface, not a pen-like tip like with a Wacom tablet. I use it simply because my hand-eye coordination doesn’t seem to work very well while drawing finger-paint-style, and the stylus helps. Technically, it’s not really more precise than your fingertip, so it’s not a necessity and artists can create good art on the iPad with or without it.

In the coming weeks as I test out the iPad more, I hope to post more artwork and demos here on the blog. You might also be able to catch me live with the iPad on Ustream. Keep your eye out for more stuff from me soon.

iPad vs. Cintiq vs. Modbook

Like I said before, the iPad misses some key features that keep it from becoming a pro-level illustration device, but the pick-up-and-go quality of the device makes it the handiest digital sketching tool around. This won’t replace your Cintiq, and I think it will be a while, if at all, before it does.

If you are looking for a full portable digital art Mac, one already exists. It’s called the Modbook. It’s a full Apple Macbook that has been modded into a tablet computer. I use one as my main workstation and can personally say it’s awesome. Pricey, but awesome. You can read my reviews of the Modbook here.

Issues and Questions

Here are some common issues and questions that I have read and received, and my responses to them.

    It’s too expensive.

    Yeah, it’s a good chunk of change, but really? Remember when the iPad was merely rumor and analysts were expecting a device in the $1200-$1800 range? I’m certainly not complaining.

    How do the iPhone-only apps look on the iPad?

    You can run just about any iPhone app on the iPad. So far, all of the iPhone apps I’ve used on the iPad have worked perfectly. The upscaling of the apps to 2X their size on the bigger screen is just ok, but not terrible. There is a definite difference when you compare them to their iPad counterparts. So far, if an app has an option to buy a full iPad version I’ll usually go ahead and buy it instead of sticking to the iPhone version.

    What’s it like to holding and handling the iPad?

    I’ve heard some complaints that the iPad is awkward to use. Some say it’s slippery or too heavy. Personally, I think the iPad is more natural to use and hold than most mobile devices. I think traditional laptops are more awkward actually. It’s like picking up a book or a piece of paper. Yes it’s heavier, but I’m not holding it up all the time; most of the time it sits on my lap or on my desk.

    How’s the on-screen keyboard on the iPad?

    Because it’s a touchscreen, you can’t really use it like a traditional keyboard, feeling your way around the keys. However, if you are used to the iPhone keyboard, the iPad keyboard is a dream. It took me no time at all to get used to it.

    How about multi-tasking, Flash, and USB?

    Ahhh, you critics are still stuck on this, eh? Personally, I don’t understand the need for multi-tasking and have not missed it. This will probably be fixed in future releases anyway. Flash – more and more sites are offering their content in alternate ways whether via apps or HTML5 or whatever. I dislike Flash websites anyway, so I’m not sad about its absence. And as far as USB, yeah that would have been nice. However, none of these arguments come close to outweighing everything the iPad does right.

    Screen glare and fingerprints?

    Yes, the screen has quite a bit of glare. You probably will have trouble in direct sunlight. It is also a fingerprint magnet, but it doesn’t hinder the use of the screen. You only see them when the device it turned off, so unless you are an obsessive-compulsive clean freak, it’s not really a problem.

    Will this replace my laptop?

    I am not a heavy laptop user, so it’s hard to say. For me, definitely. It does everything I want for a computer on the go – writing, movies, TV, music, internet, sketching, etc. If you are one of those who use a laptop as your main workstation for illustration, storage, editing, etc. – probably not yet.

    WiFi or 3G?

    I have a WiFi-only version of the iPad. Since I am almost always around a WiFi connection, I didn’t see a need for the 3G, plus I didn’t want to start paying extra fees for access. I like the fact that Apple and AT&T are providing a pay-as-you-go kind of plan, but I didn’t want to tempt myself all the same. As of yet, I have not taken it on the road or out of my house at all, so I can’t say whether or not I miss it.

    Is the iPad really THAT useful? What role does it play and does it do it better than my phone, iPod, ebook reader, or laptop?

    This is new technology, and I think a lot of this stuff is still being discovered. I know, that’s kind of a sketchy and non-specific answer. I’ll put it this way – Do you own an iPod or iPhone? Do you remember your life before you had one? Could you have predicted how you were going to use it before you bought it? Could you have predicted ten years ago what role the iPod would have in the music, gaming, and mobile computing industries? Can you imagine your life without it? That’s exactly where the iPad is now – no, I don’t exactly NEED it, but I love it and use it for just about everything under the sun and I’m still finding more uses for it every day. The fact that the iPad is larger and more flexible than the iPod just makes it that much more useful.

    So… the iPad is just a big iPod?

    Yep. Isn’t it great?

    Seriously though, they are not the same thing. This was especially evident to me when I used a couple iPhone-only apps on my iPad. I had imagined that the experience would be practically the same as using an iPad designed app, just blurrier. However, it just made me aware of how limited the iPhone is just because of its size. Imagine a desktop computer with all its flexibility, largeness, and usefulness, then give it the revolutionary and easy-to-use interface of an iPhone, and you have an iPad.

Verdict?

This is not a device you necessarily need; but if you do get one, you will not regret it. Seriously. What it does, it does well. If you don’t know what you want to use it for yet, you will.

And if you are an artist, writer, or creator of any type, you would be foolish to ignore it. If you’re sick of the hype or skeptical about its usefulness, at least be aware that your competition probably isn’t. The best part of the iPad experience for me is that I’m actually excited to start creating content for it. The iPad has the potential to reinvent and invigorate my industry, and in return I hope to sell iPads by creating good stuff to put on it. What other device inspires that kind of awesomeness? Yes, the iPad’s that cool.