Monday, 9 August 2010


iPad - therefore I am. (With apologies to Apple.)

Try as I might, it proved impossible to beat my mighty-minded, thoroughly decent and remarkably televisual previous show-biz co-worker, James El Sombrero in the race to become one of the first iPad owners in our horticultural milieu. He swankily pulled out his elegantly sheathed beauty on Press Day at Chelsea - back in late May - while I was still feverishly awaiting Budget Approval from our Financial Controller who also operates in this household as the Photographer General.

When I got the approval and sauntered into the Regent Street Mac Store, my simple demand for, and I quote, 'One iPad please, and don't bother to wrap it, I want to play with it on my way out,' was greeted with gales of ironic laughter from the assembled, uniformly sweat-shirted pimply but obliging youths and youthettes who make up the Apple team of 'may-I-help yous.' The iPad, I was told, was not yet available, not even for ready money, and not yet even online.

Certain persons, apparently, had got theirs from abroad, weeks before the UK launch. There had been talk of SIM Card Modification. Hmmm. Way too technical for me. So I went to Singapore, in June, iPadless and grumpy.

But my launch into the joyous sunlit uplands of iPaddery happened around Midsummer's Day. Auspicious, it was. Beltane, the time of burning wicker men and gearing up for better things and a newly productive life.

And it is certainly true, that this ingeniously designed little talisman has proven to be a life-changer. For some. For the rest, there'll always be phone boxes, fil0faxes and places in the wallet for dog-eared snaps of family and friends.

And now, I discover, that Apple have just opened their even sparklier new store in Covent Garden. So I thought it might be a wise moment to assess my experiences with iPad, having played with it for long enough to go quite blind and even more simple-minded than before.

An iPad can contain your entire life, neatly canned like Heinz Beanz. It can carry your library, your hi-fi system, your record collection, a treasury of broadcasting archives such as the Goon Show and Monty Python, your engagement diary, your contacts list, all your family snaps plus one or two photographs of which you may be proud - well, less than two in my case - minutes of RHS meetings, correspondence, your blogging and, well everything, really, all crammed into the slimmest and flattest of metal cases.

So far so good. The iPad is a great deal more than just a new gadget. It, or its descendants will be in the satchel of every school child, and will be at the core of their academic lives, probably from five to eighteen. Grannies will depend on them for keeping in touch and anyone who fails to see all that such machines will do for us is a mugwump or the blindest kind of neoluddite.

This is not just a grown up toy, nor is it a shrunk-down laptop. Nor can or should it replace laptops, though there are folk who say it will. This is something that we will learn to depend on, something to be as much a part of our personal equipment as our wallet, phone or trousers.

Or is it?

Remember the Amstrad? The early Sinclair? The first Apple Classic? Do you recall life before word processors and the internet? How did we manage?

I think the iPad is like the car, a costly toy in 1900 but look at it now. It's only one of a rash of new reader type thingies coming into our world but being Apple, it's zingy, imaginative, fun and different. And I'm already totally hooked on mine.

I've read a sackful of novels, so far, and am just embarking on the works of Ford Madox Ford. What treasure! All 2,000 pages of his Parade's End tetralogy are tucked away in my iPad and weigh nothing. Not a gramme, not a milligramme. Same for Mrs Gaskell, Joseph Conrad and Jane Austen - they're all there, waiting to be read.

BUT - there are dark, unsettling things I've discovered about iPads, and also some MAJOR ANNOYANCES.

Here they are, in brief.

1. APPS.
An App is an emasculated application - about as good as a gelding would be at siring a potential Derby winner. About 99% of Apps are completely pointless. Of the remaining 1%, half are designed for puerile minds, a quarter are only semi-functional but the remainder might be handy on rare occasions.

2. The iPad is very flat, thin and elegant. Its larger sides are as slick as a newly siliconed Teflon surface. The chances of droppage, are therefore greatly enhanced.

3. The battery lasts for hours on end. It also takes hours on end to charge.

The iPad - sleek, slinky and silkily beautiful but remember that most of the Apps are completely pointless.

4. Because it's Apple, you are bound, pretty much, to use the iTunes store for everything. That's fine for music and shows. But for eBooks, iTunes store prices are an absolute outrage. eBooks cost MORE than real paperbacks. That is disgraceful. No paper cost, no distribution costs, minimal administrative costs - all automated - so why the rip off? They need heavy competition and a revolt among customers.

5. After dithering, I decided to opt for a SIM version, so that I could go on line when no wifi is available. I thought at the time, the extra £100 would be worth it.

What I didn't realise was that, short of taking the bloody SIM card out, every time I didn't need it - 99.99% of the time, that is - it would try to hook you into some dastardly O2 network unbidden. If it does that to you abroad, watch out!

As it is, the bastard mobile phone companies are out to get you, if you stray accidentally online. With my iPhone, when in France for two nights, I was not aware that I'd even gone on line, and certainly never intended to and did not knowingly download a single piece of data. And yet my bill was up by £16 for just that. And yet O2 can't even provide a viable signal at my own home. And it's not as if I live in the middle of the blasted Sahara.


Maddening iPad moment, when the stupid little pop-up comes, unbidden, to tell you the network's lost, when you didn't even want to use any dam' network.

6. transferring data between computers and iPads is cumbersome. For Microsoft Word files you need an app called 'Documents to Go' - American for 'Takeaway' And you can only do it all through iTunes. It would be nice if there were some easier kind of 'drop box' system, so you can dump stuff from one machine to another without inadvertently 'syncing' and thereby risking junking other stuff that you wanted to keep.

7. The picture library a bossy and 'we know best' thing which causes weeping and frustration. It really is hardly worth the bother if you're a serious photographer. OK for snaps, but hopeless for trying to transport good stuff. Furthermore the Keynote (Mac's vastly superior 'Powerpoint' type application) works but is slow. I would not trust it for lecturing.

8. The iPad loudspeaker is absolutely PANTS, and the Apple don't even include a pair of their crummy white, pluggy earphones. Tight sods!

9. Er, I think that's it. For everything else, it's absolutely marvellous. The screen and its picture quality is wonderful - great for films, telly etc.

BUT this what makes me really love my iPad: To read, on screen, is easier than reading a real book. It's always ideally illuminated in a font of your choice at a type size that suits. It even has an in-built dictionary and the facility for writing rude notes in the margins - something too few people do, especially to library books.

CRIKEY - what a BORING post!!! I'm so sorry. Back to jollier stuff next time.

I'm listening to Dvorak's String Quintet number 12 in F - not on the iPad speaker, obviously, because it's so pants.

This day in 1983 I was showing a bus load of Over Sixties round our garden, before giving them a talk. The next day, apparently, I lunched in the Braganza restaurant in Frith Street where one of the waiters looked exactly like Lord Kagan, father of the Gannex Macintosh. I've no idea how we afforded that lunch! It certainly wasn't from the fees for presenting Gardeners World, that's for sure!

This week's film was Now Voyager, the gloriously weepy 1942 Bette Davis classic, directed by Irving Rapper, with the closing words '. . . don't let's ask for the moon: we have the stars.'
Aaaah, wet tissues all round.


  1. Could be a solution for No. 6....

  2. Matt R - thanks for that. I've downloaded it and it seem to work pretty well.

  3. I am glad that you are mostly delighted with your iPad. I love mine with an almost indecent passion.
    I have sympathy with many of your grumbles.

    Many Apps are indeed nonsense but can be faintly useful for a moment of brainless entertainment. For example both Joe Swift and I put Vuvuzela apps on our iPhones in order to liven up the audiences at Gardeners World Live. I also have Scrabble, Who wants to Be a Millionaire and other time wasters. Useful apps include Pages and Angry Birds.

    To avoid annoying message, excess billing etc turn of Cellular Data when you don't need it.

    I have lectured using Keynote and iPad and it was fine.The only problem is the lack of a remote control.

    It is slippery. Buy the Apple designed case: it works very well and feels safer.

    This is now a very boring comment.

  4. Thanks for the advice, James. I can see that life without Angry Birds would be difficult to face.

    I think the massive and heated debate on this post says it all, so, perhaps 'tis time to pass onto something interesting.


  5. Haha- enjoying your blog. I'm a technology geek turned landscape designer. Word on the street is that the iPad is Apple's interim solution - they have something much greater up their sleeve. Let's wait and see.


  6. Ha ha ha waiting for approval from the PG. Good!