CoWA Day 1: Jennifer Connelly’s Breasts

Power Girl convention sketch by Adam Hughes.

I’d had the iPad for more than a week before it truly became “mine.” I had it well before the release date, yes, but until I was done writing about it and demonstrating it on TV, it had to remain simply “an” iPad. If I were demonstrating the Mail app on live television and the whole world knew that I was trying to rent out a theater for a massive “Gossip Girl” season-finale viewing party…well, that simply wouldn’t do.

So when I got home from New York on Friday, I was finally able to replace all of its sample, demonstration, and test content with my personal data. At that time, I also officially changed its name to the one that had come to me in a flash sometime on Day Two of my testing.

I probably shouldn’t tell you what it is. The OS uses the name to identify this iPad to a network. But it’s a good one and I’m keeping it. However, after my first day at the Conference On World Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder, I learned its true identity:

This iPad is Jennifer Connelly’s breasts.

See, I learned exactly what it’s like to be the star of “The Hot Spot,” “Career Opportunities” and “Mulholland Falls.” Everywhere I went — the speakers’ office, Monday evening’s party, and even during my panels — everyone was really happy I was there but it was the same story. It quickly became clear that while they liked me as a person, they mostly thought of me as the support and mobility system for two big, meaty, luscious things.

Namely, my iPad, plus the MiFi mobile WiFi access point that would let them see the Netflix streaming app in operation.

It didn’t help that when I was checking my schedule and mail before heading to my next panel, I’d be holding the iPad at chest-level, like the Statue of Liberty.

“Hey! My eyes are up here, fellah.”

No kidding. My first panel yesterday was about Twitter. The basic form of a Conference On World Affairs panel is for each of the speakers to talk for about ten minutes, and then the floor is opened up for questions.

Well before a time when there were no more questions about Twitter, someone raised her hand and asked “If there are no more questions about Twitter, could Andy tell us what he thinks about his iPad?”

I offered to talk to her about it after the panel was over.

There were a couple more on-topic questions. But soon enough, well, yeah…everybody just wanted to know what I thought about the iPad. So that was the last ten minutes of the session.

Next, I was on a panel about the disappearing middle class. I led off, spoke for nine minutes, and felt that I’d done pretty much OK for someone who isn’t an economist or a sociologist. Near the end, I’d used the iPad in front of me as an example of consumer spending. The point was that it’s fine to buy something like this for practical reasons, but buying it because “it’s what the cool people with money are buying” is self-destructive; I’d likened it to all of those people who bought homes they couldn’t afford because it would make them feel good about “living the American dream” or somesuch.

Later, a panelist who really knew the economics angle cold — he’s a columnist for The Financial Times — referred back to that comment. But he abruptly stopped in the middle of his thought.

“Do you keep that in a case, Andy?”

He’d caught me off-guard. It’s not customary to direct questions to fellow panelists during your 10 minutes. I’d been listening closely. Jurek Martin always leaves me impressed with his ability to speak plainly and powerfully. uBt I struggled to imagine how it fit into his remarks.

“I’m sorry…?”

“Do you just carry it around with you in your hands, or do you have to carry it in a bag? I imagine that might be inconvenient…”

And then I gave Jurek the usual answer: that yes, it’s big for a mobile device but no bigger than it needs to be…and that it presents no more problems than carrying around a book or a magazine. A fellow sitting in the front row stepped forward and handed Jurek his own iPad, snug in its Apple convertible case.

The iPad was a superstar on my first day at the conference. Not for the attention it got; for its performance. It underscored every positive impression it made upon me during the week when I wasn’t allowed to use it in public.

1) The battery life is spot-on. I was using my iPad from the moment I awoke at 8 AM to just before I sloped into a car to go back to my house at 8:30 PM. In between, if I ever had the slightest notion to do something with the iPad, I did it without any thought as to the need to “keep some battery in reserve for emergencies.” In the end, I still had 30% battery left…about three hours’ worth.

2) The iPad shone through in the “I need to write and publish something straight away, even though I didn’t plan ahead and bring a real keyboard” scenario.

I had imagined that it would. But yesterday was the first real-world test case. While sitting in the back listening to a panel, I checked my email and found an invitation to an Apple event on Thursday. I wrote about 500 words about it using the virtual keyboard, edited it, and published it to my blog. As I’d expected, I couldn’t type as quickly or as accurately as I can on my MacBook keyboard, but even with this little slate balanced between my knees I was typing fast and naturally.

It’s a perfectly usable keyboard. With the added advantage that when I don’t need a keyboard, it goes away completely. Big, big win all around.

3) The iPad is the perfect choice when discretion is important. You can only imagine how many different kinds of computers I’ve had in front of me at the Conference On World Affairs over the past 10+ years. Today, someone came up and told me he remembered all the way back to when I had a Newton Messagepad up there on the stage.

At the CoWA (and many other conferences) I don’t use a computer for slides. I just use it for reference. The screen keeps a rundown of the points I want to make, in their order, as well of a list of any names or data that I need to mention. I might also want to open a browser window and check on a fact or two.

Good stuff. But I don’t like using a full notebook up there. To the audience, it looks like I’m dividing my time between my participation on the panel and my Twittering about how awesome last night’s “Amazing Race” was.

The iPad is the first computer that scored tens all the way across the board. The screen is viewable from any angle; I can just keep it lying flat on the table and still read the screen perfectly. It has a big screen, so I don’t need to squint and hunt to find my place in my notes. And it’s fast and it’s powerful and has a big, typeable keyboard. So when another panelist spoke about the Citizens United case (the Supreme Court case that says “corporations have the same free speech rights as individual citizens”) I could pull up SCOTUSWiki and refamiliarize myself with it in a way that wouldn’t be distracting to anybody else in the room.

4) Carrying it around isn’t a hassle. Not in the least. Yup, you’re going to want to have a bag of some kind with you. I refer back to my earlier comment about the inconvenience of carrying books and magazines. I normally have a smaller version of my Indiana Jones satchel with me at conferences. The difference is that I’ve just deleted about four or five pounds from my normal load: My 1.5 pound iPad takes the place of a 5.5 pound MacBook plus its charger.

The most important point is that the iPad does a better job in this environment than a MacBook or any other notebook. I slide it out of the newspaper pocket of my bag, click the Home button, and it’s awake and ready to assist. When I’m done, I click the Power button and slide it back; no need to wait for the machine to Sleep or the hard drive to spin down.

And I don’t even think about battery life. So I use it all the time.

I can also use it in environments where a notebook — even a netbook — would be awkward at best or inappropriate at worst. Can you use a netbook while you’re standing up? Kind of. Sort of. Not really. But the iPad is just as handy when I’m waiting in line somewhere as it is when I’m sitting at a table. Only when you finally have a computer like the iPad do you realize how often you need to do something on a computer when you’re standing.

My review of the iPad was very positive. It was also very academic, thanks to the fact that the iPad was under house arrest.

I wish I could go back and add a whole new section to it, now that I’ve taken it on trains on spent eight hours in an airport and on a plane with it and a whole day at a conference. Lend someone an iPad for a day and you’ve got yourself an Apple customer for life.