Apple's iPad - a n00b experience /static/Misc/1stGen-iPad-HomeScreen.jpg
1st Gen iPad Home Screen

Two friends of mine recently purchased iPads - Vernon asked me, as a computer fundi, to help him out on the installation. I always think it is” useful to document first-time experiences - one adapts and forgets so easily.

Old timer

I have used Linux pretty much exclusively for the last 20 years. I have a pragmatic approach to my friends who use Windows - I have followed Microsoft’s offerings from Windows98 through XP - I have an XP user’s understanding of the later versions of Windows.

Apple I have pretty much never used. I have never owned one, I taught people how to use the original MacDraw, but pretty much have never used it since. So, when Vernon took advantage of First National Bank’s interest-free loan to buy one, and asked my to check it out, I dashed over.

Fresh out of the box at his workplace in Cape Town, battery charged.


First hurdle - registration. There are a couple of Welcome.. screens, Name, country, etc. Pretty soon, it wants to get online to talk to Apple. Well, we had no wifi in his workplace, and the GSM SIM card was a “micro” variety, so I couldn’t pull one out of my Nokia and get past that.


Strike #1 - I can’t even use this thing without Internet ? Ten years ago, this country only had dialup, and that was expensive. Requiring Internet before doing even the most basic things like taking a picture, writing a note, experiment with the touch screen ?

Vernon knew what to do - buy a SIM card, load with 100Mb data (costs R50,about \$8). Weekend comes around - Andy, stop over. Some trouble getting cellular data to work through Vodacom. I had internet from my netbook tethered through my phone - google, ask on forums - ah, I need to enter “Internet” as the APN for the service provider. Would Vernon have figured that out on his own? I don’t think so.

As a side note - Ubuntu Linux knows all the main cellphone carriers in South Africa, and if I choose Vodacom on Ubuntu, it knows to put “Internet” as the APN (thanks, tumbleweed).

We walk through registration, no problems. Vernon had taken advantage of a free 1 hour course at the Apple store, and came away with “iCloud”. So, we must hook that up.

An iPad manual

Back up a little - let’s RTFM. Where is the iPad manual ? Nothing in the box- no paper, no CD (haha - no CD player on the ultra-thin iPad). A tap on Safari, a quick google - there is the manual, as a PDF on Apple’s website. Old-Skool says:- “Save the pdf on the desktop”. Safari has no options for that- wtf? Seems I am indeed old-school - the iPad has no desktop. Wait a minute -the out-of-the-box iPad comes with no manual, and there is no way to save a copy locally ?? More googling - oh - I must download the iBook application, and then get the (free !) iPad user manual. Sigh - consider it done.

Strike #2 - I need internet, some savvy, a new app, and a download just to read about how this thing works.


Back to iCloud - Vernon had been told at the course that he needed a “United States” designation for his iCloud registration. Seems the only iCitizenship worth having is a US one - otherwise no music downloads and app restrictions, or something. I trust the Apple store man - how to do this? More googling - you need to attempt to get a free app from the Apple store, choose “None” as a method of payment, lie about your address, lie about a US phone number.

Strike #3 - to get the full benefits of this new iPad, one has to pretend to be a US citizen. South African simply doesn’t cut it. You can buy it here, but there are heavy restrictions on its use.

GSM standards

OK - nearly there with the iCloud registration. Oops - I have no data left. Yep - I have burned through 100Meg of data just to get this far. A trip to the corner store - buy R110 pre-paid airtime, pull the micro-SIM out of the iPad, delicately put it in my phone (which takes a normal size) and walk through the USSD menus to load the airtime, and convert R100 of it to data bundles. R10 left behind as voice - whoopsie. Chalk that up to Vodacom ineptitude.

Strike #4 - the iPad comes with no SMS/USSD interface to the GSM network that would allow you to recharge a pre-paid SIM for data. You must take the SIM out and do it on a phone - that may not take the same size SIM.

Apple is using GSM - iOS (the operating system) is common with the iPhone -yet Apple stripped the GSM bits out of the codebase for the iPad.

OK - now we are sorted. I am unwilling to experiment much with iCloud - I have a feeling it could gobble up all my data again if I accidentally tap “backup” or something.

Games - nope - just a Games portal - go buy one. What, not even tetris or mines ? Oh well, was not really interested anyway.

Browsing is slick and fast, some study of the manual and gestures are easy and intuitive. Some struggle with outdated concepts like stopping running applications - I was pointed to this article by my Linux User Group.


Apple's iPad - a n00b experience /static/Misc/frown_large.jpg

OK next - will it see my Nokia phone over Bluetooth ? My phone sees the iPad -tries to pair with it - nope. The iPad never sees my phone.

Strike #5 - Apple uses standards like Bluetooth for things like external keyboards, but does not bother to implement the standards properly.

Its like they think they are so big they don’t have to bother. Receive a business card from my phone via bluetooth ? Pah - you must talk via Internet please. No matter that others value interoperability, here at Apple we have our own way of doing things.

I have paired my old Nokia phone with my newish netbook via bluetooth. I can easily move photos back and forth, and without even taking my phone out of my pocket the netbook will use it as a gateway onto the net. I can see that this brand new Apple iPad will not allow me to do that - either acting as a gateway, or being able to use my phone as a gateway for the iPad (which would have got over Strike #1 if I could have reached the settings menu, which I could not).


And, last but by no means least - I cannot plug a USB stick into the iPad.

Strike #6 - there is not even a physical interface for a USB stick (or drive).

  • Floppy disks were good in their day - but they got too small and unreliable. Snif - floppies are gone.
  • CD were fantastic in their day - ubiquitous for two decades, they were the workhorse of transferable media. Now they seem bulky, small, and a tad unreliable. Snif - CDROM drives are fading from the landscape.
  • USB disks are small, everywhere, fit on your keyring, and absolutely rule for data transfer. Even virus-writers target them, they are that convenient. The sun has by no means set on the USB thumb drive, but Apple, in their wisdom, choose not to provide an interface.

Now, that is just nasty. That was deliberate. I saw what you did there. And I am calling you on it.

And, just because of Strike #6, I am reviewing your motivations for Strikes 1 thru 5. I could have given you the benefit of the doubt over SMS, Bluetooth and Internet, but I see now this is deliberate.


The iPad lives up to its reputation as a beautiful piece of hardware. The Multitouch screen is a true Apple innovation, and is a pleasure to use. The few apps I tried seemed nice. Read about that elsewhere - it is all true. But the level of control that Apple assert over the products they sell brings the ugly out in me.

Apple - I will not be buying your products any time soon.