Apple iPad, Day 20: Music, Movies, and Books (Oh My!) With the iPad
By Tony Bradley, PCWorld
30 Days With the iPad: Day 20
After spending yesterday focused on the iPad as a portable gaming console, it seemed appropriate to stay in entertainment mode. Today, I explore other ways of to spend your leisure time on the iPad–like watching movies or TV shows, listening to music, or reading a good book.
Admittedly, this is the iPad’s sweet spot. Productive uses aside, Apple seemed to initially target the tablet as a media consumption device, and iPad naysayers are quick to claim that is all it’s good for. It seems reasonable to expect the iPad to excel in this area.
Like the iPhone, the iPad has the iPod app as its default media player. The iTunes app is a separate app installed by default which lets me shop online for music, movies, TV shows, podcasts, audio books, and iTunes U (education-oriented audio and video materials).
The iPod app is focused on audio content–playing music, podcasts, and audio books. I have a 64GB iPad, so it can hold a fair amount of music. I have enough music stored on the iPad to play for days without repeating, and I haven’t even filled half of the 64GB. I am not in love with the iPod app, but it has always seemed functional enough. I can find my music by song, artist, album, genre, or composer, and create and play playlists, so it does the trick.
If I want to go beyond my own music collection, I have a couple different options. I can use an online music provider like Pandora, or I can use apps that stream live radio content to the iPad. I have the Pandora app, which is nice because I can select a song or artist I am in the mood for, and Pandora will play a diverse array of songs and artists that are similar.
For radio content, I have a couple apps. One is specifically for KRBE 104.1 FM here in the Houston area. The other is the Radio.com app, which has a wide range of radio stations scattered across the nation–including Houston’s KHMX 96.5 FM. Unfortunately, both are actually iPhone apps, but since they work. The KRBE app has additional features like links to the station’s photos, Twitter feed, news blog and other information.
There are two things all of these apps have in common. First, all of them remain on in the background so you can continue to listen to music even if you switch to another app to get some work done. Second, they are all capable of streaming audio over AirPlay as well so you can use the iPad to beam music to better speakers.
When iOS 5 and iCloud get here, the iPad will be even more impressive. I can store my entire music collection online with iCloud and be able to access and stream it on the go from anywhere, and automatically sync my iTunes purchases to my other compatible devices.
When the iPad was first introduced, Apple also invested some fanfare in promoting its new electronic book store and app–iBooks. iBooks is nice, but I really don’t use it. There was a free copy of Winnie the Pooh that came with iBooks when it first launched which I read to my daughter, but other than that I haven’t touched iBooks.
Barnes and Noble has an app for its Nook content, and Amazon has the Kindle app. I have both installed, but I really only use the Kindle app.
I don’t have anything against iBooks, or Barnes and Noble per se. It’s just that I have an established trust and business relationship with Amazon, and I also own an actual Kindle. It is nice to be able to purchase a book and have it be instantly available on my Kindle, iPad, or iPhone (if I was really desperate to read something).
I like digital books on the iPad. Although the Kindle’s e-ink display wins if I am out in direct sunlight, the iPad wins if I am in low light, or reading in the dark, and I prefer swiping to turn pages as opposed to pushing buttons on the Kindle.
For watching TV shows on the iPad, I have three choices: Netflix, HBO, and ABC. As you might guess, the ABC app only gives me access to ABC shows–there are a lot of them, though. The app gives you access to full episodes of most, if not all, currently or recently running shows, and also lets you view the schedule for what’s coming up on ABC in the next week.
As you might expect, the HBO GO app also only provides access to HBO content. There are a lot of good HBO series, though, like Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Game of Thrones, and it is nice to be able to stream them to the iPad from virtually anywhere–even sharing a 3G connection using my iPhone 4 as a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Netflix gives me access to a wide variety of TV shows, but it tends to be more of an archive of older seasons, and shows that are no longer on the air. For example, on Netflix I can watch all 249 episodes of The Andy Griffith Show, and the complete Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise series.
On my iPhone, I also have access to CBS shows through the TV.com app, and to a variety of shows through the Uverse app compliments of my AT&T Uverse subscription. Unfortunately, TV.com doesn’t have an iPad app, and the Uverse iPad app doesn’t stream content–citing legal issues.
Another option for TV viewing is Hulu Plus. The app is free, but you have to pay for the Hulu Plus service, which I don’t use, so I don’t have the app.
The Netflix and HBO GO apps pull double-duty for both TV and movies, and the iPad Videos app offers another option for viewing movies bought or rented from iTunes.
Netflix is an established force for DVD and streaming movie content, so I probably don’t need to go into much detail about what it has to offer. The HBO app provides access to a diverse selection of movies currently available from HBO spanning old and new movies from a variety of genres.
I am not a huge fan of the Videos app only because I think it should be merged with the iPod app as a consolidated media center. I don’t want to go to iTunes, buy content, and then have to figure out which app to go to in order to use it. The iPod is outdated–both the device and the app. Apple should scrap it and make an iMedia app or something that rolls it all together.
I will say that I prefer to watch movies or TV shows using headphones. I don’t mind listening to music over the iPad 2 speakers, but it is much easier to hear dialogue and follow the plot when you have headphones to filter out the noise around you and let you focus on what you’re watching.
All in all, media and entertainment is definitely a strong suit for the iPad. There is no shortage of options, and frankly most of them are things I can easily do–or even prefer to do–using the iPad, but would never really think of using my notebook for (like reading a Kindle book).
Just as with the music apps, most of the other apps mentioned for TV and movies are able to stream content to a larger TV using AirPlay. When iOS 5 comes and the iPad 2 gets AirPlay Mirroring, the app itself won’t matter and I will be able to put any iPad content on my TV–making the iPad a one-stop-shopping home entertainment device.