In addition to being a cooking encyclopedia, we’re also an online media company, and at every online media company you’re bound to find at least one gadget geek. Therefore, I wasn’t too surprised when a member of the team brought an iPad into Foodista HQ on Monday. I was, however, shocked and delighted when he announced that we could each take it home to play with.
Having recently finished a term project covering how the way home cooks access recipes has evolved over the past 150 years, my first reaction to the iPad was: "it’s neat, but can you cook with it?" With all of the recipe apps out there, much has been written about cooking with the iPhone, so I hypothesized that the iPad’s larger screen would make this an exponentially better experience.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a long-time Apple user; Steve jobs lives in my hometown, and personally gave me candy at Halloween when I was a young'un. However, I have mixed feelings about Apple products. They are flashy, expensive, and (in my experience) not always all they’ve cracked up to be; though I own an iPhone, the last computer I bought was a PC. So, while I was blown away by the opportunity to play with such a hot gadget, I tried to keep an open mind throughout the experience.
1) Searching for a recipe
Searching for a recipe was easy; once I connected to the internet (what was my wi-fi password again?), I was quickly able to find what I was looking for (cookies!) at a speed that was faster than my laptop or flipping through my cookbook library—and left the iPhone in the dust.
The tactile feel of the iPad is comfortable; I loved how I was able to recline on the couch without a heavy computer or book (Bittman, you're wonderful but How to Cook Everything weighs a ton) on my lap, making the already enjoyable task of looking for the perfect recipe even more fun and relaxed.
iPad: 1; other media: 0
2) Shopping for ingredients
I took a precursory glance at the ingredients list and determined that my pantry was lacking a few requirements. Plus, I wanted to see how the iPad stood up at the grocery store. The iPhone's dainty size, though a pain for reading or cooking, combined with its 3G network makes it an ideal shopping companion; the iPad doesn't fit quite as easily in a purse or connect to the internet from anywhere. And I feel a little silly/showy whipping it out in the produce aisle.
I imagined that the supermarket would not have wi-fi (who uses a laptop while grocery shopping?), so I kept the page with the recipe open. However, I didn’t leave right away. I made a snack. I checked my email. By the time I reached the store, the iPad was asleep. Sure enough, there were no free accounts to log into; I stared down a menacing blank screen. #Fail. I knew I was out of sugar (most cookie recipes do call for sugar), so I was safe with buying that, but there was something unusual in this particular cookie. What was it? Tofu?
Lesson learned: load the page you need before venturing beyond reliable wi-fi, then go to ‘settings’ and turn the autolock off.
iPad: 0; other media: 1
3) Cooking with the iPad
With the aid of a cheap book stand, I propped the iPad upright on the counter rather than lying it flat, which made a noticeable difference in its kitchen usability. It took up minimal counter space, and its bright screen provided excellent visibility-- both pluses in my small, windowless kitchen. Cookbooks threaten to close during a crucial step if not held open, which gives the iPad even more of an edge in this arena. Plus, I hate ruining the crisp, clean pages of my cookbooks by actually-- gasp-- cooking with them.
In addition, the iPad interface, when positioned vertically, is ideal for viewing recipes; the entire recipe —ingredients, steps and all— fits legibly on the screen. Crucial steps are not lost below the fold as the often are on my laptop, and the iPad’s size makes this much, much more positive user experience than looking a a recipe on the iPhone.
Again, like the grocery store, this is a situation where the autolock should be off (you don't want to be handling a $500 when your hands are covered in flour and butter), though I probably could have made it under the 15-minute shut off mark if I hadn’t been taking pictures of my (err, the office's) new toy every few seconds.
iPad: 1; other media: 0
The iPad's dimensions and speed are ideal for browsing, and it performs superbly in the kitchen. However, its main weakness is wi-fi; without an internet connection, you're left with a really expensive, really shiny paper weight. Plus, the iPad doesn't have a camera, and when I pull something especially delicious out of my oven, I like to take a picture of it.
Regardless, I see so much potential in this device. The iPad has been touted as the savior of printed publications, and I think it could revolutionize the cookbook and food magazine industry as well; it seems perfectly poised for online subscription models.
Oh, and if you're curious about how the cookies turned out, they were fabulous.