I’ve already confessed that I’ve ordered a 3G, 64GB iPad + accessories. My iFriends are chortling. My students, many fans of open source and Android, regard my decision with disappointment, if not as treason. Indeed, one student posted his comment to my disclosure: "I can’t believe you sold your soul to the devil (or its equivalent in the tech world).” So why did I go to the iDarkSide?
The iPad unquestionably is a beautiful device. But since its unveiling, it’s seemed to me to be an answer in search of its corresponding question. Put another way, what can you use it for?
Indeed, my students, colleagues and friends often ask me which is the “best” laptop, smartphone, etc. Invariably, my answer is a question: “How do you plan to use the device?” For example, my laptop recommendation may be different if the laptop will be a desktop replacement than if it will be a second computer used outside the home or office and then upon return sync’d with the desktop.
Taking my own advice, I thought about how I use computers. Computers doesn’t just include desktops and laptops. It also includes smartphones, MIDs, PMPs — any computing device. Then I thought about how the iPad could meet at least some of my usages.
At least in my life, how I use a device often depends on where I use the device. So the context for my analysis was the various places I use computers.
Portable vs. Mobile
In determining my usage, I considered the distinction, emphasized by bloggers like Steve “Chippy” Paine, between portable and mobile. A device is portable if it is small and light enough to carry with you, such as in a backpack, briefcase, etc. A device is mobile if it is small and light enough to pocket.
The iPad is portable. It is relatively small and light, easy to slip into a briefcase or backpack. However, the iPad is not mobile. You’re not going to put it into your pocket, unless you’re wearing a really large lab coat.
IMO, a consequence of a device being portable but not mobile is that it works fine while sitting, perhaps while standing, but not while walking.
Often – maybe too often — I’m in my work office, home office or classroom. I’m not always working while there – I’d appreciate if you’d not tell The Man – but instead may be on the Internet, checking out feeds on Google Reader, latest news on CNN, tweets on TweetDeck, etc. But regardless of whether I’m working hard or hardly working, I can use the desktop computer which already is there and is sufficient for my needs. So why go to the trouble of dragging a laptop along, hooking it up, unhooking it when I’m done, etc?
Granted, sometimes I still will use a laptop, particularly in my classroom. However, when I’m in my work or home office or my classroom, I usually take the path of least resistance and use the desktop there. So really no need for an iPad – or laptop for that matter – in those places.
Additionally, in an office situation, I often need access to various Windows applications which are tools to do my job(s). These applications simply won’t run on an iPad. I’d basically have a similar problem on extended business trips. Or vacations, which notwithstanding my being on vacation, I nevertheless have to work to some degree.
Conclusion: No significant usage for the iPad.
Out and about … on business
Of course, there are many times I’m not sitting in my office, my classroom or my home office, and but still wish to access a computer.
I often have meetings outside the office. At my college, this usually means (ugh) committee meetings. In these situations, I would like to use the iPad to view documents pertaining to the meeting, take notes, preferably by digital ink than by typing, and then create a document or email to memorialize or follow up on the meeting. But how well can I accomplish those tasks on an iPad?
GottaBeMobile has several posts on digital inking software for the iPad, including Penultimate and School Notes Pro. Interestingly for me, an attorney already has tried taking notes in court with his finger (link)! I’m curious how (or if) my Dagi capacitive stylus would work.
GoodReader seems to be the app of choice for viewing documents, particularly PDFs. Per The Mobile Gadgeteer, the documents also are stored inside of GoodReader, nice given the iPad’s lack of a user-accessible file system.
Conclusion: The jury is out (pun intended) but the iPad has promise for the business meeting scenario. When I receive my iPad, I will test this functionality and report.
Just out and about
Sometimes I’m just out and about generally. I may be around, such as in an electronics store like Fry’s, and want to look up an item’s price or reviews. Other times I’m sitting, such as in my doctor’s waiting room, my wife’s classroom waiting for her to finish teaching, or the customer’s lounge for car repair or service.
Since the iPad is portable, taking it to access the Web or email where I will sit and wait is fine. However, since the iPad is not mobile., carrying the iPad while walking around shopping probably isn’t going to work for me. Though if I carried a small backpack or the like with me (though no man purse), maybe … Otherwise, I’ll use my smartphone to do a web lookup. Harder to do on a smaller screen, but with my 3.7” HTC Incredible, or my wife’s 4.3” HTC HD2, web pages are readable enough.
Conclusion: If I’m using a briefcase or backpack to carry the iPad around with me, I may use it while sitting and waiting. I just wonder how much I’d actually use it in this scenario. Only time will tell.
I’m virtually but not physically in the office
I’m the network administrator at a law firm. Users inevitably encounter problems, often when I’m out of the office. Unfortunately, their explanations are not always clear. My recent favorite: “The internet is weak.” So ultimately I need to view the problem computer remotely.
There are many good remote access clients. My problem is it’s hard to see the remote computer screen on the small screen of a smartphone. However, the iPad’s 9.7” screen eliminates that problem.
Choosing a remote access client for the iPad presents challenges since you likely will be using touch instead of a mouse and external keyboard for navigation. James Kendrick has touted LogMeIn Ignition. There’s also TeamViewer, iTap RDP and VNC clients.
Remote access also has a side benefit. When needed, I can run Windows applications which I can’t run on my iPad. (The iTap RDP article shows running Office 2007 via the iPad). Perhaps it’s heresy in Steve Jobs’ eyes, but I also can run Flash on the remote computer!
Conclusion: The iPad has real promise for this scenario. Here too, when I receive my iPad, I will test this functionality and report.
At home, but not in my home office
I get tired like everyone else, and sometimes like to kick back at home. I may be watching TV from my reclining chair or sofa. I may be outside on my patio reading the paper and gazing at the view. Or I may be in bed, but not quite ready to go to sleep. Accessing the web or email in these situations would be real nice. The iPad also could be used as an e-reader; the blogs have many comparisons between the iPad and the Kindle.
I think the iPad will star in these “sofa surfing” scenarios. Some bloggers have opined about the iPad’s suitability for “stall surfing”, but we won’t go there.
Conclusion: Sofa surfing seems to me to be the most obvious use case for the iPad. My only concern is it may get too heavy in my hands. We’ll see.
Why not another slate?
The iPad is not the only device of its form factor and capability. There are some others now, and will be many others soon. So why the iPad?
I’ve long been frustrated by Windows slates. Poor battery life. Slow. Less than responsive to touch. Perhaps to be expected when a desktop OS is transplanted to a slate.
The iPad shines is these areas. Excellent (> 10 hours) battery life, very fast and responsive to touch. Perhaps the result of a mobile rather than desktop OS, optimized for touch. Matt Miller is a convert: Jobs was right: iPad is magical and revolutionary.
Perhaps this is the main reason I took the leap to the iPad; the Nirvana of a really good slate device.
Why not a large screen smartphone?
Screen size. 5” is about the maximum for a pocketable device. Maybe it’s because of my aging eyes, but 5” is still small for reading web pages. For writing notes, way too small.
Will my expectations be met?
I dunno. No way to know until I receive my iPad (probably in about one week) and start using it in the above scenarios and others that may present themselves. Then you can expect another article, which hopefully won’t be titled Buyer’s Remorse, or I was jobbed by Steve Jobs.