I bought an iPad on the UK day of release so have now been using it for about 6 months. So I thought it was about time to reflect on how the iPad is working for me.
I know many people have bought the iPad and then found that they had no use for it. But I find that I’m always pawing at it and on reflection, I think with the iPad, content is king. Out of the box all it really does is email, video, music and web. It does them very well, but I’m not sure the basic functionality is enough to justify it’s price. Many of the people I’ve met who don’t like it, never download content or applications and so judge the iPad on the installed software. In my case, I already consumed the majority of my media through the internet and the iPad makes accessing this information so pleasurable.
The most obvious change is that I’m reading more ‘traditional’ media, albeit, electronically. I had stopped reading newspapers and I although I still have a few magazine subscriptions, I rarely buy magazines or newspapers from a shop. The iPad has transformed this through two applications, Zinio and PressReader. These two applications provide an easy way to buy newspapers and magazines. Zinio offers a wide range of magazines from across the world, often cheaper than the printed version. PressReader is the newspaper equivalent. Purchasing is very simple. You open up the inbuilt stores, select the item you’re interested in and purchase. PressReader’s purchases are charged to your iTunes account. Zinio’s slightly more complicated because you have to setup an account on Zinio’s website before you can purchase.
Newspapers and magazines are really suited to the iPad’s form factor. The large colour screen shows magazines at their best and you can zoom in by double tapping or through a simple mutlitouch gesture. With PressReader you can also view a text version of an article, ask the iPad to read it to you or even email the article to friends. It’s amazing how natural all of this feels and I can’t see me ever buying another physical newspaper and the few magazine subscriptions I still have, will soon be cancelled.
The second area where the iPad has caused a change in practice is reading books. As with newspapers, I find I’ve been reading more. Through iBooks and the Kindle reader, it’s easy to download most books. Not everything is rosy with using the iPad as an ebook reader. Ebooks are often more expensive than their paperback cousins. But with several eBook reader apps available, it’s possible to shop around to find cheaper options. I find the iPad’s screen perfect for reading books. Possibly too perfect, as I often read in bed with the brightness down and with the lights out and this probably isn’t good for my eyes. One issue with the iPad screen is that it’s very glossy but so far I’ve not found this to be much of an issue.
Although the iPad was a personal purchase, I use it regularly at work and I’m finding it works really well in meetings and means you don’t have a table full of people sitting behind laptops.
I’ve tried a number of note taking applications. Penultimate, was one of the first note taking apps available. Penultimate captures hand written notes. It works reasonably well allowing you to jot down ideas and capture graphics with your fingure. I did briefly flit with using a Pogo Stylus to improve the quality of my note taking, but after a while I found that I preferred typed notes, something Penultimate doesn’t support. So I switched to applications that allowed me to use the iPad’s keyboard to type notes and I have been using Evernote to store and organise meeting notes. These are then synced back to all my devices connected to my Evernote account. This means that my notes are available on all my computers as well as the iPad.
Recently I’ve started to use a new application called ‘SoundNote’. SoundNote records both the audio and the time you type a word or add a sketch. So after a meeting, if you can’t remember what your note refers to, you simply click on the word and the audio from that point of time is played back. The amazing thing about the app is that even in big rooms, the recording is often clear enough to be listenable. At the moment there’s limited functionality for sending documents, with file sharing via Wireless and a facility to email documents. The lack of syncing and organisational tools, means that I continue to use Evernote on a day to day basis.
I bought the camera connector kit hoping that the iPad would become my route for uploading photos to Flickr when away from base. The kit provides a USB connector and a SDHC card reader. The USB adapter is very useful, allowing you to add a card reader for compact flash and memory sticks. But it also allows you to plug in other USB devices such as keyboards and microphones.
Inserting a memory card opens the iPad’s import interface. This works like iPhoto with options to import everything or selected photos. Unfortunately, iPhoto isn’t yet available on the iPad. So once imported you are reliant on third party photo applications.
I photograph in RAW and it’s saved me on a number of occasions. I use Aperture on my Mac to edit these photographs before uploading them to Flickr. The iPad is able to import the RAW files from my Sony A700. Unfortunately, there appears to be a bug with the RAW processor for my Sony NEX5 which causes applications accessing these files to crash. Although there is RAW support, I don’t think RAW is supported natively. I believe the files are converted to JPEG when used by applications and this defeats the object of using RAW. Unfortunately I’ve yet to find any applications that mimics my current workflow, or even provide the equivalent to iPhoto. Some of the best applications available are Photogene and Photo fx Ultra and Adobe’s PS Express. They’re all pretty decent applications but they’re not yet mature enough to replace my current setup. So apart from processing the odd photograph, I’ll continue to take a laptop with me when I’m away from base for several days.
Probably the thing my iPad is used for the most is to consume what I consider ‘the basics’, web, email, twitter, RSS feeds etc. The basics that keep me up with what’s happening in the world. The instant on nature of the iPad, like the iPhone before it, means that these information channels are always a touch away.
The official Twitter application on the iPad is fantastic and possibly the best twitter client available on any platform. There’s a fantastic RSS feed reader called ‘Reeder’ that makes good use of the iPad’s multitouch interface. Even the basic email client and web browser functionality are more than adequate for my needs. The lack of Flash support can be an issue. But the reality is that most websites that use Flash, use it for video, and most big web sites provide iPad alternatives video streams so it’s not too inconvenient. But it is still one of the major omissions from the iPad.
One of the most impressive aspects of the iPad is the creativity it’s generated from grassroots programmers. One area I’ve been impressed with is the solutions developers have designed for consuming feeds of information and presenting them in different ways. There’s a number of interesting applications. Pulse is highly regarded by many, but my personal favourite is Flipboard. This application can consume feeds from Twitter and Facebook but presents them in a way that makes them more interesting. It does this by taking several tweets or Facebook status updates and presents them on the same ‘page’, giving each items an appropriate amount of space. The really clever thing is that if the item contains a link, Flipboard requests the page and presents a summary of the page. This approach constantly throws up interesting articles that I’d missed through my convential readers so I now use Flipboard at the end of each day to review the each day’s tweets.
The recent release of iOS4.2 makes a number of applications much more usable. With access to the beta through Apple’s Developer portal, I’ve been using iOS4.2 for several months and the update has helped alleviate many of the niggles I’d had with the ‘single task’ metaphor which the original iPad was based around. This meant that you had to be careful switching between applications because often they would restart causing you to loose your position or even your work. With 4.2 I can seemlessly switch between applications in meetings without worrying.
Until the iOS4.2 update, music on the iPad had been a mixed bag. The built-in iPod was the only application that could play music in the background. Most apps exited as you switched applications. With 4.2 these applications stay active in the background and the native sound controls now controls the current application. There’s a number of excellent music applications. Leading the way is Aweditorium. Aweditorium is a music discovery service. It’s remarkably well done, presenting a screen of tiled images of bands. Clicking on the band plays a track from the band with links to iTunes and Youtube. Very simple to use with a great selection of bands
Other applications I regularly use:
- WordPress – Good for quick writing short blogs.
- KeyNote – now ‘sketch’ presentations using iPad’s KeyNote then finish them off on my computer
- Pulse – RSS reader that’s especially good for image streams
- BBC News (News24)
- TV Guide
- TuneIn Radio – Hundreds of internet radio feeds
- Air Display – Turn your iPad into a second monitor for your laptop. Useful when you’re away from base
- VNC Viewer
- Junos Pulse – VPN client.
- GoodReader – PDF reader
- DropBox – Access to files in your DropBox folder
- Sketch – Drawing package
- TabToolkit – Guitar tabs
- iMockups – Great wireframing application.
- (Plus some great games!)
One of the standout features of the iPad is the battery life and I think this has caused the biggest change.Regularly achieving the 10 hours battery life Apple advertise. This means that I have instant access to a whole range of information, tools and games without the need to open a laptop and after a day or two, you quickly question the continued need for a laptop. The worry I had with the introduction of multitasking was that the fantastic battery life would be reduced, but this hasn’t been the case.
Despite all this praise. The iPad is far from perfect. This blog entry was written on my laptop. I find writing long passages using the iPad’s keyboard frustrating. The lack of a ‘drive’ to store resources in means that applications don’t really share data beyond images and it’s frustrating that you have to use iTunes to transfer content. It would be great to plugin a disk drive to access more content. This lack of functionality isn’t a problem at base, I have a MacPro at work, it’s away from base that this lack of functionality has proved to be an issue. Hopefully the iPad 2 will tackle some of these issue. Luckily until then, Apple’s provided me with a good compromise. The new MacBook Air and iPad provide the perfect combination.